Christians newly exposed to Cornelius Van Til’s way of defending the Christian
faith may be undoubtedly overwhelmed with the complexity of the method. Truth
be told, all schools of Christian apologetics sooner or later get into the weeds, and
we can quickly feel like we are drowning in the deep end of the pool. The reason
for this is that historically, Christian apologetics has overlapped with philosophy
and as philosophy gets complex, so too does the defense of the Christian faith as
apologists seek to interact with non-Christians meaningfully. All that said, Dr. Van
Til operated with a simple and straightforward concern: Whatever you think
about regarding all three philosophical disciplines (metaphysics, epistemology,
and ethics) always keep God in view. Keep God in the picture. How does God
relate to existence, or human thinking, or morality?
We can refine this a little further. Presuppositionalists are not trying to argue for
an abstract idea of a “god”. We are concerned with defending Reformed
Christianity. That is, we seek to uphold the Triune God of Scripture in our
offensive and defensive moves. So, when I say we need to keep God in the
picture, I mean we need to keep the Triune God of Scripture as interpreted
through the historical catholic Reformed creeds and confessions (e.g., the
Westminster Standards) in mind as we seek to grapple with the tough questions
we face as we interface with the larger unbelieving world. We can harken back to
the great Reformed biblical theologian Geerhardus Vos from Princeton Seminary,
who, in his Reformed Dogmatics, reminded us that the Reformed Christian
theological community looked at the world through the spectacles of a “deeper
Protestant conception”. That is, we looked at how God revealed himself to us as
well as what he revealed to us and allowed God to permeate our understanding
of reality, of human knowing, and behaving.
Let me suggest that we give a brief look at how keeping the Triune God of
Scripture in view when we think about metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics falls
out. Before we drill down on this also keep in mind that we “presupps” (I am
shortening the repeated references to either presuppositionalism or we
Presuppositionalists) recognize that these three philosophical disciplines
interpenetrate one another so that there are mutual entailments between them.
We don’t accept the common practice of hermetically sealing off each topic from
one another. Even further, we must keep in view the reality which our thoughts
As Reformed Christians we believe that God has created us and our environment
to enable us to learn about him and our world by way of observing it and
interacting with it and learning about it and him and his Word. Also, God has not
left us to our own devices when it comes to knowing who he is and what he
expects of us. As the apostle Paul reminds us in Romans 1:18-32, we know God
and we know how he expects us to behave before him. And we live and always
think and behave coram Deo and under all circumstances. Perhaps we could
change the name of our apologetic method to the “Coram Deo” method. That is,
we live before the face of God in all we are, think, or say and do whether we are
Christians or not.
Metaphysics is concerned with ultimate reality or being itself or with existence.
The Bible reveals two levels of reality or kinds of being or existence: God and
creation. This is our ultimate classification. One of the perennial temptations for
us creatures is to act as if or to think as if we are the Creator. Paul talks about this
in Romans 1:18-32 too. This metaphysical reality has implications for our ability to
reason and come to conclusions. God knows and we know. God’s way of knowing
determines our way of knowing and not the other way around. It’s that way
whether we like it or not. God is the Creator, and we are the creature. Everything
in the universe not God is a creature. This means that God has created us with the
ability to know things about him, ourselves, and our world.
The fall has, of course, complicated matters. We now need redemption to think
and behave in ways acceptable to God. We now need to believe in the salvation
provided through Jesus Christ to understand our God and his Word and world
aright. And our great and glorious Triune God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has
determined how we ought to behave as we are surrounded by his world and his
revelation of himself and his will through both nature and Scripture. God has
created us to properly function in this revelatory environment. In other words,
God has created us and our environment so that we can worship and glorify him
(remember the Westminster Larger and Shorter Catechisms Q&A 1) as we ought
to. Unlike the existentialist philosophical point of view, we don’t get to decide for
ourselves how we ought to make our way in the world.
The deeper Protestant conception of God and his world is that we are created to
have fellowship with the Triune God of the Bible and the fall as recorded in
Genesis 3 now means that we need to be united by faith to the Son of God to
fulfill our created purpose. Redemption brings about our divinely created
purpose. God created Adam for a reason, and it now takes faith in the second
Adam to enable us to properly function and fulfil our reason for existence. Divine
worship is not an optional extra. We have been designed with worship in mind.
Adam’s fall has caused us to misplace our worship. Salvation in Jesus Christ
enables us to worship the true God truly. Christian apologetics done coram Deo
ought not and indeed cannot be done in abstraction from redemptive history.
That’s why we can’t understand the God or the world or ourselves (e.g., reality)
apart from God and the need for redemption given the reality of the fall into sin.
We cannot think or behave rightly without reference to the Triune God of
Scripture. God is the source of reality and what we rightly know about him and it.
Presuppositionalism’s big idea is that we do apologetics and pretty much
everything else coram Deo, before the face of God, and with him in mind. We live
from God, through God, and to God in all that we are and think and do.