“Sovereignty is not a property of the divine nature, but a prerogative arising out of the perfections of the Supreme Being. If God be a Spirit, and therefore a person, infinite, eternal, and immutable in his being and perfections, the Creator and Preserver of the universe, He is of right its absolute sovereign. Infinite wisdom, goodness, and power, with the right of possession, which belongs to God in all his creatures, are the immutable foundation of his dominion.”1
As the creator, sustainer, determiner, and owner of all things, God is the sovereign and supreme ruler over all, free and able to do as he pleases.
2 Chronicles 20:6: “O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.”
Psalm 45:6: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness.”
Psalm 47:7-8: “For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm! God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.”
Isaiah 14:27: “For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?”
Daniel 4:35: “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?”
While this point is intimately related to the previous discussion of worldview, I have included it here under the implications of God’s sovereignty because it concerns the ultimate object of one’s faith. One’s ultimate object of faith is one’s ultimate authority and determiner of truth.
On the one hand, believers submit to God’s lordship and reason by faith in God’s words and word (Scripture) to properly interpret God, mankind, the universe, and ethics. Assuming Scripture to be the ultimate authority and determiner of truth, believers use God-given reason to interpret, order, and submit to God’s revelation. They accept their status as created and dependent upon God.
On the other hand, unbelievers reject God’s lordship and reason by faith in their own ability to properly interpret God, mankind, the universe, and ethics. Assuming their opinion to be the ultimate authority and determiner of truth, unbelievers use God-given reason to sit in judgment over God and His revelation. They deny their status as created and dependent upon God and assume the authority of God.
Therefore, it is inaccurate to say that unbelievers exercise “reason” while believers exercise “faith” to interpret the world. The “faith versus reason” argument proposed by unbelievers is a false dichotomy. Both believers and unbelievers exercise faith and reason. At issue here is two things: 1) whether or not God-given reason is used in reverent submission to God, and 2) whether or not the ultimate object of faith is true and justified.
The apologist must not see his dispute with the unbeliever as a matter of faith (the Christian perspective) versus reason (the non-Christian perspective). It is rather one worldview (a faith that controls reasoning) versus another worldview (a different faith that controls reasoning).2
All men do their thinking on the basis of a position accepted by faith. If your faith is not one which has God in Christ speaking infallibly in Scripture for its object, then your faith is in man as autonomous [independent of God]. All of one’s reasoning is controlled by either of these presuppositions.3
In other words, either one reasons and interprets reality by faith in God and His revealed word as the ultimate authority and standard of truth, or by faith in oneself and human opinion as the ultimate authority and standard of truth. Unbelievers pose the false dichotomies of “faith versus reason” or “faith versus science” to justify their rejection of the clear and compelling evidence for God’s existence and the trustworthiness of Scripture. These false dichotomies are an attempt to justify unbelief by painting the unbeliever as reasonable and scientific and the believer as unreasonable and unscientific.
Therefore, the critical issue regarding the difference between believers and unbelievers is not faith versus reason, but this: Whose faith is justified? Or, whose object of faith is trustworthy?
Believing faith is reasonable and justified because its object is the sovereign and trustworthy source of all truth and knowledge. God designed, created, sustains, and determines all things. He knows all things perfectly. He is true and truth, and perfectly wise, holy, righteous, and good.
Moreover, believing faith is reasonable and justified because it is not blind faith. All of created reality gives clear and compelling evidence of the power, divinity, wisdom, and providence of God such that all people “know” God and are without excuse for not honoring Him and giving Him thanks. God created us in His image with both the ability to know Him and the knowledge of Him in our hearts (a “sense of divinity”). Scripture bears clear and compelling evidence and testimony of its own divine nature and authority, with accurate correspondence to all of history and reality. No scientific discovery in the history of mankind contradicts Scripture. Human interpreters of reality contradict Scripture continually, but those interpretations are driven by the unbelieving faith assumptions we noted above. God alone interprets all of reality truthfully and objectively.
