The Defense of Christianity
V. A Dialogue — Mr. Black, Mr. White, Mr. Grey
We have first the non-Christian, who worships the creature rather than the Creator. We shall call him Mr. Black. Mr. Black may be a very “decent” sort of man. By God’s common grace he may do much that is “good.” Even so he is, as long as he remains in his unconverted state, black in the sight of God.
On the other hand we have a representative of those who have, by the grace of God, become worshipers of the Creator-Redeemer, called Mr. White. Mr. White is far from what, judging him by his name, we should expect him to be. But he is washed in the blood of the Lamb. In Christ he is whiter than snow. Mr. White is the Reformed Christian.
But, strangely enough, there is a third party, an Arminian, called Mr. Grey. Of course, in Christ Mr. Grey is as white as is Mr. White. Mr. Grey thinks that Mr. White is too severe in his evaluation of Mr. Black. Mr. Black is not all that black. It is not pedagogically wise to require of Mr. Black that he make a complete about-face. Surely no such complete revolution is necessary in the field of science and in the field of philosophy. Many of Mr. Black’s followers have valiantly defended the existence of God against materialism, atheism, and positivism. Even in theology many of these disciples of Mr. Black have sprung to the defense of God when he was attacked by the God-is-dead theologians. Mr. Grey, therefore typifies the Aquinas-Butler method of defending Christianity.
Let us now note the difference between the way Mr. White and the way Mr. Grey approach the unbeliever, Mr. Black, with the gospel of Christ.
Let us say that Mr. Black has a toothache. Both Mr. White and Mr. Grey are dentists. Mr. White believes in a radical methodology. He believes that Mr. Black should have all the decayed matter removed from his tooth before the filling is put in. Mr. Grey is a very kind-hearted man. He does not want to hurt Mr. Black. Accordingly, he does not want to drill too deeply. He will, therefore, take only a part of the decayed matter out of the tooth and then fill it.
Naturally Mr. Black thinks this is marvelous. Unfortunately, Mr. Black’s tooth soon begins to decay again. He goes back to Mr. Grey. But Mr. Grey can never bring himself to do anything radical. As a consequence he is never able to resolve Mr. Black’s toothache problem.
Let us now suppose that instead of coming to Mr. Grey, Mr. Black had gone to the office of Mr. White. Mr. White is radical, very radical. He uses the X-ray machine to diagnose Mr. Black’s condition. He drills deeply. All of the tooth decay is removed. The tooth is filled. Mr. Black never need return. This simple illustration points out a basic truth.
The Bible says that man is spiritually dead in sin. The Reformed creeds speak of man’s total depravity. The only cure for this spiritual deadness is his regeneration by the Holy Spirit on the basis of the atoning death of Christ. It is therefore by means of the light that Scripture sheds on the natural man’s condition that Mr. White examines all his patients. Mr. White may also, to be sure, turn on the light of experience, but he always insists that this light of experience derives, in the first place, from the light of Scripture. So he may appeal to reason or to history, but, again, only as they are to be seen in the light of the Bible. He does not even look for corroboration of the teachings of Scripture in experience, reason, or history, except insofar as these are themselves first seen in the light of the Bible. For him, the Bible, and therefore the God of the Bible, is like the sun from which the light that is given by oil lamps, gas lamps, and electric lights is derived.
Quite different is the attitude of the Arminian. Mr. Grey uses the Bible, experience, reason, or logic as equally independent sources of information about his own and therefore about Mr. Black’s predicament. I did not say that for Mr. Grey the Bible, experience, and reason are equally important. Indeed they are not. He knows that the Bible is by far the most important. But he none the less constantly appeals to “the facts of experience” and to “logic” without first dealing with the very idea of fact and with the idea of logic in terms of the Scripture.
The difference is basic. When Mr. White diagnoses Mr. Black’s case he takes as his X-ray machine, the Bible only. When Mr. Grey diagnoses Mr. Black’s case he first takes the X-ray machine of experience, then the X-ray machine of logic, and finally his biggest X-ray machine, the Bible. In fact, he may take these in any order. Each of them is, for him, an independent source of information.
Let us first look briefly at a typical procedure generally followed in evangelical circles today. Let us, in other words, note how Mr. Grey proceeds with an analysis of Mr. Black, and at the same time see how Mr. Grey would win Mr. Black to an acceptance of Christianity. We take for this purpose a series of articles which appeared in the January, February, and March, 1950, issues of Moody Monthly, published by the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. The late Edward John Carnell, author of An Introduction to Christian Apologetics and Professor of Apologetics at Fuller Theological Seminary, was the writer of this series. Carnell’s writings were among the best that appeared in evangelical circles. In fact, in his book on apologetics Carnell frequently argues as we would expect a Reformed apologist to argue. By and large, however, he represents the Arminian rather than the Reformed method in apologetics.
When Carnell instructs his readers “How Every Christian Can Defend His Faith,” he first appeals to facts and to logic as independent sources of information about the truth of Christianity. Of course, he must bring in the Bible even at this point. But the Bible is brought in only as a book of information about the fact of what has historically been called Christianity. It is not from the beginning brought in as God’s Word. It must be shown to Mr. Black that it is the Word of God by means of “facts” and “logic.” Carnell would thus avoid at all costs the charge of reasoning in a circle. He does not want Mr. Black to point the finger at him and say: “You prove that the Bible is true by an appeal to the Bible itself. That is circular reasoning. How can any person with any respect for logic accept such a method of proof?”
Carnell would escape such a charge by showing that the facts of experience, such as all men recognize, and logic, such as all men must use, point to the truth of Scripture. This is what he says: “If you are of a philosophic turn, you can point to the remarkable way in which Christianity fits in with the moral sense inherent in every human being, or the influence of Christ on our ethics, customs, literature, art, and music. Finally, you can draw upon your own experience in speaking of the reality of answered prayer and the witness of the Spirit in your own heart. . . . If the person is impressed with this evidence, turn at once to the gospel. Read crucial passages and permit the Spirit to work on the inner recesses of his heart. Remember that apologetics is merely a preparation. After the ground has been broken, proceed immediately with sowing and watering.”1
It is assumed in this argument that Mr. Black agrees with the evangelical, Mr. Grey, on the character of the “moral sense” of man. This may he true, but then it is true because Mr. Grey has himself not taken his information about the “moral sense” of man exclusively from Scripture. If, with Mr. White, Mr. Grey had taken his conception of the moral nature of man from the Bible, then he would hold that Mr. Black will, as totally depraved, misinterpret his own moral nature. True, Christianity is in accord with the moral nature of man. But this is so only because the moral nature of man is first in accord with what the Bible says it is, i.e., originally created perfect, it is now wholly corrupted in its desires through the fall of man. If you are reasoning with a naturalist, Carnell advises his readers, ask him why, when a child throws a rock through his window, he chases the child and not the rock. Presumably even a naturalist knows that the child, not the rock, is free and therefore responsible. “A bottle of water cannot ought; it must. When once the free spirit of man is proved, the moral argument — the existence of a God who imposes moral obligations — can form the bridge from man to God.”2
Here the fundamental difference between Mr. Grey’s and Mr. White’s approaches to Mr. Black appears. The difference lies, as before noted, in the different notions of the free will of man. Or, it may be said, the difference is with respect to the nature of man as man. Mr. White would define man, and therefore his freedom, in terms of Scripture alone. He would therefore begin with the fact that man is the creature of God. This implies that man’s freedom is a derivative freedom. It is a freedom that is not and cannot be wholly ultimate, that is, self-dependent. Mr. White knows that Mr. Black would not agree with him in this analysis of man and of his freedom. He knows that Mr. Black would not agree with him on this any more than he would agree on the biblical idea of total depravity.
