Today’s Prophetic Teaching

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“The most serious error in much of the current ‘prophetic’ teaching is the claim that the future of Christendom is to be read not in terms of Revival and Victory, but of growing impotence and apostasy.”

Oswald T. Allis, “Forward” to Roderick Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1954), ix.

It Is Necessary To Reject Agnosticism In Order To Defend It.

Agnosticism, as it pertains to theism (and my interest here is Christian theism), runs one of two ways: 1) the individualist way—claiming to have no personal knowledge as to whether or not God, (or god, or gods, deity, etc.) exists. Others may make such a knowledge claim, but the individual agnostic claims, at least for himself, to have no knowledge; 2) the second way agnosticism is expressed is universality, stating that knowledge claims about deity is impossible for anyone. No one can know if such a thing as deity exists, and those who claim to know are either simply wrong, deceived, or deceptive.

The reason this distinction matters is that although an individual agnostic may deny the universality of his agnosticism, agnosticism invariably leads to a universal claim about knowledge, and a demand of its acceptance.

If, as Christian theists assert, all people, believers and unbelievers alike, know enough about God and His Law to be held accountable to it, then the agnostic is not telling the truth when he says, “I don’t know whether or not God exists.” This is hardly surprising—people say this all the time. The problem is, of course, that Scripture tells us otherwise (Psalm 19; Romans 2:12-16). According to the Bible, there are no agnostics. If the Bible is true, there are no agnostics.

The tendency to universalize agnosticism stems from the objection to what I said in the paragraph above: “You cannot say that I know there is a God when I clearly know that I do not know. What you say about me (that I really do know that God exists) can only be true if your system is correct. I don’t believe your system and therefore I am not subject to its claims.”

To defend agnosticism is to deny Scripture. But to deny Scripture is to claim knowledge about its truthfulness. Once such knowledge is claimed, agnosticism has been abandoned. So it is necessary to reject agnosticism in order to defend it, which, of course, means it is defeated. Therefore, I would argue, that agnosticism is irrational.

Furthermore, our disbelief or belief in any proposition (such as, “God exists) is irrelevant to its truthfulness. God does not exist because I believe that He does, nor does He not-exist because I disbelieve. What is true is true whether or not I believe it, or accept it. Denying Scripture, and all it says about God’s Law, judgement, and wrath, does not remove its reality if it is real.

So the agnostic must actually claim to know something: that religious knowledge is not true, or at least that it is unknowable. This is, then knowledge, something known.

This moves us into the second way that agnosticism functions, which is as a universal. Just as Christian truth-claims are universal, the agnostic’s knowledge must be universal as well. It cannot be private, or personal, because the nature of the claim is in essence a universal.

An agnostic cannot, consistently, remain so at the personal level. It must be true for all if it is for anyone.

Christians already accept that their beliefs are universal, and not limited to the individual.

Slapping Daddy

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“In other words, the non-Christian needs the truth of the Christian religion in order to attack it. As a child needs to sit on the lap of its father in order to slap the father’s face, so the unbeliever, as a creature, needs God the Creator and providential controller of the universe in order to oppose this God. Without this God, the place on which he stands does not exist. He cannot stand in a vacuum.”

Cornelius Van Til, Essays on Christian Education (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1979).

