What Is Truth? [Seminary Paper]

The question, “What is truth?” was asked by Pontius Pilate at the Trial of Jesus some two thousand years ago (Joh 18:38), yet there is really no question that is more poignant today. Though we live in a cultural climate of Post-Modern thought where it is believed and taught, that if truth exists it is relative to the individual who embraces it, (and I can’t help but wonder how, in that context, that concept could be universally true?) we are still called to proclaim the truth of God, with the authority of God, to the Glory of God. There is certainly a rich heritage of thought in this area. The discipline that is called Christian Apologetics, which has developed around the Christian’s call to defend the faith, has really been in existence as long as the Bible itself. Great minds in the Church, from the Apostle Paul, to Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Irenaeus, Thomas Aquinis and B. B. Warfield, have sought to oppose the philosophies of the world and present the truth of the Christian Faith throughout its history. Certainly, the list could be extended into the thousands of men who have stood against the unbelieving world and defended the Christian Faith.

When taken in their proper context, even the five Books of Moses take on an “Apologetic” theme. Israel, having been in slavery for some 400 years, under the dominion of the pagan Egyptians, and now set free to serve the Lord, received instructions on who God is, who they were and what their relationship was supposed to look like. From Genesis through Deuteronomy, this was Moses’s task. It was the world-view adjustment that they needed to properly know the Lord and live in relationship to Him. This is the kind of vital information that we all need as we begin to relate to our Creator and Redeemer. Nowhere is man’s obstinacy more clear and God’s truth more dogmatically and persuasively declared than in Moses’ writings. Thus, a defense of the Faith is needed as it is demonstrated in Scriptures from their very beginning. One present day apologist, John Frame, says in his article entitled, Apologetics, “The Bible does not discuss apologetics as an academic discipline, but it does speak about defending the faith.” In reality, the Bible itself defends the faith. Frame goes on to discuss the idea that the bible is an apologetic for the truth of God as he states:

For in the Bible God presents his truth over against error, speaking it into a sinful world, always having in view the objections of his opponents. The authors of the Bible, divine and human, seek to present their message cogently, rationally, persuasively. This is not to say that the Bible is a collection of rational syllogisms, but that in all its genres, even in its poetic, narrative, and wisdom teaching, it seeks to present God’s message as right, true, and persuasive.

Defending the faith, therefore, is a biblical practice. The discipline of apologetics seeks to instruct Christians in such defense. As analysis of a biblical practice, apologetics is a properly theological discipline. If theology is “the application of Scripture to all areas of life,” then apologetics is “the application of Scripture to unbelief” (Frame, Knowledge of God, 81, 87), including the unbelief that remains in Christian hearts. (Apologetics)

God’s Word must be the source and substance of our declarations as we go about the task of engaging our culture with the truth of God in relation to His Own nature, about man himself as the creation of God and finally, with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God has intentionally revealed Himself to us through “special” Revelation. That revelations tells us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16 ESV). Yet that very word teaches us that, the world is the Lord’s and everything in it (Psalm 24:1). It also teaches us that God reveals Himself to us through nature as well; “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard” (Psa 19:1-3 ESV).

Though we must use the knowledge of God that He has given us in His Word, we must also point to the beginnings of our knowledge of God through the world that He created. The Bible teaches us that the creation is not just some evidence, but sufficient evidence to know that God exists and that He is involved in our daily lives (Romans 1:20). For the last seven hundred years or so, particularly, most apologists have begun here, with the creation, or what is called, “general revelation,” which leads to a “natural theology” or man’s natural ability to perceive God from the empirical evidence in the universe. They have asserted that this information should be sufficient to move a man from unbelief to the acceptance of God as He presents Himself in His Word. Man does have a certain, limited knowledge of God on the basis of nature. However, most of these men assumed that the knowledge of God through creation was to be used to move people toward a general belief in God and that from there they could be lead to the next phase of “special revelation,” given the Gospel and brought into the Church through a sort of, two-step process. They surmised that using no more than logic, and pointing to nature, they would be able to deduce the presence of God from the design, order, morality and purpose which were contained in the universe and that this would lead to an acknowledgment of God as He represents Himself in Scripture.

It was not until the early 20th Century that this method was called into question by a Reformed Apologist named Cornelius Van Til. As men reasoned their way from “secular” principles toward theism and ultimately toward Christ and His Gospel, he saw a flaw in their theology and thus in their method.

