An Apparent Apologetic Method in Aquinas: A Critique of Certain Van Tilianisms

Those theologians who consider themselves to be within the theological lineage of Cornelius Van Til tend to represent Thomas Aquinas as a rationalist who polluted the waters of theology with the pagan wine of philosophy.  He should have recognized that philosophy is separate from theology and that the use of reason by Christians such as proofs for God’s existence subsumes the latter underneath the former. On the other hand, I’ve noticed that those who believe this usually themselves hold to a radical opinion on how philosophy relates to theology.  See this statement by Van Til for example:

The Romanist-evangelical type of apologetics assumes that man can first know much about himself and the universe and afterward ask whether God exists and Christianity is true.  The Reformed apologist assumes that nothing can be known by man about himself or the universe unless God exists and Christianity is true. (Defense of the Faith, pp. 163, 317)

I understand what Van Til is trying to say here:  “Those apologetic methods that present Christianity to the atheist as an option on the buffet table of religions to be tested and verified by how much it “makes sense” do more harm to Christianity than good.”  They turn theology into philosophy.  I agree with this idea. However, I do not agree that man must first believe in God in order to know himself and the universe (which is the import of Van Til’s first statement). Unbelievers can have a limited knowledge of themselves and even of God.  With the implications of Van Til’s statement he is in danger of subsuming philosophy into theology.  

It is tempting to answer the Kantian dilemma and bridge the gap between the noumena and phenomena by appealing solely to God’s supernatural revelation of himself. However, this only makes things worse.  If certain things about God cannot be know apart from special revelation then how can anyone, Christian or not, justify anything extra-biblical? Are we all skeptics? What about Paul’s statement in Rom. 1:20 that the invisible things of God (his eternal power and divinity) have been clearly revealed to all men through created things? I shall first debunk the idea (however implicit) that Aquinas subsumed theology under philosophy and then show what I think his apologetic method may have looked like and point out similarities between it and that of Van Til. I hope this demonstration will reveal that a healthy relationship between philosophy and theology can only be maintained if reason is allowed to play a significant part in apologetics.  

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