IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 1, Number 40, November 29 to December 6, 1999
IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 1, Number 42, December 14 to December 20, 1999
Since I wrote a popularization of Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic method twenty years ago (Every Thought Captive, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1979), I have had many opportunities to discuss his views. One thing has become clear from these conversations: many people have serious misunderstandings of Van Til’s outlooks. Unfortunately, these misunderstandings have led to unnecessary conflicts within the family of God.
In this article I will address seven basic misunderstandings that have caused undue friction among Christian apologists. I am convinced that there are genuine differences among Christians in the area of apologetics, but I also believe that many of these apparent differences are not real. They result from poor communication. I hope to clarify some of these issues so that more fruitful discussion of this important subject may replace useless conflict.
Let me begin with an appeal to Van Til’s advocates and opponents. Van Til’s most devoted disciples should acknowledge that he did not say the last word on apologetics. He was, after all, just a man. Van Til’s followers have much to learn from other approaches to this complex subject. We should be ready to improve our understanding in every way we can.
But let Van Til’s opponents listen carefully as well. There is much for all of us to learn from him. Consider the legacy of men like Machen, Murray, Young, Stonehouse, and Van Til. They are not our enemies; they are fathers of Reformed theology in America. Their positive contributions to our tradition are astounding. Of course, they are not above critique. But all of them, including Van Til, deserve to be read carefully and sympathetically.
I am convinced that the more we rid ourselves of misconceptions about Van Til, the better we will be able to work together toward the common goal of developing a Biblical defense of the Faith. We are members of the same family; let’s work hard to avoid unnecessary conflict and get on with challenging the world, not each other, to battle.
Misconception #1: “Van Til denied the doctrine of general (natural) revelation by arguing that unbelievers are incapable of deriving true knowledge of God from nature.”
Throughout his writings Van Til vigorously affirmed the standard Reformed doctrine of general (natural) revelation. He consistently argued that the first chapter of Romans teaches not only that all people can know God through nature, but that they do know God and his moral requirements because of natural revelation. We may deny the revelation of God in all things, but we cannot escape it. Because the universe reveals God to all, all know him.
In fact, Van Til went so far as to see this knowledge as a source of assurance for apologists. Believers may approach unbelievers with confidence because all people remain the image of God and know deep within that Christian assertions about God and the world are true. For Van Til the God-consciousness within each person is the point of contact between Christians and non-Christians. We can have meaningful dialogue with them because they are images of God and have knowledge of God and their status before him.
This understanding was so vital to Van Til’s thought that he described apologetic arguments as restatements and explanations of general revelation in a persuasive manner. We enter apologetic situations with sinners who are dead in their sins (Eph. 2:1), but these sinners are still image bearers. Their reason, will, and emotions bear witness against them. The whole universe bears witness against their denial of the truth, and they know it.
Support from Van Til’s writings:
“We thus stress Paul’s teaching that all men do not have a mere capacity for but are in actual possession of the knowledge of God” (DOF 109).
“But Reformed theology, as worked out by Calvin and his recent exponents such as Hodge, Warfield, Kuyper and Bavinck, holds that man’s mind is derivative. As such it is naturally in contact with God’s revelation. It is surrounded by nothing but revelation. It is itself inherently revelational. It cannot naturally be conscious of itself without being conscious of its creatureliness. For man self-consciousness presupposes God-consciousness. Calvin speaks of this as man’s inescapable sense of deity” (DOF 107).
“God has never left himself without a witness to men. He witnessed to them through every fact of the universe from the beginning of time. No rational creature can escape this witness. It is the witness of the triune God whose face is before men everywhere and all the time. Even the lost in the hereafter cannot escape the revelation of God. God made man a rational-moral creature. He will always be that. As such he is confronted with God. He is addressed by God. He exists in the relationship of covenant interaction. He is a covenant being. To not know God man would have to destroy himself. He cannot do this. There is no non-being into which man can slip in order to escape God’s face and voice. The mountains will not cover him; Hades will not hide him. Nothing can prevent his being confronted ‘with him with whom we have to do.’ Whenever he sees himself, he sees himself confronted with God.
Whatever may happen, whatever sin may bring about, whatever havoc it may occasion, it cannot destroy man’s knowledge of God and his sense of responsibility to God. Sin would not be sin except for this ineradicable knowledge of God. Even sin as a process of ever-increasing alienation from God presupposes for its background this knowledge of God.
This knowledge is that which all men have in common” (DOF 172-173).
“The point of contact for the gospel, then, must be sought within the natural man. Deep down in his mind every man knows that he is the creature of God and responsible to God. Every man, at bottom, knows that he is a covenant-breaker. But every man acts and talks as though this were not so. It is the one point that cannot bear mentioning in his presence” (DOF 111).
“With Calvin I find the point of contact for the presentation of the gospel to non-Christians in the fact that they are made in the image of God and as such have the ineradicable sense of deity within them. Their own consciousness is inherently and exclusively revelational of God to themselves. No man can help knowing God for in knowing himself he knows God. His self-consciousness is totally devoid of content unless, as Calvin puts it at the beginning of his Institutes, man knows himself as a creature before God” (DOF 257).
“Disagreeing with the natural man’s interpretation of himself as the ultimate reference-point, the Reformed apologist must seek his point of contact with the natural man in that which is beneath the threshold of his working consciousness, in the sense of deity which he seeks to suppress. And to do this the Reformed apologist must also seek a point of contact with the systems constructed by the natural man. But this point of contact must be in the nature of a head-on collision. If there is no head-on collision with the systems of the natural man there will be no point of contact with the sense of deity in the natural man” (DOF 115-116).
Misconception #2: “Van Til asserted that non-Christians cannot understand truth because sin has so corrupted their minds.”
Van Til emphasized that the mind did not remain intact through the Fall; we are totally depraved, corrupted by sin in all of our faculties. As a result, unbelievers have a sinful propensity toward misconstruing reality that cannot be completely eradicated. Just as unbelievers’ basic moral conviction — the denial of God’s Law as the absolute standard — corrupts even the “good” that they do, so their most basic epistemological commitment — the denial of God as the source of truth — corrupts all the “truths” that they affirm. In this matter, Van Til followed the biblical teaching that unbelievers’ minds are darkened, futile, and lacking in understanding (Eph. 4:17-18; Rom. 3:10-11).
