The following paper was handed in today to Dr. Anthony Curto for an introductory class in apologetics. It is a paper that appeared online in the past, that I reworked (and will continue to do so). You will notice that there is a large section misssing – application. While I was originally going to include critique of various cultic views (especially those of Mr. Stafford), I realized (because others were telling me) this is “introductory” class. Lord willing I will take what appears below and begin offering various critiques. Hopefully it will not take me until my 2nd semester apologetics class, which is not offered until Spring 2009. 🙂 Any question or comments can be addressed to me.
In the opening chapter of Romans the apostle Paul describes the revelation of God and condition of mankind. Instead of giving praise and thanks to God (which should be the normal reaction), like Adam and Eve in the garden, mankind tries to hide from Him. As a result the wrath of God is being poured out upon mankind. The sin of hiding is childish because mankind knows Him, since God has made Himself known. Man does whatever he can to flee from this truth. This sin is also very serious; in turning from God we turn toward ourselves and creature-created things. Man does not live in this world all alone, with his beliefs and actions sealed off from individuals around him. In fact, man will deceive himself, others and will give approval for deception to be foisted upon society.

The purpose of this paper is to introduce presuppositional apologetics (perhaps better termed a covenantal apologetic[1]), with an aim at using this approach when conversing with members of cults of Christianity.[2] Sadly I am virtually alone in this endeavor.[3] On the other hand, this methodology acknowledges that there is only one true God. Any other God, as Van Til would say, is no God at all. [4] So there are really only two-types of people: the Christian and the non-Christian, the believer and the unbeliever, covenant keeper and covenant-breaker.[5] The type-types of people view is also clear from the words of Jesus Himself when he stated “you are either for me or against me” (Mat. 6:24; 12:30, NASB).

To begin we must recognize that God did not need to create – there was nothing lacking in God that “forced” Him to show His power. If fact, we are told of God that “He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things,” that “in Him we live move and have our being,” and “from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.”[6] When we are confronted with biblical passages that address who God is in Himself, we see that “he does not owe his existence to anything or anyone outside himself, nor does he need anything beyond himself to maintain his existence.” [7] He created the heavens, the earth, and all they contain; but chose to commune in a special way with those He made in His image.

From the very beginning of inscripturated revelation we observe a creator-creature distinction.[8] God is not only the creator of all things, He sustains all things. Nothing could exist nor continue to exist if He did not uphold it. And since we are His creatures, man has a natural dependence upon his maker. Scott Oliphint states “given that all men are in covenant relationship to God, they are bound by that relationship to ‘owe obedience unto him as their creator.’ The obligation of obedience comes by virtue of our being created — we were created as covenant beings. We are people who by nature, have an obligation to worship and serve the Creator.”[9] Not only is the general creation serving God and speaking for God[10]; but man, in a different and special way as His image-bearer is also to speak for God.[11] In no less then scriptural terms this means that Adam was God’s prophet. And as a prophet of another, he is not to speak from his own heart nor put forth his own words.[12] In fact, the very opposite was to take place. As God’s representative, Adam was to rule over creation; this included speaking forth only those things God would want man to speak.

Scripture and history clearly and early on, paint us a story of Adam and Eve attempting to do away with God (becoming autonomous). As Van Til stated it “when man fell, it was therefore an attempt to do without God in every respect. Man sought his ideals of truth, goodness, and beauty somewhere beyond God, either directly within himself of indirectly within the universe about him.”[13] Adam became his own final reference point; and relying upon himself, he measured the universe by his own carnal stupidity.[14] The Westminster Confession encapsulates the fall in their statement “by this sin, [Adam and Eve] fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body.[15]

According to Genesis, after the rebellion of Adam and Eve, they became aware of their nakedness; their reaction was to cover and hide, perhaps believing they could escape their maker’s judgment (Gen. 2:7-8). Adam, being the federal head of the human race, plunged all humanity into a state of spiritual (and eventual physical) deadness. From that day forward, man has sought ways to flee from God and the guilt of their sin. Instead of leaving Adam and Eve in their misery, God condescended with grace and He clothed them. But sin continued to reign in the heart of man – Cain hated Abel and killed him. While man would continue his unfaithfulness, God continues to preserve a people for Himself through the establishment various of covenants, promising final/full restoration.

