Category Archives: Apologetics

One of a Kind

I met Jason in my second year of university.  He was in one of my English classes, often arriving early to talk with me about his religious questions.  One day, Jason was waiting with a common objection:  “Hey, aren’t all religions pretty much the same?  You’ve all got a god, you’ve got a holy book, you’ve got priests and stuff.  To me it all looks the same.  It probably wouldn’t make any difference if I was a Sikh or a Christian.  Seems to me you all worship the same god.”  When we encounter such an objection, we might be caught off-guard.  After all, many Christians aren’t that familiar with other religions.  So how do we go about giving an answer to people like Jason?

Christianity is Unique

Knowledge about other religions is often minimal among Christians.  We might know something about Judaism from the Bible, perhaps something about the major cults from our high school Bible classes, and maybe a few things about Islam because of its connection to world events of the last two decades.  But other than that, how much do you really know about Hinduism, Sikhism, or Buddhism?

Furthermore, how do we show that all these religions are false and that only Christianity is the true religion?  You might do that by showing that the major religions contradict one another.  For example, Islam says that Jesus was merely a prophet, whereas Christianity teaches that Jesus was God come in the flesh for the rescue of sinners.  In certain circumstances, that method could have value, but it does require a bit of knowledge of all the individual religions.

There’s a better way.  This way doesn’t require as much study.  We can emphasize the positive point that Christianity is unique – unique in its central message and unique in how it explains the world in which we live.  Other religions, on the other hand, are actually all quite similar to each other in these respects.

The Message of Islam

Take Islam for example.  Faithful Muslims must adhere to the five pillars in order to be taken into paradise with Allah.  The five pillars of Islam are: profession of faith (shahada), prayer (salat), almsgiving (zakat), fasting (sawm), and pilgrimage (hajj).  Even if these are followed, Allah may arbitrarily decide that the works you did were not enough and you may be consigned to hell.  This Islamic fatalism is what prevents any Muslim from having personal assurance of salvation – the only exception is for a martyr.  That contrasts with true Christianity which rejects salvation by works.  As Christians, we can also have the comfort of personal assurance.  Salvation is initiated by God and guaranteed by God (Romans 8:15-17).  Christians never have to second-guess their salvation.

The Message of Hinduism

Salvation in Hinduism doesn’t mean the same thing as in Christianity.  For a Hindu, to be saved is to be released from the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.  It means to become one with Brahman, the greatest of the many thousands of Hindu gods.  This “salvation” is achieved through one of three means:  1) through the knowledge that you are actually already God; 2) through worship of a particular deity (any one you choose); or 3) through following ceremonial rituals.  You can pick, but in any circumstance you’ll have to do something to achieve Hindu “salvation.”  It’s achieved by human works.  Hinduism isn’t unique in that way – it’s no different than Islam or Roman Catholicism, or for that matter, Judaism or Sikhism.  All of them exemplify religions focussed on human effort.

The Message of Biblical Christianity is Unique

Only Christianity teaches that God graciously provides salvation as a free gift.  All other religions teach that the way to God is through your own deeds.  In our witnessing to others, this is one of the only things we really need to know.  We need to know that Christianity is different – it’s the only religion which teaches that human beings can’t save themselves.  Human beings can’t save themselves because they’re wretched sinners both by conception and by action.  We’re incorrigible rebels against God.  Of ourselves, we’re bags of flesh which have assumed room temperature.  Nothing a corpse can do can save it from the grave.  Someone else must intervene.  That someone else is God through his Son Jesus and through the mighty work of the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, the cross is what makes Christianity unique.  The cross speaks of human weakness and inability — but at the same time of God’s divine power to save.  Regeneration is also what makes Christianity unique.  The Holy Spirit unilaterally comes to a cold dead heart of stone and miraculously turns it into a heart of flesh which believes.  In short, sovereign grace is what makes Christianity entirely unique!

But Wait, There’s More!