Their Theology

Romans 1:18-20 (previously cited) is one of the passages that teaches most clearly, man’s real accountability to the knowledge of God through the creation. However, this passage also teaches man’s inability to perceive it accurately through his willful ignorance resulting in God’s just wrath and judgment.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom 1:18-20 ESV)

The Apostle tells us here that God is angry at the the natural man’s suppression of His truth, even though it has been plainly given to us by Him. We either fatally distort it or reject it outright, due to our predisposition to ungodliness. Thus, we have it, but willingly refuse to make proper use of it and are therefore accountable for what we have been given. This entire section of the letter to the Romans, from chapter 1:18 – 3:23, demonstrates man’s complete depravity and our fighting against God’s revelation of Himself to our race whether through nature or through His Word.

The Apostle continues,

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (Rom 1:21-25 ESV)

The result of our suppression of this vital knowledge is the judgment of God that gives us what we want, which is not to know the true God. Further on in the letter to the Romans the Apostle Paul describes the unregenerate in this way, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.” (Rom 8:7 ESV) And to the Corinthians he says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1Co 2:14 ESV) Notice the direct language used by the Apostle. The natural man “cannot” submit to God’s law and is “not able to understand” the “things of the Spirit of God.” The effect of the Fall on man’s will has affected his intellect because as it has corrupted his will. His sin has made him unwilling to make proper use of God’s revelation of Himself in nature or in Scripture. He has the right equipment to perceive God in a general sense, and usually has a belief in a deity, but his will twists and distorts that knowledge. He cannot rightly know the God who created him in His own image because, through his sin and rebellion, he really does not want to. He is content know only enough about God to pacify his conscience, but not enough to affect a true spiritual relationship to Him. This comes mostly in the form of idolatry, as Paul teaches us in this passage from letter to the Romans, but it also comes in the form of agnosticism and atheism which pacifies the conscience through pretending that there is no moral Legislator or ultimate justice.

Correcting the apologetic method by first correcting their theology in an area of one of the most basic teachings of the Scripture (taking into account the extent of the impact of the Fall) was Van Til’s key to the critique of those who had gone before. This was nothing new in the sense of understanding biblical theology. It was going back to the Reformers of the 16th century (and holding to that traditional understanding of the Scriptures as demonstrated in the Puritans of the 17th and 18th centuries) and applying the foundational teachings of the Bible to the discipline of Apologetics. This really only seems proper and logical. John Calvin began his Institutes of the Christian Religion with this thought. Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. (Book I. Ch 1. Par I. pg 37) After a brief description of what the knowledge of God is in the second chapter, Calvin goes on in the third chapter, to tell his readers of the innate nature of the knowledge of God which He has implanted in us. However, in the fourth chapter, he also describes man’s rebellion against that knowledge. The first section of chapter four is tellingly entitled, “The knowledge of God suppressed by ignorance, many falling away into superstition. Such persons, however, inexcusable, because their error is accompanied with pride and stubbornness.” Calvin vividly demonstrates this wholesale rejection of the true knowledge of God as the starting place of all men in their unregenerate state and also as the foundation of all sound theology.

Thus, this is no minor point in our theology! It is not some aberration that is to be omitted or a inconsequential point that can be neglected. The effects of sin on humanity has been the subject of the work of great minds in the Reformed faith from its earliest days and dates back to the Fall, immediately after the creation, as the fundamental problem of the human race. Prolific puritan theologian (the premier theologian of the 17th century), John Owen, spent over 800 pages describing its progress and implications in his work entitled, Biblical Theology, The History of Theology from Adam to Christ. In the seventh chapter of the first of six volumes of this work, Owen states, “ We resume with natural theology, so corrupted by the inroad of sin at the fall as to be of no spiritual value thereafter.” (pg 83) Natural theology, or man’s knowledge of God through nature, is so corrupted that it is of “no spiritual value.” Fallen men twist the evidence that points to the Creator, yet they cannot escape themselves, a part of the creation, as witnesses to the only true God.

