To former Calvinists - Neutrality of Man


Greetings brothers and sisters in Christ,

I am talking with a Presbyterian that has been heavily influenced by Cornelius Van Til. He keeps mentioing that the Catholic Church teaches the untruthful fact of the “neutrality of Man” in regards to his ability to know God on his own.

I have asked him to bring me a Catholic source showing that this indeed is a Church teaching. In the meantime can anyone shed some light for me if this indeed is something that Calvinists believe and possibly give me some background/definition of this teaching?

Sincerely in Christ,


pm Truthstalker


As a Calvinist myself, I can say that we do indeed deny the neutrality of fallen man. This is known as “Total Depravity”, or sometimes “Total Inability”. Some information on this can be found at:


Could you possibly elaborate :slight_smile: ? - it’s not entirely clear precisely what you are affirming & denying, & what the Calvinist is affirming & denying.

And it would help to know whether we are talking about man before regeneration, or man as being regenerated.

There is a book called “Human Nature in Its Fourfold State”, by Thomas Boston, which goes into these issues very throughly. It’s 270 years old, & a classic. It’s long - about 500 pages - but none the worse for that. :slight_smile:

The problem with other men’s ideas of one’s own beliefs is that they can easily be mangled - so people may end by discussing entirely different issues. :eek:


I read some Van Til years ago, and I know that he objected to the concept of the “donum superadditum”–i.e., that unfallen human beings still needed grace in order to be united to God. I think this is part of what he is getting at with this concept–for Calvinists, human beings before the Fall are by nature capable of knowing and loving God, and after the Fall they are incapable (well, they can know enough about God to render them worthy of condemnation). You are either radically ordered toward God by your nature (and thus not in need of grace) or radically corrupt and thus incapable of any good without grace.

In Thomism, on the other hand, human beings (while certainly ordered to God by nature) are capable by nature of only “natural” ends, not of seeing God or enjoying eternal life. For this, even unfallen human beings needed the gift of grace (and of course they possessed it from the moment of creation until the moment of the Fall). And even after the fall, the natural capacity for good remains (although wounded), while the gift of grace has been lost and must be restored in Christ (who also heals the wounds in our natural capacity for good). To Calvinists, this is a radically inadequate understanding of the Fall. They don’t make the same natural/supernatural distinction.

In other words, for Aquinas human beings need grace first and foremost because they are finite creatures; for Calvinists, they need grace because they are radically depraved by sin. For Aquinas, there is a natural capacity of human nature which can be used for either good or evil, though it cannot reach eternal life or shake off the debilitating effects of sin without grace. I would not call this “neutrality,” but I suspect it is what Van Til is talking about.

Bear in mind that Van Til was a rather odd figure (though very influential in some conservative Calvinist circles). Many Calvinists would disagree with a lot of his ideas.



I am also familiar with some of Van Til’s works and the works of two of his chief proponents, Rousas Rushdoony and Greg Bahnsen. Van Til is best known for his presuppositional approach to knowledge. The presuppositional apologetic of Van Til basically states that every system of knowledge or thought is based upon presuppositions that of themselves cannot be verified. He concludes from this that no system of knowledge (epistemology) is “neutral.” Therefore, the argument goes that there is no neutral starting point to demonstrate the attributes of God or even God’s existence. He rejects the Catholic position that God’s existence and things about God can be proven through natural theology, namely through the laws of logic and through the senses.

Van Til asserts that the only true Christian system of knowledge requires us to presuppose God’s existence and the truth and inerrancy of the Bible. According to him, it is folly to attempt to prove anything about God from a position of neutrality.

He has some pretty qualified dissenters amongst the reformed presbyterian ranks though, including R.C. Sproul. Imho, Sproul’s book Classical Apologetics is devastating to Van Til’s presuppositional approach to knowledge. There are some online articles on Dave Armstrong’s blog that deal with the presuppositionalists.

If your acquaintance would like to come over to CAF and ask some questions about it, I would be happy to discuss it with him.


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