The story shouldn’t end there.  Unbelievers may be impressed with our answer to this point, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.  Not only is Christianity unique in its central message of sovereign grace, it’s also unique in other ways.  These are ways which demonstrate the foolishness of unbelief.  This is the clincher in our discussions with people like Jason.  We may have shown that Christianity is unique, but that doesn’t really in itself present a compelling reason for any unbeliever to throw down his weapons and surrender.  Christianity’s uniqueness, by itself, doesn’t demonstrate its truth.  If we can show that Christianity is the only way our world can be adequately explained, then the only thing which prevents the unbeliever from repenting and believing is his own hardness of heart.

It can be demonstrated that only Christianity can explain our world and the way it really is.  Take laws of morality for instance.  Muslims can’t adequately account for absolute laws of morality.  Why not?  Because Allah is capricious and arbitrary himself.  Allah’s character is not what defines right or wrong.  He is not absolute.  However, within the Christian worldview, we account for absolute laws of morality by looking to the absolute character and nature of the Triune God.  He never changes.  From age to age he remains the same.  So does his moral law, which reflects his character.  The Christian relies upon absolute laws of morality and can also justify or account for his reliance.  The Muslim may speak about laws of morality as being absolute and may behave accordingly, but he’s inconsistent at that point with his professed religion.  Though claiming to be wise, he will have been shown to be otherwise (Romans 1:22).

Only Christianity Can

This can be extended to every other non-Christian religion.  Only Christians can speak of a Triune God who is both absolute (transcendent) and personal (immanent).  There is no other like him (Micah 7:18).  Only such a God as ours can provide the basis for reality as we observe and experience it.  In Colossians 2:3, we find that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in Christ.  In Acts 17:28 it says, “In him [the true God], we live and move and have our being.”  Only the God of the Bible can provide the foundations upon which rest the laws of logic, morality, mathematics, and science.  Christianity is true because it is impossible for it to be false.

Now when I argued this way all those years ago, I didn’t persuade Jason.  The last time I saw him he’d invented his own religion.  His heart wasn’t changed by the Holy Spirit.  However, I still think about him and pray for him.  I pray that God will one day bring the right moment with the right means and give him a miraculous heart transplant.  Our arguments are just tools in God’s hands and he works as he pleases with them.  Nevertheless, our calling is to be faithful and always ready to give an answer to anyone who asks us about our hope in Christ (1 Peter 3:15).  Let’s honour Christ the Lord as holy by always proclaiming the uniqueness of who he is, what he’s done, and what he’s given us.

The Darkness Has Not Overcome It

“All right, so this passage shows Jesus’ lordship and control over all creation.”  Bill glanced at his watch.  It was already 3:45 and his class started at 4:00.  It was at least a 10 minute walk across the campus.  “Are there any questions?”  Bill hoped that the passage was clear enough to Victor, the only visitor at the Bible study.  The group of four sat in silence staring at their Bibles briefly.  Then Peter spoke up, “Well, there aren’t any questions, I guess we can close in prayer.  Steve, could you close with us?”  During the prayer, Bill felt his stomach tighten.  The next two hours were going to be rough.  As Steve finished, Bill added a few extra words asking God to strengthen him for what was coming.

“Well, I’d love to stick around and talk, but I really gotta get going.  My class starts in 10 minutes.  See ya!”  Bill walked briskly into the cold October air.  The darkening dusk added to the tension in Bill’s body.  He quickly ran through in his mind the topic for the Intellectual History seminar.  He thought of whether he should just keep his mouth shut.  “Maybe,” he thought, “maybe I should just go home and skip.”  But then he remembered how many classes he’d already missed.  It wasn’t an option.

In the seminar room, the prof and most of the students were already seated.  The professor, Dr. Hamowy, was a short man, but he compensated for his stature with an antagonistic personality and sharp tongue.  He gloried in debate and loved the thrill of the attack.  Bill took his place at the end of the long table, opposite Hamowy.  With two minutes left, Bill quickly reviewed the book to be discussed.  A couple more students drifted in – it was time.

