Apologetics to the Glory of God

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

In our previous post, we saw the beginnings of the typical evidential/classical method, as posed by Dr. Carnell. We will continue our journey through Van Til’s dialogue, on pages 316-317 of Defense of the Faith.

Of course, Mr. Black will be greatly impressed with such an argument as Mr. Grey has presented to him for the truth of Christianity. In fact, if Christianity is thus shown to be in accord with the moral nature of man, as Mr. Black himself sees that moral nature, then Mr. Black does not need to be converted at all to accept Christianity. He only needs to accept something additional to what he has always believed. He has been shown how nice it would be to have a second story built on top of the house which he has already built according to his own plans.

Indeed, Clark Pinnock argues “Like legs of a table, each shaft of evidence does its part to support the weight of the case for Christianity. Because we are all culturally conditioned in different ways, it is inevitable that some of us will be more impressed with one evidential approach than another.” [1] This sort of approach may not give us certainty, but of course, “it is the sort of knowledge we are able to operate on in all the affairs of life, and it is adequate to provide us with a sound basis for the trustful certainty of faith.”[2]

To Pinnock, it seems, the evidence may not be certain, but apparently it is adequate, despite the lack of certainty God has provided for us. Further, particular *sorts* of evidence may be more likely to ‘impress” us than others. Our certainty, you see, rests on the evidence.

On the contrary, the Apostle says this:

And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (1 Cor 2:1-5)

In the Scripture, our faith rests not in evidentiary presentation, but in the power of God. What, may I ask, is the power of God? It is, of course:

the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” (Rom 1:16-17)

Again I will quote Maritain, concerning philosophy – “The premises of philosophy however, are independent of theology, being those primary truths which are self-evident to the understanding, whereas the premises of theology are the truths revealed by God. The premises of philosophy are self-supported and are not derived from those of theology. Similarly the light by which philosophy knows its object is independent of theology, since its light is the light of reason, which is its own guarantee. For these reasons philosophy is not positively governed by theology, nor has it any need of theology to defend its premises (whereas it defends those of the other sciences).”[3]

To answer this, I will accede to Dr. Van Til;

“On such a basis (blog author’s note: The basis that there is a defect in the original constitution of man, who even in his original condition, was prone to error as well as truth, because the god of the Roman Catholic does not control “whatsoever comes to pass) too, the addition of supernatural to natural revelation would not remedy matters. It would be as true of supernatural as of natural revelation that either it would not reach man or else if it did reach man he would not be in need of it.

If natural revelation does not so envelop man as to make it impossible for him to look at anything that does not speak of God, then supernatural revelation will not do this either. if natural revelation does not speak of such a God who by His counsel surrounds man completely, then neither can supernatural revelation speak of such a God. But if it did, per impossible, (though this is impossible), speak of such a God, it would mean nothing to the mind of man as Rome conceives of it. The revelation of a self-sufficient God can have no meaning for a mind that thinks of itself as autonomous. The possibility for a point of contact has disappeared. the whole idea of the revelation of the self-sufficient God of Scripture drops to the ground if man himself is autonomous or self-sufficient. If man is not himself revelational in the internal structure of his being, he can receive no revelation that comes to him from without.[4]

On the other hand, if man is in any sense autonomous, he is not in need of revelation. If he is, then, said to possess the truth, he possess it as the product of the ultimately legislative powers of his intellect. It is only if he can virtually control by means of the application of the law of non-contradiction all the facts of reality that surround him, that he can know any truth at all. And thus, if he knows any truth in this way, he in effect knows all truth.

On the Roman Catholic position, then, man is, with the cave-dwellers of Plato, by virtue of his own constitution, adapted to semi-darkness. Revelation would not do him any good, even though we might think of him as in need of it. If revelation is to come to him, it must come to him as the truth came to one of Plato’s cave-dwellers, in an accidental fashion. or else man is, with the accidentally liberated cave-dweller of Plato, not in need of supernatural revelation; potentially he has all truth within his reach.”[5]

As we see, the Roman Catholic or the “evangelical” both accept the same foundation, and the same “first story” of the unbeliever’s house. They merely want to build an addition, using slightly different building principles.