Nevertheless, Van Til never suggested for a moment that unbelievers become as corrupt in their thinking as they could become. In principle, non-Christians have rejected the epistemic foundation that makes understanding truth possible. But in practice they do not carry through with their principle. God’s common grace enables unbelievers to have a degree of true understanding about many things. They are inconsistent with their commitment to rebellion against God, and borrow from God’s general and special revelation. Van Til affirmed his appreciation for the contributions of non-Christians to the sciences and arts, but he always reminded us that these advances are the result of God’s common grace working against the sinful tendencies of unbelievers. Left to themselves, unbelievers would become epistemologically self-destructive. They would utterly reject every truth that confronts them.
In Romans 1:18 Paul asserted that unbelievers “suppress the truth by their wickedness.” These words display the two sides of non-Christian thinking that Van Til recognized. They possess the truth and suppress it. You can’t suppress something you don’t possess. Van Til observed that both conditions are true to varying degrees at different times (Rom. 2:14). To be sure, he emphasized unbelievers’ suppression of the truth. His approach is oriented toward the “worst case scenario” in which unbelievers follow their sinful tendencies and remain significantly unaffected by common grace. However, Van Til also acknowledged a “best case scenario” in which God influences unbelievers to be inconsistent with their sinful tendencies and to agree with key Christian beliefs like the existence of God, the order of nature, the principles of logic, et al.
Van Til’s perspective has significant implications for the practice of apologetics. When common grace has enabled unbelievers to acknowledge certain true ideas, we can build a case for Christianity on these truths. For instance, if people agree that the world is orderly, we may use that biblical idea as we challenge them to respond to the gospel. If other people believe that there are moral absolutes, we may build on this concept as well.
Nevertheless, our preparation for apologetics must also equip us to handle situations in which such basic truths are denied. We live in a day when much of the common grace Christian consensus has crumbled. Sometimes it is difficult to find much in common with unbelievers’ acknowledged beliefs. People deny the order of the universe; they reject moral absolutes; they even deny the possibility of knowledge. We must be ready to challenge the most consistent unbeliever. In these circumstances, Van Til’s insights are particularly helpful.
Support from Van Til’s writings:
“The first objection that suggests itself may be expressed in the rhetorical question ‘Do you mean to assert that non-Christians do not discover truth by the methods they employ?’ The reply is that we mean nothing so absurd as that. The implication of the method here advocated is simply that non-Christians are never able and therefore never do employ their own methods consistently” (DOF 120).
“Why waste words on the idea that non-Christians do not have good powers of perception, good powers of reasoning, etc. Non-Christians have all these. If that were the issue, then the contention should be made that non-Christians are blind, deaf, and have no powers of logical reasoning at all; in fact, they should be non-existent” (DOF 292).
“Every man has capacity to reason logically. He can intellectually understand what the Christian position claims to be. Conjoined with this is the moral sense that he knows he is doing wrong when he interprets human experience without reference to his creator. I am therefore in the fullest agreement with Professor Murray when, in the quotation you give of him, he speaks of the natural man as having an ‘apprehension of the truth of the gospel that is prior to faith and repentance’” (DOF 257).
“Now the question is not whether the non-Christian can weigh, measure, or do a thousand other things. No one denies that he can. But the question is whether on his principle the non-Christian can account for his own or any knowledge. I argued that when two people, the one a Christian and the other not a Christian, talk things out with one another, they will appear to differ at every point” (DOF 288).
“It is this fact, that the natural man, using his principles and working on his assumptions, must be hostile in principle at every point to the Christian philosophy of life, that was stressed in the writer’s little book, Common Grace. That all men have all things in common metaphysically and psychologically, was definitely asserted, and further, that the natural man has epistemologically nothing in common with the Christian. And this latter assertion was qualified by saying that this is so only in principle. For it is not till after the consummation of history that men are left wholly to themselves. Till then the Spirit of God continues to strive with men that they might forsake their evil ways. Till then God in his common grace, in his long-suffering forbearance, gives men rain and sunshine and all the good things of life that they might repent. The primary attitude of God to men as men is that of goodness. It is against this goodness expressing itself in the abundance of good gifts that man sins. And even then God prevents the principle of sin from coming to full fruition. He restrains the wrath of man. He enables him by this restraint to cooperate with the redeemed of God in the development of the work he gave man to do.
But all this does not in the least reduce the fact that as far as the principle of the natural man is concerned, it is absolutely or utterly, not partly, opposed to God. That principle is Satanic. It is exclusively hostile to God. If it could it would destroy the work and plan of God. So far then as men self-consciously work from this principle they have no notion in common with the believer. Their epistemology is informed by their ethical hostility to God.
But in the course of history the natural man is not fully self-conscious of his own position” (DOF 189-190).
“The reason why the scientific, the philosophic, and the theological efforts of non-Christians contribute to the discovery of the true states of affairs is the fact that the world is what Christians say it is and it is not what fallen men say it is. It is only because man is created in the image of God, because the world about him together with himself is created and directed by God through Christ, that even non-Christian thinkers can do constructive work” (TRA 11).
“It is thus in the mixed situation that results because of the factors mentioned, (1) that every man knows God naturally (2) that every sinner is in principle anxiously striving to efface that knowledge of God and (3) that every sinner is in this world still the object of the striving of the Spirit calling him back to God, that cooperation between believers and unbelievers is possible. Men on both sides can, by virtue of the gifts of God that they enjoy, contribute to science. The question of ethical hostility does not enter in at this point. Not merely weighing and measuring, but the argument for the existence of God and for the truth of Christianity, can as readily be observed to be true by non-Christians as by Christians. Satan knows all too well that God exists and that Christ was victor over him on Calvary. But the actual situation in history involves the other factors mentioned. Thus there is nowhere an area where the second factor, that of man’s ethical hostility to God, does not also come into the picture. This factor is not so clearly in evidence when men deal with external things; it is more clearly in evidence when they deal with the directly religious question of the truth of Christianity. But it is none the less present everywhere” (DOF 190-193).
“As to the possibility and likelihood of the sinner’s accepting the Christian position, it must be said that this is a matter of the grace of God. As the creature of God, made in the image of God, he is always accessible to God. As a rational creature he can understand that one must either accept the whole of a system of truth or reject the whole of it ... He knows right well as a rational being that only the Reformed statement of Christianity is consistent with itself and therefore challenges the non-Christian position at every point. He can understand therefore why the Reformed theologian should accept the doctrine of Scripture as the infallible Word of God. He can understand the idea of its necessity, its perspicuity, its sufficiency and its authority as being involved in the Christian position as a whole” (DOF 166-167).
“Reformed Christians should realize that the non-Christian may have, and often does have a brilliant mind. It may act efficiently, like a sharp circular saw acts efficiently. We may greatly admire such a mind for what, in spite of its basic principle and because of the fact that God has released its powers in his restraining grace, it has done. For all that, it must not be forgotten that this mind is still, be its name Aristotle, a covenant-breaker in Adam” (DOF 298).
