Over the years I have grown to love the field of Apologetics. The term ‘Apologetics’ comes from Greek term ἀπολογίαν, which simply means a ‘legal defense.’ Consider the following verse
…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,1 Peter 3:15
I have enjoyed reading a wide variety of apologetical approaches, and have had my faith deeply shaped by watching debates between Christians and Atheists. But one writer in particular has captured my basis of understanding of the proper way to do apologetics, Cornelius Van Til. For Van Til, apologetics always flows out of our Reformed theology. We build our defense of our faith not from secular ideology down, but from the word of God up.
Van Til often wrote about the idea of creating ‘Head on Collisions.’ Some people think of apologetics as the work of seeing a person driving down a road that leads to a cliff where they will die, and their job as the apologist to lovingly get inside that car and pretend all is okay for the most part, all while gently nudging them from time to time to avoid the certain death at the end of the road. This is precisely how many people handle apologetics. We get into the car the secularist is driving and pretend all is okay. For Van Til, this is a foolish task. Rather than getting in the car we ought to create head on collisions of worldview. When we see a person heading towards a cliff, we don’t get in the car with them, we stand in front of them and do all we can to help them go no further down the road they are traveling.
If there is no head-on collision with the systems of the natural man there will be no point of contact with the sense of deity in the natural man.Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith p.120-121
For Van Til, Reformed Christian theology demands that we not pretend that there exists a great overlap of worldview understanding between a believer and unbeliever. We must constantly refer back to the only standard of truth, the Bible, and declare both the illegitimacy of the opposing worldview as well as the sole legitimacy of the Biblical worldview.
In a bit of a nod to Van Til, I have constructed the following fake dialogue between two people ‘Miss Secular’ and ‘Mr. Bible’ as a means of humorously demonstrating the Van Tilian approach.
Miss Secularism: Ah, but there you have a problem. All of your argumentation assumes that I agree with you that the Bible can be trusted. But I don’t agree with you. I don’t believe in the Bible, and I certainly don’t accept the notion that it can be trusted.
Mr. Bible: I agree fully that you and I have two separate foundations upon which we are building our life and our understanding of reality. I believe by faith that God has spoken directly through His Word. The Bible says that, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” I believe that every word of scripture is inspired by God and profitable for helping a person know and understand all that God has required of us. May I ask, if your foundation is not rooted in God’s Word, what foundation are you rooted upon?
Miss Secularism: I suppose my foundation is my own experience. I live and make choices based on what I see and what I learn.
Mr. Bible: Would you call your foundation a system of faith or certainty?
Miss Secularism: I’m not sure I could use the word “certainty” but I would not compare it to a system of faith like your own.
Mr. Bible: But why not? From what you have shared, you are trusting that your own experience in life can provide the necessary information to guide you through life. You are trusting that your own experience can explain truth to you, truth of who you are, what you’re doing here, who God is (even if that means there is no God), and where you’re ultimately going? You are trusting all those important questions to something as finite and fallible as your own experience. Do you agree that your own experience is incredibly limited in attempting to discern answers to those questions.
Miss Secularism: Yes, in the grand of scheme of things, there is certainly more I don’t know than what I do know, especially on those topics.
Mr. Bible: And do you further agree that your own experience can be faulty? That often the truth we thought we learned from an experience turned out at a later date to be false. Essentially do you affirm that experiences are not always correct?
Miss Secularism: Of course. We have all misinterpreted experiences and conversations before.
Mr. Bible: So you see, in no uncertain terms you have built your life not on a system of certainty, but rather on some variation of “blind faith.” The big difference between our two faith systems is that you confess from the outset that your own faith system is unreliable and prone to error, while I have a faith system that is perfectly reliable and unchanging out of necessity. This is one of the reasons why the Bible so explicitly says, “the fool says in his heart there is no God.”
Miss Secularism: Okay, I see what you’re saying. Both of us have built our life on a system of faith. Me on my experiences and you on your Bible. But that still doesn’t solve the problem that I don’t agree that the Bible is reliable as you just said.
Mr. Bible: You’re right. At this point I want to just make one more point. If what you’re looking for is evidence to demonstrate that the Bible is trustworthy, there is much to discuss. In fact there are entire fields of study devoted to that exact question. We could talk about the manuscript evidence, and the dating evidence, and the archaeological evidence. We could talk about the Dead Seas Scrolls. All of these, and many more evidences could be given to demonstrate the incredible historicity and validity of the Bible. Yet – I have a feeling these evidences would not convince you.
