Defending the Faith

In this series of articles our concern will be to discover some of the main features of the Reformed approach in Christian Apologetics.

While seeking light on this question, let us turn first to the inaugural address of the late Dr. Valentine Hepp of the Free University of Amsterdam. The title of this address is Reformed Apologetic.1 Hepp says that a Reformed Christian must naturally be Reformed in his approach to the problem of Apologetics. Men and women do not walk about first as human beings and afterward as men and women. No more can a Reformed Christian first appear as a Christian and later as a Reformed Christian. A Reformed Christian is a Reformed Christian from the outset. If Hepp is right, then the Reformed Christian will have a distinctively Reformed approach when he is trying to win “Mr. Black” to become a Christian. He wants “Mr. Black” to become at once a Reformed Christian, not first a Christian and then a Reformed Christian. “Mr. Black” must become a Reformed Christian not in two but in one transaction.



The late Dr. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield once said that Calvinism or the Reformed Faith is Christianity come to its own. Warfield did not like to identify Calvinism with the so-called “five points of Calvinism”: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistable grace, and perseverance of the saints. Historically at least, Warfield Asserts, these five points were but the “theological obverse” of the “five points of Arminianism”. The “five points of Calvinism” are but so many branches of the tree of Calvinism.

Looked. at as a unit, Calvinism represents the “vision of God in his majesty.” Regarded a little more particularly, Calvinism implies three things. “In it, objectively speaking, theism comes to its rights; subjectively speaking, the religious relation attains to its purity; soteriologically speaking, evangelical religion finds at length its full expression and its secure stability” (Calvin as a Theologian and Calvinism Today, p. 23). Amplifying this statement Warfield says: “I think it is important to insist that Calvinism is not a specific variety of theistic thought, religious experience, evangelical faith, but just the perfect manifestation of these things…There is but one kind of theism, religion, evangelicalism; and if there arc several constructions laying claim to these names they differ from one another not as correlative species of a more inclusive genus, but only as more or less good or bad specimens of the same thing differ from one another” (Idem. p. 24).

If Warfield is right, then our conclusion must be the same as that based on Hepp’s remarks. The Reformed Faith is theism come to its own. If there be other theisms they are not true theisms. How could they be? Are there several true Gods? There is but one true God; there is therefore but one true theism, namely, Christian theism, the theism of the Bible. There is but one God, the God triune of the Scriptures. And it is the vision of this God “in his majesty” that constitutes the essence of the Reformed Faith. It is to the recognition of this God as wholly sovereign thai the Reformed Christian would win “Mr. Black”.

Two Negative Conclusions

Two general conclusions of a negative nature may now be drawn. First, the Reformed apologist cannot cooperate with the Romanist in the establishment of the existence of God. The theism of Roman Catholic theology is not “theism come to its own”; it is a vague, general sort of theism. It is a theism in which the God of Christianity and the god of Greek philosophy, particularly the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle, are ground together into a common mixture. The theism of Romanist theology is a theism heavily freighted with pagan elements of thought. If such theism were proved to be true, then the Christian theism of the Reformed Christian would be proved to be untrue. If with the Romanist we “prove” the existence of a god, then we have disproved the existence of the God of Christianity. It is only a perverted type of Christianity, such as constitutes Romanism, that fits onto the perverted type of theism which is “proved” by Romanist theologians.

The second major negative conclusion to be drawn from the remarks of Hepp and Warfield is that the Reformed apologist cannot co-operate with the “evangelical” in providing the truth of evangelism. By evangelism we mean what Warfield meant when he spoke of it as identical with general non-Reformed Protestantism (cf. The Plan on Salvation).

This second negative conclusion follows directly from the first. The evangelical does want to co-operate with the Romanist in proving the truth of theism. He argues that Protestants have many doctrines in common with Romanists, and that the existence of God is the most basic of them. Why then he asks in amazement, cannot Protestants co-operate with Romanists in proving the truth of theism? Why not have the Romanist help us build the first story of the house of Christian theism? After they have helped us build the first story of our house we can dismiss them with thanks for their service and proceed to build the second story, the story of Protestantism, ourselves.

The answer to this is that if Romanists have helped us in building the first story of our house, then the whole house will tumble into ruins. It has already been noted that when they build the first story of their house the Romanists mix a great deal of the clay of paganism with the iron of Christianity. The concrete blocks may be those of Christianity, but the cement is nothing other than the sand of paganism. Woe to the Protestants in conjunction with Romanists. Only a defective Protestantism can be built upon the perverted theism of the Romanist type. For, as Warfield puts it, the precise characterization of evangelicalism is that which describes it as a defective Protestantism. Warfield’s point is that evangelicalism is inconsistent Protestantism. It has carried into its system certain foreign elements—elements ultimately derived by way of Romanism from paganism.