Mr. Grey, on the other hand, must at all costs have “a point of contact” in the system of thought of Mr. Black, who is typical of the natural man. Just as Mr. Grey is afraid of being charged with circular reasoning, so he is also afraid of being charged with talking about something that is “outside of experience.” So he is driven to talk in general about the “free spirit of man.” Of course, Mr. Black need have no objections from his point of view in allowing for the “free spirit of man.” That is at bottom what he holds even when he is a naturalist. His whole position is based upon the idea of man as a free spirit, that is, a spirit that is not subject to the law of his Creator God. Carnell does not distinguish between the biblical doctrine of freedom as based upon and involved in the fact of man’s creation, and the doctrine of freedom, in the sense of autonomy, which makes man a law unto himself.
Of course, Mr. Black will be greatly impressed with such an argument as Mr. Grey has presented to him for the truth of Christianity. In fact, if Christianity is thus shown to be in accord with the moral nature of man, as Mr. Black himself sees that moral nature, then Mr. Black does not need to be radically converted to accept Christianity. He only needs to accept something additional to what he has always believed. He has been shown how nice, even how important, it would be to have a second story built on top of the house which he has already built according to his own plans.
To be sure, the evangelical intends no such thing. Least of all does Carnell intend such a thing. But why then does the “evangelical” not see that by presenting the non-Christian with Arminianism rather than with the Reformed faith he compromises the Christian religion? Why does Carnell not see that in doing what he does, the non-Christian is not really challenged either by fact or by logic? For facts and logic which are not themselves first seen in the light of Christianity have, in the nature of the case, no power in them to challenge the unbeliever to change his position. Facts and logic, not based upon the creation doctrine and not placed in the context of the doctrine of God’s all-embracing Providence, which culminates in the redemption through Christ, are without significant relation to one another and therefore wholly meaningless.
It is this truth which must be shown to Mr. Black. The folly of holding to any view of life except that which is frankly based upon the Bible as the absolute authority for man must be pointed out to him. Only then are we doing what Paul did when he said: “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (I Cor. 1:20).
As a Reformed Christian, Mr. White therefore cannot cooperate with Mr. Grey in his analysis of Mr. Black. This fact may appear more clearly if we turn to see how Mr. Black appears when he is analyzed by Mr. White in terms of the Bible alone.
According to Mr. White’s analysis, Mr. Black is not a murderer. He is not a drunkard or a dope addict. He lives in one of the suburbs. He is every whit a gentleman. He gives to the Red Cross and to the United Fund campaigns. He was a Boy Scout; he is a member of a lodge; he is very civic minded; now and then his name is mentioned in the papers as an asset to the community. But he is spiritually dead. He is filled with the spirit of error. Perhaps he is a member of a “fine church” in the community, but nevertheless he is one of those “people that do err in their heart” (Ps. 95:10). He lives in a stupor (Rom. 11:8). To him the wisdom of God is foolishness. The truth about God, and about himself in relation to God, is obnoxious to him. He does not want to hear of it. He seeks to close his eyes and ears to those who give witness to the truth. He is, in short, utterly self-deceived.
On the other hand, Mr. Black is certain that he looks at life in the only proper way. Even if he has doubts as to the truth of what he believes, he does not see how any sensible or rational man could believe or do otherwise. If he has doubts, it is because no one can be fully sure of himself. If he has fears, it is because fear is to be expected in the hazardous and ambiguous situation in which modern man lives. If he sees men’s minds break down, he thinks this is to be expected under current conditions of stress and strain. If he sees grown men act like children, he says that they once were beasts. Everything, including the “abnormal,” is to him “normal.”
In all this, Mr. Black has obviously taken for granted that what the Bible says about the world and himself is not true. He has taken this for granted. He may never have argued the point. He has cemented yellow spectacles to his own eyes. He cannot remove them because he will not remove them. He is blind and loves to be blind.
But do not think that Mr. Black has an easy time of it. He is the man who always “kicks against the pricks.” His conscience troubles him all the time. Deep down in his heart he knows that what the Bible says about him and about the world is true. Even if he has never heard of the Bible, he knows that he is a creature of God and that he has broken the law of God (Rom. 1:19, 20; 2:14, 15). When the prodigal son left his father’s house he could not immediately efface from his memory the look and voice of his father. That look and that voice came back to him even when he was at the swine trough! How hard he had tried to live as though the money with which he so freely entertained his “friends” had not come from his father! When asked where he came from he would answer that he came “from the other side.” He did not want to be reminded of his past. Yet he could not forget it. It required a constant act of suppression to forget his past. But that very act of suppression itself keeps alive the memory of the past.
Mr. Black daily changes the truth of God into a lie. He daily holds the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). But what a time he has with himself! He may try to sear his conscience as with a hot iron. He may seek to escape the influence of all those who witness to the truth. But he can never escape himself as witness bearer to the truth.
His conscience keeps telling him: “Mr. Black, you are a fugitive from justice. You have run away from home, from your father’s bountiful love. You are an ingrate, a sneak, a rascal! You shall not escape meeting justice at last. The father still feeds you. Yet you despise the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not recognizing that the goodness of God is calculated to lead you to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Why do you kick against the pricks? Why do you stifle the voice of your conscience? Why do you use the wonderful intellect that God has given you as a tool for the suppression of the voice of God which speaks to you through yourself and your environment? Why do you build your house on sand instead of on rock? Can you be sure that no storm is ever coming? Are you omniscient? Are you omnipotent? You say that nobody knows whether God exists or whether Christianity is true. You say that nobody knows this because man is finite. Yet you assume that God cannot exist and that Christianity cannot be true. You assume that no judgment will ever come. You must be omniscient to know that. Yet you have just said that all man declares about ‘the beyond’ must be based upon his brief span of existence in this world of time and chance. How, then, if you have taken for granted that chance is one of the basic ingredients of all human experience, can you at the same time say what can or cannot be in all time to come? You certainly have made a fool of yourself, Mr. Black,” says Mr. Black to himself. “You reject the claims of truth which you know to be the truth, and you do that in terms of the lie which really you know to be the lie. It is you, not Mr. White, who engages in circular reasoning. It is you, not Mr. White, who refuses to face the facts as they are. It is you, not Mr. White, who crucifies logic.”
It is not always that Mr. Black is thus aware of the fact that he lives like the prodigal who would have eaten of the things the swine did eat, but who knew he could not because he was a human being. Mr. Black is not always thus aware of his folly. This is, in part at least, because of the failure of evangelicals and particularly of Reformed Christians to stir him up to a realization of this basic depth of his folly. The Reformed Christian should, on his basis, want to stir up Mr. Black to an appreciation of the folly of his ways.
However, when the Reformed Christian, Mr. White, is to any extent aware of the richness of his own position and actually has the courage to challenge Mr. Black by presenting to him the picture of himself as taken through the X-ray machine called the Bible, he faces the charge of “circular reasoning” and of finding no “point of contact” with experience. He will also be subject to the criticism of the Arminian for speaking as if Christianity were irrational and for failing to reach the man in the street.
Thus we seem to be in a bad predicament. There is a basic difference of policy between Mr. White and Mr. Grey as to how to deal with Mr. Black. Mr. Grey thinks that Mr. Black is not really such a bad fellow. It is possible, he thinks, to live with Mr. Black in the same world. Mr. Black is pretty strong. It is best to make a compromise peace with him. That seems to be the way of the wise and practical politician. On the other hand, Mr. White thinks that it is impossible to live permanently in the same world with Mr. Black. Mr. Black, he says, must therefore be placed before the requirement of absolute and unconditional surrender to Christ. Surely it would be out of the question for Mr. White first to make a compromise peace with Mr. Black and then, after all, to require unconditional surrender to Christ! But what, then, about the charge of circular reasoning and about the charge of having no point of contact with the unbeliever?
A. A Consistent Witness
The one main question to which we are to address ourselves now is whether Christians holding to the Reformed Faith must also hold to a specifically Reformed method of reasoning when they are engaged in the defense of the faith.
