The Myth of Neutrality
I. Unbelievers place pressure upon believers to be “neutral” in their
approach to Christian apologetics.
A. Christian scholarship is frequently pressured to put aside commitments that are distinctly Christian.
B. The pressure comes in the form of an appeal to be non-committal on
the truth of Scripture. (The Christian apologist is pressured to
search for truth under the guidance of acclaimed secular thinkers.)
C. Those who exert the pressure often affirm that the only way to be
open minded is to be non-committal. (Christians are urged to
retreat from their dogmatism and assume with the unbeliever an
attitude of “nobody knows yet.”) [i]
D. Christians are pressured to leave the Bible out of the discussion to avoid being accused of having preconceived ideas. (When the unbeliever insists that Christianity must “pass the test of science,” he is appealing to a truth criterion built upon human autonomy.)[ii]
II. The nature of reason makes neutrality impossible.
A. Facts are inseparable from their interpretation. They cannot stand
alone. When men reason about facts, they always understand them in terms of a broad, unified whole or system. The question is,
“which system gives meaning to the facts of the universe?”[iii]
B. Without a unified system or whole, facts are meaningless. Man cannot reason, live, nor deal with truth apart from presuppositions. Without presuppositions, attempts to reason would take place “in a vacuum.” (All thinking begins somewhere – at a primitive starting point or presupposition. Faith in presuppositions enters at the very beginning of the process of selecting and organizing facts. By the nature of the case, presuppositions are held to be self-evidencing and self-authenticating. The question is, “which system of thought provides an adequate foundation for reality?” “What is the basis for an orderly universe?” “Why is our state of affairs conducive to rational thought?” All men have presuppositions, none are neutral.)[iv]
C. Neutrality is impossible because facts and evidences are interpreted
by means of one’s world view. Debate a non-Christian long enough,
and it will become evident that the disagreement is not over truth
claims, but over one’s method of knowing. Disagreement over what
one claims to know is in reality due to a conflict in world views.
(Believers and unbelievers are both analyzing reality from within
their world views. Thus, there is no neutral ground because they
are always true to their frameworks. Unbelievers hate God. They
choose a philosophy that doesn’t leave room for the God of the Bible.
The unbeliever has chosen a world view that lets man be the
determiner of reality.)[v]
D. In terms of epistemology, the believer has nothing in common with
an unbeliever. (Epistemology deals with how we think about reality and how we account for it. Epistemology asks, “how do we justify our claims to know?”)
1. The believer and the unbeliever have opposing philosophies of fact and opposing philosophies of law.
Believers and unbelievers are in total disagreement about the
structure of reality. When viewing reality, there are only two possible reference points: either the sovereign Creator is ultimate or chance is ultimate.)[vi]
2. In the temptation of our first parents in Eden, Satan cast doubt upon the reliability of God’s revelation. In essence, Satan told man to rely on his own reason; to exalt himself above God and His Word. The temptation was a solicitation for man to become his own god by becoming his own origin of truth, justice, morals, meaning and beauty. Satan did not mock or contradict man’s reason. He did not suggest that he should distrust it. Satan offered a temptation which would enthrone man’s reason above God and His Word; above all that is holy.[vii]
E. Reason is not an abstract neutral faculty. It is a capacity planted in
us by God that enables us to receive divine revelation, and as a result, think truthfully.
1. The unbeliever sees his own mind as ultimate. Therefore he denies the Scriptural assertion that a man can know nothing apart from God’s revelation. Man’s intellect and powers of reason are not ethically neutral. Man’s intellectual sin reveals itself in the field of knowledge. Christ died to subdue us to Himself holistically – it is a subduing that begins with the intellect – Matt 18:3, 4).[viii]
2. When men insist that reason is a neutral faculty instead of a tool of divine revelation, it reveals a particular bias -- namely that they regard the intellect to be an autonomous judge. Every unbeliever is committed to apostate presuppositions which are lived out unrighteously. Thus, reason cannot be relegated to some neutral category or authority.[ix]
III. The nature of the sinner makes neutrality impossible.
A. When men take a neutral approach to knowledge, it is characterized
by a vain, darkened mind (Eph 4:17, 18). A neutral approach in philosophy is condemned by Scripture because it does not begin with the truth of God. “Neutrality” takes its direction from the accepted principles of the world’s intellectuals (Col 2:8).