Are We Extremists?

“But,” some one will exclaim, “Iook where you have brought us! To what extremes you have gone! Not to speak of Romanists, are we not even to co-operate with evangelicals? I know many evangelicals who are much better Christians than are many Calvinists.” But this is not the issue. The question is not as to who ore Christians and who are going to heaven. We Are not judging men’s hearts. Many evangelicals are no doubt better Calvinists in practice than other men who are officially known as Calvinists.

The point is that we are now speaking of theological systems. When Warfield makes the high claim that Calvinism is “nothing more or less than the hope of the world”,1 he is speAking of the Reformed system of theology and of the Reformed point of view in general. Other types of theology fire supernaturalistic in patches. To some extent they yield to the idea of autosoterism, to the idea that man to some degree is saved by his own effort. Therefore, argues Warfield, “Calvinism is just Christianity”.2 But then, by precisely the same reasoning. Reformed apologetics is the hope of the world.

A further objection may be met here: Have not certain Reformed theologians been willing in some measure to co-operate with Romanists in defending theism and with evangelicals in defending evangelicalism, in order, after that, to defend the specific doctrine of Calvinism? Are they all wrong and are you alone right?

The answer to this objection is not easy. It would require separate and extensive discussion to do it justice. There is, no doubt, some measure of truth in the contention that at least some Reformed theologians have been willing to follow the method of co-operation first and distinctiveness afterward. Over against this stands the fact that other Reformed theologians, seeing, as they thought, the compromising result of such a method, have argued that the very idea of apologetics as a positive theoligical discipline is out of accord with the principles or the Reformed Faith. Or again, some have argued that apologetics must at most be given a very small task in the way of warding off the attacks of the enemy. The difference between Warfield and Kuyper on the question of apologetics is well known. Are we to be reprimanded in advance for not agreeing with Kuyper? Or for not agreeing with Warfield? Let us rather seek to listen to both Warfield and Kuyper and also to Calvin, and then do the best we can as we ask just what the genius of the Reformed Faith requires of us. Is there anything else that any one today can do?

A third party is anxious to ask a question here. Are all the efforts of evangelical apologists then to no avail? Arc we to make no use whatsoever of the research done by them in such fields as biblical history and archaeology, to mention nothing more?

Let us reply to these questions with other questions. Reformed theologians do not co-operate with Arminian theologians in the preaching of the gospel. Do they therefore conclude that all Arminian preaching is to no avail? God uses even defective preaching to accomplish his purposes; so God also uses detective reasoning to bring men to himself. And as for the results of evangelical scholarship, the Reformed apologist should gratefully employ all that is true and good in it. What is true and good in it derives from the measure of Calvinism any form of Christianity contains. But when it comes to the master plan of procedure, the Reformed apologist must go his own way; and it is only of the master plan that we speak when we deal with the question of apologetics in general. Solomon made use even of The Sidonians when building the temple of the Lord, but he did not give them membership on his building committee.

The Basic Difference

A fourth party now asks: “Granting all this for the sake of argument, can you tell us in a few words wherein you think the main difference consists between a Reformed and a Romanist or evangelical apologetics?”

Here, indeed, is the heart of the mutter. It is not easy to answer this question. But let us try to deal with it as best we can in a general way before going on to further specific points.

The basic difference between the two types of apologetics is to be found, we believe. in the primary assumption that each party makes. The Romanist-evangelical type of apologetics assumes that man can first know much about himself and the universe and afterward ask whether God exists and Christianity is true. The Reformed apologist assumes that nothing can be known by man about himself or the universe unless God exists and Christianity is true.

It will be observed that it is this very difference thaI exists between the two types of theology, the Romanist-evangelical and the Reformed. The former type of theology assumes that it first knows what human freedom is from “experience”, It then adjusts the doctrines of Scripture concerning God and Christianity to its notion of freedom derived from experience. The Reformed type of theology begins with Scriptures and defines human freedom in terms of its principles alone.

It is natural that this difference which is basic: in the two types of theology should also be basic in the two types of apologetics. Thomas Aquinas, the Roman Catholic, and Bishop Butler, the Arminian, both talk a great deal about the nature of man and of reality as a whole before they approach the question of the existence of God or of the truth of Christianity. At least, they assume much about the nature of man and of reality as a whole while they are speaking about the possibility or the existence of God or of the truth of Christianity. Over against them stands Calvin. He will not say one word about man or about the universe except in the light of the revelation of God as given in Scripture. The very first page of The Institutes is eloquent testimony to this fact.