This broad question does not pertain merely to the “five points of Calvinism.” When Arminians attack these great doctrines (total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, perseverance of the saints) we, as Calvinists, are quick to defend them. We believe that these five points are directly drawn from Scripture. But the question now under discussion is whether, in the defense of any Christian doctrine, Reformed Christians should use a method all their own.
People easily give a negative reply to this question. Do we not have many doctrines in common with all evangelicals? Do not all orthodox Protestants hold to the substitutionary atonement of Christ? More particularly, what about the simple statements of fact recorded in Scripture? How could anyone, if he believes such statements at all, take them otherwise than as simple statements of fact? How could anyone have a specifically Reformed doctrine of such a fact as the resurrection of Christ? If together with evangelicals we accept certain simple truths and facts of Scripture at face value, how then can we be said to have a separate method of defense of such doctrines?
Yet it can readily be shown that a negative answer to these questions cannot be maintained. Take, for example, the doctrine of the atonement. The Arminian doctrine of the atonement is not the same as the Reformed doctrine of the atonement. Both the Arminian and the Calvinist assert that they believe in the substitutionary atonement. But the Arminian conception of the substitutionary atonement is colored, and as Calvinists we believe discolored, by the view of “free will.” According to the Arminian view, man has absolute or ultimate power to accept or to reject the salvation offered him. This implies that the salvation offered to man is merely the possibility of salvation.
To illustrate: suppose I deposit one million dollars to your account in your bank. It is still altogether up to you to believe that such wealth is yours, and to use it to cover the floor of your house with Persian rugs in place of the old threadbare rugs now there. Thus, in the Arminian scheme, the very possibility of things no longer depends exclusively upon God, but, in some areas at least, upon man. What Christ did for us is made to depend for its effectiveness upon what is done by us. It is no longer right to say that with God all things are possible.
It is obvious, therefore, that Arminians have taken into their Protestantism a good bit of the leaven of Roman Catholicism. Arminianism is less radical, less consistent in its Protestantism than it should be.
Now Mr. Grey, the evangelical, seems to have a relatively easy time of it when he seeks to win Mr. Black, the unbeliever, to an acceptance of “the substitutionary atonement.” He can stand on “common ground” with Mr. Black on this matter of what is possible and what is impossible. Listen to Mr. Grey as he talks with Mr. Black.
“Mr. Black, have you accepted Christ as your personal Savior? Do you believe that he died on the cross as your substitute? If you do not, you will surely be lost forever.”
“Well now,” replies Mr. Black, “I’ve just had a visit from Mr. White on the same subject. You two seem to have a ‘common witness’ on this matter. Both of you believe that God exists, that he has created the world, that the first man, Adam, sinned, and that we are all to be sent to hell because of what that first man did, and so forth. All this is too fatalistic for me. If I am a creature, as you say I am, then I have no ultimate power of my own and therefore am not free. And if I am not free, then I am not responsible. So, if I am going to hell, it will be simply because your ‘God’ has determined that I should. You orthodox Christians kill morality and all humanitarian progress. I will have none of it. Good-by!”
“But wait a second,” says Mr. Grey, in great haste. “I do not have a common witness at this point with the Calvinist. I have a common witness with you against the Calvinist when it comes to all that determinism that you mention. Of course you are free. You are absolutely free to accept or to reject the atonement that is offered to you. I offer the atonement through Christ only as a possibility. You yourself must make it an actuality for yourself. I agree with you over against the Calvinist in saying that ‘possibility’ is wider than the will of God. I would not for a moment say with the Calvinist that God’s counsel determines ‘whatsoever comes to pass.’
“Besides, even less extreme Calvinists like Dr. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., virtually agree with both of us. Listen to what Buswell says: ‘Nevertheless, our moral choices are choices in which we are ourselves ultimate causes.’ Dr. Buswell himself wants to go beyond the ‘merely arbitrary answer’ in Romans 9:20, 21, which speaks of the potter and the clay, to the ‘much more profound analysis of God’s plan of redemption’ in Romans 9:22-24, in which Paul pictures Pharaoh as ‘. . . one who, according to the foreknowledge of God, would rebel against God.’”3
“I understand then,” replies Mr. Black, “that you Arminians and more moderate Calvinists are opposed to the determinism of the regular, old-style Calvinists of the historic Reformed Confessions? I am glad to hear that. To say that all things have been fixed from all eternity by God is terrible! It makes me shudder! What would happen to all morality and decency if all men believed such teaching? But now you Arminians have joined us in holding that ‘possibility’ is independent of the will of God. You have thus with all good people and with all liberal and neo-orthodox theologians, like Barth, made possible the salvation of all men.
“That means, of course, that salvation is also possible for those too who have never heard of Jesus of Nazareth. Salvation is therefore possible without an acceptance of your substitutionary atonement through this Jesus of whom you speak. You certainly would not want to say with the Calvinists that God has determined the bounds of all nations and individuals and has thus, after all, determined that some men, millions of them, in fact, should never hear this gospel.
“Besides, if possibility is independent of God, as you evangelicals and moderate Calvinists teach, then I need not be afraid of hell. It is then quite possible that there is no hell. Hell, you will then agree, is that torture of a man’s conscience which he experiences when be fails to live up to his own moral ideals. So I do not think that I shall bother just yet about accepting Christ as my personal Savior. There is plenty of time.”
Poor Mr. Grey. He really wanted to say something about having a common testimony with the Calvinists after all. At the bottom of his heart he knew that Mr. White, the Calvinist, and not Mr. Black, the unbeliever, was his real friend. But he had made a common witness with Mr. Black against the supposed determinism of Mr. White, the Calvinist, so it was difficult for him, after that, to turn about face and also make a common testimony with Mr. White against Mr. Black. He had nothing intelligible to say. His method of defending his faith had forced him to admit that Mr. Black was basically right. He had not given Mr. Black an opportunity of knowing what he was supposed to accept, but his testimony had confirmed Mr. Black in his belief that there was no need of his accepting Christ at all.
It is true, of course, that in practice Mr. Grey is much better in his theology and in his method of representing the gospel than he is here said to be. But that is because in practice every evangelical who really loves his Lord is a Calvinist at heart. How could he really pray to God for help if he believed that there was a possibility that God could not help? In their hearts all true Christians believe that that God controls “whatsoever comes to pass.” But the Calvinist cannot have a common witness for the substitutionary atonement with Arminians who first make a common witness with the unbeliever against him on the all-important question whether God controls all things that happen.
It must always be remembered that the first requirement for effective witnessing is that the position defended be intelligible. Arminianism, when consistently carried out, destroys this intelligibility.
The second requirement for effective witnessing is that he to whom the witness is given must be shown why he should forsake his own position and accept that which is offered him. Arminianism, when consistently carried out, destroys the reason why the unbeliever should accept the gospel. Why should the unbeliever change his position if he is not shown that it is wrong? Why should he exchange his position for that of Christianity if the one who asks him to change is actually encouraging him in thinking that he is right? The Calvinist will need to have a better method of defending the doctrine of the atonement therefore than that of the Arminian.
We have dealt with the doctrine of the atonement. That led us into the involved question whether God is the source of possibility, or whether possibility is the source of God. It has been shown that the Arminian holds to a position which requires him to make both of these contradictory assertions at once. But how about the realm of fact? Do you also hold, I am asked, that we need to seek for a specifically Reformed method of defending the “facts” of Christianity? Take the resurrection of Christ as an example — why can there be no common witness on the part of the Arminian and the Calvinist to such a fact as that?
Once more Mr. Grey, the Arminian, pushes the doorbell at Mr. Black’s home. Mr. Black answers and admits him.
“I am here again, Mr. Black,” begins Grey, “because I am still anxious to have you accept Christ as your personal Savior. When I spoke to you the other time about the atonement you got me into deep water. We got all tangled up on the question of ‘possibility.’
