No-human being can escape making an assumption about the nature of possibility at the outset of his investigation. All men have a priori assumptions in terms of which they approach the facts that confront them. The Christian frankly admits that his a priori is the assumption of the existence of the ontological Trinity, the temporal fiat creation of the universe, and man’s creation in the image of God. The non-Christian has a different sort of a priori. Every non-Christian has an a priori. And the a priori of every non-Christian is different, radically different, from that of the Christian.
The better theologians of the church have constantly sensed the fact that the theistic argument must not be used univocally. They have sensed something of the fact that all the theistic arguments should really be taken together and reduced to the one argument of the possibility of human predication. Intelligent predication about anything with respect to nature or with respect to man were impossible unless God existed as the ultimate reference point of it all. God, as self-sufficient, as the One in whom the One and the Many are equally ultimate, is the One in whom the persons of the Trinity are interchangeably exhaustive, is the presupposition for the intelligent use of words with respect to anything in this universe, whether it be the trees of the garden or the angels in heaven.
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The God who created and sustained us is also he who re-creates us in his image. Grace, though superior to nature, is not in conflict with it. While restoring what has been corrupted in it by sin, it also clarifies and perfects what is still left in it of God’s revelation. The thinking mind situates the doctrine of the Trinity squarely amid the full-orbed life of nature and humanity. A Christian’s confession is not an island in the ocean but a high mountaintop from which the whole creation can be surveyed. And it is the task of Christian theologians to present clearly the connectedness of God’s revelation with, and its significance for, all of life. The Christian mind remains unsatisfied until all of existence is referred back to the triune God, and until the confession of God’s Trinity functions at the center of our thought and life.
Finally the designation “word of God” is used for Christ himself. He is the Logos in an utterly unique sense: Revealer and revelation at the same time. All the revelations and words of God, in nature and history, in creation and re-creation, both in the Old and the New Testament, have their ground, unity, and center in him. He is the sun; the individual words of God are his rays. The word of God in nature, in Israel, in the NT, in Scripture may never even for a moment be separated and abstracted from him. God’s revelation exists only because he is the Logos. He is the first principle of cognition, in a general sense of all knowledge, in a special sense, as the Logos incarnate, of all knowledge of God, of religion, and theology (Matt. 11:27).
The philosophies of the world rob the treasure of truth which is found only in Christ.
Colossians 2:8 (ESV) “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
Main Point 3: Disagreements between believers and unbelievers are systemic, world view disagreements, not isolated disagreements on a few points.
The Christian philosophy of life is all encompassing; Christians are to bring every thought captive to Christ. Therefore, an antithesis always exists between believing and unbelieving philosophies. Furthermore, the world and its way of thinking finds the Christian philosophy to be not only wrong, but foolishness:
1 Corinthians 1:22-23 (ESV) For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles”
The disagreement is systemic, meaning that at all points Christianity’s philosophy is set against worldly wisdom: both world views have radically different starting points, methodologies, standards of evaluation, conclusions, etc.
- For example, Agrippa’s difficulty in accepting the possibility of resurrection was not with the facts, but with his philosophy of life which precluded the possibility of resurrection.
- Furthermore, Paul warns Timothy that not everything that comes to you as “truth” is true knowledge.
Everyone has a world view (basic philosophy of life), and this world view sets the limits upon that which one accepts as real, true, etc. In college you will encounter many of the secular world views.
In this lecture, Dr. Bahnsen argues three main points:
- Unbelievers are not neutral.
- Christians ought not be neutral.
- Disagreements between believing and unbelieving philosophies are systemic, involving the antithesis between entire world views rather than mere disagreements on one or two points.
In part 4 (see parts 1, 2, and 3), Dr. Bahnsen continues discussing specific ways in which universities are not intellectually “neutral.” Part 3 introduced intellectual bullying and double standards, and we continue with the latter.
2. Double Standards and Hidden Agendas cont.
If you think that universities are objective, even-handed dispensers of neutral, agenda-free knowledge, you are “living in a fairy tale world.” Double standards exist both inside and outside of the classroom.
