The difference between a Reformed and an Evangelical method of approach to unbelievers is our main concern in these articles. Our contention has been that the very nature of Reformed theology requires a distinct approach in the matter of its defense. Let us again discuss this question, this time in relation to the central problem of biblical authority.
How will the Evangelical or Conservative urge upon the unbeliever the idea of accepting the Bible as the Word of God? He will, of course, tell the unbeliever that his eternal weal or woe is involved. “Christ died for your sins, and you must accept him as your Savior or you will be eternally lost,” says Mr. Grey, the Conservative, to Mr. Black, the unbeliever.
Rational Probability “But how can anyone know anything about the ‘Beyond’?” asks Mr. Black. “Well, of course,” replies Mr. Grey, “if you want absolute certainty such as ‘ one gets in geometry, Christianity does not offer it. We offer you only ‘rational probability.’ Christianity, as I said in effect a moment ago when I spoke of the death of Christ, is founded on historical facts, which, by their very nature, cannot be demonstrated with geometric certainty. All judgments of historical particulars are at the mercy of the complexity of the time-space Universe…If the scientist cannot rise above rational probability in his empirical investigation, ‘why should the Christian claim more?’1 And what is true of the death of Christ,” adds Mr. Grey, “is, of course, also true of his resurrection. But this only shows that ‘the Christian is in possession of a world-view which is making a sincere effort to come to grips with actual history.’”2
By speaking thus, Mr. Grey seeks for a point of contact with Mr. Black. For Mr. Black, history is something that floats on an infinitely extended and bottomless ocean of Chance. Therefore he can say that anything may happen. Who knows but the· death and resurrection of Jesus as the Son of God might issue from this womb of Chance? Such events would have an equal chance of happening with “snarks, boojums, splinth, and gobble-de-gook.” God himself may live in this realm of Chance. He is then “wholly other” than ourselves. And his revelation in history would then be wholly unique.
Now the Evangelical does not challenge this underlying philosophy of Chance as it controls the unbeliever’s conception of history. He is so anxious to have the unbeliever accept the possibility of God’s existence and the fact of the resurrection of Christ that, if necessary, he will exchange his own philosophy of fact for that of the unbeliever. Anxious to be genuinely “empirical” like the unbeliever, he will throw all the facts of Christianity into the bottomless pit of Chance. Or, rather, he will throw all these facts at the unbeliever, and the unbeliever throws them over his back into the bottomless pit of Chance.
Of course, this is the last thing that such men as Wilbur Smith, Edward J. Carnell, and J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., want to do. But in failing to challenge the philosophy of Chance that underlies the unbeliever’s notion of “fact,” they are in effect accepting it.
This approach of Mr. Grey is unavoidable if one holds to an Arminian theology. The Arminian view of man’s free will implies that “possibility” is above God. But a “possibility” that is above God is the same thing as Chance. A God surrounded by Chance cannot speak with authority. He would be speaking into a vacuum. His voice could not be heard. And if God were surrounded by Chance, then human beings would be too. They would live in a vacuum, unable to hear either their own voices or those of others.Thus the whole of history, including all of its facts, would be without meaning.
It is this that the Reformed Christian, Mr. White, would tell Mr. Black. In the very act of presenting the resurrection of Christ, or in the very act of presenting any other fact of historic Christianity, Mr. White would be presenting it as authoritatively interpreted in the Bible. He would argue that unless Mr. Black is willing to set the facts of history in the framework of the meaning authoritatively ascribed to them in the Bible, he will make gobble-de-gook of history.
If history were what Mr. Black assumes that it is, then anything might happen and then nobody would know what may happen. No one thing would then be more likely to happen than any other thing. David Hume, the great skeptic, has effectively argued that if you allow any room for Chance in your thought, then you no longer have the right to speak of probabilities. Whirl would be king. No one hypothesis would have any more relevance to facts than any other hypothesis. Did God raise Christ from the dead? Per chance he did. Did Jupiter do it? Perchance he did. What is Truth? Nobody knows. Such would be the picture of the universe if Mr. Black were right.
No comfort can be taken from the assurance of the Conservative that, since Christianity makes no higher claim than that of rational probability, “the system of Christianity can be refuted only by probability. Perhaps our loss is gain.”3 How could one ever argue that there is a greater probability for the truth of Christianity than for the truth of its opposite if the very meaning of the word probability rests upon the idea of Chance? On this basis nature and history would be no more than a series of pointer readings pointing into the blank.