In contrast, unbelieving faith4 is unreasonable and unjustified because its object is finite, sinful, and dependent upon God for truth and knowledge. The personal opinion of a finite, fallen, and dependent person is not trustworthy as the ultimate source of truth and knowledge about God and His universe. People lack the perspective to interpret God and His universe apart from God’s revelation. Constrained by their senses, time, and space, people cannot know what is in their neighbor’s garage without looking inside, let alone what is beyond the universe.5 Human opinion cannot be trusted concerning ultimate and eternal matters. We lack the ability and perspective.
Moreover, human opinion as the source of truth results in relativism and the loss of all truth, as all people share the same limitations and no one opinion has greater authority than another. All are equally incapable of properly interpreting God and reality apart from God’s revelation.
The universe cannot be viewed with disinterested neutrality any more than Christ can be viewed with disinterested neutrality. As Christ said, “Whoever is not with me is against me” ( Luke 11:23). The evidence for God in created reality is clear, comprehensive, and convincing. We were created in debt to love, honor, and obey God. We are called to faith and the denial of self-will. The implications of God as our creator and we as His creation involve every aspect of life. To enjoy the rich blessings of God’s world and yet deny His existence, amidst the clear display of His excellence and power always, is supreme ingratitude and contempt toward God. Our life is from God, and every good thing we enjoy is from God. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17), “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). “Neutrality” toward the One to whom we owe all love, honor, obedience, and thanksgiving is contempt.
Precisely because God is the creator and sustainer of all things, apart from whom nothing would exist or make sense, no one can consistently live according to an atheistic worldview. Unbelievers must presume God and borrow Christian truth to function. Life in a random chance universe is impossible. For instance, unbelievers may deny the existence of God but they presume God’s ordering and upholding of the universe in conducting science according to uniform and universal laws. Uniform and universal laws are impossible apart from God. Similarly, unbelievers deny but presume God when reasoning according to uniform and universal laws of logic because reasoning, knowledge, and truth are impossible if all things are unrelated random chance accidents. Reasoning, knowledge, and truth are impossible without God. Moreover, unbelievers deny but presume God in attributing purpose and meaning to life. Products of nothing and random chance in a universe of random chance have no meaning or purpose. Ultimate meaning and purpose are impossible without God. This last point is not to say that atheists do not attribute purpose and meaning to life, but it is to say they have no reasonable basis for them.6
Unbelievers borrow and use what conveniently serves self-interest, even while denying anything that challenges their supposed independence or reveals their sin and rebellion against God. But, despite their best efforts, unbelievers cannot completely suppress God’s truth in a world created, ordered, and sustained by God. Confronted with God’s revelation always and everywhere, all unbelievers have a “sense of deity” in their heart. Suppression of the knowledge of God takes willful, relentless effort. In this effort the unbelievers cannot be entirely successful. They exist in God’s world and are surrounded by the evidence of God’s existence and call upon their life, and they cannot live consistently with a worldview that implies that everything is pointless, random chance.
Additionally, God’s common grace prevents the full manifestation of sin and unbelief in the world in order to accomplish His ultimate purpose in saving sinners. All believers and unbelievers possess a God-given conscience that relentlessly confronts them with their sin and accountability before God.7 God’s law is written on their heart (Romans 2:14-15), and they know they are worthy of judgment for their sin (Romans 1:32). They sense their obligation to love, honor, and obey God. Thus, despite the best efforts of unbelievers to suppress the truth in unrighteousness, they still “know” God (Romans 1:18-22). And while unbelievers do not know God in the loving, personal way that believers know God, they know Him sufficiently to render them without excuse for not honoring and giving God thanks.
Believers, also, do not live consistently with their worldview. Indwelling sin opposes the Holy Spirit within us, while the baggage of the thoughts and deeds of our former life apart from Christ continue to plague us. Every time we sin we act contrary to our worldview. Perfection awaits us in our life beyond this life.
Thus, while the distinction between the believing and unbelieving worldview remains clear in principle, the distinction appears muddled in practice. Neither believers nor unbelievers live consistently according to their professed worldview. Nonetheless, inconsistency in practice does not deny the opposing worldviews in principle.
