It is time to renounce the idea of a presuppositionalist Christian worldview

Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987): when was the last time you saw him mentioned in The New York Times? Molly Worthen, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, mentions him in her op-ed “The Evangelical Roots of our Post-Truth Society.” Worthen is correct that Cornelius Van Til’s ideas of Christian worldview are responsible for the current denial of truth and the idea of alternative facts in US politics. Van Til was also the main influence on Francis Schaeffer, who shaped the religious right, as well as on Rousas Rushdoony and his theonomists who seek a kind of Christian jihad.

Dooyeweerd tried hard to promote an alternate viewpoint. He disagreed sharply with Van Til. See the articles in the book “Jerusalem and Athens.” Dooyeweerd rejected Van Til’s view that there is no point of contact between different worldviews; Dooyeweerd insisted on common states of affairs. And Dooyeweerd rejected a presuppostionalist approach to philosophy. What counts is not presuppositional beliefs, but ontical conditions or onticl presupposita that are common to everyone. And Dooyeweerd did not accept a propositional view of biblical revelation; he also was sharply critical of the use of theological ideas as the basis for philosophy, as in Vollenhoven’s philosophy (which follow’s Abraham Kuyper’s idea of religious antithesis; Dooyeweerd said that the antithesis is not between groups of people but an antithesis within the heart of each of us).

The issue is what evidence counts in the critique of science, and what commonalities are accepted as holding true for everyone. It may be, as Dooyeweerd argued, that there is an experience-based Christian worldview. But such a worldview cannot be based on theology or even on biblical exegesis. Both theology and exegesis are sciences, in the sense of theoretical activities, and are themselves subject to critique. It is the presuppositionalist idea of worldview that is a problem, when presuppositions are taken to be theological beliefs.

I recognize that this is going to be a problem for “Christian” colleges that have emphasized the priority of beliefs. But these colleges are part of the problem.

For Dooyeweerd, what is important to worldview is our experience of time and our selfhood that transcends time. Even his ideas of creation, fall and redemption, where he perhaps smuggled in some theological ideas, were interpreted in terms of this temporal/supratemporal philosophical framework. For Dooyeweerd, theology is dependent on philosophy. And Dooyeweerd believed that his philosophical transcendental critique was able to communicate with those who did not share his beliefs, unlike Van Til who said there was no point of contact whatsoever.

Reformational philosophers and evangelicals need to take responsibility for these mistaken ideas and the damage that they have caused to U.S. society. It is time for them to publicly renounce the idea of a distinct Christian worldview in Van Til’s sense of presuppositions based on theological beliefs.


One thought on “It is time to renounce the idea of a presuppositionalist Christian worldview

  1. Politically active Christians would indeed benefit from a new look at the disambiguated Dooyeweerd–particularly his idea of the relationship between philosophy and one’s life- and world-view in distinction with a worlview directly informed by a theological system i.e. an un-disclosed philosophy. In fact, this new look might be urgent enough to begin the conversation right here in the middle of this rather pointless political food-fight:

    I’ve made the president of The Francis Schaeffer Foundation, Udo Middelmann, aware of your appeal. I did so with reference to the cover art of his book The Innocence of God. It’s a colorized rendition of the monochrome artifact titled “If Only…” which hung on the wall of FAS’s bedroom. In conversation with Udo, I got the impression it was the original work of a Nazi concentration camp internee expressing cosmic consciousness from inside the razorwire. In regard to this I’d like to draw your attention to four things: 1.) the context of FAS’s relationship with Dooyeweerd referenced at 2.) FAS’s public disagreement with Van Til mediated by J. P. A. Mekkes archived at 3.) FAS’s highly controversial decision (?mistake?) to take L’Abri in the direction of political activism as expressed by Os Guinness at (From my personal conversation with Dr. Guinness he might agree that FAS’s original legacy was tarnished by the toxic effect his later activism has had on the present culture wars.) and 4.) You might find common cause with Udo if you engaged him in private conversation and asked him to disclose the “religious freak, village idiot, or the man in pursuit of his own mysteries” he referenced in IOG, p. 87.

    Perhaps a research project offering a reconciliation between the disambiguated Dooyeweerd and FAS is warranted i.e. show the fault in the light of new information. The FAS collection is hosted by SEBTS in Wake Forrest, NC. After a review of FAS’s Complete Works (CW) I recommended to Udo the following potential points of reconciliation: antithesis (CW I, p. 8; CW IV, p.228); a “dialectical-logical unity” e.g. FAS’s “methodology of antithesis” (CW I, p.46; CW IV, p.72) v. Dooyeweerd’s distinction “between the theoretical dialectic, which is overcome in synthesis, and the religious dialectic, based on a religious antithesis which cannot be overcome in theory, but only by a change of heart;” the meaning of Being i.e. Why would Dooyeweerd say that “Meaning is the ‘mode of being of all creaturely reality’ (II, 27; NC II, 30)” (xref. “line of despair” CW I, pp.6-8; “a line must be drawn” CW IV, p.403) [NOTE: I hyperlinked your Glossary for most relevant terms here.]

    From my own experience, the whole POSTURE of Doyeweerd’s Christian science seems alien to the populist worlview expressed by Molly Worthen. Doyeweerd is very explicit in the NC I, Fwd.p.viii: “In conclusion let me make two final remarks. The first is addressed to my opponents on grounds of principle. I am fully conscious …of …danger of causing an emotional reaction and giving offense. …I am in no way attacking my adversaries personally, nor am I exalting myself in an ex cathedra style. Such misunderstanding of my intention is very distressing to me. An act of passing judgment on the personal religious condition of an adversary would be a kind of human pride which supposes it can exalt itself to God’s judgment seat. I have continually laid emphasis on the fact that the philosophy which I have developed, even in the sharp penetrating criticism …must be understood as self-criticism, as a case which the Christian thinker pleads with himself. Unless this fact is understood, the intention of this philosophy has not been comprehended. I should not judge immanence-philosophy so sharply were it not that I myself have gone through it, and have personally experienced its problems. I should not pass such a sharp judgment on the attempts at synthesis between non-Christian philosophy and the Christian truths of faith, had I not lived through the inner tension between the two and personally wrestled through the attempts at synthesis.”

    On the other side, a summary of the working relationship between and the distinct roles of philosophy and worldview from Dooyeweerd’s viewpoint might be helpful here. Are you up to that? It’s still quite pre-articulate with me…


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