In the previous post, we saw Cornelius Van Til examining the apologetic method of the Reformed, vs the Evangelical varieties. By Evangelical, he means the Arminian or Roman Catholic schools of theology and/or apologetic. As our friend Dr. White is wont to say, “theology determines apologetic”. We’ll continue this series in this post, the second of the series, and pick up where we left off.
An excerpt from Defense of The Faith, by Cornelius Van Til – Chap. 12, Sec. 3, pg. 313-315, 4th Ed.
The Believer Meets the Unbeliever – Part II
Let us first look briefly at a typical sample of procedure generally followed in conservative evangelical circles today. Let us, in other words, note how Mr. Grey proceeds with an analysis of Mr. Black. And let us at the same time see how Mr. Grey would win Mr. Black to an acceptance of Christianity. We take for this purpose a series of articles which appeared in the January, February, and March 1950 issues of Moody Monthly, published by the Moody Bible institute in Chicago. Edward John Carnell, PhD., author of An Introduction to Christian Apologetics and professor of apologetics at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, wrote this series. Carnell’s writings are among the best that appear in evangelical circles. In fact, in his book Carnell frequently argues as we would expect a Reformed apologist to argue. By and large, however, he represents the evangelical rather than the Reformed method in apologetics.
When Mr. Carnell instructs his readers “How Every Christian Can Defend His Faith,” he first appeals to facts and to logic as independent sources of information about the truth of Christianity. Of course, he must bring in the Bible even at this point. But the Bible is brought in only as a book of information about the fact of what has historically been called Christianity. It is not from the beginning brought in as God’s Word. It must be shown to Mr. Black to be the Word of God by means of “facts” and “logic.” Carnell would thus avoid at all costs the charge of reasoning in a circle. He does not want Mr. Black to point the finger at him and say: “You prove that the Bible is true by an appeal to the Bible itself. That is circular reasoning. How can any person with any respect for logic accept such a method of proof?”
Carnell would escape such a charge by showing that the facts of experience, such as all men recognize, and logic, such as all men must use, point to the truth of Scripture. This is what he says:
If you are of a philosophic turn, you can point to the remarkable way in which Christianity fits in with the moral sense inherent in every human being, or the influence of Christ on our ethics, customs, literature, art, and music. Finally, you can draw upon your own experience in speaking of the reality of answered prayer and the witness of the Spirit in your own heart…. If the person is impressed with this evidence, turn at once to the gospel. Read crucial passages and permit the Spirit to work on the inner recesses of his heart. Remember that apologetics is merely a preparation. After the ground has been broken, proceed immediately with sowing and watering.
It is assumed in this argument that Mr. Black agrees with the “evangelical,” Mr. Grey, on the character of the “moral sense” of man. This may be true, but then it is true because Mr. grey has himself not taken his information about the moral sense of man exclusively from Scripture. If with Mr. White he had taken his conception of the moral nature of man from the Bible, then he would hold that Mr. Black, as totally depraved, will, of course, misinterpret his own moral nature. True, Christianity is in accord with the moral nature of man. But this is so only because the moral nature of man is first in accord with what the Bible says it is, that is, originally created perfect, but now wholly corrupted in its desires through the fall of man.
If you are reasoning with a naturalist, Carnell advises his readers, ask him why when a child throws a rock through his window, he chases the child, and not the rock. Presumably even a naturalist knows that the child, not the rock, is free and therefore responsible. “A bottle of water cannot ought; it must. When once the free spirit of man is proved, the moral argument-the existence of a God who imposes moral obligations-can form the bridge from man to God.”
Here the fundamental difference between Mr. Grey’s and Mr. White’s approaches to Mr. Black appears. The difference lies in the different notions of the free will of man. Or, it may be said, the difference is with respect to the nature of man as such. Mr. White would define man, and therefore his freedom, in terms of Scripture Alone. He would therefore begin with the fact that man is a creature of God. And this implies that man’s freedom is a derivative freedom. It is a freedom that is not and cannot be be wholly ultimate, that is, self-dependent. Mr. White knows that Mr. Black would not agree with him on this any more than he would agree on the biblical idea of total depravity.
