Monday, May 29, 2006

Apologetics to the Glory of God

“ ‘Contentious disputes arise,’ wrote John Calvin, ‘from the fact that many think less honorably than they ought of the greatness of divine wisdom, and are carried away by profane audacity.’ Calvin was commenting upon 1 Peter 3:15, a verse that has long been take as the biblical charter for Christian apologetic. His words were not directed, however, at the ‘profane audacity’ of the unbeliever who challenges the existence of God or the veracity of His word, but rather at those Christian apologists who fall short of recognizing and submitting ot the superiority of God’s wisdom as revealed in the pages of Scripture.”

Thus begins Greg Bahnsen’s explanation of Cornelius Van Til’s presuppositional method of apologetics in Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis. I don’t know where I’ve been all my life, but I first became aware of the existence of presuppositional apologetics by reading Dr. McCune’s Promise Unfulfilled. In his book on the failure of New Evangelicalism, McCune devotes an entire chapter to apologetics. That chapter peeked my interest and I knew that I needed to read up on an area that I had never given much consideration to before. Bahnsen’s book is not for beginners. I suspect there are better introductions to presuppositional apologetics but it was good for me to plod through this treatment. I would have to say that Van Til’s Apologetic is easily one of the most significant books that I have read in quite a while.

The format of the book consists of Bahnsen explaining the key points of Van Til’s apologetic and then following each explanation with several corresponding “readings” from Van Til himself. This process allowed me, as a novice, to process the information multiple time for each point – very helpful, even if it made the book quite lengthy. I found both Bahnsen and Van Til to be extremely insightful. Time after time I found myself thinking that they were exactly right about something and why didn’t I ever recognize that in Scripture before?

Those insights may be old news to many but I would like to highlight some of them to give the reader a feel for what I'm talking about:

“The Christian’s final standard, the inspired word of God, teaches us that ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge’ (Prov. 1:7). If the apologist treats the starting point of knowledge as something other than reverence for God, then unconditional submission to the unsurpassed greatness of God’s wisdom at the end of his argumentation does not really make sense. There would always be something greater than God’s wisdom – namely, the supposed wisdom of one’s intellectual starting point. The word of God would necessarily (logically, if not personally) remain subordinate to that autonomous, final standard. The situation is pictured will by C.S. Lewis: ‘The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. Fro the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock…The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God is in the Dock.’” (Bahnsen, p. 3).


“[Van Til] insists (as does Scripture) that the way in which we use our minds—the way in which we reason, how we evaluate claims to the truth, the standards we adopt for knowing, etc. – is itself an ethical matter. This part of human behavior call ‘reasoning’ is as much subject to moral obligations and assessments as anything else we do in the world. The ‘greatest’ commandment teaches us to love the Lord our God with all our minds, too (Matt. 22:37) – to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).” (Bahnsen, p. 90).


“The non-Christian’s opposition to the truth about God or the gospel does not arise from legitimate intellectual problems with the faith, but from a rebellious and rationalizing heart.” (Bahnsen, p. 91).


“Thus, the very thing that most unbelievers demand – a neutral and autonomous investigation of the facts to see whether God’s word can be recognized as true and authoritative – already precludes the kind of God of which the Scripture speaks. Apologists need to come to grips with this, lest their method of defending the faith betray the object of their faith.” (Bahnsen, p. 97).


“So true is this, that I propose to argue that unless God is back of everything, you cannot find meaning in anything. I cannot even argue for belief in Him, without already having taken Him for granted. An similarly I contend that you cannot argue against belief in Him unless you also first take Him for granted. Arguing about God’s existence, I hold is like arguing about air. You may affirm that air exists, and I that it does not. But as we debate the point, we are both breathing air all the time.” (Bahnsen, p. 122.)

Those are enough quotes for now. I will probably follow up this post with further quotations as I have time to post them.


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