Before digging into Van Til’s teaching on the Trinity and how it applies to his argumentation for the existence of God, it will do us well to review the fundamental principles of Presuppositional Apologetics. Okay, I know you have heard a lot about PA recently, but you know the old teaching addage: the more you hear something, the more likely you are to remember it. So, once again, ladies and gentlemen, let’s take a look at what PA is about at its core.
The popular model of apologetics today is one where you present evidence, and use logic and reason to argue for the existence of God, the truthfulness of the Bible, the historicity of Christ and the resurrection, etc. This model assumes that everyone, no matter what their religious or philosophical viewpoint, agrees on principles of logic and reason, and can use these to evaluate evidence. In other words, on these principles we all share “common ground,” since these are assumed to be neutral standards by which all claims can be weighed.
Van Til objected to this saying that to set anything above God and His Word, whether it be a man, a false god, or a set of principles, is a violation of Scripture and an undermining of the ultimate authority of God and His revelation. God’s Word, if it is has supreme authority, cannot be held accountable to a higher authority. If we believe the Bible is “God-breathed,” that it is God speaking to us, then to subject it to evidence, reason, and logic to validate it is to say that it really has no authority on its own, and requires an external authority to verify it. Not only this, but it is to say that it needs man to apply this external authority and use it to verify what God has said, whether or not it is true. Since when does man have the right to tell God whether He is speaking truth? How we know Scripture is true without engaging in circular reasoning is, perhaps, a subject for another time. But for now, suffice to say that the Christian can do no other than to hold Scripture in the highest regard. In fact, Van Til would argue that we need Scripture, God’s special revelation to us, to be able to properly apply logic, reason, and evidence.
When God originally created man, He gave him natural revelation (the world around him, its complexity and order, etc.) as a demonstration of His existence, and special revelation (instructions, commands, etc.) so he would know how to properly live in the universe God had made with the rules that govern it, and know how to honor and serve his Creator in a way that most pleases Him. However, in Genesis 3 we are told that man disobeyed God and fell into sin (Romans 5:12-14). From that time on, man has been suppressing natural revelation (Romans 1:18-32), and unable to receive and accept special revelation due to his spiritual estrangement from his Creator. To this day, man is in a state of denial regarding God’s existence and truth, and is trying to live in this world according to his own understanding. God, in His mercy, permits man to understand certain truths: morality, ethics, laws, justice, etc. that come from being made in His image. Without these, man would not survive long in this world; his life would be intolerable (as would life for those around him). Yet, given man’s natural understanding, unaided by that understanding that comes from either natural or special revelation, these truths are not consistent with his understanding of the world. And it is his understanding of the world, or his presuppositions that will always ultimately lead him to the conclusions he makes, which will invariably be wrong or misguided.
If the unbeliever is looking at the world through different presuppositions than the believer, it stands to reason that, apart from the work of the Spirit giving him eyes to see, he will not come to the same conclusions as the believer regarding evidence, no matter how good and sound that evidence is. He does not share “common ground” with the believer, because the unbeliever and the believer are operating on diametrically opposed presuppositions. Knowing that the unbeliever is suppressing the knowledge of God, however, the Christian apologist can appeal to that knowledge of God to call the unbeliever to repentance so he can see the world as God intended it to be seen. The apologist could even take the approach of having the unbeliever assume Christian presuppositions (for the sake of argument), and he assume non-Christian presuppositions (again, for the sake of argument) to help the unbeliever see which is consistent with the universe as we know it–which of them makes the world around us and its laws intelligible.
That’s PA in a nutshell. One point that Van Til was insistent on was that any defense of the Christian faith cannot simply be a defense of one aspect of it. In other words, it is not simply a defense of the fact of God’s existence, or the fact of Christ’s divinity, or the fact of the resurrection. Christian apologetics is a defense of the entire Christian worldview. Hopefully, from the foregoing it is clear why this is the case. Without a Christian worldview, the evidence is meaningless. The unbeliever can accept the bare evidence for the resurrection saying, “Okay, so something strange happened,” without ever proclaiming saving faith in Christ as a result. That conclusion requires seeing the evidence for the resurrection with Christian presuppositions; only then can it have any meaning.
This is where Van Til’s teaching on the Trinity comes in. He argues that we are not presenting mere theism, but we are presenting Christian theism, and we have to. To present any other kind of theism is to argue for a God that doesn’t exist, and, in fact, undermines everything you then say to affirm the truth of the Christian worldview. We will explore this in the next installment.
Don’t forget, if you want to read the entire article upon which this series is based, you can do so at my website, under the “Papers” section.