Happy Halloween America!

Happy Halloween Americahalloween 4halloween 1

 What’s Really Scary this Halloween?

 R U especially scared this Halloween? You should be. Here’s just a few reasons why…

So-called ‘Obamacare’ is a burden, forcing a majority of Americans into unnecessary hardships. Plus, I think we still have the same amount of ‘uninsured’ Americans as we did before the great blessing of Obamacare.halloween 2

Under Obama and Democrat Party influences American citizens are alarmingly harassed by government bureaucracies with suppression, fines, coercion, and unlawful force.

The Democratic Party increasingly promotes a vision of fear and widespread paranoia not free speech, open debate, and commonality.

halloween 3The Democratic Party claims to be “on the side of science” (as opposed to being on the side of ‘God,’ I guess?) but, most often sides with pseudo-science and pop-scientific conclusions. Then, they have the audacity to refuse to engage in ‘inquiry and debate’ regarding their mythical-scientific ‘consensus.’

President Obama appears to be unable to make a public statement or speech without lying to the American people in some shape or form. Is he pathological – or just incapable of leaving-out at least one lie in almost anything he addresses?halloween 5

Government surveillance by the Obama Administration of civilians, the press, and others is unprecedented. Although done ‘under the radar’ due to much improved and diverse technology, it is still (scarily) reminiscent of former spying by the likes of East Germany, the Soviet Union, and China — at least in its intent and purposes. Even mainline journalism has found this hard to suppress and ignore.

Under Obama’s perverted materialistic philosophy, many American patriots have now become enemies of the state. Entrepreneurs,’ successful businesses, and other successful Americans have become an envied and despised class. Free-market philosophies have become enemies of the philosophy of Obama’s (fascist) ‘collective/redistributive state.’

The President has promoted an ‘air of division’ and ‘dis-unity’ across the nation in order to advance unpopular, unethical policies that would otherwise not make it through a legal constitutional and congressional processes. Culturally, Obama is a divider of ‘the people’ not a uniter; He promotes struggle, envy, jealousy, and retribution — not communion; He promotes party divisiveness over working on common-agreement.

The President has amplified divisions and driven wedges in; class, ethnicity, political persuasion, geography, philosophies, etc. — all without encouraging, strengthening and advancing the many things that could unite and help Americans progress in realizing their hopes and dreams.

The President and his Administration have conducted an irrational ‘war’ on energy resourcefulness and production in America which has stifled the overall economy of the U.S. (among other things); thus holding back the economic potential that could have been realized in the last several years.

Obama’s anemic economy has produced an enlarged ‘part time’ employment environment; lowered overall family wages; put alarming numbers of people on food stamps and other government programs; increased unemployment for youth, the elderly, and especially the black community. Ironically, the black community has been hit the hardest by Obama’s policies.

In addition to Obama’s domestic incompetence, the world community no longer trusts America to be the leader of the free-world. Thus, a new ‘world-uneasiness’ has created a void in which there now exists growing international fears of decreased security, and increased discord among many nations. Not to mention the ongoing incidents of worldwide terrorism.

But, above all President Obama has reduced America’s ‘Freedom of Religion’ as reported by a Pew Research study of nations and the suppression of religious activities.

O.K., O.K. – I’ll stop! I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

Anyway, escape for a day and have a — Happy Halloween America! Er, should I say Happy Reformation Day!!!


 The best thing about Halloween is getting to hear the song, “Monster Mash” by Bobby (Boris) Picket.







Posted in Unity, Worldview/Culture, X-Americana, Z-Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dr. Greg Bahnsen Reproves and Corrects Dr. Norman Geisler

crossWhat Kind of Morality Should We10 commandments... Legislate?

By Dr. Greg Bahnsen

 To the surprise of the secularists all around us, the 1980s demonstrated that bible-believing Christians expected to have a voice in the political arena. In the 1960s we were told that ours is a “post-Christian” era where ethical absolutes must give way to situational morality. In the 1970s, if the media gave attention to any “Christian” political option at all, it was given to “liberation theology,” an odious mixture of Marxist ideology and Biblical phraseology. Who could have ever expected, then, the widespread revival of interest in a specifically Christian — a Biblically guided — approach to politics which was activated in the 1980s and continues to today.

identify yourselfUnbelievers have openly expressed their dismay. That should not astonish us. It is characteristic of unbelievers to rage against Jehovah and His anointed King, wishing to cast off any bonds of political servitude to Jesus Christ. Psalm 2 explicitly tells us as much (verses 1-6). The gospels illustrate this same political rage. The chief priests bolstered the crowd’s demand for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by insisting “We have no king but Caesar” (John 10:15). The Apostle Paul’s experience points to this same political fury. He taught that Jesus was “King of kings” (1 Timothy 6:15) — the primary political king under whom all earthly leaders, “the powers that be,” are ordained as “ministers of God” (Romans 13:1-7). For this viewpoint he was run out of Thessalonica, daring to teach “contrary to the decree of Caesar” by saying “that there is another king, Jesus” (Acts 17:7).

Secular, unbelieving opinion has always antagonistically raged against any approach to politics which is subject to the Biblically revealed word and direction of Jesus Christ. So the dismay of many in our society to the revival of specifically Christian politics today is marti grasnot surprising. The astonishing thing is that some professing Christians should concur with them! But sadly that is what was written in a 1988 issue of the Fundamentalist Journal (July/August 1988); in a well-meaning but theologically confused article by Norman Geisler, entitled “Should We Legislate Morality?” His answer is yes, but he stumbles badly over the question of what kind of morality we should legislate. Geisler is adamant that “The Bible … is not normative for civil law.” I propose that we examine and seriously evaluate that amazing proposition.

Preliminary Misconceptionsyour move...punk!

Dr. Geisler’s article is aimed quite specifically at the “Reconstructionist” theological perspective, calling it a “religious extreme” which is to be as carefully avoided as the opposite extreme of secular relativism. It is Geisler’s hope to find some middle ground in politics — a “just government” which is neither relativistic nor “religious,” with a moral basis for civil law which is not the special revelation of God in the Bible. This is Geisler’s primary and predominating misconception, a conceptual and theological misunderstanding which underlies and flaws his entire thinking on the subject. Jesus, our King, precluded any room for such middle ground: “He that is not with Me is against Me” (Matthew 12:30). “Now therefore be wise, O ye kings: Be instructed, ye judges of the earth. Serve Jehovah with fear … Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and ye perish in the way” (Psalm 2:10-12). Given this divine dictate, political neutrality toward King Jesus is an impossibility. We shall return to the primary error in Geisler’s article later.

Darwin treeIn addition to Geisler’s fundamental misconception, there are a number of preliminary misconceptions expressed in his article which we should address. Dr. Geisler has here disqualified himself as a critic of Christian reconstruction for the simple reason that he will not accurately portray what the reconstructionist truly believes and advocates. He contents himself with misrepresenting reconstructionist convictions and then knocking down a straw-man.