The Apostle Paul, though the inspiration of the Holy Spirit states in Romans 1:18-25:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through that which has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore, God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity; that their bodies might be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the creator, who is blessed forever, Amen.”

According to Paul, God’s wrath (his judgment) is being poured out from heaven because man “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness.” Man is suppressing the fact that he knows the God and he knows that His judgment rests upon him. Man knows God because He has made himself known (revealed himself). First, it is evident within[16]; as was mention above, by virtue of this being God’s world — He being the creator of heaven and earth, His creatures know He exits. Therefore, It is impossible for man to be autonomous. God will always remain the creator and man will always remain a creature. The implication is that God is independent and man is dependent (in all areas of life), whether he admits it or not.{17] Cornelius Van Til likened this to a child slapping the face of her father. In order for the child to make contact, she has to rest upon his lap.

Second, Paul takes us back to the very point of creation. From the beginning His “eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen” (emphasis mine) through what has been made.[18] Therefore, all men are liable (without excuse, without an apologetic) for their unbelief. Paul is certainly not unclear, vague or imprecise regarding identity of this God. Paul begins Romans 1:1-2 by stating he was set apart for the gospel of God which He promised before hand through his prophets in the scriptures. There should be no doubt that Paul begins Romans the same way he interacts with the Jews, according to what Luke records throughout the book of Acts. Luke describes Paul’s routine in Acts 17:2-3 “and according to Paul’s custom, he went to them (in the synagogue of the Jews), and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ'” (emphasis mine).[19] So not only is it the God who promise a final restoration in the gospel, but also the God, who, since He created the world, has been revealed to all mankind through what He has made.[20]

In order for man to presume he is not accountable to this particular God, he continues running from Him, covering himself with his own fig leaves. Paul states “professing themselves to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.”[21] Mankind deceives himself.[22] One way this is done is through belief in a god, other than the one Paul describes – the creator of heaven and earth, who promised the gospel, and the one who has clearly made himself known. Therefore, any other god is no God, but in fact is a false god, a mask, a covering, a veil to hide from the One they know. Instead of giving honor and thanks to Him, they exchange/put in place another (false) god (an idol).

An assessment of the first chapter of Romans will inevitably lead one to the acknowledge the importance of knowing God. It is not enough simply to give lip service, stating you believe in and love a god, but you know nothing about him. In his book The Forgotten Trinity, James White points out how important is to know our spouse and if we do, we will be able to describe him/her to other people. We could talk about surface characteristics, but more importantly, we know their thoughts, wants, needs and desires.[23] And how much more important it is, when one claims to love God, to get to know the one they claim as Lord.

In the very first verse of the first book of the Bible, God’s existence is simply stated[24]. He was before the beginning, He created everything, and all things hold together because of Him. Jesus himself (the Word) was with God, and He was also God (John 1:1) and all things came into being by Him (John 1:3) and are held together by Him (Col. 1:17). This same God tells Moses and the people of Israel what He expected of them as he states, “You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol…You shall not worship them or serve them…” (Exodus 20:2-5; Deut. 5:7-10). Moses, speaking on behalf of God states “Hear, O’Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all of your might. (Deut. 6:4-5).[25]

Throughout the scriptures God continually declares to His people that He is their God, and there is none beside Him. He is the one who delivered Israel from the hands of Pharaoh; He is the one who fed them; it is He who won their battles; and He is the one who continues to preserve a people for Himself.[26] This good news Paul speaks about in the first chapter of Romans was to be a Son, born of the lineage of David according the flesh (Phil. 2:5-11; Matthew 1:23; John 1:14; Heb. 1:1-2), would die for the sins of His people (1 Cor. 15:3; 1 Pet. 2:24, 3:18), rise bodily from the dead (John 2:19-22; 1Cor. 15), proclaiming victory over sin and death, (1Cor. 15:54-55), and the promise of salvation is for Jews as well as gentiles (Romans 1:16). Carl Mosser and Paul Owen make the point that “it was the fundamental vision of Hebrew eschatology that one day God himself would enter our world and bring salvation to his wayward people (Zech. 14:1-5; Is. 40:3, 9-11; 59:16-20).”[27]