“But now I have something far simpler. I want to deal with simple facts. I want to show you that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is as truly a fact as any fact that you can mention. To use the words of Dr. Wilbur Smith, himself a ‘moderate’ Calvinist but opposed to the idea of a distinctively Reformed method for the defense of the faith: ‘The meaning of the resurrection is a theological matter, but the fact of the resurrection is a historical matter; the nature of the resurrection body of Jesus may be a mystery, but the fact that the body disappeared from the tomb is a matter to be decided upon by historical evidence.’4 The historical evidence for the resurrection is the kind of evidence that you as a scientist would desire.
“Smith writes in the same book: ‘About a year ago, after studying over a long period of time this entire problem of our Lord’s resurrection, and having written some hundreds of pages upon it at different times, I was suddenly arrested by the thought that the very kind of evidence which modern science, and even psychologists, are so insistent upon for determining the reality of any object under consideration is the kind of evidence that we have presented to us in the gospels regarding the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, namely, the things that are seen with the human eye, touched with the human hand, and heard by the human ear. This is what we call empirical evidence. It would almost seem as if parts of the gospel records of the resurrection were actually written for such a day as ours when empiricism so dominates our thinking.’5
“Now I think that Smith is quite right in thus distinguishing sharply between the fact and the meaning of the resurrection. I am now only asking you to accept the fact of the resurrection. There is the clearest possible empirical evidence for this fact. The living Jesus was touched with human hands and seen with human eyes of sensible men after he had been crucified and put into the tomb. Surely you ought to believe in the resurrection of Christ as a historical fact. And to believe in the resurrected Christ is to be saved.”
“But hold on a second,” says Mr. Black. “Your friend the Calvinist, Mr. White, has been ahead of you again. He was here last night and spoke of the same thing that you are now speaking about. However, he did not thus distinguish between the fact and the meaning of the resurrection. At least, he did not for a moment want to separate the fact of the resurrection from the system of Christianity in terms of which it gets its meaning. He spoke of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as rising from the dead. He spoke of the Son of God through whom the world was made and through whom the world is sustained, as having risen from the dead. When I asked him how this God could die and rise again from the dead, he said that God did not die and rise from the dead but that the second person of the Trinity had taken to himself a human nature, and that it was in this human nature that he died and rose again. In short, in accepting the fact of the resurrection he wanted me also to accept all this abracadabra about the trinitarian God. I have a suspicion that you are secretly trying to have me do something similar.”
“No, no,” replies Mr. Grey. “I am in complete agreement with you here against the Calvinist. I have a common witness with you against him. I, too, would separate fact from system. Did I not agree with you against the Calvinist, in holding that possibility is independent of God? Well then, by the same token I hold that all kinds of facts happen apart from the plan of God. We Arminians are in a position, as the Calvinists are not, of speaking with you on neutral ground. With you, we would simply talk about the “facts” of Christianity without immediately bringing into the picture anything about the meaning or the significance of those facts.
“It makes me smile,” continues Mr. Grey, “when I think of Mr. White coming over here trying to convert you. That poor fellow is always reasoning in circles! I suppose that such reasoning in circles goes with his determinism. He is always talking about his self-contained God. He says that all facts are what they are because of the plan of God. Then each fact would of necessity, to be a fact at all, prove the truth of the Christian system of things and, in turn, would be proved as existing by virtue of this self-same Christian system of things. I realize full well that you, as a modern scientist and philosopher, can have no truck with such horrible, circular reasoning as that.
“It is for this reason that, as Arminian evangelicals, we have now separated sharply between the resurrection as a historical fact and the meaning of the resurrection. I’m merely asking you to accept the fact of the resurrection. I am not asking you to do anything that you cannot do in full consistency with your freedom and with the ‘scientific method.’”
“Well, this is delightful,” replies Mr. Black. “I always felt that the Calvinists were our real foes. But I read something in the paper the other day to the effect that some Calvinist churches or individuals were proposing to make a common witness with Arminian evangelicals for the gospel. Now I was under the impression that the gospel had something to do with being saved from hell and going to heaven. I knew that the modernists and the ‘new modernists,’ like Barth, do not believe in tying up the facts of history with such wild speculations. It was my opinion that ‘fundamentalists’ did tie up belief in historical facts, such as the death and resurrection of Jesus, with going to heaven or to hell. So I am delighted that you, though a fundamentalist, are willing to join with the liberal and the neo-liberal in separating historical facts from such a rationalistic system as I thought Christianity was.
“Now as for accepting the resurrection of Jesus,” continued Mr. Black, “as thus properly separated from the traditional system of theology, I do not in the least mind doing that. To tell you the truth, I have accepted the resurrection as a fact now for some time. The evidence for it is overwhelming. This is a strange universe. All kinds of ‘miracles’ happen in it. The universe is ‘open.’ So why should there not be some resurrections here and there? The resurrection of Jesus would be a fine item for Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Why not send it in?”
Mr. Grey wanted to continue at this point. He wanted to speak of the common witness that he had, after all, with the Calvinist for the gospel. But it was too late. He had no “common” witness left of any sort. He had again tried to gallop off in opposite directions at the same time. He had again taken away all credibility from the witness that he meant to bring. He had again established Mr. Black in thinking that his own unbelieving reason was right. For it was as clear as crystal to Mr. Black, as it should have been to Mr. Grey, that belief in the fact of the resurrection, apart from the system of Christianity, amounts to belief that the Christian system is not true, to believe in the universe as run by Chance, and to believe that it was not Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who rose from the dead.
To be sure, in practice the Arminian is much better in his witness for the resurrection of Christ than he has been presented here. But that is, as noted already, because every evangelical, as a sincere Christian, is at heart a Calvinist. But witnessing is a matter of the head as well as of the heart. If the world is to hear a consistent testimony for the Christian faith, it is the Calvinist who must give it. If there is not a distinctively Reformed method for the defense of every article of the Christian faith, then there is no way of clearly telling an unbeliever just how Christianity differs from his own position and why he should accept the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. We are happy and thankful, of course, for the work of witnessing done by Arminians. We are happy because of the fact that, in spite of their inconsistency in presenting the Christian testimony, something, often much, of the truth of the gospel shines through unto men, and they are saved.
B. The Authority of Scripture
“But how can anyone know anything about the ‘beyond’?” asks Mr. Black.
“Well, of course,” replies Mr. Grey, “if you want absolute certainty, such as one gets in geometry, Christianity does not offer it. We offer you only ‘rational probability.’ ‘Christianity,’ as I said in effect a moment ago when I spoke of the death of Christ, ‘is founded on historical facts, which, by their very nature, cannot be demonstrated with geometric certainty. All judgments of historical particulars are at the mercy of the complexity of the time-space universe. . . . If the scientist cannot rise above rational probability in his empirical investigation, why should the Christian claim more?’ And what is true of the death of Christ,” adds Mr. Grey, “is, of course, also true of his resurrection. But this only shows that ‘the Christian is in possession of a worldview which is making a sincere effort to come to grips with actual history.’”6
By speaking thus, Mr. Grey again seeks for a neutral point of contact with Mr. Black. For Mr. Black, history is something that floats on an infinitely extended and bottomless ocean of Chance. Therefore he can say that anything may happen. Who knows but the death and resurrection of Jesus as the Son of God might issue from this womb of Chance? Such events would have an equal chance of happening with “snarks, boojums, splinth, and gobble-de-gook.” God himself may live in this realm of Chance. He is then “wholly other” than ourselves, and his revelation in history would then be wholly unique.
The Arminian does not challenge this underlying philosophy of Chance as it controls the unbeliever’s conception of history. He is so anxious to have the unbeliever accept the possibility of God’s existence and the fact of the resurrection of Christ that, if necessary, he will exchange his own philosophy of the facts for that of the unbeliever. Anxious to be genuinely “empirical” like the unbeliever, he will throw all the facts of Christianity into the bottomless pit of Chance. Or, rather, he will throw all these facts at the unbeliever, and the unbeliever throws them over his back into the bottomless pit of Chance.
