So let us begin with the ungrammatical title. Why would I put it like that? It is not really proper, unless worked into a sentence like “‘Me and Van Til’ is not really a proper title for a blog post.” So maybe I am being grammatical accidentially, like the boy who was dozing in the back row of English class when the teacher said to him, “Billy, give me examples of two pronouns.” He lurched to his feet, bewildered, and said, “Who? Me?” “Very good,” she said, albeit reluctantly. Maybe I was just looking for an arresting title. Maybe it is just clickbait.
Where was I? Since I have been writing a bit on natural law, and have identified myself as a Van Tilian presuppositionalist, I thought a little intellectual autobiography might be in order, and I will begin with an anecdote that illustrates the jumble in my head.
One of the first books I wrote (in the early nineties) was called Persuasions, and contained a series of conversations between a character called Evangelist and various unbelievers. It was a dream of “reason meeting unbelief.” This was pre-Internet, and at the time, conservative Presbyterians and recons got a lot of their books from a catalog company called Great Christian Books, previously named Puritan and Reformed Books. I sent a copy of the book to them, and a gent named Walt Hibbard running the catalog was kind enough to pick up my book and include it among his offerings. This was a big deal for me, and so I was naturally excited to get my copy of the catalog. When it arrived, I hunted down the place where it was, and read the copy that had been written for my book. That copy said something like “this small book is a fine introductory treatment of Van Tilian apologetics.” I stared at it, flummoxed. “It is?” I thought.
Yikes. I had never read Van Til, and here I was in print, outrunning my own headlights, with a published introduction to his thought. Story of my life. So quick, I ordered The Defense of the Faith, read it, and was relieved to discover that I really liked it. The only part of the book I didn’t really cotton to was the section where Van Til takes C.S. Lewis to task. The reason for this is that I had learned my presuppositionalism from Lewis. And therein lies a tale.
I had been steeped in Lewis growing up, but it was mostly his fiction. I first encountered Narnia in the late fifties, as my dad would read to us regularly. But when I was in high school, I began to read Lewis’s theology and apologetics. The first chapters of Miracles contains one of the finest presuppositional demolition jobs on naturalism that you can find anywhere.
After high school, I went in the Navy, and during my hitch, I began to read Francis Schaeffer. When I got out in 1975, I came to the University of Idaho as a philosophy major. During my time as a freshman I read Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, which I tied around my waist as my lifeline of sanity. Lewis and Chesterton were my bulwarks during the second half of the seventies, with more than a little Schaeffer mixed in. I would not be a Calvinist for another decade.
We started Logos School in the very early eighties, and one of our founding commitments was to teach “all subjects as parts of an integrated whole, with Scripture at the center.” I don’t know what possessed us to do that. We were evangelical Arminian Kuyperians, whatever the heck that might be. But during the eighties that followed, the only people seriously attempting to integrate the authority of Scripture with everything else were the reconstructionists. So since we were building a school that wanted to relate Scripture to everything we were teaching, I began to read the recons.
I was put off by some of it, but was enormously benefited by a most of it. Through the eighties, I read a boatload of Rushdoony, North, and Bahnsen. Now this was not possible to do without coming away with a “yay Van Til” sentiment, even though I had not yet read Van Til himself. North in particular was fond of saying that reconstructionism was based on Van Til, postmillenialism, theonomy, and Calvinism. When I started reading, I wasn’t any of those things, but I was strongly attracted to the application of Scripture to all of life. Whatever else was going to go down, that was good, and it seemed to me that Van Til had something to do with it.
But I still had a Lewisian bedrock. In The Discarded Image, Lewis shows that the medieval mindset was slow to set their favorite authors against one another. Their fundamental impulse was to harmonize guys they liked wherever possible, and this was an impulse I fully shared (and still share). When I finally read Van Til with his purist “no neutrality” approach, I saw at once that this was fundamentally consistent with some of the basic things I had already learned from Lewis. If you read a book like Bahnsen’s Always Ready, you should be able to see how easy it should be to incorporate writers like Lewis and Chesterton into a presuppositional framework. Chesterton, for example, insisted on reasoning from first principles because a first principle is a “thing with which thought has to start, since it must start with something.” Amen, and let us now turn to the book of Romans.
I confess this might strike some as quite an intellectual hodge podge. Fine, but it is a charleshodge/paulinepodge. And we are all part of fallen world, and we all have our own jumbles going to some degree. Van Til wasn’t postmillennial, for example, and Chesterton poped.
I identify with Van Til because of his insistence on no neutrality anywhere. I do so because of his insistence on a regenerate mind. I do so because he reasoned from Scripture, not to it. And he clearly saw that those who refused to reason from the triune God of Scripture were doing so anyway. So I appreciate him very much, and have profited in enormous ways from his legacy.
At the same time, my bedrock is Lewis and my ambition is to learn to write like a Protestant Chesterton. Given this background, you might think my ambition would be to write like an evangelical Lewis, but that is so far out of reach as to be risible. I just finished reading Lewis’ Studies in Words, and that man’s learning was staggering. Wanting to be like him is like wanting to put Jupiter in your pocket in order to take it home. But Chesterton is way out of my league in quite a different way. He was a journalist, and could slap and dash with the best of them, and if he were alive today he would have a high traffic blog — ballandcross.com or something. But whenever I get going good, and my prose is bedizened with metaphors and shrouded in paradoxical purples, my hope is that I might sometimes remind people of him. And since I am a Puritan, the annoyance factor for our Catholic friends would be another satisfactory plus.
Here I sit. I can do no other.