God the Father is creator/maker of heaven and earth and as we have seen above, the Son as well. Genesis 1:2 describes the Spirit of God was moving/hovering over the surface[28] of the water. Robert Letham points out that the Worker and His work of creation is triadic[29] and reflects the nature of Paul’s God. If Paul’s God is triune in nature, it is this particular God who has revealed Himself and mankind is suppressing their knowledge of this particular God.

Without the person and work of this particular God, nothing would exist nor could we make sense out of our experience. It is this particular God who makes knowledge knowledgeable, facts facts, and determines how we should or should not live our lives. Therefore, God is the necessary pre-condition for human intelligibility. Cornelius Van Til states it this way, “It is the firm conviction of every epistemologically self-conscious Christian that no human being can utter a single syllable, whether in negation or affirmation, unless it were for God’s existence.”[31] Understanding that God is the ground of all things should impact our apologetics. As Christians we know there is Creator-creature distinction. We (everyone) live, move and have our being because of this Creator. Our (the Christian’s) way of doing things should now be based upon what God has expected of His people from the beginning. The traditions of men and elementary principles of this world should not be our standard (Col. 2:8). Since we are new creatures in Christ, our very way of thinking has been transformed and should be grounded in the all-knower (Prov. 1:17, 9:10; Col. 2:3; 1 Pet. 3:15).

Since there is an antithesis at all levels between covenant-breaker and covenant-keeper, one of the first responsibilities in apologetics is to demonstrate (making it clearly known), the antithesis. Van Til defined apologetics as “The vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life.”[32] God has given His people (those who have been born again) the privilege of calling the covenant-breaker to repentance. One way this is done is through apologetic encounters. Since we are dealing with people who have underlining commitments (i.e. presuppositions) brought together as a unit (worldview), comparing the Christian worldview with the non-Christian worldview is of most importance. We also need to call the unbeliever to give an account of human experience, and we do this through transcendental argumentation. Transcendental reasoning “begins with any item of experience or belief whatsoever and proceeds, by critical analysis, to ask, what conditions (or what other beliefs) would need to be true in order for that original experience or belief to make sense, be meaningful, or be intelligible to us.”[33]

The Christian claim is that the unbeliever cannot remain true to his/her presuppositions and give an account for their worldview. If man’s reasoning is the measure of all things, his worldview will always contain arbitrary claims and/or inconsistencies. In fact, because the God of Christianity is the creator of heaven, earth and all that it contains, our contention would be that the unbeliever lives on “borrowed-capital” or as Van Til put it “antitheism presupposes theism.” As stated earlier, even in the denial of God’s existence man rests upon God to do the denying. So, “The only ‘proof’ of the Christian position is that unless its truth is presupposed there is no possibility of ‘proving’ anything at all.”[34]

James Anderson states it this way:

The argument must provide us with an absolutely certain conclusion, since that conclusion expresses the necessary preconditions of reason itself; if the argument is sound, an understood properly, then doubting the conclusion amounts to doubting the possibility of doubt. Moreover, since transcendental argumentation is the only method capable of settling disagreements over fundaments philosophical systems, there can only be one argument — and that argument must establish the Christian system in toto.[35]

Transcendental reasoning provides the Christian with the opportunity to (1) force the unbeliever to give an account for reality, given his/her worldview. And (2) it provides the Christian the opportunity to vindicate the Christian philosophy of life.