“Okay, today we’re looking at Dostoevsky.  You guys’ll like this.  Always creates a good debate.  Who’s giving the introduction?  Miss Hogan?  All right, go ahead.”  Hogan launched into it.  Bill had heard her talking with some of the other students and she mentioned something about going to a Lutheran church.  Could she be a Christian?  Bill listened intently.  Not a word about Dostoevsky and Christianity.

“Thanks, Miss Hogan, but that was rather superficial.  I’m wondering, why didn’t you mention anything about Dostoevsky and Christianity?”

Hogan’s face bleached.  “Umm…I just didn’t think it was that important.”

“Miss Hogan, did you even read the book?”

“Sure, but I didn’t really see anything religious.”

“Miss Hogan, next time you better do a closer reading of the book.  If you’d thought about it or even done some research, you’d see we can’t understand this thinker apart from religion.  Come on guys, get your act together.”

The first part of the class was over.  It was now completely dark outside.  “Okay, let’s get the discussion going here.  We’re especially interested in what Dostoevsky has to say about the problem of evil.  You’ve read the book, so you should know that Dostoevsky approaches the problem religiously.  Open your books to page 240 and we’ll start reading that second paragraph and go to the end of the following page.  Mr. Kosinski, could you read it for us?”

Bill opened his copy of The Brothers Karamazov and followed along.  Ivan was complaining to his brother Alyosha:  “People sometimes talk of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel.  I’ve collected a great deal about Russian children, Alyosha.  There was a little girl of five who was hated by her father and mother…”  Ivan went on to describe how this little girl had been horribly abused by her parents.  He concluded by asking Alyosha if he would design the world in such a way that little children suffer so terribly.

Kosinski stopped reading and looked up.  Hamowy started the discussion.  “Okay, what’d you guys think of this?”  Silence.  “Come on, somebody must be thinking in this room!”  More silence.  Bill felt his stomach tighten more.  He leaned against the table and slightly pulsated back and forth with the rhythm of his thumping heart.  One of the other students raised his hand.

“Good, Mr. Bosley.  You’d like to comment?”

“Yeah, this book pretty much nails it right on.  How could anybody believe in God when there’s so much evil in the world?  Think of the Holocaust, all those Jews dying, where was God then?  How could anyone believe in a powerful good God who could control all this evil, but doesn’t?”

“Thank you, Mr. Bosley.  Anyone else?  Surely you don’t all agree with Mr. Bosley?”

It was time for Bill to strike.  He slowly raised up his hand, but Evans beat him to it.

“Okay, Miss Evans, enlighten us.”

“I agree.  Believing in a good God in a world where there’s suffering is completely illogical.  I don’t get all these god-freaks.  Are they even thinking with their brains?  We aren’t going to get anywhere in dealing with evil as long as those brain-dead ideas are around.  We’d be better off with something like when we’re all god and we all work together.”

“All right, thanks Miss Evans.  There seems to be a consensus developing.  What’s wrong with you guys?  Mr. Gordon, I saw your hand.  What do you think?”

Finally, Bill had his opportunity.  “It intrigues me that everyone agrees there’s such a thing as evil and wickedness.”  Bill’s heart beat faster and harder and his voice trembled.  “I’d like to just ask a question to all of you:  can we all agree that sexually abusing children is absolutely immoral?”

Most students nodded their head in agreement.  Only Bagchee didn’t.

“Mr. Bagchee, you disagree with Gordon?  Why?”

“Well, there may be some societies where adults having sex with children is completely normal.  In my country, in some of the cultures, it was at one time custom to make mothers sleep with their boys.  In other cultures, teenage girls must be deflowered by tribal leaders to prepare for their arranged marriage.”

Hogan couldn’t restrain herself.  “I think that’s completely disgusting!  Sexual abuse is wrong no matter what!”

Dr. Hamowy smiled as the class finally heated up.  “Miss Evans, you have something to add?”

“Yeah, Subhash you can say that about your country or other cultures, but what if part of their culture was to smash their children’s head against rocks while sexually abusing them, would that be okay too?  And what if it was you or your child?”  Bagchee shrugged.

“Mr. Gordon, where’d you want to go with this?