To be sure the evangelical intends no such thing. Least of all does Carnell intend such a thing. But why then does not the “evangelical” see that be presenting the non-Christian with evangelicalism rather than with the Reformed Faith he must compromise the Christian religion? And why does he not also see that in doing what he does the non-Christian is not really challenged either by faith or by logic? For facts and logic which are not themselves first seen in the light of Christianity have, in the nature of the case, no power in them to challenge the unbeliever to change his position. Facts and logic not based upon the creation doctrine and not placed within the doctrine of God’s all-embracing providence, are without relation to one another, and therefore wholly meaningless.[6]

“We are not here basing the validity of natural theology upon the Bible. We have not yet either demonstrated that the Bible is in fact special revelation or that the Bible teaches natural theology. What we are doing at the moment is pointing out that if the Bible is special revelation and if it teaches natural theology then, of course, by irresistible logic we must conclude that natural theology is valid. The authors of this volume do believe the Bible is special revelation and that it does teach natural theology. We do not cease believing those things while we seek to demonstrate them. By our use of the conditional word “if” in the premises above we merely acknowledge that thus far we have not demonstrated the truth of what we are affirming.[7]

Note the use of “irresistible logic”, above. The authors may not intend to cede the entire debate to the unbeliever’s principles a priori; but in fact, they have done just that! Remember that previously, it has been advanced by these same authors that the primacy of the intellect is necessary. Their opponents, we would advance, believe nothing else! So, again, the men who *should* be Mr. White, being Reformed (and considered among our best and brightest); are using the methodology of Mr. Grey! In fact, looking at what Maritain says, and reading what we’ve seen written by these authors, I’m hard pressed to see how their doctrine here differs.

It is this fact which must be shown to Mr. Black. The folly of holding to any view of life except that which is frankly based upon the Bible as the absolute authority for man must be pointed out to him. Only then are we doing what Paul did when he said: “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor. 1:20).

The issue at hand is not primarily an intellectual issue. It is primarily a moral issue. Folly is not merely intellectual, although it has intellectual repercussions. Folly is holistic, at base – as is wisdom. We cannot atomize it, any more than we can atomize Christian doctrine, or break it to pieces with no concern for it’s cohesion.

As a Reformed Christian Mr. White therefore cannot cooperate with Mr. Grey in his analysis of Mr. Black. This fact may appear more clearly if we turn to see how Mr. Black appears when he is analyzed by Mr. White in terms of the Bible alone.

Now, according to Mr. White’s analysis, Mr. Black is not a murderer. He is not necessarily a drunkard or a dope addict. He lives in one of the suburbs. He is every whit a gentleman. he gives to the Red Cross and to the Red Feather campaigns. He was a boy scout; he is a member of a lodge; he is very much civic minded; now and then his name is mentioned in the papers as an asset to the community. But we know that he is spiritually dead. He is filled with the spirit of error. Perhaps he is a member of a “fine church” in the community, but nevertheless he is one of a “people that do err in their heart” (Ps. 95:10). He lives in a stupor (Rom 11:8). To him the wisdom of God is foolishness. The truth about God, and about himself in relation to God, is obnoxious to him. He does not want to hear of it. He seeks to close eyes and ears to those who give witness of the truth. He is, in short, utterly self-deceived.[8]

We are all prone to consider men in ways other than what Scripture outlines for us. We are all prone to categorize them by worldly standards, rather than by Biblical ones. Yet, we must consistently present to men, and to ourselves, the Biblical understanding of ourselves, and we can do so using the same chapter we began to cite earlier.

Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.” For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ. (2 Cor 2:6-16)

We speak wisdom – not of this age, or of its rulers, who are passing away. This is not a worldly, passing wisdom – it is eternal. It is not discerned by men, but revealed by God, where it was previously hidden from us. For, to us God reveals these things. This is not a general revelation. We alone know the thoughts of God, and understand them for what they are. This is not a source of pride to us, but we should be humbled by His condescension on our behalf, because the Spirit is who reveals the thoughts of God to us. In fact, not only are they revealed by the Spirit, they are only only understood by the Spirit. The natural man not only will not understand them, but he cannot understand them – they are spiritually appraised. But we, my brothers – we have the mind of Christ, and are His brothers; solely by virtue of His work on our behalf, and in the Spirit’s work of conforming us to His image.

