Theological Method 2

This post is about theological method as proposed by Cornelius Van Til. His method is called the Christian Theistic method. For Van Til, the question of method is of crucial importance for it determines one’s destination in his theological inquiry. After stating the importance of methodology, Van Til divides his discussion on this subject under general and particular methods. He claims that the particular argument for theological method would be of no use not unless the general method has been established first. And he called this general method as the Christian Theistic method.

In discussing the Christian Theistic method, Van Til starts with the assertion of the impossibility of using a neutral method. This implies that Christian Theistic method must be distinguished from all other methods. He made use of method of implication containing concepts of:

  •  a priori and
  • a posteriori

By a posteriori, he means “the gathering and the arranging of facts of Scripture” (p. 8). By a priori, he means “facts of Scripture and not facts in general” or interpreting“all facts in the light of Scripture” (ibid.). However, he cautions us about the need to distinguish the use of these concepts in Christian Theistic method from the idealist’s version. Van Til made use of his background in idealist philosophy by utilizing idealist’s terms but with different connotation or substance.

Van Til identifies two fundamental principles in Christian Theistic method. These are:

  • The principles that God is essential foundation of knowledge and
  • That man’s knowledge is analogical

By essential foundation of knowledge, he means, “without the concept of God as self-conscious, as self-existent, we could not know anything” (p.9). He affirms the crucial significance of this principle most especially in relation to man’s consistent problem about the question between one and many. Only by taking the Triune God as the essential foundation of knowledge that this dilemma in knowledge can be resolved.

By analogical knowledge of man, Van Til believes in two levels of existence and knowledge:

  • The first knowledge is “exhaustive and self-contained” (p.12) and only possessed by God.
  • The second knowledge is “limited, derivative and reinterpretative” (ibid.). This is the kind of knowledge possessed by man and designated as analogical knowledge.

In addition to this, under the discussion on analogical knowledge, Van Til distinguishes it from “univocal” (p. 11) knowledge. I understand this as referring to autonomous reason. Finally, Van Til declares that the Roman Catholic Church also employed this analogical concept. However, he argues that the Romanist’s analogical concept failed to distinguish “between God as the original being and man as created being” (p. 12).

Concerning Van Til’s particular theological method, he affirms first that all analogical knowledge might be perceived as theological knowledge (p. 14). However, regarding the difference between analogical method (method of other sciences?) and theological method, Van Til identifies two:

  • Degree of directness and
  • Focus on redemption

Regarding degree of directness, Van Til admitted the direct influence of the Bible in theological method. But this does not mean that in other sciences, a Christian can ignore the Bible. Van Til cited two examples – looking for Jesus’ body and the missing link between man and animal – to illustrate the influence of the Bible on Christian even in the field of sciences.

The focus on redemption does not mean that it is the exclusive preoccupation in theology and that other sciences are dealing with cosmological matters. In fact, Van Til continued that theology deals with the whole cosmological question and redemption is a matter of emphasis.

In closing, Van Til identifies the growing weakness of Christian testimony as a result of two things:

  • Failure to distinguish between two states of mind and
  • To argue facts of history such as miracles and archaeology apart from basic Christian presupposition


Introduction to Systematic Theology by Cornelius Van Til


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