For example, inappropriate and emotive expressions like “chilling legalism” — the view that salvation is based on law-works — are10 commandments... tossed before the reader by Geisler without cautious concern for definition or even a shred of substantiating evidence. All reconstructionists believe we are saved by grace through faith, so that no man can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). Geisler ambiguously pins “the reinstitution of the Old Testament legal system” on reconstructionists, without differentiating between the “system” understood as the old covenant administration (with its sacrifices, priesthood, favored people, geography, etc.) Reconstructionists simply try to adhere to the teaching of Jesus that His coming did not abrogate even “the least commandment” in the (Old Testament) Law and Prophets (Matthew 5:17-19).

Misrepresenting The Facts

devilGeisler also says things about reconstructionists which are nothing short of slanderous, for instance that they “aim to set up their own postmillennial kingdom without Christ.” This is not even close to anything resembling the truth. Reconstructionists have no interest in “their own” kingdom at all, much less one that is “without Christ..” We glorify the King of kings who has come into history and, by His own saving power demonstrated in the resurrection and ascension, established for Himself the promised kingdom, having been granted all authority in heaven and on earth so that all men might bow before Him and submit to Him as Lord over all. In so doing, we say nothing but what the Apostles themselves declared (read it for yourself in Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 22:29; Romans 1:4; 1 Corinthians 15:27-28; Ephesians 1:20-22; Philippians 2:9-11; Hebrews 1:3, 8-9; 2:7-9; Revelation 1:5; 17:14). Reconstructionism simply pursues the Lord’s prayer: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth” (Matthew 6:10) — simply lives in terms of the Hallelujah chorus: “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” (Revelation 11:15).picassos lover

This is not the first time that Dr. Geisler has used the unfair tactic of maligning his reconstructionist opponents. In Moody Monthly for October, 1985, Geisler offered “A Premillennial View of Law and Government,” where (again) his shots at reconstructionist thinking were aimed at nothing but a straw-man. Let me illustrate personally. Geisler claimed that I hold to capital punishment for drunkards, when I maintain exactly the opposite in my book, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Craig Press, 1977, p. 213), where this is seen as a ceremonial law which was unique to Israel. Geisler claimed that postmillennialists hold that the church should assume Israel’s sword for establishing the kingdom, when I maintain exactly the opposite in my book, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today (Tyler, TX: I.C.E., 1985, pp. 9, 166, 322), where biblical warrant for the change from old to new covenants is cited.

Dr. Geisler alleged that postmillennialism is a humanist attempt to overlook man’s depravity and “bring in the Millennium without divine intervention,” when I maintained exactly the opposite in the Journal of Christian Reconstruction (Winter, 1976). The issue is not whether God must intervene, but how He does so to bring the millennium — in military might (premillennialism) or by the Spirit working through the word (postmillennialism).

Irresponsible criticism which rests upon misrepresentation is always a falling short of the mark for us as Christians. Dr. Geisler’s criticisms of reconstructionist thought are simply futile because they do not first pause to portray accurately the position he wishes to oppose. Reconstructionists oppose what he falsely calls “reconstructionism” as much as he does! We can thus safely ignore his critical remarks. But what about Geisler’s own political conceptions? Let’s diagnose his proposed alternative to the reconstructionist viewpoint.

An Amazing Proposition

In his Fundamentalist Journal article, Dr. Geisler proposes that “The Bible may be informative, but it is not normative for civil law.” Why would a fundamentalist committed to the authority and inerrancy of God’s holy Word say such a thing? Is it because the Bible is totally silent about just civil laws? [No!] The Bible says a great deal about political ethics, from the laws of Moses through the Proverbs to the Epistles of Paul and the Book of Revelation.

What Is Normative?

Why, then, is this body of revealed material not “normative” for believers? Is it because only certain parts of the Bible carry divine authority? That opinion can hardly stand up in the face of Paul’s categorical declaration that “every Scripture” (denoting the Old Testament for Paul) is “profitable for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). If the man of God is to be “thoroughly equipped for every good work,” he cannot discount any part of God’s revealed word (v. 17). If any opinion, practice, or precept in the political domain is to count as “good,” then the Scriptures equip us for it. Indeed, when Paul spoke of dealing with murderers, sexual offenders, perjurers and the like, he spoke with apostolic clout, saying “we know that the law [the Mosaic law] is good” (1 Timothy 1;8). The author of Hebrews took it as an unquestionable assumption that the law of God is “steadfast,” providing a “just recompense of reward” for every transgression or offense with which it deals (Hebrews 2:2).

So we ask again, why would Dr. Geisler propose that the Bible is to be deprived of its normativity when it comes to civil law? Is it because God is no longer concerned for social justice or because the Lordship of Jesus Christ does not extend to politics? The Bible would lend no credence to such ideas at all. Christ is there recognized and confessed as Lord over all — over all mankind and over all areas of life. The first and great commandment tells us so: You are obligated to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37). John Murray rightly observed that “the law of God extends to all relations of life. This is so because we are never removed from the obligation to love and serve God. We are never amoral. We owe devotion to God in every phase and department of life” (Collected Works, vol. 2, 0. 78). Peter reminds us that a holy God demands that His people “be holy in all manner of living” (1 Peter 1:15). We may not legitimately withhold from the Lord Jesus Christ any aspect of our lives — even political thinking and action — because our “every thought” is expected to be brought into “captivity to the obedience of Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:5). In Him are deposited “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Colossians 2:3) — even the treasures of political wisdom.

To neglect the normativity of the Bible’s extensive teaching regarding political ethics is seriously to curtail the authority of the Bible and to reduce the universal scope of Christ’s rule as Lord. All things were created for His service (Colossians 1:16). He justly expects all nations to observe whatsoever He has commanded (Matthew 28:18-20). On the great and final day He will judge all men according to their every deed (2 Corinthians 5:10). He is the ruler over all nations (Psalm 22:28) who has been granted all authority on earth (Matthew 28:18) — thus “the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:50. He is “head over all things for the sake of the church” (Ephesians 1:20-22) and punishes those who dare to act lawlessly (Matthew 13:41). His law therefore binds all men in all places in all aspects of their lives. He is “Lord over all” (Acts 10:36), the “Lord of lords and King of kings” (1 Timothy 6:15).

So we return to our crucial question: Why would someone like Dr. Geisler who is committed to full Biblical authority and inerrancy propose such a questionable notion as that the Bible is not normative for civil law? At one point he answers that this “would be a violation of the First Amendment” of the U.S. constitution — which only impeaches his proficiency as a legal historian (as various teaching materials from American Vision or the Rutherford Institute would indicate). But Dr. Geisler is a better Christian than this. Even IF the First Amendment forbade the enactment of Biblical civil laws (which it does not), the Christian would still be bound by loyalty to the King of kings to prefer God’s commands to human obstacles. “Let God be true though all men are liars” (Romans 3:4). The Apostles knew very well that “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Is the Bible Silent?