“Vain” thinking is thinking that is not in accord with the Word of God. It is philosophy which operates against the truth of Christ (Rom 1:21). All thinking that begins with the presupposition of autonomous reason is vain and condemned by God (Eph 5:6). When the non-Christian insists upon neutrality in the world of thought, he is operating upon principles of unbelief.[x]
B. Human rationality is blinded by sin to the truth of God (2 Cor 4:3,
4; Eph 2:1-3; 1 Jn 5:19). Spiritual blindness eliminates the possibility of common ground in respect to the truth of God. The unbeliever’s spiritual blindness means that he has no common cognitive commitments or understandings with a believer. To allow the unbeliever to set debate ground rules of neutrality only delays the exposure of his sin. God’s grace must first confront the sinner in his unbelief so as to convict his heart of the infallible truth of Christianity.[xi]
C. The sinner uses reason to “insulate” himself from the claims of God.
The unbeliever’s preference for a chance universe is not the result of scientific research, nor is it simply an error in judgment. He has intentionally chosen a world view that enables him to deny (suppress the truth of) his creaturehood, God’s claims, and God’s moral authority. The unbeliever has an axe to grind; he wants to hold fast to and justify his independence from God. The claims of God necessarily destroy the notion of neutrality. God’s claims do not leave human autonomy in tact. Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me” (Luke 11:23).[xii]
D. The unbeliever’s world view is hostile at every point to the Christian
philosophy of life.
1. The natural man’s working epistemology (method of knowing) is totally informed by his ethical hostility toward God. His heart disposition of enmity involves a satanic principle that is opposed to God (Col 1:21).
2. The natural man is not fully conscious of his own position toward God and His truth. Outwardly, he assumes the posture of an objective truth seeker. In reality, he is an enemy of God with a conflict within him. On the one hand, he has an inescapable sense of deity by virtue of the fact that he is made in the image of God. On the other hand, he suppresses the truth of God because of the false principle of human autonomy. Granting a position of neutrality only serves to conceal the autonomy lie.[xiii]
IV. The nature of God’s revelation makes neutrality impossible.
A. When a man sets up his own authority for what is true and what is
not, he becomes the epistemological authority and not the Bible.
Neutrality turns authority over to the unbeliever. It puts God on trial. By contrast, Scripture never submits to another standard of truth other than itself. If Scripture submitted to another standard of truth, then the authority of Scripture would rise no higher than the extra-biblical standard.
B. It is inconsistent for a Christian to claim that the Bible is the
ultimate source of authority, and then for the sake of debate, be
neutral toward it. All facts are God’s facts. They must be
interpreted by the Word of God. Only the Holy Scriptures are the
ultimate intellectual standard. [xiv]
C. Opposition to Christianity is not merely confined to doctrinal points
contained in Scripture, nor is it merely the natural sciences opposing supernaturalism. Those who oppose Christianity war against the whole biblical manner of conceiving of the world and man’s place in it. The Bible presents the Christian world view as comprehensive. The Scripture authoritatively interprets the cosmos and all things natural and moral. The Word of God encompasses the entire universe and our part in. Neutrality ignores God’s truth regarding the whole and instead diverts the argument to particulars.[xv]
D. The Word of God infallibly answers every ultimate question.
Granting neutrality constitutes an unnecessary surrender of
absolute truth. The believer has submitted to Christ’s
epistemic authority. It is disloyal to Christ to set aside His
authoritative answers to ultimate questions for the sake of debate. Christ is the believer’s philosophy for every ultimate question. The Christian apologist should not relinquish his devotion to Christ’s epistemic authority for the sake of argument.