Of course, this is the last thing that such men as Wilbur Smith, Edward J. Camel!, and J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., want to do. But in failing to challenge the philosophy of Chance that underlies the unbeliever’s notion of “fact,” they are, in effect, doing it.
This approach of Mr. Grey’s is unavoidable if one hold to an Arminian theology. The Arminian view of man’s free will implies that “possibility” is above God. But a “possibility” that is above God is the same thing as Chance. A God surrounded by Chance cannot speak with authority. He would be speaking into a vacuum. His voice could not be heard. If God were surrounded by Chance, then human beings would be too. They would live in a vacuum, unable to hear either their own voices or those of others. Thus the whole of history, including all of its facts, would be without meaning.
It is this that the Reformed Christian, Mr. White, would tell Mr. Black. In the very act of presenting the resurrection of Christ or in the very act of presenting any other fact of historic Christianity, Mr. White would be presenting it as authoritatively interpreted in the Bible. He would argue that unless Mr. Black is willing to set the facts of history in the framework of the meaning authoritatively ascribed to them in the Bible, he will make “gobble-de-gook” of history.
If history were what Mr. Black assumes that it is, then anything might happen, and then nobody would know what may happen. No one thing would then be more likely to happen than any other thing. David Hume, the great skeptic, has effectively argued that, if you allow any room for Chance in your thought, then you no longer have the right to speak of probabilities. Whirl would then be king. No hypothesis would then have any more relevance to facts than any other hypothesis. Did God raise Christ from the dead? Perchance he did. Did Jupiter do it? Perchance he did. What is Truth? Nobody knows. Such would be the picture of the universe if Mr. Black were right.
No comfort can be taken from the assurance of the Arminian that, since Christianity makes no higher claim than that of rational probability, “the system of Christianity can be refuted only by probability. Perhaps our loss is gain.” How could one ever argue that there is a greater probability for the truth of Christianity than for the truth of its opposite, if the very meaning of the word “probability” rests upon the idea of Chance? On this basis, nature and history would be no more than a series of pointer readings pointing into the blank.
In assuming his philosophy of Chance and thus virtually saying that nobody knows what is back of the common objects of daily observation, Mr. Black also virtually says that the Christian view of things is wrong.
If I assert that there is a black cat in the closet, and you assert that nobody knows what is in the closet, you have virtually told me that I am wrong in my hypothesis. So when I tell Mr. Black that God exists, and he responds very graciously by saying that perhaps I am right since nobody knows what is in the “Beyond,” he is virtually saying that I am wrong in my hypothesis. He is obviously thinking of such a god as could comfortably live in a closet. But the God of Scripture cannot live in a closet.
When confronted with the claims of God and his Christ, Mr. Black’s response is essentially this: Nobody knows — nevertheless your hypothesis is certainly wrong and mine is certainly right! Nobody knows whether God exists, but God certainly does not exist and Chance certainly does exist.
When Mr. Black thus virtually makes his universal negative assertion, saying in effect that God cannot possibly exist and that Christianity cannot possibly be true, he must surely be standing on something very solid. Is it on solid rock that he stands? No, he stands on water! He stands on his own “experience.” But this experience, by his own assumption, rests again on Chance. Thus standing on Chance, he swings the “logician’s postulate” and modestly asserts what cannot be in the “Beyond,” of which he said before that nothing can be said.
Of course, what Mr. Black is doing appears very reasonable to himself. “Surely,” he says, if questioned at all on the subject, “a rational man must have systematic coherence in his experience. Therefore he cannot accept as true anything that is not in accord with the law of non-contradiction. So long as you leave your God in the realm of the ‘Beyond,’ in the realm of the indeterminate, you may worship him by yourself alone. But as soon as you claim that your God has revealed himself in creation, in providence, or in your Scripture, at once I shall put that revelation to a test by the principle of rational coherence.
“And by that test none of your doctrines are acceptable. All of them are contradictory. No rational man can accept any of them. If your God is eternal, then he falls outside of my experience and lives in the realm of the ‘Beyond,’ of the unknowable. But if he is to have anything to do with the world, then he must himself be wholly within the world. I must understand your God throughout if I am to speak intelligently of any relationship that he sustains to my world and to myself. Your idea that God is both eternal and unchangeable and yet sustains such relationships to the world as are involved in your doctrine of creation and providence, is flatly contradictory.
“For me to accept your God,” continues Mr. Black, “you must do to him what Karl Barth has done to him, namely, strip him of all the attributes that orthodox theology has assigned to him, and thus enable him to turn into the opposite of himself. With that sort of God I have a principle of unity that brings all my experience into harmony. And that God is wholly within the universe. If you offer me such a God and offer him as the simplest hypothesis with which I may seek to order my experience as it comes to me from the womb of Chance, then the law of non-contradiction will be satisfied. As a rational man I can settle for nothing less.”
All this amounts to saying that Mr. Black, the lover of a Chance philosophy, the indeterminist, is at the same time an out-and-out determinist or fatalist. It is to say that Mr. Black, the irrationalist, who says that nobody knows what is in the “Beyond,” is at the same time a flaming rationalist. For him only that can be, which he thinks he can exhaustively determine by logic must be. He may at first grant that anything may exist, but when he says this, he at the same time says, in effect, that nothing can exist and have meaning for man but that which man himself can exhaustively know. Therefore, for Mr. Black, the God of Christianity cannot exist. For him the doctrine of creation cannot be true. There can be no revelation of God to man through nature and history. There can be no such thing as the resurrection of Christ.
Strangely enough, when Mr. Black thus says, in effect, that God cannot exist and that the resurrection of Christ cannot be a fact, and when he also says that God may very well exist and that the resurrection of Christ may very well be a fact, he is not inconsistent with himself. For he must, to be true to his method, contradict himself in every statement that he makes about any fact whatsoever. If he does not, then he would deny either his philosophy of Chance or his philosophy of Fate. According to him, every fact that he meets has in it the two ingredients: that of Chance and that of Fate, that of the wholly unknown and that of the wholly known. Thus man turns the tools of thought, which the Creator has given him in order therewith to think God’s thoughts after him on a created level, into the means by which he makes sure that God cannot exist, and therefore certainly cannot reveal himself.
When Mr. White meets Mr. Black he will make this issue plain. He will tell Mr. Black that his methodology cannot make any fact or any group of facts intelligible to himself. Hear him as he speaks to the unbeliever:
On your basis, Mr. Black, no fact can be identified by distinguishing it from any other fact. For all facts would be changing into their opposites all the time. All would be ‘gobble-de-gook.’ At the same time, nothing could change at all. Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? He clearly has. I know you cannot see this even though it is perfectly clear. I know that you have taken out your own eyes. Hence your inability to see is at the same time unwillingness to see. Pray God for forgiveness and repent.
But what will be the approach of the Arminian, Mr. Grey, on this question of logic? He will do the same sort of thing that we saw him do with respect to the question of facts. Mr. Gray will again try to please Mr. Black by saying that, of course, he will justify his appeal to the authority of the Bible by showing that the very idea of such an appeal, as well as the content of the Bible, are fully in accord with the demands of logic. Listen to him as he speaks to the unbeliever.