So there is only one reason left to Dr. Geisler if he refuses to honor the normativity of God’s revealed word (the Bible) for civil law. He must argue that the Bible itself does not teach that it is normative for civil affairs. How does he attempt to establish that? With reasoning which is thoroughly, embarrassingly specious. He claims that the civil laws of the Old Testament, for instance, were never addressed to anybody but the Jews. “Nowhere in the Bible are Gentiles ever condemned for not keeping the law of Moses,” he says (mistakenly). Those laws were only for Israel, according to Geisler’s thinking. “God no more holds today’s governments accountable to His Divine Law to Israel than present residents of Massachusetts are bound by the Puritan laws at Plymouth”. The fallacious nature of this reasoning ought to be obvious. God revealed His word, in every case, to particular people in particular historical circumstances, but He fully expects that revealed word to be light to all mankind. By Geisler’s reasoning, the moral injunctions revealed through Paul to the Romans are only binding on the ancient city of Rome in the days of the New Testament. Paul wrote to Ephesian children to “obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Ephesians 6:1). Using Geisler’s logic, this divine imperative applies to only the youth of ancient Ephesus! This kind of argumentation is ethically absurd.

An Unbiblical Premise

Furthermore, Geisler’s premise that the Mosaic law was meant only for the ancient Israelites is directly refuted by the repeated teaching of Scripture itself. The premise is simply a false (even if common) preconception that cannot be verified by a reading of the Biblical text.

At the beginning of the book of Deuteronomy, when Moses exhorted Israel to observe God’s commandments, he clearly taught that the laws divinely revealed to Israel were meant by the Law-giver as a model to be emulated by all the surrounding Gentile nations:

Behold I have taught you statutes and ordinances even as Jehovah my God commanded me, that you should do so in the midst of the land whither ye go in to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, that shall hear all these statutes and say, Surely this great nation is there that hath statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8).

The manifestly righteous requirements of God’s law should be followed by all the peoples — not simply by Israel. In this respect, the justice of God’s law made Israel to be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 51:4).

God never had a double standard of morality, one for Israel and one for the Gentiles (cf. Leviticus 24:22). In His ethical judgments, “there is no respect of persons with God” (Romans 2:11). Accordingly, God made it clear that the reason why the Palestinian tribes were ejected from the land was precisely that they had violated the provisions of His holy law (Leviticus 18:24-27) — a fact which presupposes that the Gentiles were antecedently obligated to obey those provisions. Accordingly, the Psalmist could condemn “all the wicked of the earth” for departing from God’s statutes (119:118-119).

“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34). Accordingly, the Old Testament prophets could repeatedly excoriate the Gentile nations for this transgressions against God’s law (e.g., Amos, Habakkuk, Jonah at Ninevah). Accordingly, Isaiah looked forward to the day when the Gentile nations would stream into Zion, precisely that God’s law would go forth from Jerusalem unto all the world (Isaiah 2:2-3).

Of course, there were many unique aspects of Israel’s national experience, important discontinuities between Israel and the pagan nations. Only Israel as a nation stood as such in an elect, redemptive, and covenantal relation with God; only Israel was a type of the coming kingdom of God, having its kingly line specially chosen and revealed, being led by God in holy war, etc. But the relevant question before us is whether Israel’s standards of political ethics were ALSO unique — embodying a culturally relative kind of justice, valid for only this race of men. From Psalm 2 it is evident that they were not. David calls upon all the kings and judges “of the earth” to serve Jehovah with fear and kiss His Son (verses 10-12).

Gentile magistrates have no exemption from God’s just demands as revealed in His holy law. Accordingly, speaking of the kings outside of Israel, David declared in the longest psalm extolling the law of God (Psalm 119) that he “would speak of [God's] testimonies before kings and not be put to shame’ (v. 460 — which clearly assumes the validity of that law for such non-theocratic kings. The personified Wisdom of God declared: “By me kings reign and princes decree justice; by me rulers govern, and nobles, ALL the judges of the earth” (Proverbs 8:15-16). As Paul later taught in Romans 13:3, all rulers (Jewish and Gentile alike) are to be a “terror to the workers of iniquity” (cf. Proverbs 21:15). And how did Paul define the “evil” which magistrates are to punish? According to the Law of God! (vv. 8-10).

All political rulers, even those outside of the Jewish nation, are morally bound to the political requirements of God’s law. We can see this by the fact that the most evil political ruler imaginable, “the beast” of Revelation 13, is negatively described as substituting his own law for that of the law of God, figuratively written upon the forehead and hand (vv. 16-17 in contrast to Deuteronomy 6:8). Those who oppose this wicked ruler are, by contradistinction, twice described as believers who “keep the commandments of God” (12:17; 14:12). Paul’s condemning title for this wicked ruler was precisely “the man of lawlessness” (2 Thessalonians 2:3), indicating his guilt for repudiating the law of God in his rule.

Is Natural Revelation Morally Abbreviated?

The only defense left to Dr. Geisler at this point is to resort to the baseless idea that a wedge can be driven between the just requirements revealed in the Bible and those revealed in natural revelation — that is, to hold that civil government should not be guided by the morality of the Bible, but instead by “God-given moral rules called Nature’s laws.” Distinguishing between the moral content of special revelation and the moral content of natural revelation (as though the latter is merely a parallel subsection of the former), Geisler maintains that “God ordained Divine Law for the church, but He gave Natural Law for civil government.”

Nothing like this dichotomy (and truncating of natural revelation’s moral content) can be found in the teaching of the Apostle Paul, however. The Apostle teaches that even pagans who do not have the advantage of the specially revealed law (“oracle”) of God (Romans 3:102) nevertheless know the just requirements of that law since they are inescapably revealed through the created order and human conscience (1:18-23; 2:14-15). They know the holiness and justice of the living and true God well enough that they are guilty for not worshiping Him aright in any area of their lives; thus God’s wrath is revealed from heaven “against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (1:18) — against all transgressions of His righteous law (cf. 7:7, 12).

Paul says nothing to suggest that there is a difference in the moral content of these two revelations, written and natural. The written law is an advantage over natural revelation because the latter is suppressed and distorted in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18-25). But what pagans suppress is precisely the “work of the Law” (2:14-15). Natural revelation communicates to them, as Paul says, “the ordinance of God” about “all unrighteousness” (1:29,32). Because they “know” God’s ordinance, they are “without excuse” for refusing to live in terms of it (1:20). What the law speaks, then, it speaks “in order that all the world may be brought under the judgment of God” (3:19). There is ONE law order to which all men are bound, whether they learn of it by means of natural revelation or by means of special revelation. God is no respecter of persons here (2:11). “All have sinned” (3:23) — thus violated that common standard for the “knowledge of sin” in all men, the law of God. (3:20).

