“There’s a place for every apologetic method.”
“Can’t we argue about something essential?”
While these remain as popular approaches to some traditional apologists, they run afoul of the very underpinnings of the Covenantal apologetic – which was from the beginning intended as a reform of our theology of apologetics. Van Til, the “father of presuppositionalism”, outlines these issues on pages 18-21 in his essay “My Credo”, found in the work “Jerusalem and Athens,” edited by E.R. Geehan. After reading this outline of the structure of the method, from the method’s “father” – can there be any surprise that the Covenantal apologist is concerned with the methodology of traditional apologists?
A. My problems with the “traditional method.”
1. This method compromises God himself by maintaining that his existence is only “possible” albeit “highly probable,” rather than ontologically and “rationally” necessary.
2. It compromises the counsel of God by not understanding it as the only all-inclusive, ultimate “cause” of whatsoever comes to pass.
3. It compromises the revelation of God by:
a. Compromising its necessity. It does so by not recognizing that even in Paradise man had to interpret the general (natural) revelation of God in terms of the covenantal obligations placed upon him by God through special revelation. Natural revelation, on the traditional view, can be understood “on its own.”
b. Compromising its clarity. Both the general and special revelation of God are said to be unclear to the point that man may say only that God’s existence is “probable.”
c. Compromising its sufficiency. It does this by allowing for an ultimate realm of “chance” out of which might come “facts” such as are wholly new for God and for man. Such “facts” would be uninterpreted and unexplainable in terms of the general or special revelation of God.
d. Compromising its authority. On the traditional position the Word of God’s self-attesting characteristic, and therewith its authority, is secondary to the authority of reason and experience. The Scriptures do not identify themselves, man identifies them and recognizes their “authority” only in terms of his own authority.
4. It compromises man’s creation as the image of God by thinking of man’s creation and knowledge as independent of the Being and knowledge of God. On the traditional approach man need not “think God’s thoughts after him.”
5. It compromises man’s covenantal relationship with God by not understanding Adam’s representative action as absolutely determinative of the future.
6. It compromises the sinfulness of mankind resulting from the sin of Adam by not understanding man’s ethical depravity as extending to the whole of his life, even to his thoughts and attitudes.
7. It compromises the grace of God by not understanding it as the necessary prerequisite for “renewal unto knowledge.” On the traditional view man can and must renew himself unto knowledge by the “right use of reason.”
B. My understanding of the relationship between Christian and non-Christian, philosophically speaking.
1. Both have presuppositions about the nature of reality:
a. The Christian presupposes the triune God and his redemptive plan for the universe as set forth once for all in Scripture.
b. The non-Christian presupposes a dialectic between “chance” and “regularity,” the former accounting for the origin of matter and life, the latter accounting for the current success of the scientific enterprise.
2. Neither can, as finite beings, by means of logic as such, say what reality must be or cannot be.
a. The Christian, therefore, attempts to understand his world through the observation and logical ordering of facts in self-conscious subjection to the plan of the self attesting Christ of Scripture.
b. The non-Christian, while attempting an enterprise similar to the Christian’s, attempts nevertheless to use “logic” to destroy the Christian position. On the one hand, appealing to the non- rationality of “matter,” he says that the chance- character of “facts” is conclusive evidence against the Christian position. Then, on the other hand, he maintains like Parmenides that the Christian story cannot possibly be true. Man must be autonomous, “logic” must be legislative as to the field of “possibility” and possibility must be above God.
3. Both claim that their position is “in accordance with the facts.”
a. The Christian claims this because he interprets the facts and his experience in the light of the revelation of the self-attesting Christ in Scripture. Both the uniformity and the diversity of facts have at their foundation the all-embracing plan of God.
b. The non-Christian claims this because he interprets the facts and his experience in the light of the autonomy of human personality, the ultimate “givenness” of the world and the amenability of matter to mind. There can be no fact that denies man’s autonomy or attests to the world’s and man’s divine origin.
4. Both claim that their position is “rational.”
a. The Christian does so by claiming not only that his position is self-consistent but that he can explain both the seemingly “inexplicable” amenability of fact to logic and the necessity and usefulness of rationality itself in terms of Scripture.
b. The non-Christian may or may not make this same claim. If he does, the Christian maintains that he cannot make it good. If the non-Christian attempts to account for the amenability of fact to logic in terms of the ultimate rationality of the cosmos, then he will be crippled when it comes to explaining the “evolution” of men and things. If he attempts to do so in terms of pure “chance” and ultimate “irrationality” as being the well out of which both rational man and a rationally amenable world sprang, then we shall point out that such an explanation is in fact no explanation at all and that it destroys predication.
C. My proposal, therefore, for a consistently Christian methodology of apologetics is this:
1. That we use the same principle in apologetics that we use in theology: the self-attesting, self-explanatory Christ of Scripture.
2. That we no longer make an appeal to “common notions” which Christian and non-Christian agree on, but to the “common ground” which they actually have because man and his world are what Scripture says they are.
3. That we appeal to man as man, God’s image. We do so only if we set the non-Christian principle of the rational autonomy of man against the Christian principle of the dependence of man’s knowledge on God’s knowledge as revealed in the person and by the Spirit of Christ.
4. That we claim, therefore, that Christianity alone is reasonable for men to hold. It is wholly irrational to hold any other position than that of Christianity. Christianity alone does not slay reason on the altar of “chance.”
5. That we argue, therefore, by “presupposition.” The Christian, as did Tertullian, must contest the very principles of his opponent’s position. The only “proof” of the Christian position is that unless its truth is presupposed there is no possibility of “proving” anything at all. The actual state of affairs as preached by Christianity is the necessary foundation of “proof” itself.
6. That we preach with the understanding that the acceptance of the Christ of Scripture by sinners who, being alienated from God, seek to flee his face, comes about when the Holy Spirit, in the presence of inescapably clear evidence, opens their eyes so that they see things as they truly are.
7. That we present the message and evidence for the Christian position as clearly as possible, knowing that because man is what the Christian says he is, the non-Christian will be able to understand in an intellectual sense the issues involved. In so doing, we shall, to a large extent, be telling him what he “already knows” but seeks to suppress. This “reminding” process provides a fertile ground for the Holy Spirit, who in sovereign grace may grant the non-Christian repentance so that he may know him who is life eternal.
- Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til; ed. by E.R. Geehan, Presbyterian and Reformed, 1974↩