“Well, pretty much everyone agrees there’s an absolute moral rightness or wrongness to certain things, like sexually abusing children or brutally murdering them.”  Bill’s voice was quivering again.  “But when you ask how can there be a God with so much evil in the world, you’ve missed the hidden assumption in your question – that there is such a thing as evil.  And the fact that you get upset about evil in the world shows that in your hearts you know there is such a thing as absolute good and evil.  But when you deny the God of Christianity, you deny the possibility of there even being absolute right and wrong.  Apart from God, morality is an individual or cultural matter, and like Subhash’s examples, sexually abusing children could conceivably be acceptable.  But we’ve agreed that it’s absolutely not.  When you ask the question, you’re stuck.  You’ve betrayed yourself and the real nature of your problem with Christianity.”

“Umm, thanks Mr. Gordon.  Okay, what’d the rest of you think of those comments?”

Kosinksi leapt in again.  “Yeah, I think Bill’s wrong.  You’ve got a contradiction in your idea here.  You say God is good.  You say God is powerful, right?”  Bill nodded.  “But you say evil exists!  You’ve got a contradiction, ‘cause if God was all-good and all-powerful, there’d be no bad stuff.  So, ya see, Christianity isn’t so true after all.”

Bill thought carefully for a moment.  “Joe, you just said God is all-good and I completely agree with that – it’s found in the Bible.  His character defines right and wrong.  God is all-good and because I’m a Christian, I look at everything in the light of that.  And so when I see evil, I can be consistent by inferring God has a morally good reason for the evil we see around us.  Any evil we see must somehow fit with God’s goodness.  Look at Jesus for example.  Jesus was crucified.  It was an act of evil – he was 100% innocent.  But the cross fit in with God’s good plans to rescue those who’d believe in him.  God therefore has a good reason for the wickedness in the world and there’s no contradiction.  It all fits.”

Bill took a long deep breath and carried on.  “But within the non-Christian way of looking at the world, you can’t justify your contradiction between having absolute moral standards and not having an absolute source for those standards.  If all we are is ooze, what difference does it make if one glob of ooze sexually abuses another glob of ooze?  Who cares?  Only with Christianity can absolute standards of good and evil have any meaning.  And I think that was the point Dostoevsky was trying to make too.”

“Okay, thanks Mr. Gordon.  Anyone have anything to say?  Mr. Bosley?”

“Yeah, this is stupid.  What about the influence of Dostoevsky on feminist scholarship?”

The rest of the seminar rambled in inanities.  Bill’s heart-rate and blood pressure were still coming down 20 minutes later when the class ended.  As he got up to leave, he tried to make eye contact with some of the other students.  He made his way out and walked down the hall of the history department.  Hogan came up behind him and stopped him. “Bill, I really liked all those things you said.  That was really good.”  “Thanks.”  He walked away wondering why no one ever spoke up in class to support him.  As he stepped out into the chilly darkness, he still felt the aching of his chest and the tightness in his stomach.  The only thing not bothering him was his conscience.

Lyin’ to Yourself

If you only know where to look, self-deception is all around us.  It’s in old 80s songs.  John Waite sang about lying to himself that he ain’t missing you.  It’s in literature.  One of my favourite examples is from C.S. Lewis.  The Magician’s Nephew is the first of the Chronicles of Narnia.  Narnia has just been created by Aslan.  The animals are meeting with Aslan and at a certain point Aslan begins singing.  All of this was observed by Uncle Andrew. This is what Lewis wrote next:

When the great moment came and the Beasts spoke, he missed the whole point; for a rather interesting reason.  When the Lion had first begun singing, long ago when it was still quite dark, he had realized that the noise was a song.  And he had disliked the song very much.  It made him think and feel things he did not want to think and feel.  Then, when the sun rose and he saw that the singer was a lion (‘only a lion,’ as he said to himself) he tried his hardest to make himself believe that that it wasn’t singing and never had been singing – only roaring as any lion might in a zoo in our own world.  ‘Of course it can’t really have been singing,’ he thought, ‘I must have imagined it.  I’ve been letting my nerves get out of order.  Who ever heard of a lion singing?’ And the longer and more beautifully the Lion sang, the harder Uncle Andrew tried to make himself believe that he could hear nothing but roaring.  Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.  Uncle Andrew did.  He soon did hear nothing but roaring in Aslan’s song.  Soon he couldn’t have heard anything else even if he had wanted to.