Proof for the Existence of God that You May Not Like Nor Accept

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“Two remarks may here be made by way of meeting the most obvious objections that will be raised to this method of the Reformed apologist. The first objection that suggests itself may be expressed in the rhetorical question “Do you mean to assert that non-Christians do not discover truth by the methods they employ?” The reply is that we mean nothing so absurd as that. The implication of the method here advocated is simply that non-Christians are never able and therefore never do employ their own methods consistently. Says A. E. Taylor in discussing the question of the uniformity of nature, “The fundamental thought of modern science, at any rate until yesterday, was that there is a ‘universal reign of law’ throughout nature. Nature is rational in the sense that it has everywhere a coherent pattern which we can progressively detect by the steady application of our own intelligence to the scrutiny of natural processes. Science has been built up all along on the basis of this principle of the ‘uniformity of nature,’ and the principle is one which science itself has no means of demonstrating. No one could possibly prove its truth to an opponent who seriously disputed it. For all attempts to produce ‘evidence’ for the ‘uniformity of nature’ themselves presuppose the very principle they are intended to prove.” Our argument as over against this would be that the existence of the God of Christian theism and the conception of his counsel as controlling all things in the universe is the only presupposition which can account for the uniformity of nature which the scientist needs. But the best and only possible proof for the existence of such a God is that his existence is required for the uniformity of nature and for the coherence of all things in the world. We cannot prove the existence of beams underneath a floor if by proof we mean that they must be ascertainable in the way that we can see the chairs and tables of the room. But the very idea of a floor as the support of tables and chairs requires the idea of beams that are underneath. But there would be no floor if no beams were underneath. Thus there is absolutely certain prod for the existence of God and the truth of Christian theism. Even non-Christians presuppose its truth while they verbally reject it. They need to presuppose the truth of Christian theism in order to account for their own accomplishments.
The second objection may be voiced in the following words: “While a Christian can prove that his Christian position is fully as reasonable as the opponent’s view, there is no such thing as an absolutely compelling proof that God exists, or that the Bible is the word of God, just as little as anyone can prove its opposite.” In this way of putting the matter there is a confusion between what is objectively valid and what is subjectively acceptable to the natural man. It is true that no method of argument for Christianity will be acceptable to the natural man. Moreover, it is true that the more consistently Christian our methodology, the less acceptable it will be to the natural man. We find something similar in the field of theology. It is precisely the Reformed faith which, among other things, teaches the total depravity of the natural man, which is most loathsome to that natural man. But this does not prove that the Reformed faith is not true. A patient may like a doctor who tells him that his disease can be cured by means of external applications and dislike the doctor who tells him that he needs a major internal operation. Yet the latter doctor may be right in his diagnosis. It is the weakness of the Roman Catholic and the Arminian methods that they virtually identify objective validity with subjective acceptability to the natural man. Distinguishing carefully between these two, the Reformed apologist maintains that there is an absolutely valid argument for the existence of God and for the truth of Christian theism. He cannot do less without virtually admitting that God’s revelation to man is not clear. It is fatal for the Reformed apologist to admit that man has done justice to the objective evidence if he comes to any other conclusion than that of the truth of Christian theism.”
Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Philadelphia, 1955).

The Frustration of Modern Education

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“Our work as educators would be hopeless and futile if we engaged in it on the principle of synthesis discussed above. But what joy it is to know that Christ has come to save man and his culture! The first Adam by his sin refused to undertake the cultural mandate given him. When he was told to subdue the earth he would not do so as unto God his creator. But the second Adam undertook anew what the first Adam, and all men with him, failed to do. Now then, we who are saved by grace, we who have by the Spirit of God been born from above, need not beat the air. There is for us a true synthesis of all things in Christ. And we may offer this Christ to all men that they too with us might escape the futility and the absurdity, the immorality and the blasphemy, of seeking to synthesize what by their very sinful act they are all the while destroying. The task of educators who do not educate in and unto Christ is like the task of Sisyphus as he rolled his stone to the top of the hill only to see it roll down again. If the facts of the world are not created and redeemed by God in Christ, then they are like beads that have no holes in them and therefore cannot be strung into a string of beads. If the laws of the world are not what they are as relating the facts that are created and redeemed by Christ, these laws are like a string of infinite length, neither end of which can be found. Seeking to string beads that cannot be strung because they have no holes in them, with string of infinite length neither end of which you can find; such is the task of the educator who seeks to educate without presupposing the truth of what the self-attesting Christ has spoken in the Scriptures.”

Cornelius Van Til, Essays on Christian Education (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1979).

Bahnsen on Miracles: What Makes a Theist?

 

Bahnsen on Miracles

Quote from Greg Bahnsen in his closing remarks in a debate with Dr. Gordon Stein (Stein representing the atheist position).

Audio and printed transcript available here.

The full context of the quote below:

Moderator: Dr. Stein, the final question is directed to you. It reads:
You have said that there has been no adequate evidence put forth for God’s existence. What for you personally would constitute adequate evidence for God’s existence?
Stein: Well, it’s very simple. I can give you two examples. If that podium suddenly rose into the air five feet, stayed there for a minute and then dropped right down again, I would say that is evidence of a supernatural because it would violate everything we knew about the laws of physics and chemistry.

Assuming that there wasn’t an engine under there or a wire attached to it, we can make those obvious exclusions. That would be evidence for a supernatural violation of the laws. We could call it a miracle right before your eyes. That would be evidence I would accept.

Any kind of a supernatural being putting it into appearance and doing miracles that could not be stage magic would also be evidence that I would accept. Those are the two simplest way. I would also accept evidence that logically non-contradictory, and I have not heard any yet here tonight that hasn’t been offered already.

Bahnsen: Dr. Stein, I think, is really not reflecting on the true nature of atheism and human nature when he says, “All it would take is a miracle in my very presence to believe in God.” History is replete with first of all things which would be apparently miracles to people.

