Apologetics to the Glory of God

Mr. White, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Black II

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.[1]

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.”[2]

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.[3]

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.[4]


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.[5]

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.[6]

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.

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  1. [1]Author’s footnote 22: E.J.Carnell, “How Every Christian Can Defend His Faith,” Moody Monthly, January 1950, 313
  2. [2]Author’s footnote 23: Ibid, 343
  3. [3]Classical Apologetics, ix
  4. [4]Ibid, 230
  5. [5]Ibid, 231
  6. [6]Ibid, 239


18 responses to “Mr. White, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Black II”

  1. Fred Avatar

    I’ve read both I & II in this series, and I think the defense lost its way. Wasn’t the question:

    “Well, Mr. Black is the man with the toothache, and you, as a Reformed Christian, are the dentist. Would you first *convert* him to evangelicalism and then to the Reformed Faith?”

    (I highlighted the *convert*)

    If Mr. Black doesn’t believe in the authority of the Bible as the sole source of the apologetics, how is Mr. White’s argument ever going to convert him? Romans 1 is great and all, but if Mr. Black views the Bible as a syncretic batch of writings, this statement carries no weight.

    Perhaps it is doctrinally ‘incorrect’, but doesn’t Mr. Grey have a better chance of actually connecting with Mr. Black. Or, in other words, isn’t the answer to Van Til’s quote above ‘Yes’?

    Or, is Mr. Black beyond converting, because his worldview will never accept the idea of the primacy of the Bible?

  2. RazorsKiss Avatar

    Well, that’s a fairly common objection – one which Van Til answers as he continues the dialogue.

    I’d invite you to keep on reading, and we’ll see the results as we go on 🙂

    Incidentally, I’ve been sick this week, so I haven’t had a great deal of time to write – and we’re heading into the holidays, as well. I promise I’ll continue the series, however.

  3. Fred Avatar

    Good deal – thanks much for the response!

  4. Newman Avatar

    “The apologist must not let the unbeliever assume that knowledge is possible given autonomous pressupositions and a disobedient life; God’s word is never verified in such a context.” and “The apologist makes use of an unjustifiable lie if he assumes or leads the unbeliever to think that knowledge is to be gained apart from God or while one persists in a rebellious way of living and thinking.”(Always Ready, p. 100)

    Most importantly:
    “It cannot be ignored that repentance and faith (through regeneration by the Spirit) are necessary for a knowledge of the truth; it must not be suggested that the unbeliever needs nothing more than intellectual proof of God’s veracity according to standards dictated by secular philosophy and science.” (Always Ready, p. 101)

    Whether you are Mr. Black, Mr. White, or Mr. Grey, the Bible is not going to be accepted as truth or capable of being understood by the unbeliever regardless of apologetic method. Unless of course, the LORD chooses to regenerate the unbeliever and grant him faith. Only by this means is ANY man capable of accepting Christ as the source of all wisdom and knowledge. In spite of this though, we have a biblical duty to defend the faith with theological soundness. This duty, I believe, can only be done correctly and biblically through TAG. Our apologetic work is done by giving a defense of the only worldview capable of making sense of all human experience and arguing for the impossibility of the contrary. We do not convert. We challenge the absurdity of any and all worldviews that do not find their authority in Christ.

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  6. Josh B. Avatar
    Josh B.

    “The apologist must not let the unbeliever assume that knowledge is possible given autonomous pressupositions and a disobedient life; God’s word is never verified in such a context.”

    How can we “not let” the unbeliever assume those things when its immediately intuitive to the unbeliever that he can obtain knowledge with autonomous presuppositions? He’ll immediately cite the short history of scientific inquiry, with its methodological naturalism, that has allowed non-Christian (and Christian, but that’s beside the point) to obtain knowledge about true things in this world.

  7. C.L. Bolt Avatar
    C.L. Bolt

    Not letting the unbeliever assume that knowledge is possible given autonomy and disobedience means pointing out the absurdity of trying to account for knowledge along autonomous lines and then presenting the Christian worldview as a whole with its positive account of knowledge.

    Scientific inquiry is not methodologically naturalistic. That begs the question. For a brief introduction to this idea see here – http://theresurgence.com/2012/02/15/why-science-needs-the-christian-worldview

    1. Josh B. Avatar
      Josh B.

      Science only begs the question with methodological naturalism when it enters into the realm of the supernatural. Otherwise, I would think it gets along quite well being methodologically naturalistic; how could you, say, test the difference between two drugs if any difference could be accounted for by divine intervention? You must assume the differences will be sustained in whatever applicable circumstances. That’s not to say that you don’t deny the sustenance of God, but just that you conduct your experiment in such a way that you’re assuming he won’t give you radically different results from what you would see in the general population.

      Think of scientific inquiry as existing within a box. As long as it only studies things within the box, I don’t think it will run into too many problems. But once it tries to study things outside the box, it fails, and all the problems of a scientismic worldview begin to crop up. But assuming methodological naturalism for the study of ants, drugs, chemical processes, blood clotting, or any number of other things shouldn’t lead us astray scientifically or philosophically because insofar as we’re JUST studying ants, or JUST studying blood clotting, there’s no philosophical ramification as such.