Thus, a logical reasoning from creation to God in order to establish a basis for the Gospel is unreasonable in light of the facts of the fall and its effect on man’s knowledge of God. Van Til emphasized this point and felt the need to apologize to the unbelieving world for the church’s inconsistency in this area. He says in his article Why I Believe in God;

I must make an apology to you at this point. We who believe in God have not always made this position plain. Often enough we have talked with you about facts and sound reasons as though we agreed with you on what these really are. In our arguments for the existence of God we have frequently assumed that you and we together have an area of knowledge on which we agree. But we really do not grant that you see any fact in any dimension of life truly. We really think you have colored glasses on your nose when you talk about chickens and cows, as well as when you talk about the life hereafter. We should have told you this more plainly than we did. But we were really a little ashamed of what would appear to you as a very odd or extreme position. We were so anxious not to offend you that we offended our own God. (pg12)

What a humbling accusation against the Church. What an important truth to take into consideration. If our beginning assessment of the nature of the problem was flawed, or if we intentionally or unintentionally neglected fundamental principles in presenting our case, what could possibly flow from any argument that followed? 20th Century Apologist, Francis Schaeffer tells us that, “ In Aquinas’s view the will of man was fallen, but the intellect was not. From this incomplete view of the biblical Fall flowed subsequent difficulties. Out of this as time passed, man’s intellect became autonomous.” (Escape From Reason / Trilogy, p.211) And so, from the flawed beginning came a flawed result that disregarded the very problem that it was seeking to overcome, the nature of unbelief.

As a side note: Van Til did not believe that everything that an unregenerate man thought to be completely wrong, but as it related, in purpose, to the whole concept of God and His creation, in the ultimate sense it was wrong. The ultimate purpose of cows and chickens, (i.e. the glory of God) would certainly not be in the thinking of the one who denies that they are His creatures. John Frame says in his book, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, “Van Til is at his best in his Introduction to Systematic Theology (24-27) where he admits the difficulty of the questions (something he does not often do) and rests content with a description of the natural man as “a mixture of truth and error” (p. 59)

Their Method

The problem thus arises, how does a Christian have a meaningful discourse with an unregenerate man if he is unable to understand because he is unwilling to hear? If the facts are plain, but his system of logic does not allow him to arrange them in the proper order, thus he “unintentionally, intentionally” arranges them to fit his own predetermined scheme? Beginning with the biblical teaching that man is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26) and that the work of His law is written in our hearts (Romans 2:15), we must approach this as a moral problem rather than an intellectual one.

Again, it is not insufficient data, but a willful suppression of that data that we need to overcome. Traditionally, beginning with the idea that reason was the “point of contact” with unregenerate men, the apologists would argue using ideas like those previously mentioned, ideas such as; creation needing a Creator, as motion needing a Mover, or as morality needing a Legislator. Though these may seem like “no brainers” to the redeemed mind, men have vehemently opposed them because their world-view could not allow for them. Particularly as naturalism and empiricism invaded the intellectual world from the time of the Renaissance through the time of the Enlightenment, the basis of knowledge became what could be observed and quantified by the human mind and the body’s five senses. Eventually a problem arose, as men studied what they knew, and rationalized that knowledge in the context of an ever expanding universe. As science demonstrated the universe to reach beyond our ability to comprehend (even in its sheer size), the knowledge that the universe contains became unquantifiable. Men began to despair of ever really knowing anything because there was no knowable “whole” in which knowledge was able to be neatly fitted. In reality, this is a positive move in the philosophy of knowledge and one that Van Til was able to use to demonstrate the impossibility of a universe without God. Because it is the logical conclusion of a universe without God, he was able to drive men to the logical end of their skepticism, to the place of living in a universe where nothing was truly knowable, to the place of meaninglessness and despair. From there, he was able to offer them the solution to their dilemma. It was not in a mere rationalism, but by leading them to the end of their own thought process and showing them that they actually used God’s “capital” to argue against His existence. Therefore, Van Til says, “I cannot argue for belief in Him, without already taking Him for granted. And similarly, I contend, that you cannot argue against belief in Him unless you also first take Him for granted.” (Why I Believe in God, Pg. 3) Why is this so? Because there is no real knowledge that is not part of a known whole. Other knowledge, not yet discovered will likely contradict what we think we know. Therefore, men assume they have enough knowledge to assert truth claims in their rejection of God, but refuse to acknowledge that their limited knowledge has the right to make those claims. They must presuppose the Omniscient, Omnipotent God in order to make any rational claim at all!