“We readily allow that non-Christian science has done a great work and brought to light much truth. But this margin of truth which science has discovered is in spite of and not because of its fundamental assumption of a chance universe. Non-Christian science has worked with the borrowed capital of Christian theism, and for that reason alone has been able to bring to light much truth” (CTE 69).
“Anyone who says, ‘I believe in God,’ is formally correct in his statement, but the question is what does he mean by the word God? The traditional view assumes that the natural man has a certain measure of correct thought content when he uses the word God. In reality the natural man’s “God” is always a finite God. It is his most effective tool for suppressing the sense of the true God that he cannot fully efface from the fibers of his heart” (DOF 262).
“What then more particularly do I mean by saying that epistemologically the believer and the non-believer have nothing in common? I mean that every sinner looks through colored glasses. And these colored glasses are cemented to his face. He assumes that self-consciousness is intelligible without God-consciousness. He assumes that consciousness of fact is intelligible without consciousness of God. He assumes that consciousness of laws is intelligible without God. And he interprets all the facts and all the laws that are presented to him in terms of these assumptions. This is not to forget that he also, according to the old man within him, knows that God exists. But as a covenant breaker he seeks to suppress this. And I am now speaking of him as the covenant breaker. Neither do I forget that no man is actually fully consistent in working according to these assumptions. The non-believer does not fully live up to the new man within him which in his case is the man who worships the creature above all else, any more than does the Christian fully live up to the new man within him, which in his case is the man who worships the Creator above all else. But as it is my duty as a Christian to ask my fellow Christians as well as myself to suppress the old man within them, so it is my duty to ask non-believers to suppress not the old man but the new man within them” (DOF 259-260).
Misconception #3: “Van Til believed that people must consciously presuppose the Christian God by an act of blind faith” (thus the charge of fideism).
Throughout his books, Van Til emphasized the necessity of “starting with” or “presupposing” the truth of Christian theism, but he never meant by this that people should exercise faith apart from careful rational reflection. Van Til made an important distinction between two kinds of starting points.
In the first place, he spoke of the proximate starting point of human experience and reason. It was evident to him from Scripture that people begin to consider the claims of Christ on a psychological and temporal level with whatever they acknowledge as true. The Holy Spirit uses all sorts of experiences and arguments as means to bring unbelievers to saving faith. In this sense, all human beings “begin” with knowledge of themselves and the world around them before they acknowledge the God of creation.
In the second place, however, Van Til often referred to the self-attesting God of Scriptures as the ultimate starting point for all legitimate human reasoning. In his view, the fundamental mistake of non-Christian thought is a foundational commitment to human autonomy (independence from God). Unbelievers pretend that human reason can be its own ultimate starting point by trying to support their knowledge claims without an ultimate appeal to the God of Scripture. But this is like a man pulling himself up by his own bootstraps. Try as he may, he will get nowhere. Van Til argued transcendentally for Christian theism. In other words, he urged that the only solid foundation for true knowledge, even the possibility of knowledge, is the Christian God. The only thing that adequately explains how we know and what we know is the self-existent Triune God. This is the sense in which Van Til called for people to “presuppose” Christian theism — not as a blind leap of faith, but as the only concept that can provide ultimate support for human knowledge. Any other foundational commitment or presupposition will eventually result in utter irrationalism.
In practice, Van Til’s approach instructs us to begin working with unbelievers wherever they are. We answer their questions; we challenge their falsehoods. After all, this is the proximate starting point. Nevertheless, our goal in apologetics is to call men and women to acknowledge the Christian God as the ultimate starting point for knowledge. We are not simply trying to help them think more clearly. We are not adding a layer of faith onto their futile autonomous foundation. We are calling them to forsake the human mind as their ultimate starting point and to give the God of Scriptures his rightful place in their lives.
“According to the principle of Protestantism, man’s consciousness of self and of objects presuppose for their intelligibility the self-consciousness of God. In asserting this we are not thinking of psychological and temporal priority. We are thinking only of the question as to what is the final reference point in interpretation. The Protestant principle finds this in the self-contained ontological trinity. By his counsel the triune God controls whatsoever comes to pass. If then the human consciousness must, in the nature of the case, always be the proximate starting-point, it remains true that God is always the most basic and therefore the ultimate or final reference point in human interpretation” (DOF 94).
“The orthodox notion begins with God as the concrete self-existent being. Thus God is not named according to what is found in the creature, except God has first named the creature according to what is in himself. The only reason why it appears as though God is named according to what is found in the creature is that, as creatures, we must psychologically begin with ourselves in our knowledge of anything. We are ourselves the proximate starting point of all our knowledge. In contrast to this, however, we should think of God as the ultimate starting point of our knowledge. God is the archetype, while we are the ectypes. God’s knowledge is archetypal and ours ectypal” (IST 203).
Misconception #4: “Van Til denied that human beings can know truth about God because an impenetrable barrier separates the human mind from the Creator’s mind.”
Van Til frequently focused attention on the differences between divine and human knowledge. His emphasis on the Creator-creature distinction has led some to think that he erected an impenetrable wall between human and divine knowledge. But Van Til vigorously denied these inferences by insisting on discontinuity and continuity between divine and human reason.
On the one hand, Van Til argued for discontinuity between our knowledge and God’s knowledge. He pointed out that God has known all from eternity; humans know only as they learn in time. God’s knowledge is exhaustive; we only know in part. In this sense — but only in this sense — divine and human knowledge have no coincidence. Nothing is peculiar in these views. They simply express the orthodox doctrine of divine incomprehensibility. Humanity cannot fully comprehend divinity.
On the other hand, Van Til argued just as strongly for a rational relationship of continuity between God and humanity. As images of God, our rationality is patterned after God’s rationality. For this reason, our knowledge of truth coincides with God’s knowledge at every point. In other words, we know the same objective truths that God knows (although He knows much more), and God’s knowledge includes our understanding. Otherwise, we could have no true knowledge.
Van Til consistently urged us to think God’s thoughts after him. We reason analogically by patterning our thoughts after the revelation of God in Scripture and nature. In this way, we share knowledge with God. Our knowledge is partial and God knows infinitely more, but truth is truth both for God and humanity.
Support from Van Til’s writings:
“As Christians, then, we believe that human knowledge of the world and of God is (a) not exhaustive and yet (b) true. We are created in God’s image, and therefore our knowledge cannot be exhaustive; we are created in God’s image, and therefore our knowledge is true” (IST 24).
