Mr. White, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Black IV

In our last post, we examined the Romanist, “evangelical,” and putatively “Reformed” apologetic methods, as advanced by Jacques Maritain, Dr. Carnell and Charles Pinnock, and Dr. Sproul, and applied them to our discussion. In this section, we address Mr. Black, and begin to examine in greater detail the difference in approach that Mr. White and Mr. Grey have in their apologetic. This section comes from pgs 317-319 of Defense of the Faith.

So also with Mr. Black. He daily changes the truth of God into a lie. He daily worships and serves the creature more than the Creator.[1] He daily holds the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18). But what a time he has with himself! He may try to sear his conscience as with a hot iron.[2] He may seek to escape the influence of all those who witness to the truth. But he can never escape himself as a witness bearer to the truth.

Van Til here masterfully weaves the Scriptural witness to the self-deception of man together into a picture of what a man is truly doing when he rebels against his Creator. He also directs us to the truth that no matter how far we try to run, we can never escape Him. It is inescapable because God has made it evident to them – so that they are without excuse – ἀναπολόγητος – without an apologetic. They have no defense for what they do. They are witnesses against themselves, because it has been “been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” [3]

His conscience keeps telling him: “Mr. Black, you are a fugitive from justice. You have run away from home, from your father’s bountiful love. You are an ingrate, a sneak, a rascal! You shall not escape meeting justice at last. The father still feeds you. Yet you despise the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering;[4] not recognizing that the goodness of God is calculated to lead you to repentance (Rom 2:4). Why do you kick against the pricks?[5] Why do you stifle the voice of your conscience? Why do you use the wonderful intellect that God has given you as a tool for the suppression of the voice of God which speaks to you through yourself and through your environment? Why do you build your house on sand instead of on rock? Can you be sure no storm is ever coming?[6]

The complaint is often made that Van Til is not Biblical enough. In this section, I think that we see differently. He pulls from many places throughout Scripture to illustrate the dilemma that the unbeliever faces due to his rebellion, and the consequences of that rebellion. The argument is made, from the Scriptural witness to the unbeliever’s folly, and his internal struggle with what he knows must be the case, to show where the point of contact really is. That point of contact is his identity as a creature in the image of God, who cannot escape that which God has made evident to him.

Are you omniscient? You say that nobody knows this because man is finite. Yet you assume that God cannot exist and that Christianity cannot be true. You assume that no judgment will ever come. You must be omniscient to know that. And yet you have just said that all that man declares about ‘the Beyond’ must be based upon his brief span of existence in this world of time and chance. How, then, if you have taken for granted all that chance is one of the basic ingredients of all human experience, can you at the same time say what can or cannot be in all time to come? You certainly have made a fool of yourself, Mr. Black,” says Mr. Black to himself. “You reject the claims of truth which you know to be the truth, and you do that in terms of the lie which really you know to be the lie.”

The presuppositions that undergird the unbeliever’s claims about himself, and about God, cannot support his conclusions. They render his experience unintelligible. When he assumes that God cannot exist, and Christianity cannot be true, that judgment will never come; he is making a claim to knowledge which he cannot make in accordance with his own presuppositions. He cannot hold to his determinative rationalism as well as the inherent irrationalism of chance as determinative of possibility. He knows he is a fool, yet he suppresses that truth which he knows, in favor of a lie, which he cannot know! If chance is truly determinative of possibility, then anything’s possible, and he can’t profess to know what he says he does about the present or the future. He is presenting us with contradiction, and calling it wisdom!

It is not always that Mr. Black is thus aware of the fact that he lives like the prodigal who would eat of the things the swine did eat, but who knows he cannot because he is a human being. He is not always thus aware of his folly – in part at least, because of the failure of evangelicals, and particularly because of the failure of Reformed Christians, to stir him up to a realization of his folly. The evangelical does not want to stir him up thus. It is in the nature of his own theology not to stir him up to a realization of this basic depth of folly. But the Reformed Christian should, on his basis, want to stir up Mr. Black to an appreciation of the folly of his ways.