We must work through these intellectual issues however, in order to show them the nature of their rebellion. This is done as we “take the roof off” of their concept of the universe and their perception of reality. Schaeffer uses this term to describe Van Til’s method of pushing men to the logical conclusion of their ideas in order to prove that they are not sufficient to explain man and his “manishness” as he lives in the world. As those who are made in the image of God, we sense the need for things like love, honor and beauty because they are a part of the nature of the God in whose image we have been created. We understand justice in a similar way because the “work of the law has been written on [our] hearts” (Rom 2:15) by our Creator. Showing men the futility of their worldview is the beginning of forcing them to deal with their consciences and consider the claims of Scripture. Francis Schaeffer goes out of his way to remind us that it is our goal to devastate the person’s world-view, but not to destroy the person. We must use extreme care and always remember that we are dealing with an image-bearer of God as we approach an unbeliever. He tells us;

It is unpleasant to be submerged by an avalanche, but we must allow the person to undergo this experience so that he may realize his system has no answer to the crucial questions of life. He must come to know that his roof is false protection from the storm of what is; and then we can talk to him of the storm of the judgment of God.

Removing the roof is not some kind of optional exercise, It is strictly biblical in its emphasis. In the thinking of the twentieth-century man the concept of judgment and of Hell s nonsense, and therefore to begin to talk here is to mumble in a language which makes no contact with him. Hell or any such concept is unthinkable to modern man because he has been brainwashed into accepting the monolithic belief of naturalism which surrounds him…” (The God Who is There / Trilogy, Pg. 141)

Thus Van Til and Schaeffer both demonstrated man’s skepticism to be an outgrowth of their rebellion against God. Van Til put it this way,

The point is this” he said. “Not believing in God, we have seen, you do not think yourself to be God’s creature. And not believing in God you do not think the universe has been created by God. That is to say, you think of yourself and the world as just being there. Now if you actually are God’s creature, then your present attitude is very unfair to Him. In that case it is even an insult to Him. And having insulted God, His displeasure rests upon you. God and you are not on “speaking terms.” And you have very good reasons for trying to prove that He does not exist. If He does exist, He will punish you for your disregard of Him. You are therefore wearing colored glasses. And this determines everything you say about the facts and reasons for not believing in Him. You have, as it were, entered upon God’s estate and have had your picnics and hunting parties there without asking His permission. You have taken the grapes of God’s vineyard without paying Him any rent and you have insulted His representatives who asked you for it.” (Why I Believe In God Pg. 12)

Van Til, and others after him, such as Francis Scheaffer, Greg Bahnsen and John Frame have pursued this line of reasoning and honed it as they tried to make it more understandable and easier to present. The so called, “point of contact” that was once assumed to be pure reason is not valid. In place of it we must demonstrate three things; First, that supposed neutrality is really self deception. Secondly, we must move the unbeliever along the lines of his own presuppositions and demonstrate the absurdity of them from a rational standpoint. Through this we must bring him to the place of utter despair and helplessness. Finally, we must follow our own presuppositions as Christians and demonstrate that our system makes perfect sense of the creation in which we find ourselves. In the end, this leaves them morally culpable as rebels in God’s kingdom as Van Til noted above.

Some explanation to clarify these points is necessary. We have already seen that fallen men have no place in their systems of logic for Biblical truth concerning God. They have skewed their knowledge and interpreted it according to their own foundational views of the universe. As Van Til speaks to his “friend” from Washington D. C. in the article, Why I Believe In God, he says to him,

Shall we say then that in my early life I was conditioned to believe in God, while you were left free to develop your own judgment as you pleased? But that will hardly do. You know as well as I that every child is conditioned by its environment. You were as thoroughly conditioned not to believe in God as I was to believe in God. So let us not call each other names. If you want to say that belief was poured down my throat, I shall retort by saying that unbelief was poured down your throat. That will get us set for our argument. (p.7)

No one approaches the data from a purely impartial and empirical position. It is our first duty to show the unbeliever his own bias. Those who reject the idea that they approach the facts without any presuppositions are unwilling to admit the truth of the matter. If a man believes that he is able to see things without bias, his mind becomes the standard of truth and thus, he makes himself, or his intellect, to be God. In his article How To Believe in God in the 2000’s, John Frame lays it out for us,

Talk to a secularized scholar and try to get him to consider the hypothesis that God created the world. You’ll find that his resistance to the idea greatly exceeds the bounds of normal rational discourse. Why? There are two possibilities, aren’t there? Either the world is basically personal or basically impersonal. We know that the world contains impersonal objects and forces: matter, motion, time, space, chance. We also know that it contains persons– beings with minds, with self-consciousness. The two possibilities are: either the impersonal reduces to the personal or the personal reduces to the impersonal. That is, either the persons in the world are nothing more than matter, motion, time, space and chance; or the matter, motion, time, space and chance are the creations of a great person, who uses them for his wise purposes.