“We may safely conclude then that if God is what we say he is, namely a being who exists necessarily as a self-complete system of coherence, and we exist at all as self-conscious beings, we must have true knowledge of him ... All this we express theologically when we say that man is created in God’s image. This makes man like God and assures true knowledge of God. We are known of him and therefore we know him and know that we know him. God is light and therefore we have light” (DOF 57).
“Important as it is to insist that our knowledge of God must be true, because God is what he is, it is equally important to insist that our knowledge of God is not and cannot be comprehensive. We are God’s creatures. We cannot know God comprehensively now nor can we hope to know God comprehensively hereafter. We may know much more in the future than we know now. Especially when we come to heaven will we know more than we know now, but we will not know comprehensively.
We are therefore like God so that our knowledge is true and we are unlike God and therefore our knowledge can never be comprehensive. When we say that God is a mystery for us we do not mean that our knowledge of him is not true as far as it goes. When we say that God is transcendent above us or when we say that God is ‘the absolutely Other,’ we do not mean that there is not a rational relation between God and us. As God created us in accordance with his plan, that is, as God created us in accordance with his absolute rationality, so there must be a rational relationship from us to God. Christianity is, in the last analysis, not an absolute irrationalism but an absolute ‘rationalism.’ In fact we may contrast every non-Christian epistemology with Christian epistemology by saying that Christian epistemology believes in an ultimate rationalism while all other systems of epistemology believe in an ultimate irrationalism” (DOF 57-58).
“In the first place, it is possible in this way to see that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of man coincide at every point in the sense that always and everywhere man confronts that which is already fully known or interpreted by God. The point of reference cannot but be the same for man as for God. There is no fact that man meets in any of his investigation where the face of God does not confront him. On the other hand in this way it is possible to see that the knowledge of God and the knowledge of man coincide at no point in the sense that in his awareness of meaning of anything, in his mental grasp or understanding of anything, man is at each point dependent upon a prior act of unchangeable understanding and revelation on the part of God. The form of the revelation of God to man must come to man in accordance with his creaturely limitations. God’s thought with respect to anything is a unit. Yet it pertains to a multiplicity of objects. But man can think of that unit as involving a number of items only in the form of succession. So Scripture speaks of God as though he were thinking his thoughts step by step. All revelation is anthropomorphic. When God reveals himself to man he reveals something of the fullness of his being. In God’s mind any bit of information that he gives to man is set in the fullness of his one supreme act of self-affirmation” (IST 164-165).
“For when God tells us about his attributes he is telling us about himself. Every bit of his revelation shows man something of the nature of the essence of God. If we speak therefore of the incomprehensibility of God, what is meant is that God’s revelation to man is never exhaustively understood by man. As by his revelation to man God says something about himself, so that man knows something about everything that exists, so it is equally true that there is nothing that man knows exhaustively. It is as impossible for man to know himself or any of the objects of the universe about him exhaustively as it is impossible for man to know God exhaustively. For man must know himself or anything else in the created universe in relation to the self-contained God. Unless he can know God exhaustively he cannot know anything else exhaustively.
It is only if these two points be taken together, the fact that man knows something about everything, including the very essence of God, and on the other hand that he does not know anything exhaustively, that the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God can be seen for what it is” (IST 164).
“As human beings we must know or interpret the facts after we look at the facts, after they are there and perhaps after they have operated for some time. In the case of God, on the other hand, God’s knowledge of the facts comes first. God knows or interprets the facts before they are facts. It is God’s plan or his comprehensive interpretation of the facts that makes the facts what they are” (DOF 27).
“A corollary from the doctrine of the Trinity is that human knowledge is analogical, Human knowledge must always depend upon divine knowledge. Anything that a human being knows must first have been known to God. Anything a human being knows he knows only because he knows God. For that reason too man can never know anything as well and as exhaustively as God knows it.
The fact that man’s knowledge must always remain analogical is applicable to his knowledge of God as well as to his knowledge of the universe. God will never be exhaustively understood in his essence by man. If he were, he would no longer be God. In that case there would be no solution for the problem of knowledge.
A third corollary from the doctrine of the Trinity is that man’s knowledge though analogical is nevertheless true. Or to put it more specifically, man’s knowledge is true because it is analogical. It is analogical because God’s being unites within itself the ultimate unity and the ultimate plurality spoken of above. And it is true because there is such a God who unites this ultimate unity and plurality. Hence we may also say that only analogical knowledge can be true knowledge” (DOF 48).
Misconception #5: “Van Til rejected the importance of logic, including the law of non-contradiction.”
Van Til never denied the importance of logic. He affirmed that logic has its basis in the consistency and verity of God, and that logical thinking is an aspect of our nature as images of God. Our rational capacity is one of the ways in which we are like God. God wants us to think his thoughts after Him, and this includes the proper use of logic. Nevertheless, Van Til qualified these affirmations with the observation that logic — as well as we know and use it — is subject to creaturely limitations and sinful abuses.
Van Til utterly rejected the idea that God could contradict himself. Neither God nor his revelation can be contradictory. Otherwise, God would be a liar and that is not possible (Num. 23:19). Nevertheless, Van Til was quick to stress that many things about God remain beyond the grasp of human reason. The Bible contains mysteries that our minds cannot fathom (Deut. 29:29; Rom. 11:33-36).
For example, we cannot fully understand the intricacies of doctrines like the Trinity, the Incarnation, divine sovereignty and human responsibility, to name just a few. We can explore and understand these doctrines to some extent, but not enough to eliminate the appearance of significant logical difficulties. These Biblical teachings may have the appearance of contradiction, but only the appearance. We may not be able to explain adequately everything about these mysteries, but we rest in the knowledge that they are resolved in the mind of the God who knows all and is perfectly rational.
In this way, Van Til called for Christians to place practical limitations on the use of our sinful and finite understanding of the law of non-contradiction. We know that in principle no truth contradicts, but in practice we cannot always demonstrate how this is so. For this reason, we should not use the law of non-contradiction as the ultimate arbiter of truth. We are unable to penetrate exhaustively into the many mysteries that the Bible teaches. Therefore, Christians should observe the law of non-contradiction, but always to clarify — never to discount — the teachings of Scripture. When the Scriptures seem to contradict themselves or experience, we work hard to improve our understanding through logical reflection, but many times we reach the limits of our rational abilities. At these points, we put our trust in God as the One in whom there is no falsehood or contradiction.