Mr. Black does not always consciously think like he does in the previous section. Most of the time – perhaps the vast majority of the time – he suppresses the truth that he knows. Instead, he takes it for granted, in that suppression, that his “yellow glasses” are “normal.” He lives a double life, with one of those “lives” held down, and suppressed by his self-deception, although it occasionally resurfaces in a manner such as the internal “dialogue” shown above. That his suppression is uncontested most times is often our fault – we do not consistently press the unbeliever to look at his inconsistency, or call him to repentance. The “evangelical” not only does not do so, but unlike us, does not want to do so. This, as we examine the “evangelical’s” theology, should surprise us. It is consistent with that theology. We, however, not only know that we should do so, but that we must do so, consistent with our theology. The unbeliever must be presented with the reality he faces, and the reality about himself – and upon that presentation, called to repentance and belief in Christ, under His Lordship over all things.

However, when the Reformed Christian, Mr. White, is to any extent aware of the richness of his own position and actually has the courage to challenge Mr. Black by presenting to him the picture of himself as taken through the X-ray machine called the Bible, he faces the charge of “circular reasoning” and “finding no point of contact” with experience. And he will also be subject to the criticism of the evangelical for speaking as if Christianity were irrational and for failing to reach the man in the street.

As we have seen in prior installments, being consistent to our theology in our apologetic brings us into the crosshairs of the Romanist, the evangelical, and the well-meaning, but mistaken Calvinist who is himself inconsistent with his theological underpinnings. When we do so, the accusation is made that we are being circular in our reasoning, or begging the question. The charge is made that we have constructed our apologetic so as to pass the unbeliever like a ship in the night, and find no contact at all with him. That we are sitting in an opposite tower, and have no way to meet him, no point of contact. The accusation is made that we consider Christianity irrational, or unreasonable – that we are fideists, or consider reason and faith to be opposite and mutually exclusive. Further, we will be told that by this means, there is no hope of winning men to Christ, that we cannot hope to reach them where they are.

Are any of these charges true? As a Covenantal, or Presuppositional, apologist, I say “definitely not!” Drs. Van Til and Bahnsen devote significant amounts of time in their own writing to answering these objections, and we hope to cover those answers as we continue these series. I will not answer them today. I would, however, direct you to their writings, in the meantime, to see what their answer is to these charges. I would also remind you that those charges are made as often today as they were in their day. How often are their responses read, and addressed when these objections arise? I see the same objections come from many – but I do not find that those making these objections have addressed, in most cases, what Van Til himself had to say concerning these objections.

Thus we seem to be in a bad predicament. There is a basic difference of policy between Mr. White and Mr. Grey as to how to deal with Mr Black. Mr. Grey thinks that Mr. Black is not really such a bad fellow. It is possible, he thinks, to live with Mr. Black in the same world. And he is pretty strong. So it is best to make a compromise peace with him. That seems to be the way of the wise and practical politician.

Since our theology determines our apologetic, it shouldn’t surprise us that there are differences in our methods. In fact, we should be worried if there are not. Their respective opinions of Mr. Black are wholly determined by their theological foundation. Thus, how they deal with Mr. Black is equally determined by those considerations. He says something difficult above – “to live with Mr. Black in the same world”. What he means by that, in the context of what he has said through the book thus far, is that *in principle* they can coexist. That their ideologies are not mutually exclusive. Additionally, since they assume that their respective houses share the same “bottom story”, he assumes his worldview is strong, and is difficult to assail. So, in the meantime, while he works on his cumulative, evidential, or classical argumentation, he makes peace with him. That is what one is to do.

On the other hand, Mr. White thinks that it is impossible permanently to live in the same world with Mr. Black. Mr. Black, he says, must therefore be placed before the requirement of absolute and unconditional surrender. And surely it would be out of the question for Mr. White first to make a compromise peace with Mr. Black and then, after all, to require unconditional surrender! But what then about this charge of circular reasoning and about this charge of having no point of contact with the unbeliever?

Now, we come to the meat of the Covenantal case. In principle, the wisdom of the world, and the wisdom of God are mutually exclusive, and unalterably opposed. They cannot coexist together in principle. Since this is so, per Scripture, we confront them, per Scripture, with their own sin, their need for a Savior, and demand their surrender to their Lord and Master, in repentance and faith. Further, it is frankly dishonest to “bait and switch”. We either live out what Scripture tells us, or we do not. We cannot pretend to believe one thing while engaging in evangelism or apologetics, then another when we teach the new convert in our churches. In our next installment, we will examine the answers to the objections made to our apologetic.

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  1. [1]Rom 1:25
  2. [2]1 Timothy 4:2
  3. [3]For further study of self-deception, see Bahnsen’s The Crucial Concept of Self-Deception in Presuppositional Apologetics
  4. [4]Luke 15:11-32
  5. [5]Acts 26:14
  6. [6]Matt 7:24-27

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