That’s a classic example of self-deception.

The Bible speaks about this phenomenon, especially in relation to people and their knowledge of God.  Nowhere is this more direct than Romans 1.  Romans 1 says that all people know, at some level, that the true God exists.  However, not all people acknowledge his existence.  There’s a crucial difference between knowing something and acknowledging something.  Romans 1:18 says that unbelievers “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” about God.  That’s telling us that unbelief isn’t an intellectual failure.  Instead, it’s a profound moral problem.  Unbelievers make the moral choice to pretend the true God isn’t there.  This is an evil choice for which they’re fully responsible.  Romans 1:20 says that they’re “without excuse.”  They have no ground to stand on before God’s judgment.  They’re going to be held accountable for their choice to know about the true God and yet refuse to acknowledge him.

The truth is every person knows deep within them that they’ve broken God’s law.  Moreover, they know they’ll stand in judgment for that.  Romans 1:32 speaks the truth, “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”  What keeps an unbeliever from openly acknowledging this?  It’s simply the most irrational thing in the universe:  sin.  As it says in Romans 1:21, sin leads to futile thinking and darkened hearts.

What’s the way out of this profound self-deception with regards to the true God?  Regeneration by the Holy Spirit.  Only the Holy Spirit can bring light to the darkened heart.  Only the Holy Spirit can bring purpose and meaning to our thinking.  Only he can lead us to acknowledge God and, even more, trust in him.  But it’s important to remember that the Holy Spirit uses means.  He uses people who speak the truth of God’s Word to challenge the foolishness of self-deception (1 Pet. 1:23-25).  What the self-deceived need more than anything is someone to come along with the truth, to pull the façade down, to rip off the mask, and show the way things really are.  When we do that with the requisite love and humility of our Saviour, God can use that to work regeneration and faith.

Book Review: Know Why You Believe

Know Why You Believe, K. Scott Oliphint.  Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017.  Softcover, 221 pages.

There’s a need for different types of books on apologetics.  We need the books on theory – and there are plenty of them.  Several efforts have been made over the years to write books specifically addressed to unbelieving skeptics.  However, so far as I’m aware, there haven’t been too many books written for believers at a popular level.  I’m talking about the kind of book you could give to your teenage son or daughter when they start asking hard questions about the Christian faith.  This is that book.

As a professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr. Scott Oliphint is well-qualified to write this kind of work.  He has a great grasp of the background philosophical and theological issues – and this is evident in his more scholarly apologetics books.  Yet he also has a track record of accessible writing for popular audiences – for example, some years ago I reviewed his great series of biblical studies entitled The Battle Belongs to the Lord: The Power of Scripture for Defending Our Faith.  He’s done it again.  Except for a couple of more technical sections, most of Know Why You Believe should be comprehensible to the average reader from young adults upwards.

The book launches with this profound quote from C.S. Lewis at his best:  “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”  That really sets the tone for everything following.  One of the reasons I really love this book and can highly recommend it is because it takes God’s Word seriously.  It takes Psalm 36:9 seriously:  “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light do we see light.”  God’s light especially shines forth in his Word.  If you want to see clearly, you need to see things God’s way.  This is also true when it comes to the reasons for believing the Christian faith.  The best and most trustworthy reasons come from God himself – the faithful God who never lies.  That’s the basic approach undergirding Know Why You Believe – a biblical, Reformed approach to apologetics.

Oliphint covers 10 questions we might struggle with:

  • Why believe in the Bible?
  • Why believe in God?
  • Why believe in Jesus?
  • Why believe in miracles?
  • Why believe Jesus rose from the dead?
  • Why believe in salvation?
  • Why believe in life after death?
  • Why believe in God in the face of modern science?
  • Why believe in God despite the evil in the world?
  • Why believe in Christianity alone?

