I. Scripture does not affirm the unbeliever’s method of evaluating God’s truth. (The Bible establishes a point of contact that exposes the sinner’s faulty epistemology.)
A. The unbeliever operates upon the assumption that he is autonomous and not accountable to God. This core commitment to autonomous self drives the unbeliever’s studious suppression of God’s truth.
1. We cannot allow the natural man’s assumption of himself as ultimate reference point to remain unchallenged. If we do not challenge his assumption, he will interpret Christianity in naturalistic terms.[i]
2. The believer and the unbeliever can have no common area of knowledge UNLESS they agree between them on the nature of man. No such agreement exists. (Scripture affirms anantithesis rather than an agreement.)[ii]
B. God has clearly revealed His truth to sinners. Unbelievers strive to distort the truth beyond recognition.[iii]
1. Believer and unbeliever do not have methods of interpretation in common. When we treat the natural man’s thought processes as normal, we are behaving as if he has the “ability” to correctly interpret the phenomenal world.
2. Natural men interpret the phenomenal world on the assumption of human autonomy. In order topreserve their presupposition of autonomy, unbelievers assume the non-createdness of facts and they assume a system logic that envelops both God and man.
C. Unbelieving man is in no position to judge what God can say and cannot say about Himself or what God can do and cannot do in saving and in condemning. [iv]
1. The apologist must constantly keep the above in mind. He must not grant sinners the authority that they can do right or handle right the Scriptures.
2. By nature, the sinner is incapable of handling the Word of God truthfully. Unbelievers demonstrate their rebellion by sitting in judgment on the Scriptures.
D. In order to retain the Biblical method of apologetics, we must fix our mind on the true state and condition of the unbeliever.
II. Scripture uncovers the strength and content of the unbeliever’s
bias against God’s truth.
A. Scripture gives a full account of the unbeliever’s hostile state of mind. [v]
1. When men refuse to acknowledge God’s truth, they will be led into futility and error. The sinner daily changes God’s truth into a lie.
2. The unbeliever suppresses God’s truth because he doesn’t want to deal with God whorevealed it. Sinners choose not to know as they ought, because knowing comes with ethical obligations. The God who is to be known through His revelation requires all men to be subject to Him as sovereign Creator and Lord.[vi]
B. The natural man blurs the infinite distinction between himself and God. The unbeliever thinks of himself as equal to God and insists upon occupying His place.
1. The natural man has abandoned the creature-Creator relationship for which he was made. Like Adam, he has “rooted” himself in the world. He hides in the world from God. By worshipping and serving the creation, he proves that he is NOT rich toward God (his treasure is elsewhere).[vii]
2. In his darkness and rebellion, the natural man denies his need of divine revelation to understand his world and man’s place in it. He has complete confidence in the human rational process to discover all knowledge. He only deems to be true what autonomous reason deems to be true. By claiming to know independently of God, he usurps the place of God.
3. Like Adam, he has a definition of freedom that is based upon the ultimacy of his mind. He views freedom as the “liberty” to arrange his life according to the dictates of his own counsel.[viii]
C. In his pride, the natural man denies that he needs regeneration to reset his mind. [ix]
1. The pride of the natural man naturally wants to destroy the system of supernatural revelation that exposes his sin and shame and reveals his helplessness. (It is impossible for him to be objective when he has a vested interest in silencing the testimony.)
2. In his pride, modern man says that he can identify himself, BEFORE he knows and identifies God.[x]
3. In his pride, he has no sentiment whatsoever to use his intellect to glorify God. All of God’s truth is “shoved” into naturalistic categories. The unbeliever denies that God has planned all the relations between what He has created. He denies that all created reality displays the divine plan. In his pride, he assumes that facts and laws are intelligible without God. He sees reality as greater than God.[xi]
4. The sinner has a three point premise: a.) He denies creaturehood, he believes that he is ultimate. He assumes that self (and not God) is the final reference point for explaining all things. b.) He assumes that all things are non-created and controlled by chance. c.) He believes that the power of logic he possesses is the means to determine what is possible and impossible in a universe of chance.[xii]
D. The sinner is incapable of diagnosing himself. In his self-deception, he assumes non-createdness and autonomy.
1. In his self-deception, he has chosen an epistemology that is informed by his ethical hostility toward God.[xiii]
2. His negative reaction to God’s revelation issues from his false view of himself. The Christian apologist must know that the unbeliever is quite a different sort of person than he thinks he is. The unbeliever will not have a correct view of self apart from Christianity.[xiv]
3. In his self-deception, he assumes that he is a proper judge of all claims to authority. By contrast, the Scriptures proclaim that he is not autonomous, but a dependent creature and sinner before the face of God. He must subordinate his reason to the Word of God in order to have the light necessary to interpret his experience.[xv]