If the world is basically impersonal, it is a pretty dark, dreary, and hopeless place. Happiness, justice, love, beauty might spring up for a while, but they are cosmic accidents of no ultimate importance. Finally they will be consumed in various cosmic explosions, and nothing will remain to remember them. Ultimately they are meaningless. If the world is basically personal, the situation is different: personal values like happiness, justice, love, and beauty are wrapped up in the very core of the universe. They are what nature and history is all about. In time, it will be the matter of the world that will be burned up, to be replaced by a new heaven and earth wherein dwells righteousness.

So: is the world basically personal, or basically impersonal? One would think that either hypothesis is at least worth considering at the outset of the discussion. But do the secularists give equal attention to both? Do they consider equally the evidence for both? My sense of it is that they routinely assume that the universe is impersonal, and they do not give any serious consideration to the other possibility. Consider Darwinian evolution, Marxist economics, Freudian psychology. Did Darwin, Marx, or Freud consider the evidence for the existence of God and conclude objectively that God did not exist? Certainly not. They assumed that God did not exist, and they went on from there to develop impersonalist explanations of life, history, economics.

Why? Because impersonalism and autonomy go together. If God exists, then autonomy is at an end; we must bow the knees of the mind. But if God doesn’t exist, then we are on our own, free. We can set our own standards, believe what we want to believe. So to assume autonomy, the secularist also assumes an impersonal universe.

As Mr. Frame describes the bias of those who hold an impersonal view of the nature of the universe, he also gives us a great example of demonstrating its utter destitution and emptiness. The price of ultimate freedom is ultimate meaninglessness. In his book, The God Who is There, Scheaffer speaks of secular philosophers as operating in upper and lower stories. They think in the lower story, the story of data, the empirical story, but, they cannot live as though that is all there is. They cannot live consistently with the ideas that love, honor, happiness, beauty etc. do not exist, so they create the upper story, a story where they can believe what seems to be untrue. What would the world look like if man truly lived like he was nothing more than the result of the natural processes of matter, motion, time, space and chance? Hitler would be regarded as a hero because he attempted to further the human race by exterminating its “lower” forms. Yet, the very thought of his actions turns our stomachs and makes us yearn for justice. But, in an impersonal, naturalistic universe, justice is just an abstract concept that has no foundation. What is justice when all that is, is pure chance? It is simply what makes the most sense for the most people at a given time. Demonstrating the preposterous nature of naturalism and its consequences is what it means to “take the roof off.”

If we who maintain, not only God’s existence, but His sovereign rule and His interaction with His creation (especially in Jesus of Nazareth and His work of redemption), begin to take the position of the skeptic and agree on the meaning of any of the facts of this world in order to lead the unbeliever to the knowledge of God, we are abandoning the true nature of those facts. As we have seen, the unbeliever has taken the facts and arranged them and in his own mind to concur with what he believes he already “knows” about God, i.e., that He does not exist. He has made his own mind into God, the final arbiter of all that is true or false. In reality, he is piling his facts in mid air. As Van Til has aptly said, “There are no ‘brute’ facts.” (Christian – Theistic Evidences, Introduction) That is, there are really no facts that find their complete meaning apart from the God who created them as a part of His comprehensive plan. Van Til elaborates as he says, “Facts and logic, not based upon the creation doctrine and not placed in the context of God’s all-embracing providence, which culminates in redemption through Christ, are without significant relation to one another and therefore wholly meaningless.” (A Dialogue — Mr. Black, Mr. White, Mr. Grey) Every one of those facts ultimately rests upon the God of the Bible. It is only when we see that the Personal is behind both the personal and the impersonal that all of it makes sense. He is the “Whole.”

