I read an essay a long time ago by Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) titled, Why I Believe in God. It was my introduction to the discipline of apologetics, which is the study of the defense of the Christian faith. What is remarkable about this essay is that it is, to my knowledge, the only of Van Til’s works that is directed specifically toward unbelievers. He writes with a far more conversational than academic style, setting up a conversation as it were, even inserting some creativity and wit within his dialogue,
So, as we have our tea, I propose not only to operate on your heart so as to change your will, but also on your eyes so as to change your outlook. But wait a minute. No, I do not propose to operate at all. I myself cannot do anything of the sort. I am just mildly suggesting that you are perhaps dead, and perhaps blind, leaving you to think the matter over for yourself. If an operation is to be performed it must be performed by God Himself.
I have read a lot of Van Til, and this is a rather unique style for him. In some respects, the essay raises more questions than it answers (which is precisely what it should do given the intended audience), but it is a very helpful introduction to how to articulate and defend the Christian faith.
But even more than defending the Christian faith, Van Til’s apologetic is also beneficial in developing a theology of ministry. There is a practicality to his apologetics as characterized by his two-circle worldview. Some of my professors have said that he would draw two circles on the blackboard. One large circle representing God was placed above a smaller circle representing creation. The point of this visual was to show that God is the Creator and as such he has complete authority over creation, including human knowledge. Therefore, our task is to bring our knowledge in accord with Scripture (God’s knowledge in his revealed Word). This means we are to presuppose God in all of our thoughts: relational, vocational, social, educational – indeed, to every human thought and activity.
Taking presuppositional apologetics a step further, if Van Til’s apologetic is applied to all areas of life, then it stands to reason that the church should be vested in an apologetic that will drive ministry in a similar manner. After all, ministry is the application of the gospel to life. Primary guidance should come from Scripture as the rule of faith and life. Likewise, creeds and confessions can (and should) play a critical role in steering the church to scriptural faithfulness. Thus, the way we defend and articulate Christianity should be the same way we hold fast to the covenantal promises, even when discussing moral issues. Remember, Van Til’s apologetic is one for all areas of life. How the church stands on moral issues will ultimately reflect upon how the church presupposes God. Christianity, therefore, is more than a series of propositional truths, it is the truth of the gospel in Christ that transforms both heart and mind.
K. Scott Oliphint’s book, Covenantal Apologetics, is very helpful in explaining how to defend the Christian faith. Oliphint, himself greatly influenced by Van Til, is thoughtful at beginning with the Triune God as the foundation of apologetics. He provides ten tenets that serve as the core of apologetic application. As Oliphint states, each one of these tenets are a book unto themselves and hardly exhaustive, yet they are a good place to begin establishing roots to defending the faith. The tenets are as follows:
1. The faith that we are defending must begin with, and necessarily include, the triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – who, as God, condescends to create and redeem.
2. God’s covenantal revelation is authoritative by virtue of what it is, and any covenantal, Christian apologetic will necessarily stand on and utilize that authority in order to defend Christianity.
3. It is the truth of God’s revelation, together with the work of the Holy Spirit, that brings about a covenantal change from one who is in Adam to one who is in Christ.
4. Man (male and female) as image of God is in the covenant with the triune God for eternity.
5. All people know the true God, and that knowledge entails covenantal obligations.
6. Those who are and remain in Adam suppress the truth that they know. Those who are in Christ see that truth for what it is.
7. There is an absolute, covenantal antithesis between Christian theism and any other, opposing position. Thus, Christianity is true and anything opposing it is false.
8. Suppression of the truth, like the depravity of sin, is total but not absolute. Thus, every unbelieving position will necessarily have within it ideas, concepts, notions, and the like that it has taken and wrenched from their true, Christian context.
9. The true, covenantal knowledge of God in man, together with God’s universal mercy, allows for persuasion in apologetics.
10. Every fact and experience is what it is by virtue of the covenantal, all-controlling plan and purpose of God.
These tenets require some study (at least for me) in order for them to anchor how I defend and articulate the gospel. But these tenets also inform my thinking concerning life and drawing my thoughts more closely to God’s thoughts as revealed in his Word. Of course, that is an ongoing process for me and I am often corrected of my own misconceptions.
Here are a couple of excellent resources on apologetics:
Pratt, Richard L., Jr. Every Thought Captive: A Study Manual for the Defense of Christian Truth. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1979.
Frame, John M. Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1994.