The first words of Scripture introduce us to the ultimate explanation of reality and the solution to the deepest questions of philosophy and religion: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In the sixty-six books that follow, the person and works of God and His relationship to the universe and people He created are on vivid display: from eternity past, through all of human history, to the end of time and beyond. God is the source and explanation of all things. From God we have existence, meaning, and purpose. From God we have all truth and the ability to know truth. In God’s revelation (Scripture) we have the basis for a proper understanding of God, ourselves, and His universe, and the necessary and sure foundation for a God-honoring defense and proclamation of the Gospel of Christ.1
Apologetics, therefore, is preeminently theological, unfolding the implications of the nature and works of our triune God for a God-honoring defense of the Christian faith.2 Created by God, we depend on God for life and knowledge of God and His universe. And as God’s revelation to us in Scripture has ultimate authority as the word and words of God, it provides the source and ground of theology and apologetics. Therefore, as God is the source and explanation of all things, and the essential nature of God and wellspring of all his works are His perfections,3 then the perfections of God as revealed in Scripture are the ultimate source, basis, and guide for right reasoning, knowledge, and truth. This is the underlying premise of this book.
The biblical/theological apologetic approach presented here is generally called “presuppositional.”4 With deep roots in Reformed theology, the approach was most thoroughly developed and applied by the twentieth century theologian Cornelius Van Til. In addition to Van Til, the theology of Jonathan Edwards will inform the apologetic content and approach presented here.
The distinction and significance of the approach lies not in novelty of content and method, or in its affirmation of the biblical view of God as the creator and source or all things, but in a more consistent submission of content and method to the ultimate authority of Scripture, and to a more comprehensive and uniform application of the fundamental truths of Scripture to all areas of thought. Central to this apologetic method is a coherent biblical approach to authority, truth, and knowledge--the upholding of the ultimate authority and independence of God--while maintaining finite man’s dependence upon God for all knowledge.
The evidence for God’s power, genius, and lordship is clear, comprehensive, and convincing, such that all people are without excuse for not worshipping and giving Him thanks.5 Indeed, the divine nature and authority of Scripture are equally clear, comprehensive, and convincing. Therefore, trust in an assumed “ultimate authority” other than the God of Scripture is unwarranted and reflects a heart in rebellion against God.
At the center of the sinners’ rebellion against God is a willful, misplaced faith. Believers and unbelievers alike are people of faith, but differ in their respective objects of faith. Unbelievers have faith in their ability to interpret God and His world apart from God and Scripture, assuming their own ability and authority to determine knowledge and truth. Conversely, Christians accept their status as created by God and place their faith in the authority of God and His revelation (Scripture), in submission to God’s lordship.
In the same way, believers and unbelievers exercise reason. Unbelievers use reason to deny the obvious evidence of God’s existence and authority, viewing their own interpretations of God and reality as ultimately authoritative. Believers use reason to understand, order, and submit to God’s revelation. Thus, the familiar “faith versus reason” argument posed by unbelievers is a false dichotomy, used to misrepresent Christian belief as lacking reason while obscuring the unreasonable faith of unbelief.6
The presuppositional apologetic of Van Til, therefore, 1) exposes unbelief as unjustified faith in one’s own opinion concerning God and His universe, and 2) displays the impossibility of truth, knowledge, and existence apart from God.7 Created, finite, and dependent people are limited to five senses, three dimensions, and seventy or so years on earth, and cannot possibly speak with legitimate authority concerning the ultimate nature of God and His universe. If God is denied as the source and sustainer of all things, we are rendered meaningless random chance occurrences, floating in a sea of random chance occurrences, interpreting with assumed authority other meaningless random chance occurrences. If the God of Scripture is not assumed to be the ultimate ground of everything, then all reality, knowledge, and statements of “truth” are rendered meaningless. Of course, unbelievers exercise reason, conduct science, and discover and know truth, but only because God exists and their denial of God is false. This will be addressed in more detail below.
We get a taste of the impossibility of reality, knowledge, and truth apart from God in the endlessly debated and seemingly unsolvable puzzles of Western philosophy.8 Conundrums are necessarily created when the only possible answer to a question is excluded. Imagine mathematicians attempting to answer 2+2=? while excluding the number 4 and you will have a general idea of the problems associated with philosophical discussions that exclude God as the creator, designer, and sustainer of all things. When the only possible explanation for reality is precluded at the outset of philosophical inquiry, questions concerning reality become like the familiar conundrum: What came first, the chicken or egg? Apart from God creating the egg or the chicken, no reasonable answer is possible. In fact, all of life is filled with chicken and egg conundrums that point to God as the necessary source of all things. In the same way, the difficult questions of philosophy are unanswerable apart from acknowledging God as the source of all things. The world cannot be properly understood apart from God.
Nonetheless, the profound implications of God as the foundation of knowledge and truth have not always been appreciated in the history of apologetics. Unbiblical answers to difficult theological questions have often compromised Christian doctrine and our ability to defend it. For instance, attempts to “solve” the “problem of evil” sometimes define God as less than sovereign or as the author of evil, both contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture.9 Attempts to defend the historicity of the miracles in Scripture by making them acceptable to anti-supernatural or naturalistic assumptions have denied the power of God who transcends the “natural laws” He upholds. History abounds with attempts to make Christianity compatible with unbelief by denying God’s transcendence and providence while undermining the trustworthiness of Scripture.