Inside the classroom, you need to be aware of the following considerations:
- Professors select both the questions and answers that he or she considers important to discuss in class.
- Professors select the books you are to read regarding those pre-selected questions and answers.
These selections are not neutral. Both in asking the questions and in seeking the answers unbelievers process life according to the tenets of their ultimate heart commitments.
On Christian terms unbelievers are more than merely “not neutral” in discussing man’s purpose in life, the purpose of the world, etc.; rather, unbelievers are hostile to God.
3. An antithesis exists between Christian and Non-Christian Thought; Unbelievers are hostile to God’s truth
The Scriptures are clear on teaching that unbelievers are not “open-minded, objective truth seekers.” Listen to Paul in Ephesians 4:17-19 (ESV):
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
Although in their thinking unbelievers are hostile to God and His truth, believers do not think this way. Rather, believers are to think according to God’s authority (vv. 20-24):
But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Review of main point 1: Unbelievers are Not Neutral
Bahnsen’s two main points on neutrality are simple: (1) “They aren’t;” (2) “You shouldn’t be.” Unbelievers are not neutral because:
- They use double standards,
- They selectively consider questions of truth based upon the confines of their secular worldview, and
- They have a worldview/mindset that is hostile to God.
In the last two sections, Bahnsen expounds his second main point, “You shouldn’t be.”
Main Point 2: Christians Should Not Be “Neutral”
Dr. Bahnsen turns to the following Scriptures to argue that Christianity’s epistemology demands that Christians think as Christians, and not as supposed “neutral” automatons. The following texts are by no means exhaustive, but they give a brief introduction to basic concepts in Christianity’s worldview.
In Jesus’ High Priestly prayer, He prays: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17 ESV).
- To be “sanctified” means consecrated or set apart by the truth.
- Because Christians are set apart or distinguished from the world by God, believers cannot be neutral. Rather, believers are to think according to God’s revealed truth which has “sanctified” them.
In Matthew 6:24 (ESV) Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.“
- Jesus’ point is that it is impossible to have two ultimate authorities governing your life. (By definition an “ultimate authority” precludes the possibility of neutrality.)
- Believers, then, are to think, feel, and live in obedience to the Sovereign Lord of all (which means believers cannot be neutral in their thoughts, affections, or actions).
Proverbs 1:7 (ESV): “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
- On Christian terms, attempting to be neutral forbids one from knowledge because the ultimate foundation of truth is God Himself.
- To know one’s self, one’s world, and ultimate reality correctly, the Christian’s starting point is the non-neutral fear of God.
Colossians 2:3 (ESV) “in whom [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
- Christianity does not just claim “religious” truths, as if the religious sphere of life is separate from the non-religious (i.e. the so-called “secular/sacred” divide). Rather, “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” includes “all” truth.
- Because, then, on Christian terms God is the owner of all truth, Christians cannot claim to be neutral in any area of life.
In part 3 (see parts 1 and 2), Dr. Bahnsen continues his lecture to high school students by giving specific ways in which university professors will seek to destroy Christian students’ faith with a supposed secular “neutrality.” What are some of these specific ways?
1. Intellectual Bullying
Antagonistic professors against Christianity will often intentionally use shaming and contemptuous techniques in order to put down their adversaries, such as deliberately talking over student’s heads, using obscure or highly technical vocabulary, showing off all the books and articles the professor has read on the topic instead of answering questions about the topic (i.e. “You are not smart enough to ask that questions or to hear my answer…”). How, then, can Christian students respond?
Our natural tendency will want to be clash intellectual horns in an attempt to meet strength with strength. But, bullying begets bullying. The only way out of this trap is genuine humility. When a professor intentionally speaks over your head, simply ask him or her to explain the new vocabulary, etc.
2. Double Standards and Hidden Agendas
Bahnsen quotes “Harassment Policies in the University,” a journal article by Alan Charles Kors (see Kors’ faculty bio; also see Kors’ The Shadow University as a related resource), to show that universities use such policies as pretexts to enforce political and ethical agendas upon students. There is no neutral moral basis for claiming protection from harassment; for, your protection as a student depends upon which social group you support and which you decry or critique.