“You are quite right in holding that nothing meaningful can be said without presupposing the validity of the law of non-contradiction,” says Mr. Gray.7 “‘The conservative ardently defends a system of authority.”8 But ‘without reason to canvass the evidence of a given authority, how can one segregate a right authority from a wrong one? . . . Without systematic consistency to aid us, it appears that all we can do is to draw straws, count noses, flip coins to choose an authority. Once we do apply the law of contradiction, we are no longer appealing to ipse dixit authority, but to coherent truth.’9 ‘The Scriptures tell us to test the spirits (I John 4: 1). This can be done only by applying the canons of truth. God cannot lie. His authority, therefore, and coherent truth are coincident at every point. Truth, not blind authority, saves us from being blind followers of the blind.”10
“‘Bring on your revelations!’” continues Mr. Grey. “‘Let them make peace with the law of contradiction and the facts of history, and they will deserve a rational man’s assent.”11 ‘Any theology which rejects Aristotle’s fourth book of the Metaphysics is big with the elements of its own destruction.”12 ‘If Paul were teaching that the crucified Christ were objectively foolish, in the sense that he cannot be rationally categorized, then he would have pointed to the insane and the demented as incarnations of truth.’”13
“Well,” says Mr. Black, “this is great news indeed. I knew that the modernists were willing with us to start from human experience as the final reference point in all research. I knew that they were willing with us to start from Chance as the source of facts, in order then to manufacture such facts of nature and of history as the law of non-contradiction, based on Chance, will allow. I also knew that the famous neo-orthodox theologian, Karl Barth, is willing to remake the God of historic Christianity so that he can change into the opposite of himself, in order that thus he may satisfy both our irrationalist philosophy of Chance and our rationalist philosophy of logic. But I did not know that there were any orthodox people who were willing to do such a thing. But you have surprised me before. You were willing to throw your resurrection into the realm of Chance in order to have me accept it. So I really should have expected that you would also be willing to make the law of non-contradiction rest upon man himself instead of upon God.
“I am extremely happy, too, that not only Arminian fundamentalists but also less extreme or moderate Calvinists, like Buswell, Carnell, and Smith, are now willing to test revelation by a principle that is wholly independent of that revelation. It is now only a matter of time until they will see that they have to come over on our side altogether.
“I do no like the regular Calvinists. But they are certainly quite right from their own point of view. Mr. White claims that I am a creature of God. He says that all facts are made by God and controlled by the providence of God. He says that all men have sinned against God in Adam their representative. He adds that therefore I am spiritually blind and morally perverse. He says all this and more on the basis of the absolute authority of Scripture. He would interpret me, my facts, and my logic in terms of the authority of that Scripture. He says I need this authority. He says I need nothing hut this authority. His Scripture, he claims, is sufficient and final. The whole thing, he claims, is clear in the light of Scripture.
“Now all this looks like plain historic Protestantism to me. I can intellectually understand the Calvinist on this matter of authority. I cannot understand you. You seem to me to want to have your cake and eat it. If you believe in scriptural authority, then why not explain all things, man, fact, and logic, in terms of it? If you want with us to live by your own authority, by the experience of the human race, then why not have done with the Bible as absolute authority? It, at best, gives you the authority of the expert.
“In your idea of the rational man who tests all things by the facts of history and by the law of non-contradiction, you have certainly made a point of contact with us. If you carry this through, you will indeed succeed in achieving complete coincidence between your ideas and ours. With us, you will have achieved complete coincidence between the ideas of man and the ideas of God. The reason for this coincidence of your ideas with ours, and for the coincidence of man’s ideas with God’s, is that you, like we, then have a God and a Christ who are virtually identical with man.
“Do you not think, Mr. Grey, that this is too great a price for you to pay? I am sure that you do not thus mean to drag down your God into the universe. I am sure that you do not thus mean to crucify your Christ afresh. But why then halt between two opinions? I do not believe Christianity, but, if I did, I would stand with Mr. White.”
C. Proofs for the Existence of God
When Mr. Black objects against Mr. White that unconditional surrender to the authority of Scripture is irrational, then Mr. Grey nods approval and says that, of course, the “rational man” has a perfect right to test the credibility of Scripture by logic. When the Bible speaks of God’s sovereign election of some men to salvation this must mean something that fits in with his “rational nature.” When Mr. Black objects to Mr. White that unconditional surrender to Scripture is rationalistic, then Mr. Grey again nods approval and says that, of course, genuine human personality has a perfect right to test the content of Scripture by experience. When the Bible speaks of God controlling by his counsel whatsoever comes to pass, this must mean something that fits in with man’s “freedom.” God created man and gave man a share in his own freedom; men therefore participate in his being.
But what of natural or general revelation? Here surely there can be no difference, you say, between the requirements of Mr. White and Mr. Grey. Here there is no law and no promise; here there are only the facts of nature. How can you speak of any requirement at all with respect to them? Here surely Mr. White can forget his “five points of Calvinism” and join Mr. Grey in taking Mr. Black through the picture gallery of this world, pointing out its beauties to him so that with them he will spontaneously exclaim, “The whole chorus of nature raises one hymn to the praise of its Creator.”
Let us think of Mr. White as trying hard to forget his “five points.” “Surely,” he says to himself, “there can be nothing wrong with joining Mr. Grey in showing Mr. Black the wonders of God’s creation. We believe in the same God, do we not? Both of us want to show Mr. Black the facts of creation so that he, too, will believe in God. When Mr. Black says, ‘I see no meaning in all I have seen, and I continue, just as I was, confused and dismayed,’ Mr. Grey and I can together take him to the Mt. Wilson observatory so he may see the starry heavens above. Surely the source of knowledge for the natural sciences is the Book of Nature which is given to everyone. Do not the Scriptures themselves teach that there is a light in nature which cannot be, and is not, transmitted through the spectacles of the Word? If this were not so, how could the Scriptures say of those who have only the light of nature that they are without excuse?”
So the three men, Mr. White, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Black, go here and there and everywhere. Mr. White and Mr. Grey agree to share the expense. Mr. Black is their guest.
They go first to the Mt. Wilson observatory to see the starry skies above. “How wonderful, how grand!” exclaims Mr. Grey. Then to the marvels of the telescope they add those of the microscope. They circle the globe to see “the wonders of the world.” They listen to the astronauts speaking down to the earth from the vicinity of the moon. There is no end to the “exhibits” and Mr. Black shows signs of weariness. So they sit down on the beach. Will not Mr. Black now sign on the dotted line?
As they wait for the answer, Mr. Grey spies a watch someone has lost. Holding it in his hand he says to Mr. Black: “Look around the world: contemplate the whole and every part of it: you will find it to be nothing but one great machine, subdivided into an infinite number of lesser machines, which again admit of subdivisions, to a degree beyond that which human senses and faculties can trace and explain. All these various machines, and even their minute parts, are adjusted to each other with an accuracy which forces admiration from all men who have ever contemplated them. The curious adapting of means to ends, throughout all nature, resembles exactly, though it much exceeds, the productions of human contrivance, of human designs, thought, wisdom, and intelligence. Since, therefore, the effects resemble each other, we are led to infer, by all the rules of analogy, that the causes also resemble one another. The Author of Nature is somewhat similar to the mind of man, though possessed of much larger faculties, proportioned to the grandeur of the work, which he has executed.
“Now, Mr. Black, I don’t want to put undue pressure on you. You know your own needs in your own business. But I think that as a rational being you owe it to yourself to join the theistic party. Isn’t it highly probable that there is a God?
“I’m not now asking you to become a Christian. We take things one step at a time. I’m only speaking of the Book of Nature. Of course, if there is a God and if this God should have a Son, and if this Son should also reveal himself, it is not likely to be more difficult for you to believe in him than it is now to believe in the Father. But just now I am only asking you to admit that there is a great accumulation of evidence of the sort that any scientist or philosopher must admit to be valid for the existence of a God back of and above this world. You see this watch. Isn’t it highly probable that a power higher than itself has made it? You know the purpose of a watch. Isn’t it highly probable that the wonderful contrivances of nature serve the purpose of a god? Looking back we are naturally led to a god who is the cause of this world; looking forward we think of a god who has a purpose with this world. So far as we can observe the course and constitution of the universe there is, I think, no difficulty on your own adopted principles, against belief in a god. Why not become a theist? You do want to be on the winning side, don’t you? Well, the Gallup poll of the universe indicates a tendency toward the final victory of theism.”