The Primary Error

With Geisler’s theologically faulty view of natural revelation (or natural law) in mind, we can understand how his article commits its primary conceptual error: the attempt to enunciate a moral standard for civil government (contrary to secular humanism) but one which is Not religious (contrary to reconstructionism). He asks what kind of laws should be enacted by the State, “Christian laws or Humanistic laws?” He immediately answers: “Neither. Rather, they should simply be just laws. Laws should not be either Christian or anti-Christian; they should merely be fair ones.”

What is naively presupposed by that statement, though, is that we can establish a common conception and standard of “justice” (or “fairness”) apart from reference to a religions commitment — without gaining that moral standard from the philosophical worldview within which we work, whether it be atheistic, deistic, pantheistic, cult, Christian, or whatever. But this is nothing but an illusion — the illusion of religious neutrality in making moral decisions. Humanists and Christians do not agree as to what constitutes “justice”; neither do Hindus and naturalists, etc. These fundamental disagreements do not arise because advocates of one worldview or the other have made intellectual errors (of fact or logic) which are readily correctable. They disagree precisely because of the irreconcilable conflict in their fundamental religious (or philosophical) commitments.

Geisler is simply playing a game with words when he advocates a “just government” instead of a “religious government.” There is no religiously neutral concept of justice that could make sense out of this distinction. When men claim to be relying on natural reason (or even “natural law” gained from the world), they endorse grievous moral conclusions — such as Dr. Geisler’s early condoning of abortion under some circumstances! (Ethics: Alternatives and Issues, Zondervan, 1971, pp. 220-223). But even more important and relevant to Geisler’s hypothesis about political ethics, those who claim to be following natural reason or natural law still do not end up concurring with each other over the most elementary political issues — as the history of both philosophical opinion and political theorizing illustrates.


In the political sphere Dr. Geisler has made an unwise (and hopefully unwitting) tradeoff. He has traded the Christian religion’s conception of political morality for the religious conceptions of political morality advanced by the “natural man” who cannot receive the things of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). Dr. Geisler has traded the special revelation of God’s one moral will for a “natural revelation” which is suppressed and distorted in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). And in so doing he has politically traded the divine King, the Lord Jesus Christ, speaking clearly in the Bible for “Caesar,” a human lord who speaks according to his own view of natural revelation. Dr. Geisler has consigned those who accept these tradeoffs to tyranny and arbitrariness in civil government – as history repeatedly shows us. The truly Christian alternative, even in politics, is to abide in the revealed word of Jesus Christ. Then shall we know the truth which makes us free indeed (John 8: 32-33).


The Biblical Worldview 4:10 (October, 1988) © Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938

Article from cmfnow.org


Posted in All-Encompassing Gospel, Gov't/Theonomy, Theology/Philosophy, Unity, Z-Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Extraordinary Ordinary People

Condi RiceDr. Condoleezza Rice on Extraordinary Ordinary People

By Hugh Hewitt

 HH: Pleased to welcome now Dr. Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State.

Dr. Rice, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, great to talk to you.

CR: Hi, it’s nice to be back with you.

HH: Congratulations on Extraordinary Ordinary People. It’s a magnificent read, actually. Are you surprised by the reaction it’s soliciting from people?Condoleezza Rice

CR: Well, I am a bit. One never knows how people are going to respond to what is essentially a personal memoir, but I’m very glad. And the most heartening comments really have been from people who see glimpses of their own parents in this memoir. And I love that.

Condi signs papersHH: Well, I shared a panel with Karen Hughes on Friday, and I was telling her how much I had enjoyed this book, my wife had enjoyed it, and she told me that prior to 2000, everyone in the Bush team was urging you to kind of tell people more about your story, that you’d never done that before. Was it difficult for you? Or is it just something you were brought up not to do?

CR: Well, it was something that we didn’t talk a lot about ourselves.Condi College Appearance You know, we’re nice, Southern Presbyterians. We don’t talk very much about ourselves. But I felt that at this time, as I was thinking about what I wanted to write when I left government, that I’d been asked the question so many times, well how did you get to be who you are, and I thought well, you have to know John and Angelina Rice. And so I thought it would be good to really tell their story. And this is as much their story as mine.

Condi with AfghanHH: It really is, and I look forward to talking a little bit about you and both of them. But I want to begin with a couple of the bracing revelations in the book. Probably the most bracing, on Page 119, is a picture of you, your mom and your dad, riding in a car with Stokely Carmichael singing Motown.

CR: Right, right.washington dc

HH: Explain to the audience how you came to know Stokely Carmichael, the man who invented black power?

CR: That’s right. Well, my dad, who was himself a conservative Republican man, was also very interested in the contestation of ideas. He was very interested in the whole range of alternatives in black politics at that time. And he invited Stokely Carmichael to speak in a speaker’s series that he had, first at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa when he was still a student, Daddy was, and then later at the University of Denver. They became great and fast friends. I’ve always thought a little bit that my father liked some of the pride and some of the toughness of both black radicals, although he himself was a very conservative man.

american flagHH: Now in terms of your conversation with Stokely Carmichael, did you ever do politics? I know you talk about him not liking some of the popular movement music like the Temptations or Rolling Stones, et cetera. But did you ever talk his radical view of America with him?

CR: Well, sure. I was pretty young when I first met him, but we generally talked more about world politics as I got older, because as Stokely, as he got older, was very interested in the Soviet Union and Marxism. And we used to actually debate the merits and demerits of Marxism. I, of course, on the demerit side.

HH: Another amazing revelation in here that it was the father of Madeleine Albright who actually inspired you to become a Sovietologist.

CR: That’s correct, because I was in college for two years as a piano major. I practiced and learned piano from age 3. I was going to be a great concern pianist. And then I went off to the African Music Festival School, a place where a lot of prodigies go after my sophomore year in college. And I thought you know, I’m about to end up teaching 13 year olds to murder Beethoven. I’d better find another career. And fortunately, having tried several other things, I wandered into a course in international politics taught by Dr. Korbel. He is a great storyteller. He had been himself a diplomat, and it was like finding a passion all of a sudden. I knew that I wanted to do things Russian, and things international.

HH: Now Dr. Rice, given your whole life, this is encapsulated here, you cut it off just prior to your entry into the second Bush administration. But the clear focus of the book is on Birmingham, what it’s like to grow up in America’s most segregated big city, as you put it, with a particular focus on 1963. How difficult was it to write this?

CR: It was, for me, difficult to really reconstruct this in a way, realizing that this is not that long ago in America. It’s hard to believe that, I’d like to think I’m not that old, and yet I remember these events. But yet, I think it was important, too, for people who are just a little bit younger, who perhaps don’t remember all that we went through in the civil rights movement, and how far the United States of America has come. It was also good to write it, because I had a chance to go back and talk to a lot of people who had been involved in that period with my parents. And I learned a lot about what my community did.