To illustrate the non-neutrality of harassment policies Bahnsen refers to the “Piss Christ” controversy which showed clearly that at a university campus you can offend any group (especially Christians) in the name of “social criticism,” except those groups which the university deems as worthy of protection from such criticism. (i.e. You can put a cross in urine–a high offense to Catholics and Christians–and call it art, being protected in your speech by the harassment policy. But if you put a dolphin, homosexual rainbow, or any other ‘sacred cow’ symbol of secular humanism into urine, you would be guilty of harassment. Upon what basis is such a decision made? The university’s agenda, not some supposed “neutrality.”)
In part 2 (see part 1) of The Myth of Neutrality, Dr. Bahnsen begins to discuss the Christian view of neutrality according to the Holy Scriptures. He turns to the following passages:
- Jude 3 — God expects believers to contend for the faith.
- 1 Peter 3:15 — At any point, be prepared to answer for your hope in Christ.
According to Bahnsen, the key to confronting challenges to the Christian faith is found in 2 Cor. 10:4-5.
- Our weapons are not physical (i.e. guns, knives, violence, physical war, etc.).
- Rather, our mighty spiritual weapon is to bring every thought (our own and others’) captive to the obedience of Christ.
- Christians, then, display God’s mighty power when they think as Christians, and Christians cannot be “neutral” in their thinking; nor can Christians be intellectually lazy.
What about neutrality? Isn’t it wrong for Christians to assume or presuppose that Christianity is true? Bahnsen begins his answer by making two points on neutrality:
- Those who demand neutrality are not neutral themselves.
- Because Christianity is non-neutral by definition, Christians cannot be neutral (i.e. 2 Cor. 10:4-5).
Though a bit dated (i.e. notice the reference to Schwarzenegger’s 1991 movie, Terminator 2), Dr. Bahnsen’s lecture to a group of high school students, The Myth of Neutrality, introduces basic concepts in Christian apologetics that are sorely needed in current Christian discipleship.
The main concept introduced in these lectures is the antithesis between Christian and non-Christian thought and life. Part 1 of Bahnsen’s lecture introduces the problem by raising the question to the high school students: Are you ready to deal with professors and classmates who will scorn your beliefs, holding you and your faith in contempt?
The Myth of Neutrality, Part 1:
In the wake of recent Reformed ecclesial disputes one perturbed seminary professor (and ordained PCA minister) tried to take the bite out of the debates by, ironically, giving more than a few bites of his own;1 The heated rhetoric in Dr. Kidd’s Mutual Defenestration Means Self Annihilation is worthy of none other than Luther’s tongue. But for all the rhetorical heat, this seminary student is left humbly asking, “Where’s the light?”
Dr. Kidd’s argument proceeds along the following lines: A historical allusion is made to Sparta and Athens, two foes who joined together to defeat a larger common enemy. Against the backdrop of this historical analogy, a litany of the church’s common external enemies is rehearsed, the chief of which, according to Dr. Kidd, include Muslims, Mormons, and “angry” atheists. Then, a host of internal ecclesial disputes is rehearsed, including women’s ordination, Federal Vision, and the New Perspective on Paul. The point of the historical analogy is then made clear in Dr. Kidd’s conclusion:
Is it possible that Sparta and Athens understood better what was at stake in their time than we do in ours? Can we stop devouring our own? Can we make common cause against common enemies instead of against one another?
While the argument evidences a surface plausibility,2 the rhetoric looses its steam on account of its own question begging. For, the very foundation Dr. Kidd seeks (”common cause against common enemies”) cannot be attained by actions apart from beliefs in doctrinal truths. And the very process by which the church deliberates matters of truth and error3 is denied, downplayed, and bemoaned by Dr. Kidd’s arguments.4
In other words the conclusion to Dr. Kidd’s argument seeks to persuade us of the following non sequitur:
- (a) Because we have been arguing with each other over matters of truth, we must ground our unity not on beliefs but on action.
