Belief in such a special revelation is the starting-point and the foundation-stone of Christian theology. As science never precedes life, but always follows it and flows from it, so the science of the knowledge of God rests on the reality of his revelation. If God does not exist, or if he has not revealed himself, and hence is unknowable, then all religion is an illusion and all theology a phantasm. But, built on the basis of revelation, theology undertakes a glorious task,—the task of unfolding the science of the revelation of God and of our knowledge concerning him. It engages in this task when seeking to ascertain by means of exegesis the content of revelation, when endeavoring to reduce to unity of thought this ascertained content, when striving to maintain its truth whether by way of aggression or defence, or to commend it to the consciences of men.
It is a concern, not that the teachers and pastors produced by the Orthodox Presbyterian Church have completely forgotten this rich apologetical tradition of Machen and Van Til, but rather that they have failed to understand and live up to it. What is taken for granted is often lost.
[...] One cannot help but observe, with disappointment, the way so few candidates for the OPC ministry actually grasp and can intelligently put into practice the presuppositional method in philosophical apologetics (as expounded for so many years by Van Til), as well as the sparse number of masterful publications of empirical scholarship produced by our ministers in answer to modern challenges (on the order of Machen’s contributions).
In the first place we shall, of course, remember that all that we have received has been by grace. And if those who hold the Reformed faith do greater justice to the idea of God’s grace in the salvation of sinners, then they ought to be the humblest of all men. They ought to enter most sympathetically into the mind and heart of him who makes this objection. Did they not themselves kick against the pricks and rebel against the overtures of God’s grace?
And this attitude of humility holds over against those who with him name the name of Christ, as well as over against the unbeliever. With Bavinck let us say that all true Christians are at heart Augustinian and with Warfield let us say that every Christian who calls out unto God in anguish of heart is really a Calvinist.
And have I, following such a method, departed radically from the tradition of Kuyper and Bavinck? On the contrary I have learned all this primarily from them. It is Kuyper’s Encyclopedie that has, more than any other work in modern times, brought out the fact of the difference between the approach of the believer and of the unbeliever. It is Bavinck’s monumental work which set a “natural theology” frankly oriented to Scripture squarely over against that of Romanism which is based on neutral reason. It is Bavinck who taught me that the proofs for God as usually formulated on the traditional method prove a finite god. I have indeed had the temerity to maintain that these great Reformed theologians have in some points not been quite true to their own principles. But when I have done so I have tried to point out that when they did so they had departed from Calvin.
With grateful acknowledgment of indebtedness to both Kuyper and Warfield, to Herman Bavinck and other associates and followers of Kuyper, to the various associates and followers of Warfield, to J. Gresham Machen in particular, we would take their common basic contribution to the idea of the full Christian faith and the self-attesting Scripture and build as best as we can upon it. The great contribution of Kuyper discussed in this chapter is that of his analysis of the idea of autonomy. Never again can we forget that the natural man, working from his adopted principle, will seek to weave the special principle into the natural principle, and that he will seek to do this in philosophy and science no less than in theology. The great contribution of Warfield discussed in this chapter is his insistence that Christian theism is the only internally intelligible system of truth.
Combining these two great principles, held by both men, but not equally emphasized by both, we shall claim that the Christian system is undoubtedly true, that it is distinguishable intellectually by men because it has been distinguished for them by God through his Word, and that unless one therefore presupposes its truth there is no theology, no philosophy, and no science that can find intelligible meaning in human experience.
It is of critical importance in the current scene that a consistently Reformed apologetic be set forth. The non-Christian point of view is much more self-consciously hostile to Christianity than it has ever been. The fact that the assumption of human autonomy is the root and fountain of all forms of non-Christian thought is more apparent than it has ever been in the past. Any argument for the truth of Christianity that is inconsistent with itself should not expect to have a hearing. Only a position which boldly and humbly challenges the wisdom of the world and, with the Apostle Paul, brings out that it has been made foolishness with God will serve the purpose. Only such a method which asks man to serve and worship the Creator rather than the creature honors God and assigns to him the place that he truly occupies. Only such a method is consistent with the idea that the Holy Spirit must convict and convince the sinner. The Holy Spirit cannot be asked to honor a method that does not honor God as God.
With 1 Corinthians 2:14 in mind, Richard Gaffin remarks:
It is not simply that such a person will not or refuses to accept what he right well knows to be true. No, he won’t because he can’t. Expressed here is a total cognitive inability, an incapacity that exists “because they [the things of the Spirit] are spiritually discerned,” that is, they are properly appraised and assessed only through the Spirit’s activity. Here, again, yawns the unbridgeable epistemological gulf between this age and the age to come, the nothing-less-than eschatological chasm between belief and unbelief. Calvin’s pungent comment on 1:20 comes to mind: faced with God’s revelation, the unbeliever is like an ass at a concert.”
He [i.e., Van Til] argued that you cannot begin with rationalism and proceed to establish Christian theism. Van Til showed the need of a pou sto, a place to stand. We cannot begin without assuming God’s existence, and reason our way to the self-existent God of the Scriptures. The living, triune God reveals himself in his works and words.
– Edmund P. Clowney, “Professor John Murray at Westminster Theological Seminary” in The Pattern of Sound Doctrine: Systematic Theology at the Westminster Seminaries; Essays in Honor of Robert B. Strimple ed. David VanDrunen (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2004), 28.
In our defense of the concept of biblical authority, then, it is of the utmost importance that it be brought into relationship with the theistic position that is presupposed by it. . . . It is not till we have shown that the anti-theistic assumption [. . .], i.e., of the independence of man from God, is the source of all the opposition to the idea of biblical authority, that we have dealt with these objections in any thorough way. This does not mean that it is of no value to show that particular objections themselves in each case rest upon misunderstanding. But it does mean that the deepest misunderstanding upon which all the objections rest is that of the assumed correlativity of God and man with which antitheistic thought starts upon its way.