Apologetics to the Glory of God

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

An excerpt from Defense of The Faith, by Cornelius Van Til – Chap. 12, Sec. 3, pg. 312-313, 4th Ed.

The Believer Meets the Unbeliever[1]

To see clearly what is meant, think of a dentist. You go to him with a “bad tooth”. Does he take care of your tooth in two operations? To be sure, you may have to come back to have him finish the job. But it is one job he is doing. He takes all the decayed matter out before he fills the cavity. 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? Then you would be like a dentist who would today take half the decayed matter out and fill the cavity, and tomorrow or next week take out the rest of the decayed matter and fill the cavity again. Or, rather, you would be like the dentist who takes part of the decayed matter out, fills the cavity, and then lets the patient go until a long time later he returns complaining again of a toothache.

Indeed, it is no fun to have the dentist drill deep into your tooth. And it is the last and deepest drilling that hurts the most. So Mr. Black is likely to feel more at home in the office of the “evangelical” dentist than in the office of the “Reformed” dentist. Will the latter have any customers? He is likely to fear that he will not. He is ever tempted, therefore, to advertise that he is cooperating with all good “conservatives” in all good dentistry, but that he has a specialty which it would be very nice for people to see him about.

Let us now ask by what means we may diagnose Mr. Black. For that purpose we will use the X-Ray machine. Whence do you know your misery? Out of the law, the revealed will of God, answers the Reformed Christian. Let us call him Mr. White. It is by means of the Bible, not by personal experience, that he turns the light on himself, as well as on Mr. Black. He does not appeal to “experience” or to “reason” or to “history” or to anything else as his source of information in the way that he appeals to the Bible.[2] He may appeal to experience, but his appeal to experience will be to experience as seen in the light of the Bible. So he may appeal to reason or history, but, again, only as they are to be seen in the light of the Bible. He does not even look for corroboration for the teachings of Scripture from experience, reason, or history except insofar as these are themselves first seen in the light of the Bible. For him the Bible, and therefore the God of the Bible, is like the sun from which the light that is given by oil lamps, gas lamps, and electric lights is derived.

Quite different is the attitude of the “evangelical” or “conservative.” Let us call him Mr. Grey. Mr. Grey uses the Bible, experience, reason, or logic as equally independent sources of information about his own and therefore about Mr. Black’s predicament. I did not say that for Mr. Grey the Bible, experience, and reason are equally important. Indeed they are not. He knows that the Bible is by far the most important. But he nonetheless constantly appeals to “the facts of experience” and to “logic” without first dealing with the very idea of fact and with the idea of logic in terms of Scripture.

The difference is basic. When Mr. White diagnoses Mr. Black’s case, he takes as his X-ray machine the Bible only. When Mr. Grey diagnoses Mr. Black’s case, he first takes the X-ray machine of experience, then the X-ray machine of logic, and finally his biggest X-ray machine, the Bible. In fact, he may take these in any order. Each of them is an independent source of information.

The situation is the same in our modern day. In Classical Apologetics[3], R.C. Sproul says this (as cited in The Portable Presuppositionalist, pg 94):

We must begin with our reason even before we know that there is a God who validates it. But that beginning is not hypothetical, it is a certain beginning. We must begin by relying on our reason.

As you can see, he has there affirmed that Reason, not Scripture, is our starting point. Even worse, we find this statement on 144 of Classical Apologetics:

From an uninspired Bible we are arguing for miracles, and from miracles we are arguing from an inspired Bible.

Again, on pg. 149

Apologetics cannot begin with the inspired Bible or even with a divine Christ

William Lane Craig, in his opening statement vs Frank Zindler[4], says the following:

The question before us tonight is, when you weigh the evidence for atheism against the evidence for Christianity, which way on balance does the evidence point?

Whose scales are being used to weigh these evidences, I wonder?

He goes on to press his case:

There is good evidence that Christianity is true, and here I’d like to present five lines of evidence that render the Christian faith highly probable in contrast to atheism…

Highly probable? Quite unfortunate, as we should be aware that probability is utterly dependent on your notion of possibility. Possibility, at a presuppositional level, determines quite literally everything you believe about reality. What is being disputed is precisely that presuppositional commitment. What is done by our putative apologists, unfortunately, is to give the store away from the very beginning. Instead of pressing that their opponents are ἀναπολόγητος – without a defense, without an apologetic – they have themselves taken the same position as their opponents in lacking a defense – in an attempt to establish “common ground”. Hence, I believe a walk through this discussion will be eminently helpful for our readers, and encourage them to study the Scriptures, and to examine what is a truly Biblical apologetic methodology.

We, along with Cornelius Van Til, would ask these gentlemen above the following:

How could the eternal I AM be pleased with being presented as being a god, and probably existing, as necessary for the explanation of some things but not of all things, as one who will be glad to recognize the ultimacy of his own creatures? Would the God who had in paradise required of men implicit obedience now be satisfied with a claims and counter-claims arrangement with his creatures?[5]


  1. [1]Editor’s footnote 20: It should be noted here, as Van Til begins his hypothetical dialogue between Mr. Black, Mr. Grey, and Mr. White, that the discussion proceeds on the basis of the principles of the three men, not necessarily on the basis of their practice. Van Til is using this dialogue to highlight the differences in principle between the three positions. So, Mr. Black is not as black as he can be; neither to Mr. White and Mr. Grey fully display their “theological colors” in practice. The dialogue is for pedagogical, not practical, purposes.
  2. [2]Editor’s footnote 21: Note: “He does not appeal to “experience” or to “reason” or to “history”… in the way that he appeals to the Bible.” Van Til is not saying that such things cannot be used in apologetics, but that they cannot take the authoritative place reserved for Scripture Alone.
  3. [3]Classical Apologetics, 220
  4. [4]Atheism vs. Christianity: Which way does the evidence point?, 1993, Willow Creek Church
  5. [5]Defense of the Faith, 4th Ed, pg. 340


7 responses to “Mr. White, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Black”

  1. Newman Avatar

    Sproul is good for a lot of things, but not for apologetics. I’ve lost a lot of respect for him since I realized that his view on apologetics is completely autonomous.

  2. Jared Avatar

    From the Reservoir Dogs apologetic method. 🙂

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