E. The unbeliever’s hostility to God’s truth provokes his Creator to wrath (Rom 1:18).
1. Any and every truth about God that comes to the unbeliever is immediately suppressed. When man’s darkened understanding has completed its “restructuring” activity, the original truth emerges as falsehood. The suppression of God’s truth is only overcome by the convicting and illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.[xvi]
2. It is the nature of sin to deny the God’s rightful honor. The unbeliever is strongly motivated to interpret all reality according to his atheistic presuppositions. The sinner finds Christian truth so uncomfortable that he twists it, denies it, suppresses it, changes it and domesticates it.[xvii]
III. No man can escape the Creator’s clear revelation in the natural order and the inward conscience.
A. Human beings can never escape facing their Creator. God reveals Himself in the universe around them and in their own constitution. God is man’s environment.[xviii]
1. Human sin cannot destroy man’s knowledge of God. Sin cannot eradicate man’s sense of deity. Human rebellion does not create a new reality in which man possesses genuine autonomy. (A “sense of deity” constitutes the following: By virtue of being made in God’s image, man has an innate God-given consciousness that he is a creature of God, he is responsible to God, and he is a covenant-breaker.[xix]
2. God’s face appears in every fact that the unbeliever seeks to suppress. Unsaved men constantly fight a losing battle to obliterate the truth of God. But the truth they seek to extinguish is inherent in their very beings.[xx]
B. All men possess a sense of deity. The common ground we share with unbelievers lies not in a common epistemology, but in a common bearing of God’s image. Sense of deity is not merely probable conclusions about God’s existence, it is actual metaphysical common ground – all men bear God’s image. Thus, sense of deity becomes the proper point of contact within apologetics and evangelism.[xxi]
C. The natural man cannot live consistent with his atheistic presuppositions. As a consequence, he operates with knowledge “borrowed” from the Christian world view.
1. Without a “head on” collision with the false assumptions of the natural man, there is no point of contact with his sense of deity.
We must challenge the sinful structure of the natural man.[xxii]
2. Every man knows he is a creature accountable to God. We must have the faith to believe this, no matter how vociferous and dogmatic he may be in his resistance to God’s truth. [xxiii]
IV. The sinner’s real problem is not intellectual, but moral. As a
hostile enemy of God, he denies his need of divine revelation to
understand the world and man’s place in it. A truly biblical
apologetic emphasizes the antithesis that exists between the
mind of the believer and unbeliever.[xxiv]
A. The believer and the unbeliever do not have interpretation in common. Given the ANTITHESISthat exists between faith and unbelief, there is no truth that is religiously neutral.[xxv]
B. According to Romans 1, man knows “after a fashion,” but he does know ethically. Because man is a creature who belongs to God and who is ethically responsible to God, knowing is an ethical process.
C. The antithesis is not merely one group of propositions contrary to another, it is about the whole life of a man. It is about the conflict of the ages between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the wicked one. [xxvi]
1. The antithesis between kingdoms centers upon the matter of the recognition of the lordship of Christ.
2. The antithesis between kingdoms concerns the reasoning of the human heart. There is a sharpantithesis between the wisdom of God and the foolishness of unbelief (1 Cor 2:6-16).
3. Believer and unbeliever live in antithetical realms of thought.
Practically speaking, they live in different “universes” of discourse.
They have no point of contact epistemologically. The epistemological
gulf is humanly unbridgeable. Only by God’s Spirit can the sinner
attain to a true knowledge of God.[xxvii]
D. The Christian apologist must QUALIFY the antithesis that exists between believer and unbeliever.
1. It is true that the non-Christian’s ethical hostility adversely affects
his epistemology and his interpreting of the world and God. But it is
also true that in the real world, unbelievers believe and behave in
ways with which the Christian agrees. Fallen man knows truth and
does “morally good” things in spite of the fact that in principle he is
set against God (Unbelievers may promote charities, work for law
and order, espouse moral behavior, and assist the poor.)[xxviii]
2. A second way that we can qualify the antithesis is by emphasizing
that the antithesis to God is not metaphysical, but ethical. Unbelief
does not change the metaphysical reality that all men will never be
anything but image-bearers of God. The antithesis is ethical in
nature. Sinners know that they have broken God’s law, they
know they suppress the truth and they know they should obey God.[xxix]
E. Apologists need to be epistemologically self-conscious – they need to
exhibit with greater clarity, the antithesis between the believer and the
unbeliever’s espoused systems of thought.
