Presuppositional Apologetics: An Introduction (2)

2. No Neutrality, No Autonomy.

C.S. Lewis noted years ago, the unbeliever likes to place God on the witness stand while he takes a seat on the bench. This is the essence of his rebellion! The believer cannot allow this attitude to go unchallenged. Non-Christians are not dispassionate observers – never mind impartial judges! Neither are they in the right to assume that human beings should act as if God did not exist. All men are obligated to believe in God.

The Apostle teaches that the unbeliever denies his Creator, and in so doing has become “vain in his imaginations” (Rom.1:21). The natural man has his understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the [willful] ignorance that is in him, because of the blindness of his own heart (Eph. 4:18). Paul’s view is expressed cogently in 1 Corinthians 1:20-21, 25:

“Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God that by the [apparent] foolishness of preaching to save those who believe…For the foolishness of God is wiser than men…”

Here we see a strategic difference between the thinking of the saved and the unsaved. To the unsaved, the preaching of the Cross of Christ (or, the Sovereignty of God, or, the Fall of mankind, or, the revelation of God, or, the Second Coming of Christ, etc.) is sheer tomfoolery. In his delusional state of seeing things, he does not need God and he does not want God. What, then, will he do with the evidences for God? He will treat them as our delusions!

Greg Bahnsen commented:

“…God’s revelation of Himself, whether in nature…or in the gospel…comes with such clear evidence and persuasive power that those who repudiate what He has revealed have their professed “wisdom” reduced to sheer folly and irrationality. They can only maneuver mentally to avoid…(without hope of success) their inescapable knowledge of God.”

The unbeliever’s problem with the reality of God, then, is not primarily intellectual, it is moral. This is a crucial point. We are not saying that there is no intellectual common ground between believer and unbeliever. Just that the ethical dimension gets in the way. The carnal mind, which “is at enmity with God” (Rom. 8:7), wills not to know God as He really is. The fact of the matter is, as Calvin said, that “after we rashly grasp some conception of divinity, straightway we fall back into the ravings or evil imaginings of our flesh, and corrupt by our vanity the pure truth of God.” If this is a proper understanding of the case then the non-Christian is not at all neutral. In fact, he is completely unqualified to adjudicate Truth, since he both distorts and lives in willful ignorance of the Source of Truth (cf. Jn. 18:37-38; Eph. 4:17-18). Now, if that is an accurate profile of “those that forget God,” is it correct to think that we as Christians ought to agree with unbelievers when they claim there is not enough plain and clear evidence that God exists? The Bible declares that it is foolish not to believe in God (Psa. 14:1; 53:1; Rom. 1:21-22). And we must humbly point this out to him, exactly as Paul did to the Athenians at Mars Hill in Acts 17.

In his presentation before the philosophers Paul emphasized seven things:

1). God is the Creator of all things, and is distinct from His Creation (Transcendence) (v 24).

2). He is also the Sustainer of life by His providence (v25). Further, He needs nothing (Aseity).

3). He rules over all nations (vv.26-27). He is not localized.

4). He is with and “in” every human being (Immanence) (vv.27-28).

5). Because of this God cannot be worshiped through an image (vv.28-29).

6). This one true God shall one day judge all mankind (vv. 30-31a).

7). God has given notice by the Resurrection that Paul is preaching (v.31b).

Notice that the first six points of Paul’s sermon are derived from Natural or General Revelation (albeit, it took the special interpretation of an Apostle to show it). We mustn’t assume that Paul is chiding them for not clearly seeing all this. He knows that sin distorts the picture. Nevertheless, he does appeal to the sensus deitatis that all humans have as God’s creatures. As Van Til expresses it:

“To be sure, finite man cannot know all the wondrous works of God. But man can and does know that God, his Creator exists. Man can and does know that God is the living God who is not only the original Creator but also the controller and bountiful benefactor of mankind.”

Van Til often used the illustration of a child slapping the face of the parent who carried it to show how even unbelievers must be “held” by God while insulting Him and questioning His existence. And that is why the classical arguments for God, and the evidences for the Bible’s veracity, ought not to be built upon mere probability, but upon the solid rock of the scriptural truth about man as the creature of God (cf. Acts 17:31).

Not only is the unbeliever not neutral in his approach to the truth of God, but the believer is not neutral either. Indeed, he is a believer (2 Tim. 1:12). He is made separate (sanctified) by “the Word of Truth.” (Jn. 17:17). He is for Christ, just as the unbeliever is against Christ. For the Christian apologist to ignore all this in an effort to “reach” the unbeliever is to deny the teaching of the Scriptures he claims he is defending.

2a. The Truth About Man.