V. The nature of the debate makes neutrality impossible.
A. When the unbeliever is allowed to set the terms of the debate, the
Christian loses the authority to challenge the unbeliever’s autonomy. To set aside distinctly Christian commitments in the interest of neutrality is immoral. It constitutes a form of thinking of which the world approves (James 4:4). To acquiesce to neutrality as a ground rule of the debate is to miss the biblical point of contact with the unbeliever. It is to assume that all the sinner needs is religious information, rather than antithesis. (The biblical point of contact centers upon God’s claims upon the sinner. Divine claims are addressed to the unbeliever’s intellect, will and conscience.)[xvi]
B. Christians have a world in common with unbelievers but not a world view in common with unbelievers. The true point of contact with the unbeliever is his sense of deity which he is unable to fully suppress. The world we have in common with the unbeliever is controlled by God and is constantly revealing God. The commonality Christians share with unbelievers is that both are made in the image of God and are surrounded by God’s creation.
It is all common ground, but none of it is neutral ground.
Denial of neutrality secures commonality rather than destroys
C. When a man assumes the position of ultimate reference point, he puts himself in a position to not understand God’s truth.
Conceding neutrality only deepens the unbeliever’s spiritual dilemma of darkness and vain thinking. By contrast, a presuppositional approach in apologetics is consistent with the point of contact enjoined by Scripture. The Christian apologist will not grant the legitimacy of the unbeliever’s starting point. Instead he will drive home the antithesis by uncovering the unbeliever’s rebellion against God.[xviii]
D. The Christian apologist cannot leave the unbeliever’s controlling
presupposition of autonomy unchallenged. Neutrality denies the antithesis that exists between sources of authority. Either God or the sinner is the ultimate reference point. When in the interest of dignity, the Christian apologist concedes to the pressure to assume neutrality, he erases theantithesis between the believer and the unbeliever. The Scriptures constantly emphasize the antithesis between the believer and the unbeliever. The world’s antipathy toward the Christian is because the believer is of the truth – John 17:14-17. Neutrality is an egregious compromise of the antithesis as defined by Scripture.[xix]
E. Neutrality implies that we live in an open universe. It implies that a comprehensive divine system does not control the universe.
1. In an open universe, facts issue forth from the womb of possibility. They are new for both God and man. God too must “wait and see.” He cannot interpret reality for man because He has not interpreted for Himself. As a consequence of the supposition of an open universe, man must be neutral and God must be within the universe.
2. Christian theism holds that for God all the facts are in. God knows the end from the beginning. There are no new facts to God. History is but the expression of the purpose of God. In order for man’s interpretation to be correct, it must correspond to the interpretation of God. Man’s synthesis and analysis rest upon God’s analysis. Man the truthful interpreter is constructively receptive, he thinks God’s thoughts after Him.
3. Neutrality makes God a correlative of man. Neutrality depicts God and man as having the same order of thinking with the same categories of thought.
[i]Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready (Atlanta: American Vision, 1996), 3, 4.
[ii] Michael Kruger, “The Sufficiency of Scripture in Apologetics” The Master’s Seminary Journal, 12:1 (Spring 2001): 72.
[iii] Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready, 7.
[iv] Kenneth L. Gentry Jr., Let God Be True: A Brief Defense of the Christian Faith, 57, 58.
[v] Michael Kruger, The Sufficiency of Scripture in Apologetics, 76.
[vi] Scott Allen Will, Absolutely No Common Ground?, 67.
[vii] Robert A. Morey, “Is ‘Natural Theology’ a Form of Deism?” Journal of Biblical Apologetics,1:1 (Fall 2000): 26, 27.
[viii] Greg L. Bahnsen, A Critique of the Evidentialist Apologetical Method of John Warwick Montgomery, 3.
[ix] Greg L. Bahnsen, VanTil’s Apologetic, Readings & Analysis (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1998), 156, 157.
[x] Bahnsen, Always Ready, 8-12, 17.
[xi] Scott Allen Will, Absolutely No Common Ground?, 63.
[xii] James F. Stitzinger, “Apologetics and Evangelism TH 701” (The Master’s Seminary, Sun Valley, CA, 1999), 84-88.
[xiii] Scott Allen Will, p. 74
[xiv] Michael Kruger, pp. 79-81.
[xv] Jerry Solomon and Rick Wade, “World Views, Parts I & II” (Richardson, Texas: Probe Ministries International, 2000), 1:3, 2:2.
[xvi] Kruger, p. 75.
[xvii] Scott Allen Will, pp. 69-73.
[xviii] James F. Stitzinger, pp. 22, 24, 84.
[xix] Greg L. Bahnsen, pp. 7, 8.