Mr. Grey, on the other hand, must at all costs have a “point of contact” in the system of thought of Mr. Black, who is typical of the natural man; just as Mr. Grey is afraid of being charged with circular reasoning, so he is also afraid of being charged with talking about something that is “outside of experience.” And so he is driven to talk in general about the “free spirit of man.” Of course, Mr. Black need have no objection from his point of view in allowing for the “free spirit of man.” That is at bottom what he holds even when he is a naturalist. His whole position is based upon the idea of man as a free spirit, that is, a spirit that is not subject to the law of his Creator God. And Carnell does not distinguish between the biblical doctrine of freedom, as based upon and involved in the fact of man’s creation, and the doctrine of freedom, in the sense of autonomy, which makes man a law unto himself.
As with our last post, we see that this is precisely the methodology that is followed today.
Classical Apologetics, once again:
The authors… affirm the primacy of the mind.
The implications of this statement are staggering. They also say elsewhere:
If there is no primacy of the intellect there is no knowledge at all.
We admit the charge of autonomy, but not its guiltiness. That is, we admit that we begin autonomously, but where is the sin, not to mention idolatry? If this were idolatry, we would abandon it instantly. So far from abandoning it, we defend its legitimacy, as well as its intellectual necessity. We will even try to prove that our critics practice it also, though unconsciously.
Autonomy is bad only after heteronomy is known, not before. We must begin with ourselves, that is, autonomously. At that point, autonomy is no sin but a necessity and a virtue.
Well, I don’t think we can answer this simply, but I’ll give it my best shot. When he defines autonomy, later on, he states this as our supposedly “common” definition of autonomy.
Do we not together admit the necessity of exercising personal judgment until we know that God exists and that He has spoken? At that point we both give up our autonomy. From there on, we both are instantly obedient to the recognized authority of God.
No, we do not together admit that “necessity”. We do not rightly exercise “judgment” apart from God’s revelation. Romans 12:3: For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. I Kings 3:9-10: Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people? It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. II Chronicles 19:6: and said to the judges, Consider what you do, for you judge not for man but for the LORD. He is with you in giving judgment. Proverbs 8:16: By me princes rule, and nobles, All who judge rightly. Ezekiel 44:24: In a dispute, they shall act as judges, and they shall judge it according to my judgments. They shall keep my laws and my statutes in all my appointed feasts, and they shall keep my Sabbaths holy. Hebrews 4:12: For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
On the contrary, we judge *by* God’s revelation, and by His revelation alone. It alone has the power to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. It alone has the knowledge to grant us concerning God and man, that we may judge with “righteous judgments”. Secondly, we do not “admit” that men do not know God. Romans 1 tells us that all men do, in fact, know God. They know this, and “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”. They do not know this autonomously, they know this by God’s revelation. As Scripture says, “God made it evident to them”. They know the truth – they then suppress that truth, in claiming autonomy for themselves. In fact, this is precisely what Eve did, when tempted by the serpent. This is what Satan tempted Christ to, as well. What was Christ’s reply? “It is written.” Thus should Eve’s reply have been. Thus should the repentance of all men suppressing the truth be directed toward. They do not honor Him as God, or give thanks. In their own perverted “great exchange”, they exchange truth for lie, to worship and serve the creature, rather than the Creator. Verse 32 expressly says that they know the ordinance of God, that their practices are worthy of death – yet they do the same, as well as approving others in those same practices. Thus, the clear witness of Scripture, and a faithful exegesis of it refutes this conception, and as always, we await Scripture Alone as a reply.
Dr. Sproul would be well served, instead of arguing on the basis of what he supposes to be an equivocation of “accept” vs “acquiesce” in Romans, by reading Dr. Bahnsen’s explanation of the suppression of the truth in self deception, and addressing his exegetical work in Always Ready, and elsewhere – not to mention that of Dr. Oliphint, and of Van Til himself. I’m merely giving a short summation, and references to works which deal with this text in a much more detailed fashion than this format, or our purpose allows. We can see, however, that what Van Til critiques is very much alive and well in our present day.