HH: You know, there are moments here, I am just a year younger than you are, that I’m reading along, and I’m thinking oh, I remember all this stuff, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of JFK. And then with jarring, you know, Dark Shadows, I can’t believe you watched Dark Shadows as a child.

CR: (laughing) I loved it.

HH: That’s an admission against interest, Dr. Rice. But as I go through it, all of a sudden, I realize for the first time, you were two miles away from the bomb blast that killed the four little girls in Birmingham. You were at your dad’s own church when that happened, and you knew those girls. I really…

CR: That’s correct.

HH: I was ignorant of that until this moment, and that really does separate American youth in ways that you really don’t understand.

CR: That’s right. If you grow up in a community that experienced that kind of homegrown terrorism, and that’s exactly what it was, because we were in church that Sunday, and we had just gotten there. My mom was the choir director, and my dad was the minister, so we were at church a little early. And there was a thud. And in those days, in a place that had become known as Bombingham, Birmingham had, everybody knew it was a bomb. Within a little bit of time, despite the fact there were no cell phones, there was a phone call to the church saying that 16th Street Baptist Church had been bombed. It wasn’t long after that that we learned that four little girls had been killed while waiting to go to Sunday School in the bathroom in the basement. And then we learned the identities of the little girls, and of course, Denise McNair had been in my father’s kindergarten. I played dolls with her. There’s a picture in the book of my father giving Denise McNair her kindergarten graduation certificate.

HH: That is, it’s really arresting. There’s also, you write, “If you were black in Birmingham in 1963, there was no escaping the violence, and no place to hide.” And this is a recollection I’m not sure a lot of Americans want to go back through, but the terror for a little girl must have been pretty omnipresent.

CR: Very much, because before 196–, late 1962 and early 1963, our little cocoon of a community had largely protected its children from the horrors of Birmingham. It’s absolutely true that from time to time, as I describe in the book, something would happen like a bad incident when I went to see Santa Claus, and my father thought that Santa Claus was treating little black kids differently than little white kids. And he said that he was going to pull all of that stuff off of him if he didn’t treat me well. And as you might imagine, as a five year old, you go forward with a little trepidation. You never know who’s going to go off here. Is it Daddy or Santa Claus? And so there were times like that. but ’63 was the crucible year. And then the violence was all around you, and your parents really couldn’t protect you from the random attacks, the random night riders in the community, or the random bombs that killed four little girls.

HH: When you talk about going off to Denver for the summer as your parents were teachers that could get away for a summer or elsewhere, did you regret having to come home at the end of the summer for reasons other than leaving behind ice skating or any of the other wonderful childhood memories, but to go back into segregation? Was that something you consciously thought about?

CR: Really not, because again, Birmingham was in many ways a comfortable community for a little black middle class kid like me, because we had our ballet lessons and our French lessons. And I looked forward to going home. But for me, it was leaving new friends in Denver, it was leaving ice skating, which I loved. And funny enough, what I don’t remember thinking is that for the first time in my life, my little friends were white, because in Birmingham, I had no white classmates until we moved to Denver when I was 12.

HH: I was telling my Con Law students today, we’re doing the 15th Amendment today and the Voting Rights Act, that this memoir is much like the Justice Thomas memoir, a revelation to people about what the South was really like, like your father being asked to name the number of beans in a jar in order to vote. Tell people that story.

CR: Yes, my father in 1952, my father and my mother, they were not yet married, went down to register to vote. My mother was light-skinned, very beautiful, and the man said to her, you had poll testers in those days. You had to answer questions to register to vote. And he asked my mom, do you know who the first president of the United States was, and she said George Washington. He said fine, you pass, go and register. My father, he asked him how many beans are in this jar, and there were hundreds of beans. My father obviously couldn’t count them. And so my father said he didn’t know, and he said well, you can’t register. And my dad went back to his church, and he ran into an old man there, Mr. Frank Hunter, who said oh, Reverend, I’ll show you how to get registered. He said there’s a woman down there, and she’s a clerk, and she’ll register anybody who says they’re Republican. Now you didn’t register by party in those days in Birmingham. I suspect that this woman, though, expected that if she let you register, you’d join the party, and that’s exactly what my father did.

HH: There’s a very sensitive and repeating discussion in Extraordinary Ordinary People about white kindness in a segregated society. You mention Dr. Carmichael, your mother’s doctor, and some of your dad’s friends in the education community, who would come through when he needed something. But it’s still, I mean, when you go to Burger Phillips, and you can’t try on a dress, I am amazed that it actually did not scar you. It does not appear to have scarred you.

CR: No, because my parents, and really, even their parents before them, and certainly the community that I grew up in, taught us that you might not be able to control your circumstances, but you could control how you reacted to your circumstances. And so this was not license to feel like a victim, or a license to complain. It was, if anything, a license to get highly educated and to overcome all of that. And nobody was going to be able to hold you down. I’ve often said that in this very segregated place, my parents and my community had me convinced that I might not be able to get a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, but I could be president of the United States if I wanted to be.

HH: What’s remarkable is that you ran into it way outside of the South as well. I made a note next to this lecture by Professor Robert Eckleberry that you went to at D.U.

CR: Yes.

HH: …on racial superiority when you were, you were a freshman at the time?

CR: I was a freshman in college at the time, and actually still finishing my senior year in high school. And I was a bit taken aback, because the theories of Dr. Schockley about racial superiority, and Professor Eckleberry presented it as just presenting the social science theory. But I thought it was not a very good thing to, for college students to hear, and so I challenged him on it.

HH: There’s a lot of that in this book, and I would recommend anyone who wants to understand what part of the segregated South was like, to read Extraordinary Ordinary People. But I also want to talk about your parents. I would have loved to have met John Wesley Rice, Jr., and of course, Angelina Harnett as well. But he must have been a fascinating preacher. I’m a Presbyterian like you. I’m sure we were probably at National with Louie Evans at the same time.

CR: Yes.

HH: But what do you remember of his preaching style?

CR: I remember that his preaching style was somewhat understated and professorial, really, which I found….educated population that actually didn’t like a lot of the emotional yelling, and as my grandfather called it, whooping and hollering in their sermons. And he was also, however, somebody who challenged them constantly. He had rather, sometimes, radical theological views. I remember a sermon that he gave once that was kind of a scandal in the church, because he talked about Judas in rather sympathetic ways. That wasn’t something you expected to hear in a church in Birmingham, Alabama.

HH: Oh, you stress that on Page 62. And at the same time, you went on to say you would engage your father in discussions on everything, arguments, really, from Paul to Revelation, but that you, “I have always believed fully and completely. My challenge has been to avoid complacency in my faith, and to remember to struggle with its meaning as my father taught me to do.” So it sounds like you were brought up arguing the interstices of Christianity as opposed to accepting all or nothing.

