Critique of Carnell’s Apologetic

When Carnell instructs his readers “How Every Christian Can Defend His Faith,” he first appeals to facts and to logic as independent sources of information about the truth of Christianity. Of course, he must bring in the Bible even at this point. But the Bible is brought in only as a book of information about the fact of what has historically been called Christianity. It is not from the beginning brought in as God’s Word. It must be shown to Mr. Black that it is the Word of God by means of “facts” and “logic.” Carnell would thus avoid at all costs the charge of reasoning in a circle. He does not want Mr. Black to point the finger at him and say: “You prove that the Bible is true by an appeal to the Bible itself. That is circular reasoning. How can any person with any respect for logic accept such a method of proof?”

Carnell would escape such a charge by showing that the facts of experience, such as all men recognize, and logic, such as all men must use, point to the truth of Scripture. This is what he says: “If you are of a philosophic turn, you can point to the remarkable way in which Christianity fits in with the moral sense inherent in every human being, or the influence of Christ on our ethics, customs, literature, art, and music. Finally, you can draw upon your own experience in speaking of the reality of answered prayer and the witness of the Spirit in your own heart. . . . If the person is impressed with this evidence, turn at once to the gospel. Read crucial passages and permit the Spirit to work on the inner recesses of his heart. Remember that apologetics is merely a preparation. After the ground has been broken, proceed immediately with sowing and watering.”1

It is assumed in this argument that Mr. Black agrees with the evangelical, Mr. Grey, on the character of the “moral sense” of man. This may he true, but then it is true because Mr. Grey has himself not taken his information about the “moral sense” of man exclusively from Scripture. If, with Mr. White, Mr. Grey had taken his conception of the moral nature of man from the Bible, then he would hold that Mr. Black will, as totally depraved, misinterpret his own moral nature. True, Christianity is in accord with the moral nature of man. But this is so only because the moral nature of man is first in accord with what the Bible says it is, i.e., originally created perfect, it is now wholly corrupted in its desires through the fall of man. If you are reasoning with a naturalist, Carnell advises his readers, ask him why, when a child throws a rock through his window, he chases the child and not the rock. Presumably even a naturalist knows that the child, not the rock, is free and therefore responsible. “A bottle of water cannot ought; it must. When once the free spirit of man is proved, the moral argument — the existence of a God who imposes moral obligations — can form the bridge from man to God.”2

Here the fundamental difference between Mr. Grey’s and Mr. White’s approaches to Mr. Black appears. The difference lies, as before noted, in the different notions of the free will of man. Or, it may be said, the difference is with respect to the nature of man as man. Mr. White would define man, and therefore his freedom, in terms of Scripture alone. He would therefore begin with the fact that man is the creature of God. This implies that man’s freedom is a derivative freedom. It is a freedom that is not and cannot be wholly ultimate, that is, self-dependent. Mr. White knows that Mr. Black would not agree with him in this analysis of man and of his freedom. He knows that Mr. Black would not agree with him on this any more than he would agree on the biblical idea of total depravity.

Mr. Grey, on the other hand, must at all costs have “a point of contact” in the system of thought of Mr. Black, who is typical of the natural man. Just as Mr. Grey is afraid of being charged with circular reasoning, so he is also afraid of being charged with talking about something that is “outside of experience.” So he is driven to talk in general about the “free spirit of man.” Of course, Mr. Black need have no objections from his point of view in allowing for the “free spirit of man.” That is at bottom what he holds even when he is a naturalist. His whole position is based upon the idea of man as a free spirit, that is, a spirit that is not subject to the law of his Creator God. Carnell does not distinguish between the biblical doctrine of freedom as based upon and involved in the fact of man’s creation, and the doctrine of freedom, in the sense of autonomy, which makes man a law unto himself.

Of course, Mr. Black will be greatly impressed with such an argument as Mr. Grey has presented to him for the truth of Christianity. In fact, if Christianity is thus shown to be in accord with the moral nature of man, as Mr. Black himself sees that moral nature, then Mr. Black does not need to be radically converted to accept Christianity. He only needs to accept something additional to what he has always believed. He has been shown how nice, even how important, it would be to have a second story built on top of the house which he has already built according to his own plans.

To be sure, the evangelical intends no such thing. Least of all does Carnell intend such a thing. But why then does the “evangelical” not see that by presenting the non-Christian with Arminianism rather than with the Reformed faith he compromises the Christian religion? Why does Carnell not see that in doing what he does, the non-Christian is not really challenged either by fact or by logic? For facts and logic which are not themselves first seen in the light of Christianity have, in the nature of the case, no power in them to challenge the unbeliever to change his position. Facts and logic, not based upon the creation doctrine and not placed in the context of the doctrine of God’s all-embracing Providence, which culminates in the redemption through Christ, are without significant relation to one another and therefore wholly meaningless.

It is this truth which must be shown to Mr. Black. The folly of holding to any view of life except that which is frankly based upon the Bible as the absolute authority for man must be pointed out to him. Only then are we doing what Paul did when he said: “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (I Cor. 1:20).

(Van Til, The Defense of Christianity)


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