When Mr. Grey had finished his obviously serious and eloquent plea, Mr. Black looked very thoughtful. He was clearly a gentleman. He disliked disappointing his two friends after all the generosity they had shown him. But he could not honestly see any basic difference between his own position and theirs. So he declined politely but resolutely to sign on the dotted line. He refused to be “converted” to theism. In substance he spoke as follows: “You speak of evidence of rationality and purpose in the universe. You would trace this rationality or purpose back to a rational being who is back of the universe who, you think, is likely to have a purpose with the universe. But who is back of your God to explain him in turn? By your own definition your God is not absolute or self-sufficient. You say that he probably exists; which means that you admit that he may not exist. Probability rests upon possibility. I think that any scientific person should come with an open mind to the observation of the facts of the universe. He ought to begin by assuming that any sort of fact may exist. I was glad to observe that on this all-important point you agree with me. Hence the only kind of god that either of us can believe in is one who may or may not exist. In other words, neither of us does or can believe in a God who cannot not exist. It was just this sort of God, a God who is self-sufficient, and as such necessarily existent, that I thought you Christian theists believed in.”
By this time Mr. White was beginning to squirm. He was beginning to realize that he had sold out the God of his theology, the sovereign God of Scripture, by his silent consent to the argument of Mr. Grey. Mr. Black was right, he felt at once. Either one presupposes God back of the ideas of possibility or one presupposes that the idea of possibility is back of God. Either one says with historic Reformed theology on the basis of Scripture that what God determines and only what God determines is possible, or one says with all non-Christian forms of thought that possibility surrounds God. But for the moment Mr. White was stupefied. He could say nothing. So Mr. Black simply drew the conclusion from what he had said in the following words:
Since, in your effort to please me, you have accepted my basic assumption with respect to possibility and probability, it follows that your God, granted he exists, is of no use whatsoever in explaining the universe. He himself needs in turn to be explained. Let us remember the story of the Indian philosopher and his elephant. It was never more applicable than to the present subject. If the material world rests upon a similar ideal world, this ideal world must rest upon some other; and so on, without end. It were better, therefore, never to look beyond the present material world. In short, gentlemen, much as I dislike not to please you, what you offer is nothing better that what I already possess. Your God is himself surrounded by pure possibility or Chance; in what way can he help me? How could I be responsible to him? For you, as for me, all things ultimately end in the irrational.
At this point Mr. Grey grew pale. In desperation he searched his arsenal for another argument that might convince Mr. Black. There was one that he had not used for some time. The arguments for God that he had so far used, he had labeled a posteriori arguments. They ought, he had thought, to appeal to the “empirical” temper of the times. They started from human experience with causation and purpose and by analogy argued to the idea of a cause of and a purpose with the world as a whole. But Mr. Black had pointed out that if you start with the ideas of cause and purpose as intelligible to man without God, when these concepts apply to relations within the universe, then you cannot consistently say that you need God for the idea of cause or purpose when these concepts apply to the universe as a whole. So now Mr. Grey drew out the drawer marked a priori argument. In public he called this the argument from finite to absolute being. “As finite creatures,” he said to Mr. Black, “we have the idea of absolute being. The idea of a finite being involves of necessity the idea of an absolute being. We have the notion of an absolute being; surely there must be a reality corresponding to our idea of such a being; if not, all our ideas may be false. Surely we must hold that reality is ultimately rational and coherent and that our ideas participate in this rationality. If not, how would science be possible?”
When Mr. Grey had thus delivered himself of this appeal to logic rather than to fact, then Mr. White for a moment seemed to take courage. Was not this at least to get away from the idea of a God who probably exists? Surely the “incommunicable attributes of God,” of which he had been taught in his catechism classes, were all based upon, and expressive of, the idea of God as necessarily existing. But Mr. Black soon disillusioned him for the second time. Said he in answer to the argument from Mr. Grey, “Again I cannot see any basic difference between your position and mine. Of course, we must believe that reality is ultimately rational. And of course, we must hold that our minds participate in this rationally. But when you speak thus you thereby virtually assert that we must not believe in a God whose existence is independent of our human existence. A God whom we are to know must, with us, be a part of a rational system that is mutually accessible to, and expressive of, both. If God is necessary to you, then you are also necessary to God. That is the only sort of God that is involved in your argument.”
“But Mr. Black, this is terrible, this is unbearable! We do want you to believe in God. I bear witness to his existence. I will give you a Bible. Please read it! It tells you of Jesus Christ and how you may be saved by his blood. I am born again and you can be born again too if you will only believe. Please do believe in God and be saved!”
Meanwhile, Mr. White took new courage. He realized that he had so far made a great mistake in keeping silent during the time that Mr. Grey had presented his arguments. The arguments for the existence of God taken from the ideas of cause and purpose as set forth by Mr. Grey had led to pure irrationalism and Chance. The argument about an absolute being as set forth by Mr. Grey had led to pure rationalism and determinism. In both cases, Mr. Black had been quite right in saying that a God whose existence is problematic, or a God who exists by the same necessity as does the universe, is still an aspect of, or simply the whole of, the universe. But now he felt that perhaps Mr. Grey was right in simply witnessing to the existence of God. He thought that, if the arguments used are not logically coercive, they may at least be used as a means with which to witness to unbelievers. And surely witnessing to God’s existence was always in order. But poor Mr. White was to be disillusioned again. For the witness-bearing done by Mr. Grey was based on the assumption that the belief in God is a purely non-rational or even irrational matter.
Mr. Black’s reply to the words of Mr. Grey indicated this fact all too clearly. Said Mr. Black to Mr. Grey: “I greatly appreciate your evident concern for my ‘eternal welfare.’ But there are two or three questions that I would like to have you answer. In the first place, I would ask whether in thus simply witnessing to me of God’s existence you thereby admit that the arguments for the existence of God have no validity? Or rather do you not thereby admit that these arguments, if they prove anything, prove that God is finite and correlative to man and therefore that your position is not basically different from mine?”
Mr. Grey did not answer because he could not answer this question otherwise than by agreeing with Mr. Black.
“In the second place,” said Mr. Black, “you are now witnessing to Christ as well as to God, to Christianity as well as to theism. I suppose your argument for Christianity would be similar in nature to your argument for theism, would it not? You would argue that the Jesus of the New Testament is probably the Son of God and that he quite probably died for the sins of men. But now you witness to me about your Christ. And by witnessing instead of reasoning you seem to admit that there is no objective claim for the truth of what you hold with respect to Christ. Am I right in all this?”
Again Mr. Grey made no answer. The only answer he could consistently have given would be to agree with Mr. Black.
“In the third place,” said Mr. Black, “you are now witnessing not only to God the Father, to Jesus Christ the Son, but also to the Holy Spirit. You say you are born again, that you know you are saved and that at present I am lost. Now, if you have had a special experience of some sort, it would be unscientific for me to deny it. But, if you want to witness to me about your experience, you must make plain to me the nature of that experience. To do that you must do so in terms of principles that I understand. Such principles must needs be accessible to all. Now if you make plain your experience to me in terms of principles that are plain to me as unregenerate, then how is your regeneration unique? On the other hand, if you still maintain that your experience of regeneration is unique, then can you say anything about it to me so that I may understand? Does not then your witness-bearing appear to be wholly unintelligible and devoid of meaning? Thus again you cannot make any claim to the objective truth of your position.
“Summing up the whole matter, I would say in the first place, that your arguments for the existence of God have rightfully established me in my unbelief. They have shown that nothing can be said for the existence of a God who is actually the Creator and controller of the world. I would say in the second place that using such arguments as you have used for the existence of God commits you to using similar arguments for the truth of Christianity with similar fatal results for your position. In both cases you first use intellectual argument upon principles that presuppose the justice of my unbelieving position. Then, when it is pointed out to you that such is the case, you turn to witnessing. But then your witnessing is in the nature of the case an activity that you yourself have virtually admitted to be wholly irrational and unintelligible.”