CR: I was taught to make my intellect and my faith companions rather than competitors, or in conflict with one another. And all the way from the time that I was insistent with my father, when I was four years old, that it was actually job not Job, and didn’t he understand that, which he tolerated from his four year old daughter, but we did. We discussed and argued and struggled, and I always thought that you know, I’ve been in a lot of intellectual environs where people have long since lost what faith they have. And I think my father helped to guard me against that, and armor me against that by allowing me to struggle with faith.

HH: There’s a very touching paragraph near that section where you talk about your father’s outreach to those “tough kids” on the neighborhood, and he turns a table over on his board of elders. And then, because of the interventions of Mrs. Florence Rice, you named this lady, Mrs. Florence Rice, Mrs. Hatty Conrad, Mrs. Lillian Ford, and Mrs. Marcy Bracie, he was able to go on and do that. He created a special category for them, because of course, the Presbyterians didn’t ordain women as elders. Why did you go, Dr. Rice, to the trouble of naming these women specifically?

CR: I wanted to honor this generation of people. And you can’t honor people by leaving them nameless. And I thought that it was important for people to know that these were real women who believed, as I say in the book, that my father’s ministry was not just for the middle class children of the church, but also for the tough kids that lived in the government projects behind. And I think it dignifies them. And I remember them, and I deliberately also gave them the Mrs. We didn’t call women of that age and stature by their first names when I was a little girl. It was Mrs. Bracie, and it was Mrs. Rice. And I wanted people to understand that.

HH: Now the very textured and nuanced picture of the black community in Birmingham is on every page. But there’s also some stuff I wouldn’t have recognized, or I’d never heard about. For example, in your chapter in 1963, your father and Reverend Shuttlesworth, a fairly prominent, important member of the civil rights movement, would sit on the front porch of your house and talk late into the evening, and they’re debating tactics, Condoleezza Rice. That’s fascinating.

CR: Yes, Reverend Shuttlesworth, who I think never really got his due, was really the heart and soul of the movement in Birmingham. He was the one who raised the consciousness of blacks in Birmingham. And all the way back in the 1950s, was trying organize. He moved to Cincinnati, I think, because of the threats against his family in the early 60s, but he would come back. And he and my father were dear friends. And my father was not really very much in favor of the non-violent part of the movement. I remember when everybody was lining up to march, he told my mother, and I just overheard them. They weren’t talking to me. I overheard them standing in the living room. He said you know, Angelina, they’re asking us to go out there and march, and they’re telling us to be non-violent. And he said if somebody comes after me with a billy club, meaning the police, I’m going to fight back, and I’m going to try to kill them, and they’re going to kill me, and that my daughter’s going to be an orphan. So again, my father was a very complex man. And I know that Reverent Shuttlesworth respected my father, and he said so many times. And I had a chance to meet him not too long ago, and despite the fact that, I mean, meet him again, not too long ago, and despite the fact that he’d had a stroke, he was able to communicate through nonverbal communication how much he respected my dad.

HH: He would also, your father would sit on the porch with a rifle at night, and he’d patrol the neighborhood with his friends in the summer of bombing. And you are an ardent defender of the 2nd Amendment as a result of that.

CR: I am an ardent defender of the 2nd Amendment. And he’s not an absolutist who believes that there needs to be assault rifles in our cities, but I fully believe that the founding fathers clearly and carefully delineated the relationship of the people to their government, and what rights they would have. And just like we have a right to free speech in the 1st Amendment, we have a right to a well-regulated militia, and the right to bear arms in the 2nd Amendment. And my family, my father, his friends, took advantage of that to patrol this community, and to keep night riders away. They never actually shot anybody, but they’d shoot into the air and scare people away.

HH: Dr. Rice, there’s, I don’t know if this is going to be controversial, but the portrait of the black community in Birmingham is full of school principals and pastors, a special place for music teachers. There’s a lot of class recognition within the black community, you know, the tots and teens passage versus Jack and Jill, and the blue bud passage. Is this eliciting any controversy within the African-American community?

CR: In fact, it’s interesting, it’s not eliciting much controversy, at least yet, because I think most people in the black community know that this is the way our community was. And while my parents and many of their friends fought hard to educate kids, no matter what class they came from, Birmingham was a pretty stratified place. And I think that’s part of the story.

HH: There’s also a very interesting passage about sort of the white/black relationship as to parenting, that you tell about your grandfather’s death, and your grandmother saying somebody call the Wheeler boys, who of course are the white sons of the man who adopted him. It’s, as you said, it’s really complicated for people who don’t grow up in the South to figure this out.

CR: Yes, I think our relationships, black and white in America, are very complicated. Our familial relationships…and this is one of those stories. My granddad, my mother’s father, when he was about 13, ran away from home. And you know, there are many different stories about why, but the one that the family really most believes is that he ran away because somebody had assaulted his sister, a white man. And he’s beaten this man, and he felt he’d better get out of town. And so he was sitting in a train station, really wee hours of the morning, with just a railway token in his pocket. And along came a man named Mr. Wheeler, and asked why he was there, a white man. Granddaddy explained, Mr. Wheeler took him home, raised him with his sons, and in fact, when my grandfather died, I remember going to my grandmother’s house, I was about ten, and telling her that Granddaddy died. And after she kind of wailed, she said somebody call the Wheeler boys. And sure enough, one of them came over right away. And it was really obvious that he was like a member of the family.

HH: Now Dr. Rice, one of the things I kind of knew but didn’t is how music is so deeply embedded in your life. And whether it’s reading childhood biographies of musicians like Mozart or listening to Martin Luther King and hearing Precious Lord sung, or singing, you yourself singing In The Garden at your father’s funeral. I mean, do you listen to music every day? And if so, what?

CR: I listen to music all the time, because it is so much a part of me going back to learning to play at three. But my tastes tend to be pretty eclectic, to be truthful. I love Brahms and Mozart and Beethoven and Chopin. I also love Kool and the Gang and Led Zeppelin and the Gap Band, and of course, the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

HH: So did your parents share that eclecticism? Or did you go through the standard the music was too loud and the Motown was on too much?

CR: Well, my parents were kind of split in their musical tastes. My mother was the classicist. I don’t think she ever listened to anything but classical music. My father, on the other hand, loved big band and jazz, and really progressive jazz. He loved a lot of the pretty far out jazz. He was also pretty fond of the music of the Seven Days Son, so for my dad, it was fine if I wanted to crank up the radio and listen to something really loud. My mother preferred to listen to opera.

HH: Your mother comes through in this as just an amazing woman. Condoleezza, if you are overdressed, it’s a comment on them. If you are underdressed, it is a comment on you.

CR: Right.

HH: I gather this explains a lot about your love of being well dressed.

CR: I guess so. My mother was a lady. She was an elegant, Southern lady. And she was very much one who believed that dressing properly and acting properly, and for her, by the way, acting properly as a young girl meant, or as a young lady, meant that you didn’t pick up a bat or a ball of any kind. So she never played sports, and she was a little bit taken aback at my tomboy tendencies. But she taught me to dress well, and in fact, many of our first outings together would be when my dad would go up to the church to work on his sermon on Saturday, and my mom and I would head for the stores.