Each chapter deals with one of these questions.  It explains the reasons and then also addresses responses or objections that might arise.  There are also “Questions for Reflection” and recommended readings with every chapter.

Just touching on one chapter, the second last deals with the problem of evil.  It describes the problem and then explores two ways in which Christians have tried to address it, albeit unsatisfactorily.  Instead, Oliphint attempts to offer biblical reasons as to how evil can co-exist with a good God.  He points out that God has recognized the problem of evil from before creation.  Furthermore, God created human beings in his image as responsible agents.  When Adam and Eve fell, God rightly judged their sin.  The real blame for evil is on them, not God.  He then points out how God himself has dealt with, is dealing with, and will deal with the problem of evil through his Son Jesus Christ.  This is a good explanation, but Oliphint might have said more.  For instance, he could have added that because God is good, he must have a morally good reason for allowing whatever evil there is to exist.

Not every Christian ponders the deeper questions of why we believe what we do.  But if you or someone you know does, this will be a great read.  It would also make a great gift for consistories to give to young people who make public profession of faith.

Book Review: Reformed Apologetics (4)

See here for part 1, here for part 2, here for part 3.

Presuppositional apologetics is well-known for its use of the Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (TAG).  Essentially, this argument states that God exists because of the impossibility of the contrary.  We cannot account for anything apart from God.  To hear the best example of this argument in action, listen to the famous 1985 debate between Dr. Greg Bahnsen and Dr. Gordon Stein.

In chapter 6, Fesko concedes that TAG can be a useful argument in the apologist’s toolbox, “but not at the expense of the book of nature” (137).  He does not regard it as a silver-bullet, nor does he see it as “the most biblically pure form of Reformed apologetics” (137).  Rather than being purely biblical, Fesko sees TAG as being more philosophical.  In particular, he sees it as attaching “apologetic methodology to certain idealist concepts” (156).

The chief problem with chapter 6 is that while Fesko acknowledges the presuppositionalist claim that TAG is biblical or even the most biblical way to argue, he never once interacts with the biblical exegesis proffered by presuppositionalists to support that claim.  Instead, he apparently thinks it sufficient to illustrate that TAG has an idealist background.  He reasons that since TAG has an idealist background, the presuppositionalist claim is suspect at best.  However, would it not be fair and reasonable to engage the biblical argumentation that presuppositionalists like Oliphint and Bahnsen present in favour of TAG?  Shouldn’t Scripture be the ultimate arbiter of whether something is scriptural?

Additionally, Fesko fails to engage the presuppositionalist claim that TAG is also the most versatile form of apologetic argumentation.  In fact, he simply posits the opposite.  As mentioned, he acknowledges TAG’s usefulness, but then limits it to arguing with philosophical idealists:  “If the apologist happens to be interacting with a person who is devoted to idealism, then the TAG is a useful tool, but an apologist who happens to be dialoguing with a postmodern who rejects the tenets of idealism would need to employ other tools” (155).  Similarly, he argues that TAG is not going to be useful for apologetical engagement with someone who does not have a coherent worldview “but only an eclectic postmodern assortment of beliefs” (156).  There are two points in response.

First, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  Above I mentioned, the so-called Great Debate between Bahnsen and Stein in 1985.   Anyone who has listened to the debate will concede that Stein was handily trumped by Bahnsen.  Was Stein an idealist?  There are other debates where the outcome was not so clear, but from a Christian perspective we can still be assured the truth was proclaimed and unbelief was exposed for what it is.  I think of the debates between Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens.  Wilson wielded TAG against Hitchens.  Was Hitchens an idealist?  Many more examples could be adduced, some with obvious leanings to a more postmodern philosophy of life.  Now, I suppose Fesko’s point hangs on the definition of “usefulness.”  Does “useful” entail convincing opponents?  Or is “useful” a matter of presenting a solid case for the Christian faith regardless of the outcome?  If we use the latter approach, then it is clear to me at least that TAG has been quite useful in apologetical engagements with non-idealists.