      So in the discussion of God, scientific inquiry and non-Christian worldviews fail. But many non-Christians have found out many cool and true things about ants, drugs, chemical processes, blood clotting, etc. They’ve just done so using the philosophical duplicity as described in the article in The Resurgence. But that doesn’t deny them access to those natural truths.

      So, that gets back to the crux of the dilemma. It’s tough showing the non-Christian that their worldview fails when they’ve entrapped themselves in such small, naturalistic boxes. For all their intents and purposes, God isn’t necessary. Somehow you need to pry open their box and bring them out into the philosophical open, recognizing that they’re not “scientists” first, but instead humans. The dilemma, for me, comes in when I try to do this and give biblical grounding for my reason for doing so. The Bible just pushes them further into their box.

      1. RazorsKiss Avatar

        I don’t think you’ve fully grasped what methodological naturalism is, given your comments to follow. Further, can you really expect them not to keep on denying what they’re precommitted to the denial of? Of course they’re going to keep denying it – apart from the work of the Spirit in regeneration and the renewal of their mind.

        1. Josh B. Avatar
          Josh B.

          My understanding is that methodological naturalism is the assumption, regardless of whether it is ultimately true or not, that the processes in front of us are going to behave in a way that is purely naturalistic and capable of being understood as if it were operating within a closed system. Therefore, no appeal to the divine is necessary to explain, say, blood clotting. A scientist who is an atheist and a scientist who is a Christian operate in the same way: they both take for granted that a deity isn’t going to come down and rearrange the blood clotting cascade after they’ve already studied it; the Christian just admits that would be a possibility, but banks on the deity being the rational God of the Bible, who established these things for a reason, thus he won’t rearrange the blood clotting cascade.

          “Of course they’re going to keep denying it – apart from the work of the Spirit in regeneration and the renewal of their mind.”

          That’s true. I understand that. But I’m at a loss on how to continue the apologetic or even any amount of evangelism. It seems that the presuppositional apologetic method allows me to introduce biblical exegesis much faster into the conversation, but it also allows the other person to dismiss it much faster on the grounds of their own presuppositions (since they’re just borrowing from my method).

          I’ll admit that my conversations in this presuppositionalist regard have been conducted largely online, so anyone whom I might evangelize misses out on the relational aspect of the gospel, though (“walking the walk,” “living out the gospel,” “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions,” etc).

          1. RazorsKiss Avatar

            Well, assuming methodological naturalism, you assume, a priori, that God has nothing to do with anything you encounter in His world. However, Scripture tells us that in Him we “live, move, and have our being.”

            I don’t think it’s the case that we “operate the same way”. In some senses, we do – but not in every sense. A Christian who forgets that “in Him we live, move, and have our being”, and doesn’t do all to the glory of God isn’t operating like a Christian, is he? Yet, when we do those things, we are working with an understanding that we are only acting as stewards of His world.

            We don’t discount that God could be about to intervene – we just recognize that the supernatural acts presuppose the natural actions as the backdrop to display His glory in exceptions to the normal operation of His regulatory, common (in the sense of usual) upholding of the universe.

            As to the “faster to the rejection” – I think the more “leisurely” assumptions of neutrality artificially prolong the contrast that needs to be set between self-will and God’s expressed will. When there isn’t the antithesis set out clearly, there isn’t the sense of antagonism set out for the unbeliever of God’s opposition to their self-will – so obviously, it will take longer to express. In my view, this is a bad thing, since we aren’t “laying our cards out on the table” from the outset. Whether it is dismissed quickly or not isn’t really the issue – the demands of the Gospel are the flip side to the demands of our apologetic on them. If the offense of the Gospel is present, the offense of the Gospel’s pressure on their defensive walls needs to be present too.

  8. Paul Baird Avatar

    Ok, indulge me on this one.

    We are an advanced civilisation. We like space exploration. We know it’s expensive so we send robots. We equip the robots with the technology to draw power from the Sun and process minerals found where they land so that they can be self sustaining. We also equip them with the ability to repair themselves and to manufacture further robots and to increase the intelligence and learning capabilities of those units. The robots are also created to be autonomous in the event of communication failure.

    At what stage do the robots need the Christian worldview ?

    1. Josh B. Avatar
      Josh B.


      I would assume they’d “need” the Christian worldview when they became human, which presumably would be never, since they were designed by men. They would be soulless.

      Your example assumes that our minds can be broken down into purely naturalistic units, though, and thus understood and reassembled by men.

      1. RazorsKiss Avatar

        Why would you even respond to such an oddball hypothetical as if it is remotely serious? Doing so grants that it actually is possible and/or sensical. It isn’t, so treating it that way only encourages them to keep doing so and wasting your time and their own. He didn’t argue anything, or even try to connect the two as analogous. Don’t make connections for them, either.

  9. RazorsKiss Avatar

    The robots have spoken.

  10. Paul Baird Avatar

    For a second there I thought you had some great insight into AI that might be relevant. My mistake.

    1. RazorsKiss Avatar

      For a second I thought your initial comment was relevant to the original post and/or insightful. My mistake. Do you even read the stuff you comment on?

  11. McFormtist Avatar

    Haven’t you ever seen Bicentennial Man?

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