The combination of the unwillingness of unbelievers to acknowledge their creator and redeemer and their inability to live according to a view of the universe as founded and operating according to random chance, leads to the phenomenon of unbelievers being reasonable and unreasonable at the same time. For instance, unbelievers reasonably admit their limited knowledge while unreasonably making claims about God and the universe that require omniscience, including defining what God can and cannot be, or can and cannot do. While claiming that people cannot know what God is like, they are nonetheless quick to say that He cannot be uncreated and the source and sustainer of all things according to His perfect plan, He cannot be behind the uniform laws of “nature,” He did not and cannot do the miracles of Scripture, He did not speak to us in Scripture, creation could not be as Genesis describes it, and Christ could not be who He claimed to be, etc. While professing the inability to know anything about God they actually claim to know a great deal.
Similarly, unbelievers rightly assume a designer and maker behind every computer, car, house, and cake, but view the far greater sophistication and design of life and the universe as products of random chance. They assume uniform and universal laws in conducting science while assuming the universe is founded on random chance. They view themselves as products of random chance in a universe of random chance while attributing meaning and purpose to life. In each case, they are simultaneously reasonable and unreasonable.
And such will always be the case. The denial of the only possible source and explanation of God, mankind, knowledge, truth, authority, and ethics will always lead to the holding of contradictory principles simultaneously. To claim the world is founded and operating according to random chance while living as if it does not is a contradiction. And as denying God reduces everything to absurdity, and as life cannot be lived in a random chance universe, the most ardent atheist will live by principles contrary to his or her professed worldview. It cannot be avoided. Atheists must borrow Christian principles to live, even as they deny their source.8
Related to the erroneous idea that unbelievers exercise reason while believers exercise faith is the false notion that theology is limited to the realm of faith and does not address the natural, visible, knowable, and verifiable realm of science. But, because God is the creator, sustainer, and interpreter of all things, Scripture addresses the most fundamental questions of science and philosophy.9
As we have already seen, the existence and nature of God is presumed in everything we do, including science. Apart from presuming the power and genius of God in creating, ordering, and sustaining all things, science would be impossible. In fact, all scientific discoveries validate the Christian worldview and contradict the non-Christian worldview, as nothing in the universe is explicable by random chance, the foundation of the atheistic worldview. All scientific discoveries validate God’s ordering and sustaining of the universe, including all uniform and universal laws.
Moreover, as one’s view of God determines one’s worldview, it also determines whether or not the data of the universe will be interpreted correctly. Thus, theology undergirds all of reality, including knowledge, truth, and authority.
As God created, orders, and sustains all things, all the issues of life are essentially theological. To deny this is to deny the nature of reality and ignore the foundation of all of science. This, of course, is exactly what the sin of unbelief does in suppressing the truth of God in unrighteousness.
In the same way that those assuming God is constrained by His creation repeat the sin of Adam and Eve, so also do atheistic philosophers. We noted earlier that Adam and Eve put faith in their supposed ability to interpret God’s world apart from God’s interpretation. Eve trusted her interpretation of the fruit that it was “good for food,” a “delight to the eyes,” and “desirable to make one wise” (Genesis 3:6). Adam trusted Eve’s interpretation of the fruit, while they both disregarded God’s explanation that “the day that you eat from it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17). They mutually denied their dependence upon God for knowledge and truth.
Moreover, Adam and Eve granted a created serpent equal authority with God the creator. They elevated the status and authority of the creature, while they lowered and denied the ultimate authority of God as creator, relegating His will to a mere option among others.
Atheistic philosophers repeat the sin of Adam and Eve by disregarding God as sovereign Lord and in assuming authority to interpret reality and determine truth apart from God. They deny God as creator and man as created and dependent upon God for all knowledge at the outset of philosophical inquiry. Like Adam and Eve, they have faith in their supposed ability to interpret God’s world without God, attempting to answer questions that cannot possibly be answered apart from God’s revelation.11 They assume that reality can be objectively interpreted from their limited perspective without consulting God’s interpretation.