Now, from an atheistic or naturalistic standpoint, I will grant, in terms of the hypothesis, that that’s because they were ignorant of all the calls of factors and so it appeared to be miracles. But you see that didn’t make everybody into a theist. In fact, the Scriptures tells us that there were instances of people who witnessed miracles, who all the more hardened their heart, and eventually crucified the Lord of glory. They saw his miracles, that didn’t change their mind.

People are not made theists by miracles. People must change their world views; their hearts must be changed. They need to be converted. That what it takes, and that’s what it would take for Dr. Stein to finally believe it. If this podium rose up five feet off the ground and stayed there, Dr. Stein would eventually have in the future some naturalistic explanation because they believe things on faith, by which I mean that they believe things as which they have not proven by their senses.

The Janus-Faced Covenant Breaker

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“In fact the ‘free man’ of modern non-Christian thought is Janus-faced. He turns one way and would seem to be nothing but an irrationalist. He talks about the ‘fact’ of freedom. He even makes a pretence of being hotly opposed to the rationalist. With Kierkegaard he will boldly assert that what cannot happen according to logic has happened in fact. Then he turns the other way and would seem to be nothing but a rationalist. Surely, he says, the ‘rational man’ will accept nothing but what has intelligible meaning for him in accord with the law of contradiction. There must be coherence in experience. It is meaningless to talk about the ‘entirely single thing.’ But both in his irrationalist and in his rationalist features, the would-be autonomous man is seeking to defend his ultimacy against the claims of the Christian religion. If he is right as an irrationalist then he is not a creature of God. If he were a creature of God, he would be subject to the law of God. He would thus be ‘rationally related’ to God. He would know that he was a creature of God and that he should obey the law of God. If he is right as a rationalist, then too he is not a creature of God. The law that he then thinks of as above him, he also thinks of as above God; God and he are, for him, subject to a common law. If he were a creature of God, he would grant that what God has determined, and only that, is possible. He would then subject his logical manipulation of ‘reality’ to the revelation of God.

It is this Janus-faced covenant-breaker, then, who must be won for the gospel. It is he who walks the streets of New York and London. And no one but he does. All men are sinners; all are interested in suppressing the fact of their creaturehood. The irrationalist and rationalist have become friends in the face of their common foe. And this common foe is historic Christianity

The implication of all this for Christian apologetics is plain. There can be no appeasement between those who presuppose in all their thought the sovereign God and those who presuppose in all their thought the would-be sovereign man. There can be no other point of contact between them than that of head-on collision. The root of both irrationalism and rationalism is the idea of the ultimacy of man. If this root is not taken out, it will do little good to trim off some of the wildest offshoots of irrationalism with the help of rationalism, or to trim off some of the wildest offshoots of rationalism with the help of irrationalism.”

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Cornelius Van Til and Eric H. Sigward, The Pamphlets, Tracts, and Offprints of Cornelius Van Til, Electronic ed. (Labels Army Company: New York, 1997).

 

Ultimate Presuppositions

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“But herein precisely lies the fundamental point of difference between Romanism (Roman Catholicism) and Protestantism. According to the principle of Protestantism, man’s consciousness of self and of objects presuppose for their intelligibility the self-consciousness of God. In asserting this we are not thinking of psychological and temporal priority. We are thinking only of the question as to what is the final reference point in interpretation. The Protestant principle finds this in the self-contained ontological trinity. By his counsel the triune God controls whatsoever comes to pass. If then the human consciousness must, in the nature of the case, always be the proximate starting-point, it remains true that God is always the most basic and therefore the ultimate or final reference point in human interpretation.
This is, in the last analysis, the question as to what are one’s ultimate presuppositions. When man became a sinner he made of himself instead of God the ultimate or final reference point. And it is precisely this presupposition, as it controls without exception all forms of non-Christian philosophy, that must be brought into question. If this presupposition is left unquestioned in any field all the facts and arguments presented to the unbeliever will be made over by him according to his pattern. The sinner has cemented colored glasses to his eyes which he cannot remove. And all is yellow to the jaundiced eye. There can be no intelligible reasoning unless those who reason together understand what they mean by their words.”
Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Philadelphia, 1955).

A Religion of Redemption

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Bavinck quote

 

“The revelation that comes to us in Christ through Scripture in fact takes that position toward us. It does not put itself on a level below us to ask for our approving or disapproving judgment on it but takes a position high above us and insists that we shall believe and obey. Scripture even expressly states that the unspiritual cannot understand the things of the Spirit, that they are folly to them, that they reject and deny them in a spirit of hostility [1 Cor. 2:14]. The revelation of God in Christ does not ask for the support or approval of human beings. It posits and maintains itself in sublime majesty. Its authority is normative as well as causative. It fights for its own victory. It itself conquers human hearts and makes itself irresistible.”

Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 505.