It is an undeniable fact that if the God of the Bible exists then many supremely important conclusions about mankind must be drawn. Let me express them using Biblical phraseology:

We Are Born Rebels: All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. There is not a just man upon the earth that doeth good and sinneth not. We are God’s enemies: haters of God, and alienated from Him.

We Are Depraved: The sin within us is pervasive. It colors everything we do. Therefore, we do not like to retain God in our thoughts. This means that whatever we do we do not do it for God’s glory, and not to put God first in our thought is sin according to the First Commandment.

God Is Our Maker: It follows also that this world is God’s creation. We ourselves are made in the image of God. Not to acknowledge that fact is to despise our Maker.

We Intuit A Coming Judgment: Further, we know instinctively that a judgment is ahead, and we also know that we deserve condemnation. God originally made man upright but he has sought out many wicked devices. Those devices, or excuses he uses to deny the existence of God. Yet, according to the Bible, man has this nagging awareness that he will be judged, and he seeks to suppress that fact.

All Sinners Need A Substitutionary Sacrifice: Because we are all as an unclean thing, all of our deeds (even the “good” ones) are actually acts of rebellion. Even the plowing of the wicked is sin. Thus, all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. Who, then can save us? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean thing? Only God can save us by the sacrificial death of His Son.

What is important to realize is that this is not abstract information that can be slotted into some “hollow space” within our being. It is the truth about us. It is light in the darkness, wisdom over against ignorance. It is the true description of people as fallen creatures in a fallen world. God rules and His Word is final. Man does not ignore the Word of God because that is a valid option that is given him. He ignores it because he hates it. He rejects it because he wants to be independent of God’s jurisdiction over him. “As children of Adam,” says Van Til, “[men and women] have always made…the effort required to cover-up the truth about themselves and God. They see every fact as other than it really is. By means of their …drama, poetry, philosophy – they try to prove to themselves that the world is not the estate of God and that they are not made in his image.” Thus, there exists a fundamental separation in outlook between Christians and unbelievers.

2b. Antithesis.

This brings us to the recognition of the concept of antithesis. “Antithesis” is one of those buzz-words of presuppositional apologetics which it is wise to retain. As presuppositionalists use it, the term connotes the mental and ethical standoff between believer and unbeliever. Believers have been born-anew into the kingdom of light (Col. 1:12-13), while non-Christians abide in the darkness precipitated and maintained by their unbelief. The minds of believers have been opened to see the kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3, 5), but the minds of unbelievers imagine vain things (see Psa. 2:1). Christians know the Holy Scriptures to be the unique revelation of God, unbelievers, on the other hand, remain ignorant of the real significance of the Bible, and wrongly attempt to locate ultimate authority in themselves. In his book on epistemology, Van Til pointed out that, “The Christian principle of interpretation is based upon the assumption of God as the final and self-contained reference point. The non-Christian principle of interpretation is that man as self-contained is the final reference point. It is this basic difference that has to be kept in mind all the time.” If one believes the Bible then the picture of humanity resulting from its study is one that is completely at odds with the picture the world has. Bahnsen explains:

“In terms of theoretical principle and eventual outworking, the unbeliever opposes the Christian faith with a whole antithetical system of thought, not simply with piecemeal criticisms. His attack is aimed, not at random points of Christian teaching, but at the very foundation of Christian thinking. The particular criticisms which are utilized by an unbeliever rest upon his basic, key assumptions which unify and inform all his thinking. And it is this presuppositional root which the apologist must aim to eradicate, if his defense of the faith is to be truly effective.”

The unbeliever must be brought to see that a reality shaped and controlled by any other thing than the Triune God is an impossibility. He must be asked how the logic, science, or facts he is using to reject Jesus Christ are even explicable within his non-Christian worldview. If he were to fully adopt the principles with which he rejects Christianity he would not be able to see a single thing in Scripture to agree with. But the antithesis is not absolute. There is a lot of crossover due to the fact that believers do not adopt a completely Biblical viewpoint, and unbelievers do not (indeed, cannot) adopt a totally non-Christian viewpoint. The concept of antithesis thus acts as a guard upon the thought-life of the believer, warning him against forsaking a Christian outlook while also admonishing him not to think naively that unbelievers interpret things from within a Biblical framework. As John Frame says, the non-Christian,

“is operating on a basic assumption or presupposition opposite to that of the Christian. And the unbeliever has strong motivation to interpret all of reality according to his own presupposition. Thus, when the unbeliever finds in his own thinking some uncomfortable bit of Christian truth, his inclination will be somehow to twist it, suppress it, deny it, domesticate it, or simply change the subject.”

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