Miss Secularism: Yes I suppose you are right on that, in fact I have heard of many of those arguments from well intended Christians before.
Mr. Bible: I would go further than that. I have heard all of these arguments from incredibly bright atheist scholars who affirm in their teaching the overwhelming evidence for the validity of the Bible. I’ve watched men teach the history of the Bible with greater clarity than other Christian New Testament scholars. You see – it is very possible to know all about the Bible and still have no faith. That is why I said I do not think the evidence would convince you.
Miss Secularism: Then what in your opinion would convince me?
Mr. Bible: I’m afraid it is not a matter of convincing at all. But before I explain that, allow me to expose a flaw in something you just said.
Miss Secularism: By all means.
Mr. Bible: Until this point in your life you have taken for granted, have assumed, that the Bible is not true and that the God of the Bible is nonexistent. You have built your life and your understanding of reality upon these hidden assumption. And yet here we are, having a conversation on evidence and logical argumentation and facts. Further, we have both assumed that there is a meaningful morality between the two of us in the sense that both feel safe to express our ideas without resorting to physical violence – this is all quite civil. But each of these assumptions (that we ought to behave with civility towards one another, and that there are such things as knowable facts that have actual meaning to them, that logic itself exists) are all dependent on the very God you say you reject.
Miss Secular: That is nonsense. Humanity is perfectly capable of behaving with civility towards one another without God. We are perfectly capable of sorting through facts and evidences and logic on our own as well. Mr. Bible I am afraid you have overstepped your position.
Mr. Bible: Consider the folly of your position. Perhaps I assume incorrectly, but I assume you do not believe that anything exists outside of matter and it’s movement. The soul, as most religions understand it, does not exist. All that exists are the molecules in this physical space. This view is historically called Materialism. Is this in alignment with your thinking?
Miss Secular: Something like that I suppose.
Mr. Bible: Then, according to your own worldview, the two conditions we have listed above for us to have a meaningful conversation (a reason to behave with civility towards one another and the existence of logic) do not exist in a legitimate way for neither exist in material. Let’s begin with the idea of logic. What is logic? It is not something you can touch or feel. There are no devices to measure or weigh logic. And yet somewhere somehow logic exists.
Miss Secular: I see your point. If on the one hand I say that the only thing that can exist is that which is material, then out of necessity I must confess that logic does not legitimately exist. I suppose then that logic must be a convention. It is something humanity has invented to survive in this materialist world of ours.
Mr. Bible: But Miss Secular – you do not live by your own standard, for if logic were only a convention then you would be perfectly accepting if your pilot were to suddenly decide that gravity works differently than you have come to know or if a cab driver decided that 100 mph was the exact same speed as 25 mph. If logic were simply a convention both scenarios would be arbitrary. But no, we would never say such a foolish thing. We cannot say that gravity works in reverse because gravity is is not a convention, because logic is a fixed reality. It is the Christian worldview that provides the basis for a logical world. Again this is why the Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”
Miss Secular: I see your point. If I am to say that logic truly exists, not just a convention, but as a fixed truth, I must throw out my entire worldview for logic would be inconsistent with my Materialist understanding.
Mr. Bible: Not just logic. You would need to throw out Objective Morality as well. Objective Morality, like Logic, is an invisible reality, a non material truth of our human experience. Everybody, including the most staunch materialist, lives as though Objective Morality exists, but it is only the Christian who has the basis for a world in which Objective Morality exists. Biblically, “justice and righteousness are the foundation of God’s throne.” Morality exists legitimately because it flows from God…
Okay… I’m having too much fun writing out this fake conversations as if it were real. But what I wanted to demonstrate is that the Christian need not ever “give ground” to false worldviews when making their case. Notice in that dialogue how Mr. Bible never “got in the car” with Miss Secular. He never said, “You’re right, you don’t need the Bible to believe in logic.” Rather he exposed the inadequate foundations of her worldview and confidently stood on the true foundations of the Biblical worldview.
This methodology of Apologetics I find far far simpler and more consistent with my theology than attempting to convince somebody of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins by appealing to evidences. Evidential apologetics can be compelling, but what is needed is the powerful Word of God creating head on collisions with false beliefs.