In another article, Frame tells us, “The essence of Van Til’s message is that God calls us to “presuppose” him in all our thinking.This means that we must regard his revealed truth as more important and more certain than any other, and find in it the norms or criteria that all other knowl­edge must meet.” (Frame. 1993 Van Til) Just as the unbeliever presupposes that matter, motion, time, space and chance are behind it all and that all proceeds from there, we must begin by believing that the Personal God is the source of all things. As we do, we demonstrate some important things that can be accounted for in no other way. Personality, love, happiness, honor, the things we live for, become meaningful. Justice has a basis. Rationality no longer floats in the morass of limitless emptiness that is the universe, but is fixed in the One who knows all and reveals Himself by His Word and through His creation. Responsibility accompanies these other things as well and ultimate autonomy is squelched. It is interesting how the demand for justice is so compelling, even to the unbeliever, yet personal responsibility which he loathes, is simply that same justice applied to himself rather than others.

When we connect these dots and show man that he cannot live as though meaninglessness is his reality, as we give tangible reasons why we feel this need to hold on to the core concepts of love, honor, justice, etc., in spite of the data that we have managed to collect on our own, we can humble men enough to lead them to acknowledge their rebellion and culpability in the presence of God. This is nothing new. This is not in any way attempting to add man-made methods to the Gospel. It is bringing man to the end of himself and forcing him to own his utter inability and his rebellion. It is forcing man to look away from himself as the ultimate in the areas of knowledge and wisdom or as the sole arbiter of truth (even if he is to declare that there is no truth, a truth claim in itself). It is demonstrating to man his utter bankruptcy. This is the beginning of the Gospel message. This is the bad news that must precede the Good News. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat 5:3 ESV)

In the age of relativism we must begin here, with the very question of being, of meaning, of knowledge. Men have almost completely dismissed biblical morality and do not feel the weight of their sin, but they can readily identify with their lack of meaning. They love the idea of autonomy, but the price of that autonomy is meaninglessness and most of us cannot live consistently with that. Once they have seen their place in the universe, sin will become an immediate additional weight. Therefore, in leading them in this direction, we must demonstrate love and concern for them and be ready to show them God’s resolution to their guilt in the Gospel.

So, what is truth? The alleged truth that the universe and all that it contains is the product of matter, motion, time, space and chance is both logically untenable, and humanly unacceptable. It does not explain the human condition with any persuasiveness. It only under-girds man’s lust for autonomy without satisfying his other basic and inherent needs (i.e., meaning, love, honor, justice, knowledge, etc). Therefore, presupposing the non-existence of God and trying to live without Him leads to despair. On the other hand, presupposing God as the All-knowing Creator who has the power to create and to govern the universe, acknowledging Him as the source of knowledge, morality and being and also acknowledging our rebellion and the curse of the Fall, makes our existence make sense. It satisfies the longing of our hearts which were formed in the image of the God who is, and who is love and honor and justice and knowledge, etc. It allows what we know to be fit into the “whole” of the One who knows everything. It gives us the ability to operate with confidence in a universe that is filled with unknowns. Van Til concludes his article called Why I Believe in God by saying this;

And if my unity is comprehensive enough to include the efforts of those who reject it, it is large enough even to include that which those who have been set upright by regeneration cannot see. My unity is that of a child who walks with its father through the woods. The child is not afraid because its father knows it all and is capable of handling every situation. So I readily grant that there are some “difficulties” with respect to belief in God and His revelation in nature and Scripture that I cannot solve. In fact there is mystery in every relationship with respect to every fact that faces me, for the reason that all facts have their final explanation in God Whose thoughts are higher than my thoughts, and Whose ways are higher than my ways [Is 55:9]. And it is exactly that sort of God that I need. Without such a God, without the God of the Bible, the God of authority, the God who is self-contained and therefore incomprehensible to men, there would be no reason in anything. No human being can explain in the sense of seeing through all things, but only he who believes in God has the right to hold that there is an explanation at all. (pg. 20)

Though this argument is persuasive and satisfying to us on the level of our nature and needs as human beings, it contradicts our lust for self-rule. As such, it is further evidence of the Fall. As we began with the question, “What is truth?” we conclude with insight from Calvin’s commentary on John 18:38 where Pilate poses that very question to Jesus at His trial. Calvin says, “That Pilate spoke in mockery is evident from this circumstance, that he immediately goes out. In short, he is angry with Christ for boasting that he brings forward the truth, which formerly lay hidden in darkness. Yet this indignation of Pilate shows that wicked men never reject the doctrine of the Gospel so spitefully as not to be somewhat moved by its efficacy; for, though Pilate did not proceed so far as to become humble and teachable, yet he is constrained to feel some inward compunction. (Calvin’s Commentary on John 18:37-38) And so, this is as far as we are able to go with the whole matter. It is our goal, as it was Christ’s, to place before men the truth and leave it to the Holy Spirit to make it effectual. Jesus seems to have used the very method that we have been speaking of as He dealt with Pilate,

So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. (Joh 19:10-13)

Jesus went over Pilates head. He stated that Pilate’s own authority was of divine origin. He rested that authority in the sovereign rule of an Almighty and All-Knowing God who used it to His own purpose. He got Pilate’s attention when He did it. Yet, in Pilate’s desire to maintain his own power and position, he initiated the greatest act of sin and rebellion ever committed.

