The following personal email has been adapted for a broader readership, to illustrate Van Til’s Apologetics. Used by permission.
I appreciate your inquiry.
I am sorry to hear of your distress. I am taking this opportunity to pray for you. My experience is that when people are in spiritual distress, only a limited amount can be done at a distance. I would encourage you to talk and pray with your pastor. Spiritual crises do not solve themselves by merely intellectual means. In fact, they tend to prolong themselves by intellectual means, because the intellect becomes a false godlike source of reliance.
I hesitate to say more about presuppositional apologetics, because you have already studied it. But people who study it on their own, and even some who study it in the classroom or with a mentor, frequently develop misconceptions. So let me say a few things that you may already know. If I am off base, please excuse it.
Presuppositional apologetics is not a game of argument or logic. Rather, it is an approach that helps inform someone who is already a follower of Christ. The Christian comes to understand more deeply what is the significance of his engagement with other people who express doubts or who have objections to the Christian faith.
Presuppositional apologetics is not necessary in detail with everyone we meet. A Christian can present the good news about Christ. God the Father has sent Christ the eternal Son of God to come to earth. Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose again to save all who believe in him (John 3:16). This message should be presented in the context of the understanding that there is one God who created the world and mankind, and from whom the human race has rebelled. If the hearer accepts this message and believes in Christ, he is saved. He is on the road, that is, the way that is Christ himself (John 14:6).
Presuppositional apologetics in detail only comes in if a person does not accept the message of Christ, but has objections or resistances. Presuppositionalism only makes sense if one is a follower of Christ already (1 Pet. 3:15). A Christian comes to understand from Christ’s teaching (and, subjectively from the work of the Holy Spirit opening the eyes) that the Bible is the trustworthy word of God. The Bible indicates (in Rom. 1:18-25 and other places) that every human being already knows God, but that non-Christians suppress that knowledge. That is the environment in which a Christian gives the message of the truth.
Let me illustrate, with you as an example. I already know that you know God. You do, whether or not you have doubts. The Bible knows you better than you know yourself. You express, “I’m unsure how to ground my belief in God and His word.” Do you believe that Christ is a trustworthy person? Then start there. What does Christ indicate about the authority of the Old Testament? If you do not believe that he is trustworthy, then read about him from the Bible. You may do that even if you have doubts about the status of the Bible. At least find out about the claims of Jesus, as given in the Bible. Do you believe those claims? Maybe not. But if you don’t, it is because you have a belief in something else, which in practice you treat as more solid than Jesus as a person or the Bible as a testimony. What is that something? Is it reliable? Are you reliable? Is computer science reliable? Are your colleagues in computer science reliable? Why do you not surrender to Christ? Because you think that something else is safer than Christ. Yourself, perhaps? (The self is the last idol back in American culture.) That something else has in practice become one of your gods. You need to repent.
Discussions always trace back eventually to commitments of the heart. The discussions about basic things are never merely intellectual. They are about serving Christ or serving self.
The discussions are always discussions between persons, and persons are always already committed. They are either for Christ or against him.
Van Til has a little booklet, Why I Believe in God. It is more personal than most of his writings. In it, he imagines himself talking with an unbeliever. At one point he observes that, if it were of interest, the two of them could debate and argue back and forth about the existence or nonexistence of air. They could present all kinds of arguments. Now at this point Van Til is presenting an analogy between arguing about air and arguing about the existence of God. He can picture all kinds of arguments. If the question is about the meaning of Jesus and his work, Van Til is not against arguments from miracles in the Bible, arguments from fulfillments of prophecies, arguments based on the witnesses to Christ’s resurrection, and so on. Similarly, there could be all kinds of arguments for the existence of air. But all the time, Van Til observes, the two people who are arguing are using air. It is impossible to conduct an oral argument at all without using air. We may debate learnedly about air, but all the time we are using it. Similarly, it is impossible to conduct any argument at all without relying on God, secretly. I talk about it some in my book Logic.
In your email, you use the English language. Language is a gift of God (I talk more about it in my book, In the Beginning Was the Word). So you were relying on God when you wrote. You were relying on Christ, who is the Word (“Logos”) and who is the origin of the gift of language (John 1:1). You are not convinced that that is so? And your colleagues in computer science are not convinced? Of course they are not convinced, because they have been living their lives by suppressing obvious truth, using a culture in which some of the best minds in the last three hundred years have produced very clever ways to suppress the truth. There is only one way out: Christ who is the truth. If your colleagues were not in slavery to sin, they would be thanking God each morning for the gift of life, and thanking him whenever they think about it for the gift of language. They are already committed. They are already committed to ignoring God and not thanking him. It is obvious, when you read the Bible and see what it says about us. We are ungrateful to God.
This is not about a clever, sophisticated argument. It is about what is obvious to someone who has received with meekness what Christ teaches. Of course it is not going to convince them. Of course it is not going to convince you. Unless the Holy Spirit works to remove the veil of sin and darkness (Eph. 4:17-20). The Holy Spirit uses means. So we can invite people to read the Bible, which is a primary means. We may invite them to pray, and ask God to have mercy on their slavery and darkness. We can, as I observed earlier, use all kinds of arguments for who Christ is. As I do in some of my books, we can show how God displays his glory in science, in language, in logic, in mathematics, and in human society. And we pray for those to whom we speak. Van Til approves all this. But he asks us to understand properly what the real situation is: the people to whom we are talking are ungrateful slaves to sin. We should try not to reinforce the illusion that their minds and their hearts are okay, by seeming to go along with the pretense that they do not know God.
There is a little book on computer science:
It reminds us that God is the foundation for computer science, and that we need to praise him and be grateful to him for computers and the science of computers.
If you will not rely on Christ, your position is hopeless. He is the Word (John 1:1), the light of the world (John 8:12) in whose light alone people find the truth. This includes every inch of computer science. You have nowhere else to stand, nor do your colleagues.
© CC BY-SA 4.0 International by Vern Poythress