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Presuppositionalism

By R. J. Rushdoony
November 01, 1998

Presuppositionalism is a perspective in philosophy and theology whose origins are in several great Dutch thinkers, notably the Dutch-American Cornelius Van Til. Its essential point is that all man's thinking begins with certain axioms of faith, life, and thought which provide him with the essential framework of his world and life view.

Non-Christian thinking has preferred to see its premises, not as derivative but as created by its own mind and reasoning. Greek philosophy posited God only to avoid an infinite regress; there had to be a beginning, and God provided it and nothing more. "He" was not a person, only a limiting concept, an idea. Man did everything.

Charles Darwin was the logical outcome of such thinking. In God's place, he put time and infinite chance as the source of all creation. Presuppositions were replaced with chance variations over a space of vast and endless time.

Of course, Darwin's world of time and chance was rife with hidden and disguised presuppositions, but the great presupposition, God, was avoided in favor of time and chance.

Presuppositionalism tells us that we are not gods, that all our thinking is derivative and subordinate to certain faith premises. If Christian thinking is not presuppositional, it is not Christian because it begins then without God and his word. If we do not begin with the Triune God and his infallible word, we begin and end with another premise which sooner or later governs us. It is not surprising that, as theologies depart from the primacy of God, they depart from belief in the inerrancy of God's word to favor men's judgments upon it. The result is a growing collapse in the churches. Man's word cannot replace God's word without disastrous results. The Bible does not appeal to our rational, judgmental faculties for assent after considered reasoning but to our total being to believe and to obey.

The Bible presupposes that we are God's creation, now dead in sins and trespasses, and in need of his life-giving atonement and word. The Bible speaks to us as recipients, not as judges. It is God's command word, and we are the sheep, not the judges, of his pasture. The Bible tells us that our necessary presuppositions must be that God alone is God, but that, with the tempter, we have chosen to believe that we are gods, with the power to determine good and evil, and all things else, on our own (Gen. 3:5).The basic premise of rationalism is this evil.

If the church is to have a godly future, it must stand on a presuppositionalist faith, one implicit or explicit over the centuries in such men as Augustine, Anselm, Calvin and others. This has been the faith of the many common believers, a total commitment to God as Lord, and his word as the all-sufficient word. Today, as church-related colleges and seminaries abandon that faith, we must all the more zealously affirm it.


Topics: Philosophy, Theology, R. J. Rushdoony

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965.  His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.”  He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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