But You Are Wrong
In assuming his philosophy of Chance and thus virtually saying that nobody knows what is back of the common objects of daily observation, Mr. Black also virtually says that the Christian view of things is wrong. If I assert that there is a black cat in the closet, and you assert that nobody knows what is in the closet, you have virtually told me that I am wrong in my hypothesis. So when I tell Mr. Black that God exists, and he responds very graciously by saying that perhaps I am right since nobody knows what is in the “Beyond,” he is virtually saying that I am wrong in my “hypothesis.” He is obviously thinking of such a God as could comfortably live in the realm of Chance. But the God of Scripture cannot live in the realm of Chance.
Mr. Black’s response when confronted with the claims of God and his Christ, is essentially this: Nobody knows, but nevertheless your hypothesis is certainly wrong and mine is certainly right. Nobody knows whether God exists, but God certainly does not exist and Chance certainly does exist.
When Mr. Black thus virtually makes his universal negative assertion, saying in effect that God cannot possibly exist and that Christianity cannot possibly be true, he must surely be standing on something very solid. Is it on solid rock that he stands? No, he stands on water! He stands on his own “experience.” But this experience, by his own assumption, rests again on Chance. Thus, standing on Chance, he swings the “logician’s postulate” and modestly asserts what cannot be in the “Beyond,” of which he said before that nothing can be said.
The Law of Noncontradiction
Of course, what Mr. Black is doing appears very reasonable to himself. “Surely,” he says, if questioned at all on the subject, “a rational man must have systematic coherence in his experience. Therefore he cannot accept as true anything that is not in accord with the law of noncontradiction. So long as you leave your God in the realm of the ‘Beyond,’ in the realm of the indeterminate, you may worship him by yourself alone. But so soon as you claim that your God has revealed himself in creation, in providence, or in your Scripture, so soon I shall put that revelation to a test by the principle of rational coherence.
“And by that test none of your doctrines are acceptable. All of them are contradictory. No rational man can accept any of them. If your God is eternal, then he falls outside of my experience and lives in the realm of the ‘Beyond,’ of the unknowable. But if he is to have anything to do with the world, then he must himself be wholly within the world. I must understand your God throughout if I am to speak intelligently of any relationship that he sustains to my world and to myself. Your idea that God is both eternal and unchangeable and yet sustains such relationships to the world as are involved in your doctrine of creation and providence, is flatly contradictory.
“For me to accept your God,” continues Mr. Black, “you must do to him what Karl Barth has done to him, namely, strip him of all the attributes that orthodox theology has assigned to him, and thus enable him to turn into the opposite of himself. With that sort of God I have a principle of unity that brings all my experience into harmony. And that God is wholly within the universe. If you offer me such a God and offer him as the simplest hypothesis with which I may, as a goal, seek to order my experience as it comes to me from the womb of Chance, then the law of noncontradiction will be satisfied. As a rational man I can settle for nothing less.”
Rationalism and Determinism
All this amounts to saying that Mr. Black, the lover of a Chance philosophy, the indeterminist, is at the same time an out-and-out determinist or fatalist. It is to say that Mr. Black, the irrationalist, who said that nobody knows what is in the “Beyond,” is at the same time a flaming rationalist. For him only that can be which—so he thinks—he can exhaustively determine by logic must be. He may at first grant that anything may exist, but when he says this he at the same time says in effect that nothing can exist and have meaning for man but that which man himself can exhaustively know. Therefore, for Mr. Black, the God of Christianity cannot exist. For him the doctrine of creation cannot be true. There could be no revelation of God to man through nature and history. There can be no such thing as the resurrection of Christ.
Strangely enough, when Mr. Black thus says that God cannot exist and that the resurrection of Christ cannot be a fact, and when he also says that God may very well exist and that the resurrection of Christ may very well be a fact, he is not inconsistent with himself. For he must, to be true to his method, contradict himself in every statement that he makes about any fact whatsoever. If he does not, then he would deny either his philosophy of Chance or his philosophy of Fate. According to him, every fact that he meets has in it the two ingredients: that of Chance and that of Fate, that of the wholly unknown and that of the wholly known. Thus man makes the tools .of thought, which the Creator has given him in order therewith to think God’s thoughts after him on a created level, into the means by which he makes sure that God cannot exist, and therefore certainly cannot reveal himself.
When Mr. White meets Mr. Black he will make this issue plain. He will tell Mr. Black that his methodology cannot make any fact or any group of facts intelligible to himself. Hear him as he speaks to the unbeliever:
“On your basis, Mr. Black, no fact can be identified by distinguishing it from any other fact. For all facts would be changing into their opposites all the time. All would be gobble-de-gook. At the same time, nothing could change at all; all would be one block of ice. Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? He clearly has. I know you cannot sec this even though it is perfectly dear. I know you have taken out your own eyes. Hence your inability to see is at the same time unwillingness to see. Pray God for forgiveness and repent.”