When Mr. Black had finished, Mr. White was in great distress. But it was through this very distress that he at last saw the richness of his own faith. He made no pretense to having greater intellectual power than Mr. Grey. He greatly admired the real faith and courage of Mr. Grey. But he dared keep silence no longer. His silence had been sin, he now realized. Mr. Black had completely discomforted Mr. Grey, so that he had not another word to say. Mr. Black was about to leave them established rather than challenged in his unbelief. And all of that in spite of the best intentions and efforts of Mr. Gray, speaking for both of them. A sense of urgent responsibility to make known the claims of the sovereign God pressed upon him. He now saw clearly, first, that the arguments for the existence of God, as conducted by Mr. Grey, are based on the assumption that the unbeliever is right with respect to the principles in terms of which he explains all things. These principles are: (a) that man is not a creature of God but rather is ultimate and as such must properly consider himself instead of God the final reference point in explaining all things; (b) that all other things beside himself are non-created but controlled by Chance; and (c) that the power of logic that he possesses is the means by which he must determine what is possible or impossible in the universe of Chance.
At last it dawned upon Mr. White that first to admit that the principles of Mr. Black, the unbeliever, are right and then to seek to win him to the acceptance of the existence of God the Creator and judge of all men is like first admitting that the United States had historically been a province of the Soviet Union but ought at the same time to be recognized as an independent and all-controlling political power.
In the second place, Mr. White now saw clearly that a false type of reasoning for the truth of God’s existence and for the truth of Christianity involves a false kind of witnessing for the existence of God and for the truth of Christianity. If one reasons for the existence of God and for the truth of Christianity, on the assumption that Mr. Black’s principles of explanation are valid, then one must witness on the same assumption. One must then make plain to Mr. Black, in terms of principles which Mr. Black accepts, what it means to be born again. Mr. Black will then apply the principles of modern psychology of religion to Mr. Grey’s “testimony” with respect to his regeneration and show that it is something that naturally comes in the period of adolescence.
In the third place, Mr. White now saw clearly that it was quite “proper,” for Mr. Grey, to use a method of reasoning and a method of witness-bearing that is based upon the truth of anti-Christian and anti-theistic assumptions. Mr. Grey’s theology is not Reformed. It is therefore based upon the idea that God is not wholly sovereign over man. It assumes that man’s responsibility implies a measure of autonomy of the sort that is the essence and foundation of the whole of Mr. Black’s thinking. It is therefore to be expected that Mr. Grey will assume that Mr. Black needs not to be challenged on his basic assumption with respect to his own assumed ultimacy or autonomy.
From now on Mr. White decided that, much as he enjoyed the company of Mr. Grey and much as he admired his evident sincerity and basic devotion to the truth of God, yet he must go his own way in apologetics as he had, since the Reformation, gone his own way in theology. He tried to make an appointment with Mr. Black then to see him soon. Meanwhile he expressed to Mr. Grey his great love for him as a fellow believer, his great admiration for his fearless and persistent efforts to win men to an acceptance of truth as it is in Jesus. Then he confessed to Mr. Grey that his conscience had troubled him during the entire time of their travels with Mr. Black. He had started in good faith, thinking that Mr. Grey’s efforts at argument and witnessing might win Mr. Black. He had therefore been quite willing, especially since Mr. Grey was through his constant study much more conversant with such things than he himself was, to be represented by Mr. Grey. But now he had at last come to realize that not only had the effort been utterly fruitless and self-frustrating but, more than that, it had been terribly dishonoring to God. How could the eternal I AM be pleased with being presented as being a god and as probably existing, as probably necessary for the explanation of some things but not of all things, as one who will be glad to recognize the ultimacy of his own creatures? Would the God who had in paradise required of men implicit obedience now be satisfied with a claims-and-counter-claims arrangement with his creatures?
From the dialogue given above, the reader can for himself discern why we have advocated what seems to us to be a Reformed as over against the traditional method of apologetics. The traditional method, the method practiced by various Christians for centuries, was constructed by Roman Catholics and Arminians. It was, so to speak, derived from Romanist or Arminian theology. Just as Roman Catholic and Arminian theology compromises the Christian doctrines of Scripture, of God, of man, of sin, and of redemption, so the traditional method of apologetics compromises Christianity in order to win men to an acceptance of it.
The traditional method compromises the biblical doctrine of God in not clearly distinguishing his self-existence from his relation to the world. The traditional method compromises the biblical doctrine of God and his relation to his revelation to man by not clearly insisting that man, as a creature and as a sinner, must not seek to determine the nature of God, otherwise than from his revelation.
The traditional method compromises the biblical doctrine of the counsel of God by not taking it as the only all-inclusive ultimate “cause” of whatsoever comes to pass.
The traditional method therefore compromises the clarity of God’s revelation to man, whether this revelation comes through general or through special revelation. Created facts are not taken to be clearly revelational of God; all the facts of nature and of man are said to indicate no more than that a god probably exists.
The traditional method compromises the necessity of supernatural revelation in relation to natural revelation. It does so in failing to do justice to the fact that even in paradise man had to interpret natural revelation in the light of the covenantal obligations placed upon him by God through supernatural communication. In consequence, the traditional method fails to recognize the necessity of redemptive supernatural, as concomitant to natural, revelation after the fall of man.
The traditional method compromises the sufficiency of redemptive supernatural revelation in Scripture inasmuch as it allows for wholly new facts to appear in Reality, new for God as well as for man.
The traditional method compromises the authority of Scripture by not taking it as self-attesting in the full sense of the term.
The traditional method compromises the biblical doctrine of man’s creation in the image of God by thinking of him as being “free” or ultimate rather than as analogical.
The traditional method compromises the biblical doctrine of the covenant by not making Adam’s representative action determinative for the future.
The traditional method compromises the biblical doctrine of sin, in not thinking of it as an ethical break with God which is complete in principle even though not in practice.
In spite of these things, this traditional method has been employed by Reformed theologians, and this fact has stood in the way of the development of a distinctly Reformed apologetic.
It has become even more apparent now that our Reformed pastor cannot, as he defends the Christian faith, cooperate with the Arminian any more than he could cooperate with the Roman Catholic.
The Arminian as well as the Roman Catholic fails to present to the believer a challenge to the effect that he needs a radical conversion. Neither the Arminian nor the Roman Catholic so much as gives the unbeliever the opportunity of seeing what the gospel really is. They do not direct the all-revealing searchlight of the Scripture toward him. They do not even show him the face of the Great Physician lest this Great Physician should say that the heart of the natural man is desperately wicked and that no man knows the depth of that wickedness except the Great Physician, who would heal all his diseases.
Of course we are speaking primarily of systems rather than men. Many Roman Catholics, and especially many Arminians are much more biblical than are their systems. Therein must all rejoice. But the Reformed Christian must be true to his Lord. He must love sinners with a deep compassion. But he must not love sinners more than he loves Christ. The more truly he loves sinners the more uncomprisingly will he require of them that they must be saved on God’s terms, not their own. It is Christ, through his Word in Scripture, who must diagnose their disease even as it is Christ who heals only those who confess that their disease is what the Great Physician says it is.
Cornelius Van Til was born at Grootegast, Netherlands, May 3, 1895. He studied at Calvin College (A.B., 1922); Princeton Seminary (Th.B., 1924; Th.M., 1925); and Princeton University (Ph. D., 1927). He was pastor of the Spring Lake, Michigan, Christian Reformed Church from 192701928; instructor of apologetics at Princeton Seminary (1927-29); professor of apologetics and ethics at Westminster Seminary (1929-1979?). Van Til was a prolific writer and authored some 30 books and syllabii, and over 220 articles, pamphlets and reviews. He is probably best known for his book, The Defense of the Faith, published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1955.
This article was taken from The Reformed Pastor & Modern Thought (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1980), pp. 36-72.