And as we noted in the Introduction, philosophical speculation regarding ultimate issues is futile when the only possible source of truth and knowledge is precluded at the outset. Apart from God, no solutions to the big philosophical questions are possible. “The world through its wisdom did not come to know God” (1 Corinthians 1:21b, NASB). And when the opinions of philosophers, as with the opinions of scientists and everyone else, are assumed to be the ultimate standard of truth, “truth” becomes relative and meaningless. The finite perspective and opinion of one is no more authoritative than the finite perspective and opinion of another. And apart from God, no reasonable basis exists for uniform and universal laws of logic, or for truth, purpose, and the meaningfulness of any statement whatsoever. Philosophers are not immune to this problem.
Thus, apart from acknowledging God as the source of all truth and knowledge, all philosophical reasoning vacillates between the false extremes of presumption of omniscience and its opposite, the inability to know anything at all (skepticism). On the one hand, philosophers cannot know that which requires knowledge of the entire universe and beyond, despite their presuming such a capability in positing answers to ultimate questions. On the other hand, skepticism is a false alternative as truth can be known because God has created us with the ability to know the truth He has revealed to us about Himself and His universe. Philosophy, as with all inquiry into the nature of God and the universe, must begin with a reverent acknowledgement and submission to God or be reduced to mere human opinion (see Appendix A for an analysis of problems with atheistic Rationalism and atheistic Empiricism).
To defend Christianity against the attacks of unbelief, the apologist must challenge the validity of the unbelievers’ object of faith and call them to repentance from idolatry to faith in Jesus Christ. And as we have seen, the unbeliever’s ultimate object of faith is worthless as an ultimate authority and standard of truth. Created, finite, and fallen people do not possess the comprehensive knowledge of the universe and beyond to interpret God and reality correctly and answer the ultimate questions of life. And regardless of the sophistication of arguments against Christianity, all are built on the same faulty foundation of human opinion. So, as brilliant and logical as atheistic arguments against Christianity might be, they are only as good as their foundation. And that foundation is the sinking sand of human opinion. Personal and unjustified opinion is no rock upon which to rest one’s eternal destiny.
Thus, by exposing the foundation of the unbeliever’s worldview as mere human opinion, and by exposing human opinion as worthless as the ultimate authority and determiner of truth, all unbelieving arguments can be exposed as worthless. This is a crucial point. While technical apologetic arguments concerning the various fields of philosophy and the sciences are helpful, the most effective apologetic method will expose the false faith assumptions of unbelief that drive all unbelieving interpretations of God’s universe, including all philosophical and scientific arguments. If the foundation upon which unbelieving arguments are built is faulty, then all of the arguments built on them are faulty, regardless of the sophistication of the arguments. And if the false faith in human opinion can easily be exposed and identified, effective apologetic argumentation can be made available to all Christians, regardless of their scientific and philosophical expertise.
The call to repent is more comprehensive than we often realize, as true repentance involves turning from the false assumptions of the unbelieving worldview. For instance, repentance from sin to faith in Christ involves denying our false and self-exalting views of God, self, and all of reality. Repentance involves turning from false assumptions regarding truth, knowledge, and ultimate authority. Repentance is from doing what is right in our own eyes to seeking to do the will of God. The comprehensive nature of repentance can be seen in the following diagram.
The apologetic method of exposing the unjustified and faulty faith assumptions of unbelief does not deny the value of other methods of defending the faith, as a great deal of excellent work has been done in addressing specific scientific, philosophical, and theological arguments of unbelief. But the failure to challenge the foundational faith assumptions under arguments against Christianity avoids addressing the heart of unbelief. The unbeliever’s faith in his or her ability to properly interpret God and reality apart from God’s revelation must be challenged as unreasonable and unjustified. The unbelievers’ assumptions concerning God, mankind, reality, knowledge, truth, authority, and ethics must also be challenged as unreasonable and unjustified. Failure to challenge these unwarranted faith assumptions:
· fails to expose that unbelievers are not neutral, objective interpreters because their hostility toward God prejudices their interpretation of all things;
· fails to adequately expose their ongoing, unreasonable, and sinful suppression of the clear and compelling knowledge of God;
· fails to expose that unbelievers have presumed the place of God as the ultimate authority and determiner of truth;
· fails to expose the unreasonable and unjustified faith in one’s ability to know about God and His universe what cannot possibly be known apart from God’s revelation;
· allows unbelievers to believe they are justified in their interpretations as their assumed authority and assumptions by which they interpret all things are unchallenged; and,
· fails to expose the need to repent of their rebellion against God in exalting their will and authority over God’s will and authority.