In contrast, our theology and apologetic method must honor the authority and supremacy of God in all things, acknowledging the nature of God as revealed in Scripture, His work as creator and sustainer of all things, and of our utter dependence upon Him for existence, knowledge, and truth. We dare not follow Adam in assuming our own authority. We are to honor God in giving Him first place in all things, including how we think and defend the Christian faith.
The focus of this work, therefore, will be the implications of the perfections of God to a God-honoring defense and proclamation of the Gospel, and to a God-honoring approach to life and thought. I will attempt to show why and how God is the proper starting point of all things, including Christian apologetics, theology, the Gospel, and godly living and thought.
The benefits of such a study are significant. For instance, understanding how and why the perfections of God are foundational to apologetics highlights their importance as the basis of a comprehensive and coherent Christian worldview and proper understanding of all things. God is displayed as first and central in our life and thought. His overall purpose in creation and redemption through Christ and all biblical truths are integrated into the greater coherent picture of God’s ultimate purpose and plan. The realms of science, philosophy, and ethics are seen more correctly as mutually dependent and equally determined by God. Moreover, such a study can teach us to think more critically and analytically in submission to the Lordship of Christ, enhancing our steadfastness amidst the winds and waves of unbelieving thought. We can grow in our ability to think in a manner that honors God, increasing our appreciation of the greatness and beauty of God in all things, and in our ability see and refute the unreasonable attacks upon God and Scripture. We can be strengthened in our ability to joyfully and graciously defend and proclaim the truth, encouraging our faith and the faith of others. And while the present study deals with many deep and profound truths, it is relevant and practical to the core, as is the study of all of God’s revealed truth. A study of the perfections of God and their implications for all life and thought is one of the most foundational and fruitful studies one can undertake.
Our approach will be simple and straightforward. Each attribute will be defined and then analyzed for its implications to apologetics. One difficulty with this approach concerns the interrelated nature of the attributes and their implications. As God’s perfections are mutually dependent and inseparable, the apologetic implication of one attribute will often be common to other attributes. Thus, to decrease redundancy and improve readability, particular apologetic issues will usually be discussed under a single attribute, even while it may be the implication of several. At the same time, some repetition will be necessary to show how an apologetic principle relates to several attributes, highlighting the unity of God and the mutually dependent nature of God’s perfections. This will also serve to reinforce several important apologetic principles. And while I run the risk of some redundancy, I believe the overall effect will enhance the reader’s understanding of important theological and apologetic principles. Overall, the approach will be beneficial toward the development of a God-honoring, comprehensive, and cohesive biblical worldview and apologetic method. To God be all the glory.
1 The theological discipline of defending the Christian faith against the attacks of unbelief is called apologetics. The terms apologist and apologetics are from the Greek term apologia, meaning to make a defense or reply to an accusation or judgment. See Walter Bauer, “apologia,” in A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 4th ed., trans. and ed. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), 96. The term is often translated defense, as in Acts 22:1: “Hear the defense I now make,” or 1 Corinthians 9:3: “My defense to those who examine me is this.” See also Acts 25:16 and 2 Timothy 4:16. Perhaps the most important verse of the New Testament concerning apologetics is 1 Peter 3:15: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer [defense] to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” From this short verse we might define apologetics as follows: The defense and proclamation of the gospel and all of God’s revealed truth in a gentle and reverent method and manner that properly honors Christ as Lord of all. A more comprehensive definition of apologetics might include the study of God’s attributes and activity as the only basis of a true and God-honoring comprehensive biblical worldview, including the study of and response to the irrational assumptions of all systems of unbelief; the study of the rational and defensible assumptions of Christian faith, assurance of the authority, accuracy, and trustworthiness of Scripture, and the presentation of the glory of God and Christ in the Gospel. And while apologetics does address important philosophical issues, it is primarily a biblical and theological discipline, touching all aspects of theology. Regardless, as God is the source and basis of all reasoning, philosophy and apologetics are ultimately aspects of theology.
2 The defense of the Christian faith has taken many forms throughout the history of the church. Some apologists have looked to Western philosophical thought and principles as providing the basis of knowledge, truth, and a rational defense of Christianity. As a result, apologetics is sometimes treated as a separate discipline from theology, or as the discipline that establishes the ground and validity of theology. For a brief discussion of this point, see Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1998), 43-87.
3 Or, attributes.
4 Van Til’s apologetic is sometimes called “covenantal” apologetics, distinguishing it from other apologetic methods more broadly defined as “presuppositional” or “Reformed.”
5 See Romans 1:18-22.
6 What unbelievers typically mean by “faith” in their “faith versus reason” dichotomy is blind, unjustified faith, a leap in the dark despite a lack of evidence or evidence to the contrary. This “faith” is then set in opposition to their own “scientific” and justified reason. As we will see, the opposite is actually true.
7 Of course, Van Til’s apologetic is comprehensive and consists of far more than these two main points. For a concise summary of the key points of his apologetic, see Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 727-730.
8 We get a “slight taste” only, because philosophers nonetheless operate on Christian principles in acknowledging design and order in reality and in philosophical discourse. For instance, random chance cannot account for the laws of logic by which philosophers operate. Atheistic philosophers borrow Christian principles even while they deny the God of the Bible in their philosophizing. This will be discussed in more depth in the chapters that follow.
9 To be addressed later.