- (b) The true action everyone believes in is to fight Muslims, Mormons, and New Atheism.
With sincere humility and a clear conscience before God in a zeal for truth I offer this “faith-seeking-understanding” question: How is Dr. Kidd’s argument any different than 20th century liberalism’s pragmatism? Haven’t we 21st century Reformed folks learned from our 20th century forerunners who faced the same “praxis trumps dogma” argument?
I too feel–from the perspective of a new kid on the Reformed block, not as an experienced professor serving the church–the pain of brokenness and doctrinal divisiveness within the church. Infighting stinks like skubalon. But is the solution to cut off the doctrinal branch that the church stands upon by attempting to ground unity in action apart from belief? Upon what basis could such a standard meted?–That’s the very question the answer to which is unfairly being presumed.5
Listening to Luther On the Matter of Muslims
Looping back to an earlier part of Dr. Kidd’s argument in which he mentioned Islam as a key threat to Christianity around which Christians ought to unite despite doctrinal differences, I want to offer my own historical analogy as a possible upgrade. Luther faced a similar version of Dr. Kidd’s unity argument which Luther addressed in his letter, “To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany That They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools.” In Luther’s context German Christian parents didn’t think it was necessary to train their children in Christian schools (i.e. Christian beliefs). Rather, these parents wanted their kids to learn skills that would put food on the table. In Luther’s colorful words:
“Tell us,” they say, “why should we send them to [Christian] school, if they are not to become priests, monks and nuns? They had better learn such things as will help them to make a living!”
Luther saw through the smoke of this “action trumps dogma” rhetoric and put his finger on the heart of the matter. He argued that we can give our children all sorts of skills, even uniting them to fight against Muslim terrorist “Turks.” But, all the skills in the world are worthless without being grounded in the truth (i.e. doctrine!). In Luther’s mind, if we are to give a dollar in skills to fight the enemies, we ought to give a hundred dollars to train the troops in truth:
No one believes what a dangerous design of the devil’s this [failing to teach our children Christian truth] is. It goes forward so silently that no one perceives it, and the harm is done before one can prevent it. Men fear the Turks and wars and floods, for in such matters they understand what is harmful and what is beneficial. But what the devil has here in mind, no one sees, no one fears, it proceeds so quietly.
And yet everyone who would give a gulden to fight the Turks, if they were at our very door, ought properly to give a hundred gulden to this cause, even if only one boy could be trained therewith to become a true Christian man; for a true Christian man is better and worth more than all men upon earth.
In raising kids and in evangelizing Muslims, the eternal value of Christian truth cannot be eclipsed by the glamor of action. Luther here weighs the scales in favor of truth 100 to 1. I wonder, then, if we can more effectively make “common cause” to unite in reaching Muslims with the truth of the Gospel not by lessening our grip on truth, but by following Luther’s lead in training “true Christian men” who, following the truth, will speak this very truth in love to Muslims, Mormons, and “new atheists.”
From first to last and at every point Christianity has to do with truth. For, the Christian God is Himself truth (John 14:6); accordingly, it stands written, “The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (Psalm 145:18 ESV). By this truth may God bring purity and peace to his church as even His undershepherds turn ever more to The Truth in repentance and faith, leading the flock likewise in the acts of charity that unavoidably flow from drawing near to God in truth.
- Dr. Kidd has since apologized for at least one of his “bites,” the one directed against R.C. Sproul. [↩ back]
- i.e. Isn’t it always better for Christians to “just love each other” and fight the bad guys “out there” than to debate and disagree with one another “in here”? [↩ back]
- i.e. In Dr. Kidd’s own denomination, the Presbytery and General Assembly operations of the PCA with its church courts, etc. [↩ back]
- See his choice words against the PCA’s Federal Vision study committee report, for example. [↩ back]
- Jim O’Brien, one of Dr. Kidd’s former student colleagues asks a similar question: By what standard does one measure whether or not one is whizzing inside or outside the camp? This is another angle at the same question begging to which I refer. [↩ back]