Thus, “it is impossible to convince any non-Christian of the truth of the Christian position, as long as he reasons on non-Christian assumptions….All looks yellow to the jaundiced eye.”12 As long as the fundamental faith assumptions of the unbeliever remain in place, the unbeliever will assume the prerogative to interpret God, mankind, reality, knowledge, truth, authority, and ethics in a manner that supports unbelief, regardless of the evidence. The unbelieving worldview will remain opposed to the believing worldview and God will be interpreted as non-existent, unknowable, unimportant, or made-up according to the desires of the unbeliever.
The Gospel call to faith in Christ is a call from faith in the idol of one’s presumed authority and independence from God and faith in human opinion, to faith in God’s revelation of Himself and His world in Scripture. Humbly submitting to God through faith in Christ involves turning from the sin of presuming the place and prerogative of God. Thus, the apologetic method that challenges the unjustified faith assumptions of unbelief is not only compatible with the Gospel but integral to it. A biblical approach to apologetics, therefore, includes both the defense and proclamation of the Gospel, as one is intimately involved with the other. All people are called to faith in Christ and loving submission to His sovereign lordship in all things. All people are called to recognize their created and finite status before their infinite Creator, upon whom they depend for all life knowledge, and truth, and to whom they owe all love and obedience. Fallen and alienated from God by sin, the right recognition of God and reality and the right response to His revelation is only possible in a right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Thus, the ultimate goal of the defense of the Gospel is the proclamation of Christ, in whom is life everlasting, and to whom belongs all the glory and honor forever.
“Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
1 Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:440.
2 Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 102.
3 Van Til, Case for Calvinism, 128-129; quoted in Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 102.
4 “Unbelieving faith” at first glance appears contradictory, for faith is belief. Yet, the description accurately describes unbelief, as all people have faith, while not all people have faith in the true God. Even idolatry is faith, though faith in the wrong object.
5 Biehl, What’s in the Box?
6 In this respect, Nihilism is the most consistent non-Christian philosophy. Thanks to K. Scott Oliphint for this insight.
7 The conscience, though suppressed, remains active in fallen unbelievers. Unbelievers have a clear sense of desert and justice and will even affirm and pursue justice from both a fear of judgment and self-interest. For a helpful discussion on this point, see Jonathan Edwards, “The Nature of True virtue,” in Ethical Writings. Ed. Paul Ramsey. Vol. 8 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 581-599.
8 Van Til speaks of this as the unbeliever “borrowing” or “stealing” Christian capital in conducting epistemology and doing science, as neither could be done according to the principles of a random chance universe. See Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic; 297-8, 460, 483n.34, 524n.126, 710. A pastor friend of mine called the atheistic view “parasitic,” as they live by the benefits of the Christian worldview, even as they deny and oppose it.
9 “Scripture gives definite information of a most fundamental character about all the facts and principles with which philosophy and science deal. For philosophy or science to reject or even to ignore this information is to falsify the picture it gives of the field with which it deals.” Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 65.
10 See Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 152-153.
11 In a brief introduction to why Greece was the cradle of Western philosophy, Palmer speaks of an optimism in the “sheer power of human reason” to explain the nature of all things, that “the human mind operating on it own devices is able to discover ultimate truths about reality.” Donald Palmer, Looking at Philosophy: The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter, 2nd Ed. (Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1994), 7.
12 Van Til, Common Grace, 94-95.