In respect to our stand for the truth, nothing has changed in the past two thousand years. We need to stand and defend it. We need to communicate it to the culture in which God has placed us. We need to undermine man’s self-confidence, show him his inability to give himself meaning and to supply meaning for the universe apart from the God of the Bible. We need to presuppose the God who is there and who rules everything according to the counsel of His own will. We need to make apparent to men that their unbelief is a result of their rebellion. We need to demonstrate to our culture that it is only in this context that our quest for meaning and our understanding of the world as it actually is reasonable and satisfying.

Works Cited

Calvin John, Calvin’s Commentaries. Grand Rapids, MI. Calvin Seminary. Web.

Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Grand Rapids, MI. Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1975. Print.

Frame, John. Apologetics. www.frame-poythress.org 2005. Web

Frame, John. How To Believe In God In the 2000’s. www.frame-poythress.org. Web

Frame, John. The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. Phillipsburg, NJ. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. 1987. Print.

Owen, John. Biblical Theology. Grand Rapids, MI. Soli Deo Gloria Publications. 2009. Print.

Schaeffer, Francis. The Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy. Wheaton, IL. Crossway Books. 1990. Print

Van Til, Cornelius. A Dialogue – Mr. Black, Mr. White, Mr. Grey. taken from The Reformed Pastor & Modern Thought (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1980), pp. 36-72. Online.

Van Til, Cornelius. The Defense of the Faith. Philadelphia, PA. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. 1967. Print. Third Edition.

Van Til, Cornelius. Why I Believe In God. Philadelphia, PA. Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. 1948. Online

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2 Responses to What Is Truth? [Seminary Paper]

  1. Joy says:

    Thanks for linking me to your papers, Mr. Hoffman! I clicked the first one I saw to get a taste of your writing and thoughts, and I really enjoyed your insights.

    At first, I wasn’t too sure where you were going with your argument against Apologetics, but after reading to the end I completely agree with the points you make. My own faith started as the result of an Apologetic science curriculum at school. But, as you point out, the reason, order, and elegance pointed out to me in my studies could only persuade me of the existence of God, not of who this God is. However, grace attending my studies, by overthrowing my conviction that “matter is all, and mind is nothing” and emptying me of my biases, the curriculum also led me to ask the next question: “If there is a God, who is He?”

    I cannot attribute my journey to faith or my faith itself to Reason. Faith precedes Reason because before we believe our minds are dark and our eyes are unable to see Reason. However, Grace and the power of the Spirit (which must be the prime ingredient in any ministry if it is to bear fruit) attending arguments based on Reason was able to spur me on in my quest for Truth.

    I really like the point you make about Aquinas’ argument that as all objects require a mover, so the planets, which seemingly move on their own, must have been set to motion by a first Mover. I haven’t read (but want to some day) Summa Theologica, but this particular argument (and what I have heard/read about Aquinas and know of other Medieval theologians) trying to “prove” by Reason alone the existence of God is weak in light of the stubborn conviction of impersonality which rules in the minds of many modern, unbelieving scientists (and those who follow the lead of modern scientists). As you state, the Fall MUST be the starting point for any ministry, and the conviction of our own emptiness apart from God is the only way we can come to the fullness of Himself. We must know our sin, before we can hunger for Grace to set things right.

    Thanks again for your efforts to build up modern-day believers! It’s an encouragement to me to see people really strong in their faith and sharp in their insights, devoted to God and to His people. I will be perusing your other articles for sure. =) God bless!

  2. Thanks for the encouragement Joy! I’m working my way through the next paper on Apologetics now (one more after that). I am going to try and apply the concepts concretely to a question posed to a friend of mine. He was stumped by an Atheist a couple of weeks ago. See you in the Blogosphere!

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