Think about what happens when several people are tugging on some object from different directions – the relative movement of the object, given more or less equal force being exerted from the various directions, will be close to zero.
Now think about what happens when one person is tugging harder than all the rest – what is the result for the object then? Imagine the object as your set of theological commitments – and the people tugging as various viewpoints that all demand an answer from you. If you, as an apologist, aren’t careful – that over-focus on one particular viewpoint will send your theology “pulling back” against that force – and potentially over-correcting. Is this an argument for the benefits of “generalization”? Perhaps. More, I hope it is a warning against reacting against what you focus most on. This can also happen in another way – if you focus too much on one subject *of* systematic, it could leave weak areas elsewhere, and you may find that the more you concentrate on that one particular focus, the more “out of round” you get.
Which brings me to a story. I walked in to hear a man loudly teaching – he was holding forth about end times, one-world governments, Luciferian Presidents, the mark of the beast, and such things. His listener seemed moderately interested, but shortly thereafter, an unbeliever sat down at the same table. His questions were not about the end times – they were about why we should believe the Bible, followed by a confident list of assertions concerning the “historical facts” surrounding the Bible’s creation and the place of religion in history. The response from the person so confidently holding forth on issues related to the end times? “That’s nonsense! Light should have no fellowship with darkness! I can’t stay here and talk to you!” That was it.
At that point, the man he was originally talking to tried to engage the unbeliever – but I quickly realized that he was rather new to the faith, and was a bit desperate, if willing, so I decided to step in. We dealt with his assertions about the Council of Nicea, Constantine, the historical context of things like the Crusades, the genesis of the “state church” and the relationship this had to theological development (or the lack thereof), and the relationship of Sola Scriptura to tradition in the Reformation, and the importance of Augustine to both sides of the issue, which B.B. Warfield so aptly describes as the “victory of Augustine’s doctrine of grace over his doctrine of the church. From there, we went into a discussion of what the Bible actually says about God, and man, and about itself.
Instead of remaining combative, he at least had something to think about – and it seemed to me that he left thoughtfully, at least. We both had places to be, and it was a very wide-ranging discussion, to be sure! However, I say all this not to “toot my own horn” – but to point out that as examples throughout our discussion, I used comparisons distilled from engagement with half a dozen viewpoints, the study of church history, my theological studies, and from teaching theology in general – which would never have been possible if 1) I hadn’t engaged with those various viewpoints previously and 2) Hadn’t studied a broad amount of church history and theology previously.
When talking about the Crusades, I couldn’t have done it justice unless I knew a bit of what was going on historically, known about the Papacy of the day, or about Islam, at least in general. When talking about the canon, I couldn’t have done that if I hadn’t studied how the canon actually came about, or what it was to begin with! It also helps to know that Nicea has absolutely nothing to do with the canon of Scripture – although knowing what the canons of Nicea were is a nice tidbit to have! Talking about tradition vs. Sola Scriptura, it helps to have at least a grounding in the theological debate of the Reformation – and it’s very helpful to have the big guns of someone like Webster and King’s 3-volume work digested, and available to summarize, at least quickly.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is, the more varied your preparation is, and the broader your experience with different viewpoints which deny the Christian faith is, the more balanced a response you can offer. Here’s another point, illustrated quite interestingly by an exchange on our Facebook page. A frequent unbelieving reader insists that we don’t talk about epistemic probability on the site – but as our readers (should) know, we discuss this subject at quite some length when speaking of apologetic methodology. When we critique evidentialism, or classical apologetics for their probability argumentation (and most of you, of course, know that Van Til addresses that very subject at considerable length in his work), it is usually in terms of authority – in whether it comports with Sola Scriptura – which doesn’t argue at all as if it is merely probably true – but that it is most certainly true.
I’ve quoted this a bunch of times before, but let me do so again.
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?
Whatever our erstwhile reader thinks, we do address the subject of epistemology – whether based in probability or sole possibility – quite often – but typically in terms of methodology. Which brings us again to balance. If you want to read us in a balanced fashion, it seems fairly obvious that you have to take into account those areas that may not be obviously related – to someone from a differing worldview. When you do take those areas into account, you see a bigger picture – and you aren’t pulling “off-balance” – and you get the “totality picture”, as Van Til calls it. Having a narrow field of view or narrow interests through which you view all of what is actually a very broad field of study can have negative implications on your own understanding – and explanation – of the entirety of what is in view. The same applies to theology – and to apologetics. If you aren’t looking at the “big picture” at the same time that you’re addressing your narrow interest, you have a tendency to miss the forest when looking at the tree you’re fixated on.
- Defense of the Faith, 4th Ed, pg. 340↩