Principles for Apologetics

Notes I took on Scott Oliphint’s Principles for Defending Your Faith lecture at Westminster Theological Seminary Science and Faith Conference (2011).

  • This picture is a distinction between God and creation. Ontologically, in terms of the being and existence of God and creation, they have nothing in common.
  • God is wholly other but there is a way to understand who He is because He has condescended and communicated who He is.
  • The two lines represents God’s revelation to us.
  • God’s revelation includes general and special revelation. These two revelations do not contradict one another because the same God is doing the revealing. What God says in nature is consistent with what God says in His Word.
  • What God says in creation and biblical revelation is absolutely true.
  • The world is not a spectacle through which you interpret the Word. You must view everything else from the Word of God.
  • Once God condescends to reveal Himself, we are obligated and God is committed to maintain a relationship with Him.
  • Apologetics is covenantal because God has condescended to have a relationship with us
  • Everyone has a relationship with God, but for some, its not a good relationship.

Apologetics and Facts

  • “The issue between believers and non-believers in Christian theism cannot be settled by a direct appeal to “facts” or “laws” whose nature and significance is already agreed upon by both parties to the debate. The question is rather as to what is the final reference-point required to make the “facts” and the “laws” intelligible. The question is as to what the “facts” and “laws” really are. Are they what the non-Christian methodology assumes they are? Are they what the Christian theistic methodology presupposes the are?” -Cornelius Van Til
  • This is God’s world. He made it and sustains it. This is true regardless of whether you believe it or not.
  • God is the final reference point of all facts because God created the world and sustains it.
  • The unbeliever might have the same interpretation of facts, but the unbeliever’s final reference point of the fact is different. We see facts as God’s facts. Non-Christians believe in “brute facts” which don’t say anything. Instead, they assign their own interpretation of the facts. This is sin and autonomy.

A priori or A posteriori?

  • It is customary on the part of some orthodox theologians to depreciate the objects of sensation as a source of knowledge. They would therefore substitute on a priori approach for that of the empircist, thinking that thus they represent biblical thought. Two points may be mentioned with respect to this. In the first place, to flee to the arms of an a priorism from those of empircism is in itself no help at all. It is only if an a priori is self-consciously based upon the conception of the ontological Trinity rather than upon the work of Plato or some other non-Christian philosopher that it can safeguard against skepticism. The a priori of any non-Christian thinker will eventually lead to empircism. It can keep from doing so only if it keeps within the field of purely formal predication. In the second place, if we do place the ontological Trinity at the foundation of all our predication then there is no need to fear any skepticism through the avenue of sense. Sensation does “deceive us” but so does rationcination. We have the means for their corruption in both cases. The one without the other is meaningless. Both give us true knowledge on the right presupposition; both lead to skepticism on the wrong presupposition.” -Cornelius Van Til
  • When you look at the history of Rationalism, it fails because it is not Christian theism. Every kind of “ism” will fail.
  • Every kind of “ism” fails because of autonomy. Rational and empirical principles need to find their root in the Ontological Trinity.

Westminster Confession 7:1

“The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.”
The “distance” is by virtue of who God is. This is an ontological distance.
God takes on characteristics that he didn’t have to take on in order to give us truth. God does this climactically in Christ. In the incarnation, God didn’t stop being God. The condescension is God taking on a human nature.


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