The practical implications of these outlooks are essential to the Christian life because they raise questions about the authority and reliability of the Bible. The Bible contains no contradictions within itself, nor does it contradict the facts of general revelation. But because our use of logic is finite and corrupted by sin, the teachings of Scripture often challenge our rational capacities. “It is not rational to believe such things,” unbelievers contend. As Christians, we have to admit both the appearance of logical difficulties and our inability to solve all of these problems. Yet, we affirm in no uncertain terms, that the problem is in the sinful use of human reason, not in Scripture.
For this reason, we must give practical priority to the Bible over our rational abilities, including our best attempts to follow the law of non-contradiction. It is dangerous to tell people that they should be rational without also warning them to be humble before the pure and infinite rationality of God revealed in Scripture. We must not place a corrupted finite standard above or on par with the absolute standard of God’s Word. When our thoughts conflict with the Bible, we should bow in humility before God, believing him despite the appearance of logical difficulties.
Support from Van Til’s writings:
“The gift of logical reason was given by God to man in order that he might order the revelation of God for himself” (IST 256).
“Christian theism should employ the law of contradiction, whether positively or negatively, as a means by which to systematize the facts of revelation. Whether these facts are found in the universe at large or in the Scripture. The law of contradiction cannot be thought of as operating anywhere except against the background of the nature of God” (IST 11).
“It appears that there must seem to be contradiction in human knowledge. To this we must now add that the contradiction that seems to be there can in the nature of the case be no more than a seeming contradiction. If we said that there is real contradiction in our knowledge we would once more be denying the basic concept of Christian-theism, i.e., the concept of the self-complete universal in God. We should then not merely be saying that there is no complete coherence in our thinking but we should also be saying that there is no complete coherence in God’s thinking. And this would be the same as saying that there is no coherence or truth in our thinking at all. If we say that the idea of paradox or antinomy is that of real contradiction, we have destroyed all human and all divine knowledge; if we say that the idea of paradox or antinomy is that of seeming contradiction we have saved God’s knowledge and therewith also our own” (DOF 62).
“As Christians we say that this is a mystery that is beyond our comprehension. It surely is. God himself, in the totality of his existence, is above our comprehension. At the same time, this mysterious God is mysterious because he is, within himself, wholly rational” (IST 230).
“The interpretation that man would give to anything in this world can therefore never be comprehensive and exhaustive. This much of truth there is in the recent emphasis on the part of the men of science on the mysteriousness of the facts of the universe. However, as Christians, we hold that the reason for the mysteriousness of the facts of this universe is not that given by scientists today. Science today, in consonance with non-Christian thought in general, holds that the facts of this universe are surrounded by an ultimate void, that is, by an ultimate irrationality. We, on the contrary, hold that God as absolute Light is back of the facts of the universe. We hold that the atom is mysterious for us, but not for God” (IST 24).
“When then the apparently contradictory appears, as it always must when man seeks to know the relation of God to himself, there will be no denial either of election or of human responsibility in the name of the law of contradiction” (IST 257).
“Man can never in any sense outgrow his creaturehood. This puts a definite connotation into the expression that man is like God. He is like God, to be sure, but always on a creaturely scale. He can never be like God in God’s aseity, immutability, infinity and unity. For that reason the church has embedded into the heart of its confessions the doctrine of the incomprehensibility of God. God’s being and knowledge are absolutely comprehensive; such knowledge is too wonderful for man; he cannot attain unto it. Man was not created with comprehensive knowledge. Man was finite and his finitude was originally no burden to him. Neither could man ever expect to attain to comprehensive knowledge in the future. We cannot expect to have comprehensive knowledge even in heaven. It is true that much will be revealed to us that is now a mystery to us but in the nature of the case God cannot reveal to us that which as creatures we cannot comprehend; we should have to be God ourselves in order to understand God in the depth of his being. God must always remain mysterious to man.
The significance of this point will appear more fully when we contrast this conception of mystery with the non-Christian conception of mystery that is current today even in Christian circles. The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian conception of mystery may be expressed in a word by saying that we hold that there is mystery for man but not for God while the non-Christian holds that there is either no mystery for God or man, or there is mystery for both God and man” (DOF 29-30).
“The finite mind cannot thus, if we are to reason theistically, be made the standard of what is possible and what is impossible. It is the divine mind that is determinative of the possible. We conclude then that God’s knowledge of the universe is also analytical. God’s knowledge of the universe depends upon God’s knowledge of himself. God has made the universe in accordance with his eternal plan for that universe. Thus the very existence of the universe depends upon God’s knowledge of or plan for the universe. God does, to be sure, behold the universe and the children of men as being “outside” himself. He beholds them now as actually existing beings engaged in actual work of their own, because he has from all eternity beheld them as going to exist. His knowledge of that which now takes place in the universe is logically dependent upon what he has from all eternity decided with respect to the universe” (DOF 56).
“We have repeatedly asserted that the facts of the universe are what they are because they express together the system of truth revealed in the Bible. What is meant by the idea of truth as found in Scripture does not, as noted, mean a logically penetrable system. God alone knows himself and all the things of the created universe exhaustively. He has revealed himself to man. But he did not reveal himself exhaustively to man. Neither the created universe nor the Bible exhaustively reveals God to man. Nor has man the capacity to receive such an exhaustive revelation. God reveals himself to man according to man’s ability to receive his revelation. All revelation is anthropomorphic. Moreover, when we say that man understands the revelation of God what is meant is not that he sees through this revelation exhaustively. Neither by logical reasoning nor by intuition can man do more than take to himself the revelation of God on the authority of God.” (CTK 37)
“A word must here be said about the question of antinomies. It will readily be inferred what as Christians we mean by antinomies. They are involved in the fact that human knowledge can never be completely comprehensive knowledge. Every knowledge transaction has in its [sic] somewhere a reference point to God. Now since God is not fully comprehensible to us we are bound to come into what seems to be contradiction in all our knowledge. Our knowledge is analogical and therefore must be paradoxical. We say that if there is to be any true knowledge at all there must be in God an absolute system of knowledge. We therefore insist that everything must be related to that absolute system of God. Yet we ourselves cannot fully understand that system.
We may, in order to illustrate our meaning here, take one of the outstanding paradoxes of the Christian interpretation of things, namely, that of the relation of the counsel of God to our prayers. To put it pointedly: We say on the one hand that prayer changes things and on the other hand we say that everything happens in accordance with God’s plan and God’s plan is immutable.
The thing we are concerned about here is to point out that in the nature of the case there would have to be such a paradox or seeming contradiction in human knowledge. God exists as self-complete apart from us; he is all-glorious. Yet he created the universe that it might glorify him. This point lies at the bottom of every paradox or antinomy” (DOF 61-62).
