Friday, December 5, 2014

Van Til and Theological Paradox: Grounding Apologetics in the Ontological Trininty


In order for the apologetic approach to be faithful to the teachings of the Christian worldview, it must by necessity, be grounded in the ontological Trinity it seeks to defend. Because this doctrine stands at the very epicenter of Christian theology, and is at bottom, paradoxical in nature, it follows that a biblically faithful approach to apologetics will necessarily involve paradox from start to finish. Because this is unavoidably the substance of the circumstance, Christian apologetics must employ a uniquely Christian understanding and consumption of logic if it is to achieve it’s objective of defending the truth of God for the glory of God.


Christian apologetics seeks to vindicate the philosophy and theology of the Christian worldview. Now, you may read that sentence and think nothing could be more obvious than that. And perhaps there is something to be said about the direct and simple structure of the statement. But there is far more in that sentence than meets the eye.
The most basic question emerging from my first statement is “What is the Christian worldview?” If one were to look to any culture for the answer to that question, they will surely come up with as many different answers as there are groups in the culture. Moreover, every culture would, without doubt, provide significantly different answers to this one question. Additionally, if you were to search for answers across Christian denominations, I am afraid you would fare no better. It is a sad fact that not only would you not you gain agreement among “Christian” denominations, you would very likely not even find agreement within individual denominations. This points us to no small dilemma.
If Christian apologetics seeks to vindicate the Christian worldview, and we cannot agree on what the Christian worldview actually is, then how on earth could we ever agree on a methodology for it’s vindication? What exactly would we be vindicating? No one can agree. This current state of affairs points to the scandal and plight of the project of apologetics in modern culture. Moreover, this state of affairs also explains why the project of apologetics seems to not only fail to accomplish its goal; it also explains why the field is so incredibly confused.
The basic problem with apologetic method is located in our understanding of the basic tenets of Christianity. And nothing is more basic to Christianity that it’s understanding of God. Cornelius Van Til says, “We must first ask what kind of God Christianity believes in before we can really ask with intelligence whether such a God exists. The what precedes the that; the connotation precedes the denotation; at least the latter cannot be discussed intelligently without at once considering the former.”[1]
The implications for apologetic methodology are sweeping if one accepts that the relationship between Christian theology and Christian apologetics is inextricable. Hence, the Christian doctrines of God, man, sin, nature, redemption and so forth will all serve to inform apologetic content and shape apologetic structure as well as define the apologetic approach. Christian apologetics then, begins with the nature of Christian doctrine which itself can only begin with the doctrine of the self-contained ontological Trinity in Scripture. “Christian thinkers throughout the ages have felt the burden to guard and develop what often seem to be three competing ideals – the systematic harmony of Christian doctrine (Lu. 24:44), the novelty of certain paradoxical doctrines (John 6:52-60), and the possibility of a robust Christian apologetic (Acts 17:31).[2] 
Unfortunately, what we witness in the modern apologetic landscape is an allegiance to Aristotelian logic to the neglect and at the expense of divine truth. Essentially, unregenerate, finite human logic is uncritically established as the sole authority and final court of appeal for what can and cannot be accepted as justified true belief. It is the purpose of this paper to present the presuppositional alternative in contrast with the popular traditional method of Christian apologetics by demonstrating that unless we anchor the vindication of the Christian worldview in the self-contained ontological Triune God in Scripture, our method for vindicating Christian theism inevitably reduces to subjectivism and ultimately skepticism. In this case, there can be no rational presentation or intelligible vindication of any truth, let alone Christian theism. The end result is a nightmare of nothingness, a chance world of chaotic confusion, a reduction of rational thought to noetic nihilism.


[1] Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Pub. Co., 1985), 9.
[2] B.A. Bosserman, The Trinity and the Vindication of Christian Paradox: an Interpretation and Refinement of the Theological Apologetic of Cornelius van Til (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014), xvii.

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