The Covenant of Works and Human Knowledge

Notes from Lane G. Tipton’s lecture entitled, The Covenant of Works: Implications for Human Knowledge.

I consider apologetics and biblical and systematic theology sister disciplines. Reformed apologetics defends what reformed and biblical theology derive from the Scriptures. In apologetics, you need to learn how to defend the self-attesting Christ of Scripture and self-authenticating Triune God of Scripture. Reformed apologetics aim is the defense of reformed theology. Just as reformed theology is distinctive, reformed apologetics as a distinctive starting point– revelation. It has has a unique method–the transcendental method.

Summary of Van Til’s Apologetic
If I were going to summarize Van Til’s apologetic along three distinct yet related lines, I’d say that his apologetics first is a Trinitarian apologetic. Van Til wants to defend Trinitarian theism based upon God’s revelation of the Bible. He argued that the ontological Trinity that alone renders human experience intelligible. Reformed Trinitarian theism makes human experience possible. Rejection of God’s existence, renders impossible in principle the relationships of unity and diversity, eternity and time, the practice of induction etc. The second strand is the covenantal strand. An apologetic that is covenantal has revelation as its source and norm for human knowledge. For Van Til there are only two types of people in the world. There are those who reason and live in terms of God’s covenant my faith in Christ and there are those who break God’s covenant by suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. There are covenant-keepers and covenant-breakers. In all of men’s activites men are either one of these. Covenantal commitment betrays one’s ultimate authority. The Christian lives in terms of commitment to covenantally disclosed revelational authority; the unbeliever does not. Thirdly, Van Til’s apologetic is also a worldview apologetic. A worldview apologetic is closely related to the other two points. Submission to the Triune God of Scripture as the only ultimate authority for human knowledge and the criteria for human behavior. Submission to the God of Scripture involves taking his revelation as a worldview. A worldview is a fundamental paradigm which underlies and directs a person’s reasoning. It determines what counts as evidence and reveals basic heart commitments. Apologetics disagreements between believers and unbelievers never turns simply on disagree regarding isolated facts. The apologetic discussion turns on a clash of worldviews. Apologetics discusses historical facts to be sure, but it also presses on to inquire about how worldviews operate in factual interpretation. It should discuss not only facts, but the interpretation of facts. A presuppositional method focuses on the underlying assumptions which are needed to render facts intelligible.

Covenantal Apologetic
Van Til believes in one grand scheme of covenantal revelation. General revelation deals with God’s self-disclosure of his existence and nature to people in nature and conscience. Special revelation is found through Scripture. They mutually presuppose and supplement one another. The framework which unites general and special revelation is the covenant and provides one grand scheme of revelation. It is the theology of the covenant that has for reaching implications for the development of covenantal apologetics. General and special revelation are covenantally coordinated. General revelation without special revelation is blind; special revelation without general revelation are meaningless. To reason about general revelation without the aid of special revelation is epistemologically abnormal and paradigmatic of a fallen attempt to reason about the world and self. It deviates from the way God requires people to think. It is in the fall that you see this sort of reasoning occur. Adam rejected the authority and message of God and assumed that he was the judge of all things. There is no neutral bare natural order on which reason can operate. Reason is designed to function and submit to God’s supernatural, verbal and inscripturated revelation. This revelational epistemology of general and special revelation precludes reasoning in an autonomous manner. Autonomy means the unbelieving philosophy of life refuses to interpret everything in terms of the Triune God’s Word. Covenantal apologetics does not allow for neutral reasoning. You either bow to God’s revelational requirements or you don’t. There are either covenant-breakers or covenant-keepers.

God is fully self-conscious and the all important question turns on what is the kind of God who reveals Himself. In contrast to the human mind, no new facts arise for God. All of the facts receive their meaning and existence from His plan. Human reason must itself be seen as created by God and subject to God’s authority. God’s self-consciousness, His plan and covenantal character makes authoritative claims on human reason in terms of general and special revelation. Van Til’s apologetic offers a covenantal challenge to unbelief which relies upon the revelation of God. If there is no God behind the facts, then facts remain brute. If you think in terms of a covenantal term of apologetics, you cannot see apologetics as an academic discipline. It is to bring the covenantal requirements to bear upon the unbeliever. We are seeking the conversion upon the unbeliever.

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