“On the assumptions of the natural man logic is a timeless impersonal principle, and facts are controlled by chance. It is by means of universal timeless principles of logic that the natural man must, on his assumptions, seek to make intelligible assertions about the world of reality or chance. But this cannot be done without falling into self-contradiction. About chance no manner of assertion can be made. In its very idea it is the irrational. And how are rational assertions to be made about the irrational?” (DOF 143-144).
“The reader will at once observe that it is wholly counter to the approach taken in this syllabus to say that the laws of logic have been destroyed in the sinner. The whole point of the distinction between the antithesis as being ethical rather than metaphysical is that as a creature made in God’s image man’s constitution as a rational and moral being has not been destroyed. The separation from God on the part of the sinner is ethical. How could it be metaphysical? Even the lost in the hereafter have not lost the power of rational and moral determination. They must have this image in order to be aware of their lost condition” (IST 254).
Misconception #6: “Van Til denied the importance of logic by suggesting that it is acceptable to commit the fallacy of begging the question (arguing in a circle).”
Van Til never suggested that anyone should commit the logical fallacy of begging the question (e.g. “A is true because A is true.”). That would be strange indeed. In reality, he frequently called attention to the failure of such arguments. It is true that Van Til spoke positively of “circular reasoning,” but he had something other than begging the question in mind. He was not talking so much about argumentation, setting down a convincing case that leads to a conclusion. In argumentation, reasoning should be linear. Instead, Van Til spoke of circularity in terms of the inescapable process by which finite minds attain knowledge to be used in arguments.
Van Til urged that all human reasoning is involved in a finite process of circular, or better spiral, learning. We grasp a measure of truth, reason from that to other truths, and these new truths in turn enhance our understanding of that first truth. There is no logical fallacy in this. It is the reality of human apprehension and reflection. This is the basic process of scientific induction. As we move from one fact to another, the latter illumines the former. It is similar to the procedure that we use in Biblical interpretation. The second and third verses we read help us understand the first verse we read. We do not begin with an idea and never return to it. Logical inferences constantly inform our understanding of the notions that started us thinking in a particular direction.
This kind of reciprocity in reasoning is ultimately unavoidable. For example, suppose you want to defend the idea that the senses are basically reliable. It would be fallacious to argue, “I believe in the reliability of the senses because I believe in the reliability of the senses.” That is begging the question. Nevertheless, we should all realize that it is absolutely impossible to argue for the basic reliability of sense perception without relying at least implicitly on sense perception. How do we argue for the reliability of our senses? We accumulate examples of times when our senses gave us true knowledge of the world. This is a perfectly sound induction. But how did we know that our examples even took place? How did we know our senses gave us true knowledge at these times? The answer is obvious: through sense perception. In what other way could one possibly demonstrate the reliability of the senses, except by relying on the senses? This is the kind of circularity or spiraling that Van Til pointed out in all human reasoning. It has nothing to do with begging the question.
Consider the law of non-contradiction. How can it be logically justified? Of course, no one should say, “The law of non-contradiction is true because the law of non-contradiction is true.” That is begging the question. We may say that the law is self-evident, but that is an assertion, not an argument. Every linear argument we muster in support of the law of non-contradiction at least implicitly relies on the law. Sometimes, we argue for the law of non-contradiction by saying that its denial leads to absurdity. But to recognize absurdity we have implicitly to use the law of non-contradiction. At other times, we argue for the law by pointing out that every attempt to deny it requires the implicit use of the law. Once again, we rely implicitly on the principle to support the principle. Because the law of non-contradiction holds as a universal principle for all human reasoning, we can never reason properly without it, even as we defend its necessity. If it is indeed necessary for human thought, we then use it all the time, even when discussing the law itself. To acknowledge this is not to beg the question, it is merely to acknowledge the reality of how we come to know things.
Now consider the whole system of beliefs that we hold as Christians. The teaching of Scripture is vast, entailing not only ideas about God, but a host of teachings about the world (an orderly universe, etc.) and humanity (sinful, rational, etc.) as well. Suppose we want to argue for this world and life view by focusing on one claim of the Bible — say, the existence of God. We would not want to beg the question by arguing, “I believe God exists because God exists.” Instead, we would demonstrate this belief by any number of linear arguments: the principle of cause and effect, the design of the world, the testimony of human conscience, etc. But once we touch on these ideas (or for that matter, any other true concept), we have argued with ideas derived from the Christian world and life view, an outlook that is based on the fact that God exists.
The situation in apologetics is similar to that which we face with sense perception and the law of non-contradiction. If the Christian belief system is an exhaustive world and life view, covering all matters, we can never argue for it or any part of it without using arguments that are implicitly dependent on it. We cannot support the truth of Christianity without implicitly relying on truths that Christianity teaches. In this sense, we should not attempt to use ideas outside of the Christian world and life view to argue for Christianity, unless we want to argue from lies to the truth.
Happily, people are God’s images and have the inescapable witness of general revelation. They often accept (at least superficially) truths that we use in argumentation. For this reason, we do not always have to tell unbelievers that our arguments are distinctively Christian ideas. But remember, even the truths of general revelation that many unbelievers acknowledge (order of nature, existence of God, reliability of the senses, etc.) are part of our Christian world and life view. To argue for Christian theism without at the same time implicitly depending on Christian theism is like trying to get out of your skin to reach out and touch yourself. Impossible.
This is what Van Til taught when he described all reasoning as “circular.” He did not for a moment suggest that Christians should beg the question. Argumentation is to be linear. He merely insisted that there is no way for finite creatures to escape the implicit spiral of the learning and reasoning processes.
Support from Van Til’s writings:
“We hold it to be true that circular reasoning is the only reasoning that is possible to finite man. The method of implication as outlined above is circular reasoning. Or we may call it spiral reasoning. We must go round and round a thing to see more of its dimensions and to know more about it, in general, unless we are larger than that which we are investigating. Unless we are larger than God we cannot reason about Him by any other way, than by a transcendental or circular argument. The refusal to admit the necessity of circular reasoning is itself an evident token of Antitheism. Reasoning in a vicious circle is the only alternative to reasoning in a circle” (MA 24).
“To admit one’s own presuppositions and to point out the presuppositions of others is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning. The starting-point, the method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another” (DOF 118).
“At the outset it ought to be clearly observed that every system of thought necessarily has a certain method of its own. Usually this fact is overlooked. It is taken for granted that everybody begins in the same way with an examination of the facts, and that the differences between systems come only as a result of such investigations. Yet this is not actually the case. It could not actually be the case. In the first place, this could not be the case with a Christian. His fundamental and determining fact is the fact of God’s existence. That is his final conclusion. But that must also be his starting point. If the Christian is right in his final conclusion about God, then he would not even get into touch with any fact unless it were through the medium of God. And since man has, through the fall in Adam, become a sinner, man cannot know and therefore love God except through Christ the Mediator...