Mr. Grey on Logic
But what will be the approach of the Conservative, Mr. Grey, on this question of logic? He will do the same sort of thing that we saw him do with respect to the question of facts. Mr. Grey will again try to please Mr. Black by saying that, of course, he will justify his appeal to the authority of the Bible by showing that the very idea of such an appeal, as well as the content of the Bible, are fully in accord with the demands of logic.
“You are quite right in holding that nothing meaningful can be said without presupposing the validity of the law of noncontradiction,” says Mr. Grey.4 “‘The conservative ardently defends a system of authority.’5 But ‘without reason to canvass the evidence of a given authority, how can one segregate a right authority from a wrong one? Without systematic consistency to aid us, it appears that all we can do is to draw straws, count noses, flip coins to choose an authority. Once we do apply the law of contradiction, we arc no longer appealing to ipse dixit authOrity, but to coherent truth.’6 ‘The Scriptures tell us to lest the spirits (I John 4:1). This can be done by applying the canons of truth. God cannot lie. His authority. therefore, and coherent truth are coincident at every point. Truth, not blind authority, saves us from being blind followers of the blind.’7
“‘Bring on your revelations,’” Continues Mr. Grey. “‘Let them make peace with the law of contradiction and the facts of history, and they will deserve a rational man’s assent.’8 ‘Any theology which rejects Aristotle’s fourth took of the Metaphysics is big with the elements of its own destruction.’9 ‘If Paul were teaching that the crucified Christ were objectively foolish, in the sense that he cannot be rationally categorized, then he would have pointed to the insane and the demented as incarnations of truth.’”10
Mr. Black’s Reaction
“Well,” says Mr. Black, “this is great news indeed. I knew that the modernists were willing with us to start from human experience as the final reference point in all research. I knew that they were willing with us to start with Chance as the source of facts, in order then to manufacture such facts of nature and of history as the law of noncontradiction, based on Chance, will allow. I also knew that the new modernist, Karl Barth, is willing to make over his God so that he can change into the opposite of himself, in order that thus he may satisfy both our irrationalist philosophy of Chance and our rationalist philosophy of logic. But I did not know that there were any orthodox people who were willing to do such a thing. But you have surprised me before. You were willing to throw your resurrection into the realm of Chance in order to have me accept it. So I really should have expected that you would also be willing to make the law of noncontradiction rest upon man himself instead of upon God.
“And I am extremely happy that not only the Arminian Fundamentalists but also you less extreme or moderate Calvinists, like Buswell and Carnell, are now willing to test your own revelation by a principle that is wholly independent of that revelation. It is now only a matter of time and you will see that you have to come over on our side altogether.
“I do not like the regular Calvinists. But they arc certainly quite right from their own point of view. Mr. White claims that I am a creature of God. He says that all fact s are made by God and controlled by the providence of God. He says that all men have sinned against God in Adam their representative. He adds that therefore I am spiritually blind and morally perverse. He says all this and more on the basis of the absolute authority of Scripture. He would interpret me, my facts, and my logic in terms of the authority of that Scripture. He says I need this authority. He says I need nothing but this authority. His Scripture, he claims, is sufficient and final. And the whole thing, he claims, is clear.
“Now all this looks like plain historic Protestantism to me. I can intellectually understand the Calvinist on this matter of authority. I cannot understand you. You seem to me to want to have your cake and eat it. If you believe in scriptural authority, then why not explain all things. man, fact, and logic in terms of it? If you want with us to live by your own authority, by the experience of the human race, then why not have done with the Bible as absolute authority? It then, at best, gives you the authority of the expert.
“In your idea of the rational man who tests all things by the facts of history and by the law of non-contradiction, you have certainly made a point of contact with us. If you carry this through, you will indeed succeed in achieving complete coincidence between your ideas and ours. And, with us, you will have achieved complete coincidence between the ideas of man and the ideas of God. But the reason for this coincidence of your ideas with ours, and for the coincidence of man’s ideas with God’s, is that you then have a God and a Christ who are identical with man.
“Do you not think, Mr. Grey, that this is too great a price for you to pay? I am sure that you do not thus mean to drag down your God into the universe. I am sure that you do not thus mean to crucify your Christ afresh. But why then halt between two opinions? I do not believe Christianity, but, if I did, I think I would stand with Mr. White.”
- Edward John Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman, 1948), p. 113.
2. Idem, p. 114.
3. Idem, p. 115, note.
4. Cf. Carnell, Op. Cit., p. 57.
5. Idem, p. 71.
6. Idem, p. 72.
7. Idem, p. 73.
8. Idem, p. 178.
9. Idem, p. 78.
10. Idem, p.85.