The following is an excerpt from Greg Bahnsen's Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis; copyright of Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, P.O. Box 817, Philillipsburg, New Jersey 08865-0817. pp. 727-733. Used with permission.
As a hater of God he does not want to hear about God. The natural man seeks to suppress the pressure of God's revelation in nature that is about him. He seeks to suppress the pressure of conscience within him. So he also seeks to suppress the idea of the revelation of grace that speaks in Scripture. In every case it is God as his Creator and as his judge that asks of him to listen and be obedient. How can the autonomous man be obedient on his own assumptions? He cannot be obedient unless he reverses his entire position, and this he cannot do of himself. It takes the regenerating power of the Spirit to do that.
Having reached this point the Roman Catholic and the Arminian may argue that it was in the interest of avoiding this very impasse that they sought to make their point of contact with the natural man on a neutral basis. The reply of the Reformed apologist is as follows. Good preaching, he will say, will recognize the truth of Scripture that man has been blinded by sin, and that his will is perverted toward seeking self instead of God. But how can deaf ears hear, and blind eyes see? That is to say preaching is confronted with the same dilemma as is apologetical reasoning. In both cases the Roman Catholic and the Arminian tone down the facts of the gospel in order to gain acceptance for them on the part of the natural man. In neither case will the Reformed apologist do so. In both cases he will challenge the natural man at the outset. Both in preaching and in reasoning-and every approach to the natural man should be both-the Reformed theologian will ask the sinner to do what he knows the sinner of himself cannot do. The Reformed Christian is often Reformed in preaching and Arminian in reasoning. But when he is at all self-conscious in his reasoning he will seek to do in apologetics what he does in preaching. He knows that man is responsible not in spite of but just because he is not autonomous but created. He knows that the idea of analogical or covenant personality is that which alone preserves genuine significance for the thoughts and deeds of man. So he also knows that he who is dead in trespasses and sins is none the less responsible for his deadness. He knows also that the sinner in the depth of his heart knows that what is thus held before him is true. He knows he is a creature of God; he has been simply seeking to cover up this fact to himself. He knows that he has broken the law of God; he has again covered up this fact to himself. He knows that he is therefore guilty and is subject to punishment forever; this fact too he will not look in the face.
And it is precisely Reformed preaching and Reformed apologetic that tears the mask off the sinner's face and compels him to look at himself and the world for what they really are. Like a mole the natural man seeks to scurry under ground every time the facts as they really are come to his attention. He loves the darkness rather than the light. The light exposes him to himself. And precisely this neither Roman Catholic nor Arminian preaching or reasoning is able to do.
As to the possibility and likelihood of the sinner's accepting the Christian position, it must be said that this is a matter of the grace of God ...."Ye are my witnesses." That is the word of the covenant God to those he has redeemed. They are such and can be such only if they bear witness to a God who cannot do otherwise than bear witness of himself by means of himself. Christians can bear witness of this God only if they humbly but boldly make the claim that only on the presupposition of the existence of this God and of the universe in all its aspects as the revelation of this God is there any footing and verge for the interpretative efforts of man ....
Scripture teaches us to speak and preach to, as well as to r eason with blind men, because God, in whose name we speak and reason, can cause the blind to see. Jesus told Lazarus while dead to arise and come forth from the grave. The prophet preached to the dead bones in the valley till they took on flesh. So our reasoning and our preaching is not in vain inasmuch as God in Christ reasons and preaches through us. Once we were blind; God reasoned with us, perhaps through some human agency, and we saw.3
How awesome then the responsibility of the Christian. He must proclaim the Christ as the only name given under heaven by which man, the whole man, by which mankind, with its cultural task, must be saved from sin unto God. What a joy to tell the scientist and the philosopher that they may labor for eternity if only they will labor for the Christ. But when the Christian does thus witness to the promise of great joy that is in the Christ who saves the whole man with the whole of his culture, then inevitably what is a "promise" to some becomes a "curse" to others. Paul says:
"Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ, and maketh manifest the savour of his knowledge by us in every place. For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: to the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life" (II Cor. 2:1416).
Even as some accept, so also others reject the word of God's grace. To then the Word becomes a savour of death. Then they, with their culture, are lost The work of their hands, their science, their art, their philosophy, their theology, in short their culture, will ultimately profit, not themselves, but those who have obeyed the word of grace in Christ.
To be sure none of the cultural efforts of any man will be lost, for all things are Christ's and Christ is God's. But there are men who will lose their cultural efforts. They will lose the fruit of their labors because they have refused to labor unto Christ. They will reap the reward of Balaam who sought to curse Israel and, most of all, Israel's God. They will seek in vain to die the death of the righteous.
1. This outline is Van Til's briefest and clearest exposition of the nature and distinctiveness of the presuppositional defense of the faith. It has special significance as a crowning statement, appearing at the end of Van Til's "My Credo" in Jerusalem and Athens, ed. E. R. Geehan (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1971) 18-21. An earlier version of part A ("My problems with the `traditional method'") can be found in Defense of the Faith, 351-53, which was reproduced in The Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1971), 69-70. An earlier version of part B ("My understanding of the relationship between Christian and non-Christian, philosophically speaking") appeared in Defense of the Faith, 310-12, which was slightly expanded in Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought, 27-30. Part C ("My proposal, therefore, for a consistently Christian methodology of apologetics") appears to be original to "My Credo" and is a gem, communicating the gist of Van Til's apologetical method and argument. Back
2. Excerpts from Defense of the Faith, 165-66, 198, 306-7Back
3.CVT: Introduction to Theology syllabus, pp. 28-30. (This syllabus was mimeographed by Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia in 1947.) Back
4. An excerpt from Protestant Doctrine of Scripture, 2-3. Back