If all things must be seen ‘in God’ to be seen truly, one could look ever so long elsewhere without ever seeing a fact as it really is. If I must look through a telescope to see a distant star, I cannot first look at the star to see whether there is a telescope through which alone I could see it. If I must look through a microscope to see a germ, I cannot first look at the germ with the naked eye to see if there is a microscope through which alone I can see it. If it were a question of seeing something with the naked eye and seeing the same object more clearly through a telescope or a microscope, the matter would be different. We may see a landscape dimly with the naked eye and then turn to look at it through a telescope and see it more clearly. But such is not the case with the Christian position. According to it, nothing at all can be known truly of any fact unless it be known through and by way of man’s knowledge of God” (SCE 4-5).
Misconception #7: “Van Til rejected the use of rational arguments and empirical evidences to support the claims of Christ. He simply told unbelievers that they must believe.”
On the contrary, Van Til affirmed that apologists should use every available rational argument and empirical evidence to present a convincing case for Christian theism. Traditional theistic proofs, archaeological evidences, and the like are part of the arsenal for believers engaged with the world of unbelief. They are tools that the Spirit uses to bring men and women to saving faith.
Van Til did not, however, emphasize the use of particular rational and empirical resources. He was more concerned with alerting his readers to the basic outlooks people use to evaluate such evidences. Van Til believed that every fact of the universe confirms the truth of Scripture. How could it be otherwise? Nonetheless, appealing to particular facts or arguments to defend the faith often proves vain because unbelievers have alternative explanations that rise out of their basic world views.
For instance, the empty tomb does not prove that Jesus is the Son of God, unless we adopt a fuller Christian outlook on the world. Perhaps his body was stolen; maybe Jesus was a freak accident in a chance universe, the only mere man to come back to life. Likewise, the principle of cause and effect does not prove the existence of God, unless we operate with a host of other Christian ideas. Many leading physicists today simply respond that the universe is infinite and eternal; perhaps there is an infinite series of physical causes, or a multiplicity of gods and demons that formed the universe as we know it.
Van Til affirmed that in reality most traditional arguments used in support of Christian theism are absolutely conclusive; they objectively demonstrate the truth of Christianity. But unless the Spirit is at work, unbelievers will dispute their decisiveness because they operate out of a false world and life view that keeps them from drawing the proper conclusions. When this occurs, Christian apologists must be ready to address the deeper issues that mislead unbelievers, especially their commitment to human autonomy. Van Til believed that these more basic commitments were neglected in other apologetic methods. So he stressed dealing with presuppositions over particular arguments and evidences.
In a word, Van Til never disputed the value of rational arguments and empirical evidences. He simply called attention to how we should use them. On a practical level, Van Til followed the counsel of Proverbs 26:4,5:
Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you will be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.
He proposed a two-step approach. First, believers should invite unbelievers to consider the evidence for Christian theism on its own terms, making certain that we do not follow the principles of unbelievers (Prov. 26:4). Does it cohere? Does it make sense of the world? If Christianity is true, does it not explain reality? Here apologists use every argument, great and small, to demonstrate the credibility of the claims of Christ. On the deepest (transcendental) level, we urge that the only sufficient basis (or presupposition) for human knowledge is Christian theism.
Second, believers should help unbelievers examine their own outlooks on life, so that they will not be so wise in their own eyes (Prov. 26:5). Do they cohere? Do they make sense of the world? If their world view is true, then why doesn’t it explain reality? Here evidences and arguments are used to demonstrate the futility of trying to understand anything on the basis of human autonomy. With the false self-confidence of unbelievers shaken, the truth of the gospel stands out clearly. If the Spirit is at work, it will become plain that Christ alone is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
Support from Van Til’s writings:
“I would therefore engage in historical apologetics. (I do not personally do a great deal of this because my colleagues in the other departments of the Seminary in which I teach are doing it better than I could do it.) Every bit of historical investigation, whether it be in the directly Biblical field, archaeology, or in general history, is bound to confirm the truth of the claims of the Christian position. But I would not talk endlessly about facts and more facts without ever challenging the non-believer’s philosophy of fact. A really fruitful historical apologetic argues that ever fact is and must be such as proves the truth of the Christian theistic position” (DOF 258).
“The method of reasoning by presupposition may be said to be indirect rather than direct. The issue between believers and non-believers in Christian theism cannot be settled by a direct appeal to “facts” or “laws” whose nature and significance is already agreed upon by both parties to the debate. The question is rather as to what is the final reference-point required to make the “facts” and “laws” intelligible. The question is as to what the “facts” and “laws” really are. Are they what the non-Christian methodology assumes that they are?” (DOF 117).
“The Christian apologist must place himself upon the position of his opponent, assuming the correctness of his method merely for argument’s sake, in order to show him that on such a position the “facts” are not facts and the “laws” are not laws. He must also ask the non-Christian to place himself upon the Christian position for argument’s sake in order that he may be shown that only upon such a basis do “facts” and “laws” appear intelligible” (DOF 117-118).
“Accordingly I do not reject “the theistic proofs” but merely insist on formulating them in such a way as not to compromise the doctrines of Scripture” (DOF 256).
“That is to say, if the theistic proof is constructed as it ought to be constructed, it is objectively valid, whatever the attitude of those to whom it comes may be” (CTK 292).
“In not challenging this basic presupposition with respect to himself as the final reference point in predication the natural man may accept the “theistic proofs” as fully valid. He may construct such proofs. He has constructed such proofs. But the god whose existence he proves to himself in this way is always a god who is something other than the self-contained ontological trinity of Scripture” (DOF 94).
“The truly Biblical view, on the other hand, applies atomic power and flame-throwers to the very presupposition of the natural man’s ideas with respect to himself. It does not fear to lose a point of contact by uprooting the weeds rather than by cutting them off at the very surface. It is assured of a point of contact in the fact that every man is made in the image of God and has impressed upon him the law of God. In that fact alone he may rest secure with respect to the point of contact problem. For that fact makes men always accessible to God. That fact assures us that every man, to be a man at all, must already be in contact with the truth. He is so much in contact with the truth that much of his energy is spent in the vain effort to hide this fact from himself. His efforts to hide this fact from himself are bound to be self-frustrative” (DOF 111-112).
“The Reformed apologist will point out again and again that the only method that will lead to the truth in any field is that method which recognizes the fact that man is a creature of God, that he must therefore seek to think God’s thoughts after him” (DOF 119).
