As we spoke about in the last post, there seems to be a strangely persistent notion that emphasizing an actual distinction between the thought of God and man is a mistake. I’d like to add that there is a similar notion, despite lip-service to the concept, that emphasizing the transcendence of God in any sense is likewise considered to be a mistake of some kind. In my experience, this often stems from the fact that men are simply uncomfortable with God being absolutely other – and as such, not to be confused with anything they would be familiar with. While it is true that we are indeed like God in many ways – it also remains the case that even in the senses we can be said to be like God, we are even more unlike Him. Every attribute that may be considered to be “communicable” in the immediate sense we are speaking of is also “incommunicable”, in the ultimate sense. For an example, just in case that last sentence was somewhat confusing on the face of it. We, like God, can love. We can even love selflessly, to some extent. However, while we may indeed love selflessly, by God’s grace – we cannot express selfless love infinitely, perfectly, or transcendently. Thus, while in a sense the attribute “love” is communicable – it is only communicable analogously – not precisely identical to that attribute of God. This is, of course, what Van Til speaks of when he speaks of analogy. We cannot argue as if God is, or can be “in the pantry”, as Bahnsen puts it – we have to argue by analogy, precisely because God is absolutely other.
To fail to argue by analogy is to devalue the transcendence of God. In other words, you cannot argue *directly* when the object of the argument is *transcendent* – the arguments, both for and against, must be indirect. This brings most clearly to view the reason why we argue transcendentally. Yes, it is a mistake to confuse “transcendence” with “transcendental” – but the transcendence of God is precisely why we must utilize a transcendental argument. This is a common problem we find with objections to the Christian faith as well as putative defenses of it. All too often they both ignore the transcendence of God, and as such, fail in their attempts to make an actual objection or defense. This plays out in many ways, but it can be readily seen in ever so many of the interactions we have had previously on this site – with believers and unbelievers alike.
Here is what I want you to take away from this post. There are real, important, and relevant reasons why we both do and should argue transcendentally. Contrary to the assertions of some, it’s not because it’s a “neat trick” to baffle unbelievers, “philosophical hand-waving” to distract from the real issues, or an esoteric insistence from the dark ages, because all of the “real arguments” don’t work for us. Those real and important reasons have to do with Christian theology – from that which has been revealed about the character and nature of God in the Scriptures. Van Til insists that all of the incommunicable attributes stress God’s transcendence. The significance of this is that, at bottom, the Creator/creature distinction is a statement concerning the transcendence of God. It is an affirmation that the Creator and His creation are distinct, and ontologically separate. This doesn’t take away from God’s immanence, of course – or from any communicable attributes we might possess – as Van Til says in the section referenced above, they complement each other.
There seems to be a baffling insistence from unbelievers that the transcendental argument is some sort of “trick” we came up with to get around the usual defenses of unbelievers. In all honesty, that’s nowhere even close to the truth. If you read Van Til, it is absolutely the farthest thing from his mind – and he took a lot of heat from the classical apologetics camps when he put it together. The reason he developed this (following after several other theologians prior to him) was entirely due to what he saw Reformed theology demanded of us. If we truly hold to Sola Scriptura, we can do no less than to offer an apologetic which conforms to it. Further, since God is, indeed, transcendent, we cannot argue directly – as God is not directly “in the line of succession” of created logic. There is a common complaint from unbelievers concerning the “logical jump” inherent in the classical arguments, from “a god” to “the God” – and as far as this goes, it is entirely correct. What they are looking at as an “illegitimate leap in logic” is, however, the result of men trying to argue as if God is part of His creation, and subject to the laws of it. It is a problem *with the arguments*, not with the system the arguments are ignoring. What these complaintants overlook is that the same problem they are shouting about applies just as strongly to their own objections. They object to “a god” – but they never object to “the God” – not as He actually is. What surprises me is that this is not pointed out to them more frequently – and it should be, at every opportunity.
The transcendence of God is not a mere peccadillo, to be discarded whenever convenient, or ignored whenever we see fit. It should not be considered an inconvenience, or a fault – any more than simplicity should. The two are treated much the same, you might notice, by unbelievers and believers alike. It is one of His attributes, and therefore unignorable if you claim to be speaking about Him. Any objection to or defense of Christian truth must incorporate the transcendence of God in that argumentation, or be rightfully considered invalid. As such, it is inevitable that we use transcendental argumentation in regards to God. Direct argumentation doesn’t cut the mustard.
Previous | Next >
- Defense of the Faith, pgs 30-32 for his full discussion↩