After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3:6), mankind became sinful (Gen. 6:5), alienated from God (Col. 1:21), unable to self-reconcile to God (John 6:44), a slave to sin and Satan (1 John 3:10), spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1-3), darkened in mind (Eph.4:18), and was brought under God’s wrath (John 3:36). Individuals are left in this state of misery and hopelessness unless and until the Holy Spirit imparts new life (2 Cor. 5:17).
Here, one begins to see that there are two types of people in the world: Those in covenant with God through Christ, and those in covenant with God through Adam (c.f. 1 Cor. 15:22-23; Rom 5:12-15). But what would someone in Adam say to God on Judgment Day? Would he say, “Sorry God; I didn’t know You?” In Romans 1:18-25, as we’ve seen previously, Paul teaches that no one who has ever lived will have an excuse for why he or she did not believe in God (v.20). This is because “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (vv. 19-20). What is remarkable about this is the fact that everyone who has ever lived has known God. Why, then, have not all believed? Because they suppress the truth in unrighteousness (v.18).
If this is the state of the unbeliever, how then does the apologist appeal to such a person? For covenantal apologetics, the point of contact with the unbeliever is “in the fact that every man is made in the image of God and has impressed upon him the law of God.” The point of contact with the unbeliever is this suppressed knowledge—the image of God in him or her. There is, however, no neutral ground – no neutral worldview – on which the believer can reason with the unbeliever, for “the very idea of neutrality is at the heart of Satan’s deception for those who are lost.”
A “worldview” is the lens by which one views all of life (think colored glasses); or, as one author put it, a worldview is “a network of our most basic beliefs about reality in light of which all observations are interpreted… We cannot avoid wearing ‘mental glasses’… but it is crucial to wear the right glasses.” The Christian thinks in terms of a biblical worldview and the non-Christian thinks in terms of an unbelieving worldview. Even viewing something as simple as a cat walking across the street, worldviews are in play. For the believer, the cat is created by God, walking on God’s earth, and fulfilling God’s purposes. For the unbeliever, however, the cat is an accidental creature brought about by random, meaningless processes. Therefore, both can view the same fact (or piece of evidence) and come to completely different conclusions. Each person is filtering the fact he or she sees within the lens of his or her worldview. We don’t, therefore, just throw facts and evidences at unbelievers, because they will interpret it wrongly as they view it from their lens of unbelief. Wisdom and knowledge is in the fear of the Lord and in Christ (c.f. Prov. 1:7; 9:10; John 14:6; 17:17; Col. 2:3-8; Eph. 4:17-18). It is easy to see from this just how important the concept of worldview is in our apologetic.
What is more, each person will use his worldview to argue for his worldview. That is, the Christian will argue for a biblical worldview by looking to the Bible as to why we ought to view the world through the lens of Scripture. The unbeliever, however, will appeal to himself—that is, his reason or experiences. Some, however, might say this sounds a bit circular. But, this is inevitable when talking about ultimate standards. As Van Til writes, “The Bible is taken so seriously that we have not even left any area of known reality by which the revelation that comes to us in the Bible may be compared.” Similarly, Doug Wilson writes, “The problem is that the Bible… never agreed to be tested by any Mrs. Enlightenment… The Bible is not that which meets the standards; the Bible is that which sets the standards.”
“But!” demands the rationalist, “I’m questioning the Bible. You can’t use the Bible to defend the Bible!” The rationalist, though, has the same problem, for if you ask him, “Why do you think reason is the standard?” The rationalist will use his reason to give a reason for the reason as to why reason is the standard. Thus, Van Til concludes, “To admit one’s own presuppositions and point out the presuppositions of others is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case circular reasoning.” “But,” continues Van Til, “if we must determine the foundations of authority, we no longer accept authority on authority. Authority could be authority to us only if we already knew that it had the right to claim authority.” Therefore, he concludes:
We cannot subject the authoritative pronouncements of Scripture about reality to the scrutiny of reason because it is reason itself that learns of its proper function from Scripture… But if man is not autonomous, if he is rather what Scripture says he is, namely, a creature of God and a sinner before his face, then man should subordinate his reason to the Scriptures and seek in light of it to interpret his experience.
This is exactly what Herman Bavinck taught even before him:
Reason criticizes all revelation to death, and feeling gives us the right to imagine the world as we wish and to claim as dogma what seems right to us. It is therefore noteworthy that Holy Scripture never refers human beings to themselves as the epistemic source and standard of religious truth. Indeed, how could it? We are by nature blind and corrupt in the imaginations of our hearts. For the knowledge of truth, Scripture always refers us to objective revelation, to the word and instruction that proceeds from God (Deut. 4:1; Isa. 8:20; John 5:39; 2 Tim. 3:15; 2 Pet. 1:19; etc.).
“Ah!” says the rationalist, “But look what you’ve done! You have used your reason to see that you must subjugate your reason to Scripture; thus, you have used a form of rationalism like me!” But, Van Til retorts, regarding Scripture, “I believe in this infallible book, in the last analysis, because of the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in my heart.” Thus, “The Christian seeks to realize his ideal by following his standard through the power of faith given him by God.” In other words, the Holy Spirit, via irresistible grace, gave Christians the gift of faith, and eyes to see the truthfulness of the inerrant Word of God—the Christian was made to believe by the new heart given him or her by the Holy Spirit.
Because of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit bringing us into union with Christ, we not only have eternal life, but also a different worldview: a biblical worldview. Arguments and evidence for Christianity make sense within this worldview, but make no sense out of context, in an illusory worldview of unbelief. This, however, doesn’t cause us to despair in an apologetic encounters, nor does it reduce the apologetic encounter to a shouting match with no point of contact. Rather, we know that our gospel presentation and argumentation “gets through” and “connects” with the unbeliever because there is a point of contact:
It is, therefore, the sensus divinitatis (sense of deity) that provides the connecting link between what we say in apologetics and what God is always and everywhere ‘saying’ in and to his human creatures. It is this all-important truth—the truth that all people, because made in God’s image, know God—that provides the ‘point of contact’ between what we as Christians believe and espouse and what anyone else might believe and espouse.
© copyright J. Brandon Burks
Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, ed. Scott Oliphint (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1955), 117.
Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics, ed. William Edgar, 2nd edition (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2003), 119-120.
John M. Frame, “A Presuppositionalist’s Response,” in Five Views On Apologetics, ed. Stanley N. Gundry and Steven B. Cowan (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 219.
Jason Lisle, The Ultimate Proof of Creation: Resolving the Origins Debate (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2009), 25, 27.
Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 55.
Doug Wilson, “The Sacred Script in the Theater of God: Calvin, the Bible, and the Western World,” in With Calvin in the Theater of God, ed. John Piper and David Mathis (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 90.
Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 123.
Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Abridged in One Volume, ed. by John Bolt (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 16.
Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 241.
K. Scott Oliphint, Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of our Faith (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 129, c.f., 53.