Actually, Mr. Black is certain that he looks at life in the only proper way. Even if he has doubts as to the truth of what he believes, he does not see how any sensible or rational man could believe or do otherwise. If he has doubts, it is because no one can be fully sure of himself. If he has fears, it is because fear is to be expected in the hazardous situation in which modern man lives. If he sees men’s minds break down, he thinks this is to be expected under current conditions of stress and strain. If he sees grown men act like children, he says that they were once beasts. Everything, including the “abnormal” is to him “normal.”

Notice – Mr. Black is certain. Do you think he has any other basis for “certainty” than that which we already saw presented? The evidence, whichever sort he is most inclined to accept, points to this, so it is so, on probabilistic grounds. He has a particular, and to him, eminently reasonable explanation for why things are as they are. We cannot expect the fool to come out and say that he considers himself foolish. To the fool, foolishness is the utmost in “wisdom”. To the fool, the wisdom of God is “foolishness”. His world is topsy turvy because his “proper way” is topsy turvy.

In all this Mr. Black has obviously taken for granted that what the Bible says about the world and himself is not true. He has taken this for granted. He may never have argued the point. He has cemented yellow spectacles to his own eyes. He cannot remove them because he will not remove them. He is blind and loves to be blind.

This is an important section. Mr. Black is what he is, and does what he does, because he, at bottom, *likes* who and what he is – on some level. He takes these things for granted, because he sees these things through his glued-on yellow glasses. So, most “reasonably”, the world appears yellow. What he thinks about himself, and the world, is “true” because that is what he wants to think. According to his yellow-tinted view of the world – all of the “evidence” which he thinks leads to the conclusion he thinks he has “reasonably” drawn – the yellow-tinted world is a quite reasonable yellow.

Do not think that Mr. Black has an easy time of it. He is the man who always “kicks against the pricks.” His conscience troubles him all the time. Deep down in his heart he knows that what the Bible says about him and about the world is true. Even if he has never heard about the Bible, he knows that he is a creature of God and that he has broken the law of God (Rom 1:19-20; 2:14-15). When the prodigal son left his father’s house, he could not immediately efface from his memory the look and the voice of his father. How that look and that voice came back to him when he was at the swine trough! When asked where he came from he would answer that he came “from the other side.” He did not want to be reminded of his past. Yet he could not forget it. It required a constant act of suppression to forget the past. But that very act of suppression itself keeps alive the memory of the past.

This, friends, is where the rubber meets the road for our apologetic. Every one of these statements will be, and have been, challenged by hostile as well as friendly fire. We do not address our Evangelical and Romanist friends out of spite, or out of pique. We address them because we must faithfully attend to what Scripture tells us is our apologetic, and from whence it must be exposited. As we progress, we will see how Dr. Van Til expands this, and addresses the objections Mr. Grey makes in his explanations to Mr. Black.

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  1. [1]Pinnock, A Case for Faith, 120
  2. [2]Pinnock, A Case for Faith, 88
  3. [3]An introduction to Philosophy, Jacques Maritain, 84
  4. [4]Editor’s footnote 39: For Van Til, self-awareness is not outside of revelation, but operates precisely because of revelation. As image-bearers, any self-knowledge leads to knowledge of God, as well as the other way around. Van Til is arguing against a neutral, or autonomous, reasoning process that must somehow grope to find God.
  5. [5]Christian Apologetics, pgs 113-114
  6. [6]Editor’s footnote 24: One of the main reasons that Van Til says that facts and logic, apart from the doctrines of creation and providence, “are without relation to one another” is that facts, on a non-Christian construal, are such that they arise from chance, have no interpretation, and cannot be truly known. Logic, on the other hand, is assumed to be a “law” whereby its principles are true universally. How can it be, then, that chance-produced and controlled facts can have any relationship to something meant to be as immutable? On a non-Christian basis, therefore, the facts and laws cannot be shown to be related to each other though such a relationship is taken for granted on almost every point.
  7. [7]Classical Apologetics, 230
  8. [8]Editor’s footnote 25: This, we should remember, as Van Til will note again below, is the gist of Paul’s argument in Romans 1:18ff. In Adam, we are all utterly self-deceived. We act against true knowledge, which we continually suppress in unrighteousness.


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