If Paul’s God is the same God who created the heavens and earth, the one who promised the gospel through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, this Trinitarian God should be at the center of our worldview and apologetic. The Christian has no business defending any other sort of God, because any other sort of God is no God at all. According to Van Til:

Basic to all doctrines of Christian theism is that of the self-contained God, or if we wish, that of the ontological trinity. It is this notion of the ontological trinity that ultimately controls a truly Christian methodology. Based upon this notion of the ontological trinity and consistent with it, is the concept of the counsel of God according to which all things in the world are regulated.[36]

Because of our new position in Christ, being built upon the Rock of the one who makes knowledge possible, our apologetic should be concrete and specific. It is a worldview, all or nothing apologetic. It is not abstract, in fact it is an apologetic which contends that trinitarian Christianity is the only reasonable position to hold. Any other position that is not built upon the foundation of Christian theism will lead to the destruction knowledge. Because this apologetic is concrete and all-encompassing, it naturally leads to a call of repentance, especially from the sin of autonomy. It is a gospel-driven apologetic, as Carl Mosser and Paul Owen state that “…a central component of the proclamation of the Christian gospel is precisely the calling of human beings to abandon idolatrous beliefs and practices and to view reality through the lens of divine revelation rather than the distorted perceptions of the fallen world around us.”[37]

