Date of Award

Spring 1999

Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dabney, D. L.

Second Advisor

Carey, Patrick W.

Third Advisor

Hinze, Bradford E.


This dissertation had its origin in the Introduction to Systematic Theology course at Marquette University, taught by Fr. William J. Kelly, S.J., in the fall of 1992. The course had a strong focus on religious epistemological issues. For my paper, I chose to write on Cornelius Van Til, who belonged to the same Reformed tradition as I had joined, but whom I had not read to that point. I had had the impression that he dealt with epistemological issues, and I was right. I was also hooked. As I delved deeper into his writings in succeeding semesters for other papers several questions came to the fore. Van Til worked and wrote in an environment that was self-consciously conservative. Westminster Theological Seminary was founded to continue the Old Princeton tradition in theology, and Charles Hodge himself had boasted on one occasion that he had never taught a "new" idea in his many years at Princeton. Yet Van Til's presuppositional apologetical approach was both applauded by its friends, assailed by its foes, and acknowledged by its author to be a radical departure from the Old Princeton evidentialist apologetics. Thus the question forced itself, why was there such a radical change in such a conservative institution? Furthermore, was the change as radical as everyone seemed to assume it to be? As I considered those questions, a further issue presented itself. Where did Van Til come up with his ideas? What were his sources? How did he use them? Why did he use them in that way? This dissertation argues that Van Til's presuppositional apologetics was a twentieth century Reformed response to the post-Kantian philosophical focus on epistemological issues. His studies in idealist philosophy provided the impetus for this engagement, but his Reformed background, including his own reading of Calvin, his studies of Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck from his Dutch Reformed roots and Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary studies, and his subsequent interaction with the Old Princeton theology and apologetics at Princeton Theological Seminary provided the resources with which to seek a Christian, Calvinist, and biblical understanding of the matter. Through all this Van Til presented a model of cultural engagement that relies heavily on the Dutch Neo-Calvinist views on "common grace" and "the antithesis." This dissertation explores each of these four major influences in tum, seeking to show what it was that Van Til responded to in each, as well as to show how he responded, whether positively or negatively. The hope is that by working through each of these background areas, readers will be able to gain a better understanding and appreciation of Van Til's apologetical insights in their context.



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