Otherwise expressed, it may be said that the Romanist apologist does while the Romanist-evangelical apologist does not make the Creator-creature distinction basic in all that he says about anything. His argument is that unless this distinction is made basic to all that man says about anything, then whatever man says is fundamentally untrue. The natural man, who assumes that he himself and the facts about him are not created, therefore assumes what is basically false. Everything he says about himself and the universe will be colored by this assumption. It is therefore impossible to grant that he is right, basically right, ill what he says about any fact. If he says what is right in detail about any fact. this is in spite of, not because of his basically false assumption.

Since the Romanist-evangelical apologist does not make the Creator-creature distinction basic to the very first thing that he says about man or the universe, he is willing to join hands with the natural man, and together with him “discover” many “truths” about man and the universe. He will make common ground with the unbeliever as in science or in philosophy they investigate together the nature of Reality as a whole, He will agree with the natural man as he speaks about “being in general”, and only afterward argue against the unbeliever for the necessity of introducing the Creator-creature distinction. So Butler agrees with the deists on their view of the “course and constitution” of nature, and afterward tries to persuade them that they ought also to believe in Christ.

Of course, the reason why the one type of apologetics does and the other does not wish to make the Creator-creature distinction basic at the outset of all predication is to be found in the differing conceptions of sin. The natural man does not want to make the Creator-creature distinction basic in his thought. The sinner does not want to recognize the fact that he is a creature of God, as such responsible to God, and because of his sin under the judgment of God. This is to be expected. But why should Christians who have confessed their sins to God, who have therefore recognized him as Creator and Lord, and especially why should evangelicals who confess that they hold to the Bible as their only infallible rule of authority, not wish to bring their every thought captive to the obedience of Christ? In other words, how do you account for the fact that evangelicals carry into their theology and into their apologetics so much foreign material? It is. of course, because of their defective view of sin. In fact, their defective view of sin is itself of foreign origin. More must be said about this subject later.

For the moment, let us be keenly aware of the fact that we who seek to escape the defective views of sin and of creation involved in evangelical theology and apologetics are always defective in practice. Precisely the same tendency toward the acceptance of a low view of sin and of creation that we deprecate in our brethren is found in ourselves. We should therefore seek to win ourselves in practice as well as our brethren in, theory to an acceptance of the implications of a fully biblical view of sin and creation in the field of apologetics, or these implications it will be our concern to speak in what follows.

  To encourage the reading of this very important series of articles by all our Reformed people, we are including this list of brief definitions covering the more difficult words used by the writer. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the article itself. Please bear in mind that these definitions are suggestive rather than exhaustive. APOLOGETICS. That branch of theology which is concerned with the defense of Christian-theism against false philosophy. THEISM. In this article theism is the Christian interpretation of reality as based upon the revelation of the God of the Bible. SOTERIOLOGY. That department of biblical doctrine which treats of the application to us of that which Christ has merited for us. ROMANISM. The doctrines, customs, and adherents of the Roman Catholic religion. PAGANISM. That religion, culture and philosophy which is outside the Christian, Mohammedan, or Jewish tradition. (Paganism is often used in the same sense as heathenism). EVANGELICALISM. That type of Protestant Christianity which limits its emphasis to man’s need for personal redemption through Jesus Christ. SUPERNATUALISM. In this article supernaturalism is the belief in God as altogether above nature but nevertheless the One in whom “we live, and move, and have our being.” (Acts 17:28). DEISM. The belief that God created the world as a watchmaker fashions a watch, and set it in motion, but that it continues to run by its own natural laws. REFORMED FAITH. See page 31, “Calvinism.” ARCHAEOLOGY. The study of past human life and activities as shown by the relics, monuments, etc., of ancient peoples. ARMINIANISM. See page 31, “Arminianism.” FOOTNOTES 1. Gereformeerde Apologetiek, Kampen, 1922. 2. Idem, p. 1 Dr. Cornelius VanTil is professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, PA. VanTil is internationally recognized as an authority on current theological trends. He has written The New Modernism, Common Grace, and is co-editor of Philosophia Reformata. This article is the first of a series on the fundamental issue of the nature of the Reformed defense of Faith.  


Hunted o’er the valley, o’er plain and o’er mountain,

Refuge non finding, relentless his foes,

Panteth the hart for the brook and the fountain,

Panteth and thirsteth, nor seeks for repose.

Hunted, oh hunted this weary world over

Refuge none finding my God, save in Thee,

Thus pants my soul Thine abode to discover,

Thus stretches onward Thy glory to see.

Sorrow, temptation and sin fast pursuing,

Seek for my soul for its ruin and death,

Onward I fly, my weak forces renewing,

Thirsting and fainting and panting for breath.

Dry is the land, is my soul’s lamentation;

Thirsting and panting, fast onward I flee.

Fleeing from sorrow and sin and temptation,

Thirsting and panting, Oh God! after Thee!

(Author unknown)