1 While this term is now frequently used, I believe Scott Oliphint is the chief proponent of the name change. He states “The label ‘presuppositionalism’ as an approach to apologetics needs, once and for all, to be laid to rest… I propose…that the word ‘covenant,’ properly understood, is a better, more accurate, term to use for a biblical, Reformed apologetic.” K. Scott Oliphint, “A Covenantal Apologetic,” Oliphint Page, (accessed 4/23/08).
2 Since I am writing this paper for an introductory course in apologetics, most of the material will be basic and theoretical (i.e. little application).
3 To my knowledge, there is only one book on the cults available, from a man who is an advocate of presuppositional apologetics. It is a fairly recent book by Mike Robinson titled Presuppositional Apologetics Examines Mormonism: How Van Til’s Apologetic Refutes Mormon Theology, (Denver, CO: Outskirts Press, 2007). I do acknowledge there are other works (books and audio) done by individuals holding to a presuppositional framework (e.g. James White’s material being some of the best), but I am addressing what might be called meta-apologetics – the overarching story.
4 Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics, 2nd Edition. Edited by William Edgar. (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003), 39.
5 Ibid., 62.
6 Acts 17:25, 28; Rom. 11:36
7 John Frame “Divine Aseity and Apologetics” in Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics. Edited by K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Tipton (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2007), 115.
8 The creator-creature distinction is of utmost importance not only in our theology and our ethic, but also our apologetic.
9 See Oliphint‘s “A Covenantal Apologetic.”
10 Ps. 19.
11 Gen. 1:27.
12 Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 26.
13 Christian Apologetics, 42.
14 John Calvin, “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics, (accessed 4/18/08).
15 Joel. R. Beeke and Sinclair B. Ferguson, Editors. Reformed Confessions Harmonized: With an Annotated Biliography of Reformed Doctrinal Works, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker 1999), 47. This is generally known as total or radical depravity – everything about man suffers from the effects of the fall. Total depravity does not mean that man is bad as he could be. Man is still in God’s image, and his common grace restrains man from being as evil as he could be.
16 Calvin stated it this way “That there exists in the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man, being aware that there is a God and that he is their Maker, may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service.” Calvin’s Institutes, Book 1 Chapter 3:1 , accessed 4/21/08.
17 Rom. 11:36
18 At this point it is important to make the distinction between natural theology as opposed to natural revelation. Natural Theology is defined as “Truths about God that can be learned from created things (nature, man, world) by reason alone.” J. Van Engen in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1984), 752 (emphasis mine). Natural theology is diametrically opposed to biblical teaching and natural revelation (perhaps better put general revelation). Natural theology presupposes, in man, a neutrality. According to this view, since God reveals Himself in creation (see Rom. 1; Ps. 19), man can use his reasoning skills (apart from the work of Spirit) and come to the conclusion that God exists. But how can man, being his own ultimate authority, based upon his own (unaided) reasoning, come to believe that God is the ultimate authority? If man could do such a thing, it would never be the Triune God of Christianity he would conclude. Therefore, it would be a false god. Isn’t this the very thing taking place in Romans 1? It is a fundamental misunderstanding to think this passage as well as others (Ps. 19) is positing a natural theology. On the other hand natural revelation stands as a condemnation of the unbeliever because he is continually suppressing what God has revealed about himself in nature. God is not on the witness stand. It is man who is without excuse, not God. According to Charles D. Heck “in natural revelation (as opposed to natural theology), God reveals Himself to all men through the objective data of creation. Since man himself is a creation of God and bears God’s image, even his self-knowledge reveals God to him. There is nothing that man must do to “gain” this knowledge of God, he must simply be what he is—a Creation of God and therefore a display of God’s wisdom. “The Apologetic of R.C. Sproul: Biblical and Reformed? A Critique” in The Journal of Biblical Apologetics, Vol. 9, No. 6 (Winter 2003), 19-55.
19 See also Acts 9:20, 22; 13; 18:4, 28:3. Paul was simply explaining from the scriptures the same thing Jesus amplified to his disciples “that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled…then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and He said to them, “thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:44, 46-47). See also John 5:39-40.
20 Acts 17:24.
21 Romans 1:22-23.
22 See Greg Bahnsen’s “The Crucial Concept of Self-Deception in Presuppositional Apologetics”, Westminster Theological Journal, LVII (1995) , accessed 4/23/08.
23 James White, The Forgotten Trinity (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1998), 193-196. For those who are married, you know that getting to know your spouse the way you should, is a life-long process.
24 The Bible does not set out to prove the existence of God by philosophical arguments such as the cosmological or teleological argument. The scriptures simply assume that this God does exist and needs no defense (as in the classical apologetic method).
25 For a recent discussion of these verses see Daniel I. Block, “How Many is God? An Investigation into the Meaning of Deuteronomy 6:4-5”, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Vol. 47, No. 2 (June 2004), 193-212.
26 Gen. 50:20; Ex. 6:6-8, 17: 1-9, 23:20-23; Deut. 4:39, 32;39; Joshua 8; Is. 29:16, 43:10; Is. 49:6; John 6.
27 See “Mormonism” in To Everyone An Answer: A Case for the Christian Worldview. Eds. Francis Beckwith, William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 341.
28 I am aware that some, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, translate this as “God’s active force.” The majority of scholars do not think this interpretation is plausible on a number accounts. One is the fact that “the Spirit of God” could account for the Us in “Let Us make man in Our image.” See The Holy Spirit. Sinclair B. Ferguson (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 20-21. For further proof of the Holy Spirit as a person and not an “active force,” see The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield (Vol. 2): Biblical Doctrines. Benjamin Warfied (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003), 101-129, and “The Spirit Moved Over the Face of the Waters: The Holy Spirit and the Created Order”, by Colin Gunton. International Journal of Systematic Theology, Vol 4, Is. 2 (July 2002).
29 Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Missions (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), 8-19.
30 Cornelius Van Til, quoted in James Anderson’s “If Knowledge Then God: The Epistemological Theistic Arguments of Plantinga and Van Til.” Calvin Theological Journal 40:1 (2005), 49-75, , accessed 4/23/08. Jacob Gabriel Hale states “Van Til does not ground knowledge in any abstract principle but rather in God who is revealed to all men in an immediate, non-inferential manner. In other words, rather than asserting that knowledge is grounded in reason, sensory experience and causality, Van Til asserts that reason, sensory experience and causality are in themselves grounded in God. Because the personality of God is infused in all creation, including man’s constitution, all things are inherently meaningful and actively revelatory of God. This is why Van Til argues that reason, sensory perception, logic and so forth, are not the basic presuppositions of knowledge because these things are only known because God Himself is first presupposed.” “Derrida, Van Til and the Metaphysics of Postmodernism”, Reformed Perspective Magazine, Vol. 6, No. 19 (June 30-July 6, 2004), , accessed 4/23/08.
31 Christian Apologetics, 17.
32 Apologetics is not sealed off from evangelism or the proclamation of the gospel. Apologetics is the proclamation of the gospel.
33 Greg L. Bahnsen. Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis, (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1998, 501-502).
34 Cornelius Van Til “My Credo”, , accessed 4/23/08.
35 “If Knowledge,” Anderson (emphasis his).
36 Cornelius Van Til’s Defense of the Faith as quoted in Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, 523.
37 To Everyone An Answer, 328.

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