Second, Fesko asserts that TAG is only going to be useful for dialoguing with those who have a “coherent worldview.”  This is missing the whole point of TAG.  TAG argues that, outside of the Christian faith, there are no coherent worldviews.  There are no worldviews that can account for reality as it stands before us.  No worldview save the Christian one can account for morality, laws of logic, the uniformity of nature, love, and so on.  Every worldview besides the Christian one is inconsistent and incoherent.  True, there may be individuals whose worldview is a “postmodern assortment of beliefs” – however, these worldviews are to greater or lesser degrees just as inconsistent and incoherent as the most thorough-going idealist.

There is far more that could be said in critique of Fesko’s critique.  I could discuss his failure to acknowledge Van Til’s crucial distinction between natural theology and natural revelation.  I could discuss whether his understanding of the noetic effects of sin is sufficiently Reformed.  I would heartily dispute his repeated claims that presuppositionalists teach that unbelievers have no knowledge whatsoever.  I might bemoan the lack of meaningful engagement with biblical teachings about the myth of neutrality and the reality of self-deception.  I could contest his insinuation in chapter 8 that presuppositionalism is innately arrogant and immodest.  It could be worthwhile to investigate whether Fesko has done justice to Herman Dooyeweerd in chapter 7 – but I will leave that and the other points to others.

Let me finish my critique with something more about Fesko’s understanding of proofs, evidence, and the so-called book of nature.  In the last chapter, he writes that “Proofs, evidence, and the book of nature do not convert unbelievers, but they are an integral part of God’s revelation and thus necessary, important and useful” (209).  I can readily grant that the “book of nature” understood in the sense of article 2 of the Belgic Confession is part of God’s revelation.  “The creation, preservation, and government of the universe” do lead us to perceive God’s invisible qualities, viz. his eternal power and divine nature.  This is biblical – it comes from Romans 1:20.  However, is it biblical to argue that proofs and evidence are an “integral part of God’s revelation”?   Furthermore, which proofs?  Which evidence?  And how are they “God’s revelation”?

If we limit ourselves to the “book of nature,” the Belgic Confession and other historic Reformed symbols attach a limited value to it.  BC article 2 briefly mentions it, but then spends the next five articles on Scripture – the clearer and fuller revelation of God.  When it comes to apologetics, we need to reckon with what Scripture says about itself.  Apologetics is a form of spiritual warfare.  Ephesians 6 speaks about the armour of the Christian soldier.  In that armour there is only one offensive weapon.  It is not “the book of nature” or “evidences and proofs,” but the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17).  Scripture says that Scripture is the weapon for our spiritual warfare.  Our Saviour illustrates the use of that weapon in his temptations.  When tempted by Satan, he did not resort to “the book of nature,” but to the Word of God.  When faced with the lies of unbelief, should not Christians do likewise?

Cornelius Van Til claimed that he was simply standing on the shoulders of others so that he could see further.  He acknowledged his indebtedness to Kuyper, Bavinck, and others who had gone before.  There is a need to be critical when it comes to Van Til’s claims and, indeed, all his teaching.  No man is beyond scrutiny.  The question is:  by what standard do we judge?   Fesko seems more interested in judging Van Til (and presuppositionalism) by historical theology than by the Scriptures.

Writing critiques is hazardous stuff.  Carrying on the Reformed tradition, Van Til was a polemical writer.  He felt compelled to critique theologians like Thomas Aquinas and Joseph Butler at length.  Others have critiqued Van Til’s critique and Fesko’s Reforming Apologetics is just the latest one.  Now I have critiqued Fesko’s critique of Van Til’s critique.  While it is necessary to do it, I sometimes wonder whether we advance the discussion when it is always framed in this negative way.  Fesko automatically puts presuppositionalists like me on the defensive, just as I suppose Van Til has put him on the defensive.  It may have served the church better to write a book with a focus on a positive proposal for Reformed apologetics in our day.  Some critical engagement with theological forebears might still be necessary, but it would put the focus on building up rather than tearing down.