HH: Now I want, also, people to understand, you were a lousy test taker. I want people to hear that from the Secretary of State.

CR: Let me just say it. I was a lousy test taker, particularly both standardized tests, where I was just not very good. And it reminds us that standardized tests are an important element of judging somebody’s potential, but not the only important element.

HH: I also want people to hear the advice, because I’m a law professor, and I tell this to people and they don’t listen to me. If you don’t want to be a lawyer, don’t go to law school.

CR: Right.

HH: You had to internalize that yourself.

CR: I did, because when I finished Notre Dame with my brand newly minted Master’s degree in international relations, Soviet studies and economics, I came back to Denver, and I was sure I was going to be a hot property on the job market. I wasn’t. And suddenly, I thought well, I could always go to law school, and applied, in fact, to law school. And it was first my father, and then Dr. Korbel who said, Dr. Joseph Korbel who said law school? Do you want to be a lawyer? And I said actually, no, I don’t want to be a lawyer.

HH: And I want people to…

CR: So I didn’t go to law school.

HH: I want people to hear that. I want to conclude by talking about your mom and dad growing old. This is for anyone our age whose parents have grown old and gone to the Lord. You went through breast cancer with your mom, and your dad’s many illnesses, and his remarriage, and all that sort of thing. That’s not, you don’t get many memoirs about that, Dr. Rice. This is fairly unusual for a memoirist.

CR: Well, it was very important that people get a full picture of life, my life, and life with my parents. And people do get old and they die. And when they die, they leave you in one sense, but they are always with you in another. I’m religious. That certainly helps to maintain my connection to my parents, because I do believe in eternal life. But it also is that my parents were so much a part of me, and who I am, that as I say in the book, I could hear them saying what they always said. You’re well prepared for whatever is ahead of you, and you’re God’s child. And I’m very grateful that our bonds were so deep that frankly they were not broken by the chasm of death.

HH: Now Dr. Rice, you’ve served three presidents, you’re at the Reagan library as we tape this. Obviously, you’ve got great connections to both the first President Bush and the second President Bush. As you survey all these leaders that you’ve worked with, and you compare them to your dad, who’s obviously had such, he was such an amazing guy, it comes through in this book, what did they have in common? You know, obviously, his opportunities were not their opportunities, but what did they share in common?

CR: What they shared in common was a deep religious faith, and a deep and abiding belief in family. I think that having families that give you unconditional love is the greatest gift that anyone can have, and I think that was true for me, and it was true in the Bush family. They also shared a belief in doing whatever they could for people who had less than they did, a bedrock belief that if you were given a lot, a lot was expected of you in returning that. And I think that explains why compassion and generosity were common to both Presidents Bush, both President Bushes, and to my father.

HH: I want to close with two subjects. First, this one is because I am a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan, I attended every home game from ’65 to ’74, and I’ve had season tickets for ten years. Are you sticking with the Browns through the lean years?

CR: I’m sticking with the Browns through the lean years. It is kind of sad that I think I was nine or ten, maybe, ten was the last time the Browns won the championship. But hope springs eternal.

HH: Yeah, Colt McCoy looked pretty good on the weekend.

CR: Colt McCoy did look pretty good. That’s right.

HH: You’re young. You’ve got the second volume to write, your NSC years, your State Department years. But what’s ahead for Dr. Condoleezza Rice after that?

CR: I love being a faculty member at Stanford. I really think that I’m a professor who took a detour to do some other things. I love the university. I love teaching, because I get to do what Dr. Korbel and some others did for me, which is to open up a world that my students might otherwise never have seen. And what’s amazing is you see that light go on with students that tells you that they’re experiencing something special, and maybe they’re finding a passion. So I think I’ll be a university person and a faculty member for as long as I can. And the Stanford Cardinals are pretty good in football this year, too.

HH: Yes, they are. Dr. Condoleezza Rice, congratulations on Extraordinary Ordinary People. It’s a wonderful book. We look forward to the second volume.

CR: Thank you so much. Great to talk with you.

HH: Take care.

End of interview

  Interview conducted Thursday, October 21, 2010.

Article from Hughhewitt.com



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Elementary School Slams America’s Founders

Islam symbolwriting the constitutionSchool’s ‘Nation of Islam’ handout paints Founding Fathers as Racists

By Todd Starnes

Published October 27, 2014

The mother of an eight-year-old wants to know why a Tennessee school teacher gave her child a handout from the Nation of Islam that portrayed the presidents on Mount Rushmore as being racists.louis farrakhan

Sommer Bauer tells me her son was given The Nation of Islam handout at Harold McCormick Elementary School in Elizabethton. The handout asked “What does it take to be on Mount Rushmore?

The handout then explains that George Washington hailed from Virginia, a “prime breeder of black people.” Of Theodore Roosevelt, it was alleged he called Africans “ape-like.” There were also disparaging remarks made of Thomas Jefferson (he enslaved 200 Africans) and Abraham Lincoln.

“I’ve interviewed Sommer at least a half dozen times. Her story has remained consistent. The teacher gave Sommer two explanations for what happened in the classroom. The superintendent gave me a third.”

 She said her jaw dropped when she followed the link to a website that was listed on the handout. Imagine her surprise when up popped the Nation of Islam home page.

nation of islam membersThe Nation of Islam believes there is no God but Allah. They also aren’t all that keen on white folks or Jewish folks. “It raised a number of red flags,” she said. “They are basically saying our Founding Fathers are racists.” Sommer told me she reached out to the teacher for an explanation – hoping it was an honest mistake.

At first, she did not recall which paper it was,” she said. “Later inconstitution-burning-150x150 the day, she found the paper and told me she didn’t like what it said – and said she must have printed it by mistake.” The teacher also told Sommer that her son was not supposed to take the Nation of Islam handout home. It was supposed to stay in the classroom. That bit of news caused her great alarm.

statue of liberty“I was caught off guard,” she told me. “I reassured my son that he needed to feel safe enough to bring anything that the school gave him home to me. Ultimately, while his teachers do care for him, his mother and his father have his absolute number one best interests at heart.” He knows he needs to bring everything home to me, she said.

Sommer then reached out to the principal to find out how Nationfall fashions 2 of Islam material ended up in her son’s third grade classroom. She said the principal was cordial – and promised to investigate. She’s still waiting for answers. Superintendent EC Alexander sounded genuinely horrified when I read him the contents of the handout. “My goodness, that we would promote bigoted or racist points of view – merciful heavens,” he said. “I can assure you that is not the case.”

Mad MagThe school’s version of events is somewhat different. Alexander told me the handout was never meant for public distribution. He said the child took the handout from the teacher’s work station without her permission. He said the teacher had been preparing for a presentation on Mount Rushmore and had discarded the controversial handout. “It was not an authorized handout,” Alexander said.

