Always Unbelievable: Radio Ruminations

In my recent radio discussion with a couple of “Natural Theology” apologetes, I was able to give some verbal snippets of how one who holds to Reformed theology would think about a Reformed defense of Christianity, a method that I have called Covenantal Apologetics (also called presuppositional apologetics). One of the tensions in doing an interview like this resides in the medium itself; it has its own (sometimes severe) limitations. This is not a criticism; media presentations of this sort can be very useful. But there are times when the limitations of the medium move a complex discussion deeper into the darkness of the tunnel and thus never have the advantage of seeing the light at its end.

I would like to provide what I hope is a little more light on that discussion, flickers of which could have been seen in the program, but which was quickly snuffed out by the pressures of time and topic.

First and foremost, a point that cannot be overstated, a Covenantal Apologetic is only as consistent as the theology that drives it. Since the theology that drives it is that which was restored and made prominent at the time of the Reformation, any inconsistency that might attach to the apologetic has its genesis in its theology. The “problem” with Reformed theology, though, is not its inconsistency; the reason it grates like fingernails on a chalkboard is that it totally strips away all presumed independence from man, and, by nature, we hate that. So, the “problem” of Reformed theology is its consistency, in that it will not allow for one iota of independence for man. It may be that those who hold to a less-than-Reformed theology (and there really are only two categories) will use identical or similar words, even adopt a ploy or two from a Reformed approach. But, inevitably, in such use and adoption, the words and ploys necessarily take on an entirely different meaning. The (theological) context here is all-important. Whatever formal similarities there might be in the two theologies/apologetic methodology, are formal only; the matter changes the game entirely. So, to the extent that a Covenantal Apologetic conforms to its theological roots, it is consistent, and that consistency is measured by Holy Scripture.

Which brings me to my second point. Consistency, rationality, and all such concepts have to be measured by the standard of Scripture, and not, in the first place, by what man’s mind can grasp or calculate. So, in Reformed theology, we hold that what binds man to his sin is his recalcitrant, intractable, obstreperous will. Man simply will not bow his knee to his Creator and Redeemer (Matt. 23:37). But, neither is he able to do so (Rom. 8:7). He cannot because he will not because he cannot because…

Jesus was clear that no one (which means “no one”) can (which means “can”) come to me (which means “be saved”) unless (which means, a prior and necessary condition) the Father draws him (which means, the Father must act) (John 6:44, 65). But then, He says to the crowds, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Is this inconsistency in the Lord of glory Himself? Is He saying no one is able, then speaking to people as if they are able? Did Jesus not realize that those who were dead in trespasses and sins could not understand His call? Was He saying that unbelievers could not come to Him, and then calling them to come to Him? To use another example, was Jesus foolish, not to mention inconsistent, to call out to Lazarus who was dead and rotten in the tomb? For the Reformed, those who will not because they cannot because they will not come to Christ, are to be approached with the truth of God, with the gospel of God, so that with this truth and mandate, the Spirit of God might do His sovereign work in their hearts (Is. 55:11). That means that apologetics must communicate the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

It will not do, then, as I said in one of my verbal snippets, to present the resurrection as probably true. The main reason for that is because it is false that it is probably true, and people still haven’t figured out how to communicate the truth when what they say is false. I’m sure there’s a philosopher somewhere working on that one. But the two don’t seem to merge together very well. Not only is it false that the resurrection is probably true, any probability argument of this nature requires that one stand on ground other than the ground of biblical truth in order to assert the probability. And any other ground than biblical truth is nothing more than sinking sand.

For example, granting that the notion of epistemic probability is difficult to pin down, let’s assume a probability calculus such that PT(R/E & K) > .5. That is, the probability, for person “T,” of the resurrection, “R,” given the evidence, “E,” and “T’s” background knowledge “K,” is greater than .5. Without working through the complexities of this standard calculus, it should be obvious that once “T’s” background knowledge is entailed in the calculus (which it must be), one man’s probable resurrection is another man’s absurdity. There’s just no objective and “scientific” way, by definition, to incorporate background knowledge; it is always and everywhere dependent on the subject. In other words, two people in a discussion of this sort would have to assume the same background knowledge in order to reach the same conclusion. Unfortunately for the probabilist, the unbeliever’s background knowledge is necessarily skewed toward the decided improbability of anything Christian.

Thirdly and finally, the Bible doesn’t spend much time on what, exactly, one who is dead in trespasses and sins can “understand” or “grasp” with his depraved mind. Such abstractions don’t appear to be very useful. It does spend much time on the content and necessity of calling dead sinners to repentance, even as Christ Himself does, and as the apostle Paul spends time reasoning with the Jews in the synagogue and (in Acts 17) with others in the marketplace. But that reasoning, as Paul’s address at Athens shows, consists of a “reminder” of what they already know—a reminder of God and His character, a declaration of the certainty and reality of the resurrection of Christ as “proof” of who God is and what He has done, and a call to repent and believe. Does Paul’s address assume that his listeners are anything but dead in trespasses and sins? Only if Paul is inconsistent with himself (and I think we can say with confidence that inconsistency was not Paul’s thorn in the flesh) (cf. Eph. 2:1).

So, in the end, a Reformed Christian is required to be a Reformed apologist. Other theologies can find their own apologetic methodology, but, whatever the method, it will be as inconsistent with Scripture as is their theology. The initial point to address, therefore, is not the methodological one, but is the theological and biblical point. And no matter how much man wants to scream his and his posterity’s autonomy, those screams can never be louder than the glorious global gospel shout from heaven, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”

When all is said and done, the truth of God, including the good news of the gospel of Christ, can only be grasped and owned when the Spirit of God takes the truth presented and changes a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. On either side of the covenantal divide, whether in Adam or in Christ, however, the gospel of God remains, and always will be, “Unbelievable!”

Leave a comment


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


taco

6 years ago

I appreciate all this work you are doing Dr. Oliphint.

Greg - Tiribulus

6 years ago

As do I. Can’t wait for the new book. In my view there is a small army of current folks(good people overall) who claim Van Til as their own who are untrue to his biblically systematic method and legacy. Unknowingly in most cases. Brother Cornelius would certainly endorse your work sir.

reformed-forum-logo-white400

Contact Info

Reformed Forum
115 Commerce Dr.
Suite E
Grayslake, IL 60030

+1 847.986.6140
mail@reformedforum.org

Copyright © 2019 Reformed Forum