Quill and writing

Van Til Apologetic Chapter 1 – An Introduction

1.1a Presuppositional Apologetics is not popular nor mainstream among Christians.  Why might this be? 

It’s difficult to get your head around it!  We instinctively prefer SIMPLE solutions to problems.  Moreover, we tend not to think that there is a distinctively CHRISTIAN APPROACH to everything. But there is!  And this includes the way we engage with unbelievers.  We must learn to recognise ALL PERSONS as either covenant keepers or covenant breakers.  Covenant keepers acknowledge & love God & His word, covenant breakers suppress the knowledge of God.  Alas, there’s a good deal of residual sinfulness that lurks in the way we tend to think.  We must seek to identify their traits & smoke them out of our minds.  To coin a phrase pressed by Bahnsen (& possibly Van Til!), we must seek to become ‘epistemologically self-conscious’: i.e. becoming more self-aware of the way we think!

1.1b How do the biblical texts, referenced by Greg Bahnsen (GB), confirm this approach?

Here’s just three of a dozen or more cited by Bahnsen: (i) the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2Cor 10:4) …. Satanic strongholds consist much of spurious (autonomous) constraints on the way we think!  (ii) of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3) – why should we be surprised to learn that right thinking is a spiritual fruit of authentic life in Christ?  (iii) The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7).  We’ve read this lots before, but as is the case so often, we fail to see the wood for the trees.  Once again, according to Scripture, a right relationship with God in which we learn to fear Him & walk humbly before Him is the prerequisite for any sort of right knowledge!

1.2a Is scholarship religious? 

Yes indeed, since all of life is religious!  We must learn to ask ourselves, “Is scholarship a good work?”  If it is, the 2Tim 3:16,17 applies, for ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for [c]instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.’  i.e., we must be prepared to GO FIRST to the Scriptures to find out what principles of God’s truth bear down upon the activity that lies before us.  Since all of life is religious, it follows that there is a distinctively Christian (biblical) approach to everything.  The implications of this for all Christians bound up in educational vocations are profound.  Alas, most evangelicals as I write (in 2018) are sadly ignorant and unaware of their duty before God to address ALL their activities in EVERY SPHERE according to sound biblical principles.

1.2b What was Van Til’s (VT) distinctive genius in the apologetic endeavour?  How was it revolutionary?

Van Til, almost single-handedly, overturned the traditional (evidentialist) approach to apologetics.  He started by affirming God’s pre-eminence & sovereignty, etc.  He asserted that, as creatures, all men know God in a limited but inherent way due to their being image bearers of God.  Scripture teaches this plainly.  He sought to make clear that only if God is presupposed & the Christian Scriptures are reckoned foundational, etc, can we make sense of human experience.  Thus, instead of reasoning our way up to God, we rather confess that unless we acknowledge His pre-eminence & sovereignty, we cannot reason at all!

1.3a What, according to VT, is the ONLY foundation of reasoning? 

The triune, self-attesting God of Christianity is the ONLY foundation of human reasoning for ‘in Him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28)

Why is ‘soul salvation’ such a reductionist notion biblically? What else, in particular, needs saving? 

Contemporary pietism teaches us that Jesus came to save our ‘souls’ – especially to be with Him in heaven when we die; but authentic Christianity is full-orbed.  It presents Jesus Christ as the saviour of the WORLD (cosmos).  His blessing & regeneration extend ‘as far as the curse is found’.  i.e. to all aspects of human life & civilisation.  Thus, our thinking ESPECIALLY needs saving too, for ‘as a man thinks, so is he’! (Prov 23:7)

Can we un-pack: (i) …impossibility of contrary… (ii) intellectual autonomy (iii) preconditions for intelligibility?

  • Van Til affirms the need to ground ALL THINKING necessarily upon Christ. If ALL SUBJECTS only make sense & are comprehended truly through Christian eyes, it follows (from the law of contradiction) that ALL AUTONOMOUS THINKING must necessarily be false!
  • Intellectual autonomy is therefore a grievous & yet very widespread sin. We shall learn that it is ‘noetic sin’ – i.e. sin committed due to godless thinking.  How often do we flatter & appeal to our covenant breaking friend’s outlook & ask him/her what they think of X, Y, Z, etc??  We must learn GENTLY to expose their tendency to think independently of God & His truth, etc.
  • The preconditions of intelligibility, as stated above, turn out to be God’s self-attesting witness in every man’s heart. Unless we presuppose the truth of Christianity, we cannot make intelligible sense of any aspect of human life & experience!

Steve Layfield – September 2018