“If one follows Calvin there are no such troubles. Then one begins with the fact that the world is what the Bible says it is. One then makes the claims of God upon men without apologies though always suaviter in modo. One knows that there is hidden underneath the surface display of every man a sense of deity. One therefore gives that sense of deity an opportunity to rise in rebellion against the oppression under which it suffers by the new man of the covenant breaker. One makes no deal with this new man. One shows that on his assumptions all things are meaningless. Science would be impossible; knowledge of anything in any field would be impossible. No fact could be distinguished from any other fact. No law could be said to be law with respect to facts. The whole manipulation of factual experience would be like the idling of a motor that is not in gear. Thus every fact--not some facts--every fact clearly and not probably proves the truth of Christian theism. If Christian theism is not true then nothing is true” (DOF 266-267).
“It is not as though the Reformed apologist should not interest himself in the nature of the non-Christian’s method. On the contrary he should make a critical analysis of it. He should, as it were, join his “friend” in the use of it. But he should do so self-consciously with the purpose of showing that its most consistent application not merely leads away from Christian theism but in leading away from Christian theism leads to destruction of reason and science as well” (DOF 119).
“Intellectually sinners can readily follow the presentation of the evidence that is placed before them. If the difference between the Christian and the non-Christian position is only made plain to them, as alone it can be on a Reformed basis, the natural man can, for argument’s sake, place himself upon the position of the Christian. But though in this sense he then knows God more clearly than otherwise, though he already knew him by virtue of his sense of deity, yet it is only when by the grace of God the Holy Spirit removes the scales from men’s eyes that they know the truth existentially. Then they know him, whom to know is life eternal” (DOF 397).
“This is, in the last analysis, the question as to what are one’s ultimate presuppositions. When man became a sinner he made of himself instead of God the ultimate or final reference point. And it is precisely this presupposition, as it controls without exception all forms of non-Christian philosophy, that must be brought into question. If this presupposition is left unquestioned in any field all the facts and arguments presented to the unbeliever will be made over by him according to his pattern. The sinner has cemented colored glasses to his eyes which he cannot remove” (DOF 94).
“Our argument as over against this would be that the existence of the God of Christian theism and the conception of his counsel as controlling all things in the universe is the only presupposition which can account for the uniformity of nature which the scientist needs. But the best and only possible proof for the existence of such a God is that his existence is required for the uniformity of nature and for the coherence of all things in the world. We cannot prove the existence of beams underneath a floor if by proof we mean that they must be ascertainable in the way that we can see the chairs and tables of the room. But the very idea of a floor as the support of tables and chairs requires the idea of beams that are underneath. But there would be no floor if no beams were underneath. Thus there is absolutely certain proof for the existence of God and the truth of Christian theism. Even non-Christians presuppose its truth while they verbally reject it. They need to presuppose the truth of Christian theism in order to account for their own accomplishments” (DOF 120).
“Christian theism must be presented as that light in terms of which any proposition about any fact receives meaning. Without the presupposition of the truth of Christian theism no fact can be distinguished from any other fact” (A 73).
“The proofs may be formulated either on a Christian or on a non-Christian basis. They are formulated on a Christian basis if, with Calvin, they rest clearly upon the ideas of creation and providence. They then appeal to what the natural man, because he is a creature of God, actually does know to be true. They are bound to find immediate response of inward assent in the natural man. He cannot help but own to himself that God does exist.
When the proofs are thus formulated they have absolute probative force. They are not demonstrable in the sense that this word is often taken. As often taken, the idea of demonstration is that of exhaustive penetration by the mind of man; pure deduction of one conclusion after another from an original premise that is obvious. Such a notion of demonstration does not comport with the Christian system. That system is analogical. Man cannot penetrate through the relations of the Creator to the creature. But this does not in the least reduce the probative force of the proofs. Man is internally certain of God’s existence only because his sense of deity is correlative to the revelation of God about him. And all the revelation of God is clear” (DOF 196).
“The argument for the existence of God and for the truth of Christianity is objectively valid. We should not tone down the validity of this argument to the probability level. The argument may be poorly stated, and may never be adequately stated. But in itself the argument is absolutely sound. Christianity is the only reasonable position to hold. It is not merely as reasonable as other positions, or a bit more reasonable than other positions; it alone is the natural and reasonable position for man to take. By stating the argument as clearly as we can, we may be the agents of the Holy Spirit in pressing the claims of God upon men. If we drop to the level of the merely probable truthfulness of Christian theism, we, to that extent, lower the claims of God upon men” (CG 62).
“Hence Warfield was quite right in maintaining that Christianity is objectively defensible. And the natural man has the ability to understand intellectually, though not spiritually, the challenge presented to him. And no challenge is presented to him unless it is shown him that on his principle he would destroy all truth and meaning. Then, if the Holy Spirit enlightens him spiritually, he will be born again “unto knowledge” and adopt with love the principle he was previously anxious to destroy” (DOF 364).
“The indicia of divinity in Scripture are therefore part of the same process and act of the self-attestation of God. All the facts of the universe attest God. They are all inter-related in their testimony. If there is a cumulative effect produced by the evidence for the existence of God and for the truth of Christianity it is cumulative because each fact says the same thing, proves the same point in a different manner” (DOF 395).
“God has continued to reveal himself in nature even after the entrance of sin. Men ought, therefore, to know him. Men ought to reason analogically from nature to nature’s God. Men ought, therefore, to use the cosmological argument analogically in order thus to conclude that God is the creator of this universe. Men ought to realize that nature could not exist as something independent. They ought to sense that if anything intelligible is to be said about nature, it must be in relation to the absolute system of truth, which is God. Hence, they ought at once to see nature as the creation of God. Men ought also to use the ontological argument analogically. Men ought to realize that the word “being” cannot be intelligently applied to anything unless it be applied to God without limitation” (IST 102).
“Order, when viewed from the point of view of the passage of time, is purpose. Men should therefore also have used the teleological argument analogically. It is in connection with the rational and moral activity of the mind of man that the concept of purpose comes out most strikingly. So then man should see that all things in this universe, and, in particular, all things in the mind and moral activity of man, would be at loose ends if it were not for God and his purpose with respect them” (IST 105).
Abbreviations in this article:
CG = Common Grace
MA = Metaphysics of Apologetics
SCE = Survey of Christian Epistemology
CTE = Christian Theistic Evidences
CTK = Christian Theory of Knowledge
A = Apologetics
TRA = Toward a Reformed Apologetics
IST = Introduction to Systematic Theology
DOF = Defense of the Faith