1. When presenting his apologetic argument, the Christian should
begin by emphasizing the absolute ethical antithesis in which the
natural man stands to God.
2. The apologist must not “tone down” the confrontation between truth
and error. By emphasizing the antithesis, the apologist guards against
arguing with a fool on the “turf” of his world view.[xxx]
V. We must find the point of contact in the natural man. Non-
presuppositional apologetics permits the legitimacy of the natural
man’s view of self to stand.[xxxi]
A. Our point of contact is man’s rebellion against God’s claims upon
1. We press the claims of God upon men without apology.
2. Ask the natural man how his system differs from the Word of God.
Listen to his objections. Present him the opposite of what he claims to
3. The pagan does not have a legitimate reason why the Christian
world view is not true. The Christian apologist challenges the sinner to
take his faith out of himself and put it in God.[xxxii]
4. Unbelievers frequently try to reduce the point of contact to a debate
between personal opinions. Respond by asking, “Where are your
answers coming from? Mine are rooted in the Word of God.” Show the
unbeliever what God says about his world view. Remember, the
sinner’s intellectual assumptions are on trial, not the revelation of
B. The apologist is to appeal to the sense of deity that is in the very
depth of the sinner’s consciousness. The natural man is always
confronting the same God who now asks him to yield obedience to
1. We go beneath his consciousness to the sense of deity he seeks to
suppress. The natural man is constantly haunted by Romans 2. The accusations of God’s law written on his heart fill the workings of his conscience.[xxxv]
2. Because men are ignorant of God due to sin, the point of contact cannot be in human reason or aspirations.[xxxvi]
C. The natural man suppresses the very world view he needs to make
sense of the world and himself. Man is a creature of God, designed to
think God’s thoughts after Him.[xxxvii]
[i] Greg L. Bahnsen, VanTil’s Apologetic, Readings & Analysis (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1998), 439.
[ii] Cornelius VanTil, The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1955), 67.
[iii] Thom Notaro, VanTil & the Use of Evidence (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1980), 41.
[iv] Robert L. Reymond, The Justification of Knowledge (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1976), 29.
[v] Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready (Atlanta: American Vision, 1996), 80.
[vi] Thom Notaro, Van Til & Evidences, 33.
[vii] C. K. Barrett, From First Adam to Last (New York: Scriber’s and Sons), 13, 17.
[viii] Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 84.
[ix] Ibid., p. 75.
[x] Ibid., p. 157.
[xi] Ibid., pp. 173, 196.
[xii] Ibid., p. 231.
[xiii] Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, p. 410.
[xiv] Ibid., p. 422.
[xv] Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 108.
[xvi] Robert L. Reymond, The Justification of Knowledge, p. 26.
[xvii] John M. Frame, “Van Til on Antithesis” Westminster Theological Journal, 57:1(Spring 1995): 92.
[xviii] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, p. 417.
[xix] Ibid., p. 419.
[xx] David L. Turner, “Cornelius Van Til and Romans 1:18-21” Grace Theological Journal 2:1 (Spring 1981): 52.
[xxi] Ibid., p. 55-57.
[xxii] Thom Notaro, Van Til and Evidences, p. 40.
[xxiii] James F. Stitzinger, “Apologetics and Evangelism TH 701” (The Master’s Seminary, Sun Valley, CA, 1999), p. 97.
[xxiv] Ibid., p. 97.
[xxv] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, p. 424.
[xxvi] John M. Frame, “Van Til on Antithesis” WTJ, P. 101.
[xxvii] Richard B. Gaffin Jr., “Some Epistemological Reflections on 1 Corinthians 2:6-16” The Westminster Theological Journal 57:1 (Spring 1995): 106-110.
[xxviii] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, p. 416.
[xxix] Ibid., p. 417.
[xxx] James F. Stitzinger, Apologetics, p. 118, 126.
[xxxi] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, p. 440.
[xxxii] James F. Stitzinger, Apologetics, pp. 122, 126, 127.
[xxxiii] Bahnsen, Always Ready, p. 83.
[xxxiv] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, p. 448.
[xxxv] James F. Stitzinger, Apologetics, p. 97.
[xxxvi] William Edgar, “Two Christian Warriors: Cornelius Van Til and Francis A. Schaeffer Compared” The Westminster Theological Journal 57:1 (Spring 1995): 65.
[xxxvii] Bahnsen, Always Ready, p. 63.