Julie West is the president of Parents for Truth in Education, a Tennessee-based group that is opposed to Common Core. At this point there is no indication the Nation of Islam assignment was connected to Common Core. However, West said she is alarmed by whatever happened at Harold McCormick Elementary School.

“The fact that students were cautioned against allowing their parents to see anything is deeply troubling,” West told me. “The only reasonable explanation is they don’t want parents to know what it is their children are learning.”

I certainly don’t mean to be an apologist for the school – but what if it was just an honest-to-goodness mistake? “Whatever the reason it came into the classroom, it’s not okay,” she said. “These are not advanced high school students. This is third grade. They should be learning the basics of our country.”

So what’s the bottom line? “We had a teacher who apparently never looked at something, never read something, before it was distributed to a class of third graders,” West said. “In addition, she warned the students not to take it home.” That does seem a bit odd.

I’ve interviewed Sommer at least a half dozen times. Her story has remained consistent. The teacher gave Sommer two explanations for what happened in the classroom. The superintendent gave me a third.

I find it hard to believe an 8-year-old boy would steal a handout from a teacher’s desk, bring it home and then concoct an elaborate tale to cover up the crime. But let’s suspend reality for just a moment and say the little boy did take that handout. Regardless, there’s no disputing the fact that it was on the teacher’s desk.

And I do believe the good people of Elizabethton deserve to know how and why a handout from the Nation of Islam ended up on school property.


Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is “God Less America.”


Article from FoxNews.com

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Antithesis vs. Compromise

At War With the Word – The Necessity of Biblical AABAntithesis
By Dr. Greg Bahnsen

The antithesis between followers of God and followers of Satan is sovereignly inflicted as God’s judicial curse. This enmity is not only social but also intellectual in nature, and, therefore, to ignore it in our apologetic is to compromise the gospel.

AADWithout the ingredient of antithesis, Christianity is not simply anemic. It has altogether forfeited its challenge to all other worldviews. Anyone who is familiar with the corpus of Van Til’s publications and writings will recognize that the subject of antithesis is one fitting hallmark of his scholarly contribution to twentieth century apologetical theory.

Antithesis in Van Til’s Apologetic

Travel Trend Myanmar TourismIt was in the interest of antithesis that Van Til wrote his first major classroom syllabus, now entitled A Survey of Christian Epistemology, stating that, “It is necessary to become clearly aware of the deep antithesis between the two main types of epistemology,” Christian and non-Christian.[1]

It was in the interest of antithesis that Van Til published his first major book on the “Crisis Theology” of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, entitled The New Modernism, hoping to alert the Christian church to the fact that Barth’s dialectical theology was fundamentally one with modernistic theology – and that “the new Modernism and the old alike are destructive of historic Christian theism and with it of the significant meaning of human experience.”[2]sunset church

It was with the interest of a proper understanding of antithesis that Van Til, in the next year, published his second book on the subject of common grace, where the fundamental premise was that “the believer and the non-believer differ at the outset of every self-conscious investigation.”[3] And perhaps the most memorable section of Van Til’s basic text in apologetics, The Defense of the Faith, is precisely his treatment of the mock dialogue in which Mr. Grey, the evangelical apologist, does not appreciate, to his detriment, the significance of the philosophical antithesis between belief and unbelief.[4]

AAGThis theme of the principial, epistemological and ethical antithesis between the regenerate, Bible-directed mind of the Christian and the autonomous mind of the sinner (whether expressed by the avowed unbeliever or by the unorthodox modern theologian), remained part of Van Til’s distinctive teaching throughout his career. Indeed, his Festschrift bears the pertinent title Jerusalem and Athens, – based on Tertullian’s famous antithetical quip “what indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church?”AAA

In his own essay for that volume, entitled “My Credo,” Van Till condensed his conception of apologetics, guided by the thought of antithesis, into a concluding summary, where he wrote:

My own proposal, therefore, for a consistently Christian methodology of apologetics is this… That we no longer make an appeal to “common notions” which the Christian and non-Christian agree on, but to the “common ground” which they actually have because man and his world are what Scripture says they are. That we… set the non-Christian principle of the rational autonomy of man against the Christian principle of the dependence of man’s knowledge on God’s knowledge as revealed in the person and by the Spirit of Christ. That we claim, therefore, that Christianity alone is reasonable for men to hold… That we argue, therefore, by “presupposition.”[5]

earthThe aim of the present discussion is to address the subject of the antithetical nature of Christianity and its significance for apologetics. It was one of the burdens of Van Til’s later work, Toward a Reformed Apologetics, to urge Reformed apologists not to be philosophical (or speculative) first, then Biblical afterwards. Rather, said Van Til, if we would be true to the Christ of The Scriptures, we must first listen to his word in the Bible and from that starting point proceed to think through all philosophical issues. Van Til ended this pamphlet with these words:leap of faith

Rather than wedding Christianity to the philosophies of Aristotle or Kant, we must openly challenge the apostate philosophic constructions of men by which they seek to suppress the truth about God themselves, and the world… It is only if we demand of men complete submission to the living Christ of the Scriptures in every area of their lives that we have presented to men the claims of the Lord Christ without compromise. It is only then that we are truly biblical first and speculative afterwards. Only then are we working toward a Reformed apologetic.[6]

Following Van Til’s exhortation. I will begin with a survey of the Biblical view of the antithesis between believer and unbeliever.

  1. The Antithesis Is Crucial To The Biblical Understanding Of Man
  2. The Biblical Narrative
  3. GENESIS 3:15 – We read in this verse, “I will put enmity between you [Satan] and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you will bruise his heel.” A correct view of man, his historical setting problem, and God’s resultant relationship to man is tied up with the Biblical presentation of man’s Fall and God’s response to it. Genesis 3:15 is often designated the protoevangelium, the first proclamation of good news for man’s salvation. However, that good news of the victorious confrontation of the Saviour with Satan cannot be understood except against the background of what precedes it. There is preceding it, of course, (1) the fact that man’s guilty conscience created alienationbetween him and his wife, as well as a desire to flee from the presence of God (vv. 7-8), and (2) the fact that God’s curse was pronounced against the serpent precisely because he dared to beguile man into repudiating the self-establishing authority of God’s word (v. 14). Both of these facts point to the spiritual antithesis inherent in the present human situation.

But more pointedly, the antithesis is explicitly declared by God in verse fifteen, where He said that He “will put enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, – between the children of God (who are united with their Savior, the Messiah; cf. Gal. 3:16, 29) and the children of the devil (cf. John 8:44). It is worth noting that the emphasis falls upon the word “enmity” as the first word in the Hebrew of Genesis 3:15 (“enmity will I put”). And God himself is said to constitute, establish, and deliberately impose this enmity between men.

The opposition and antithesis between followers of God and followers of Satan is not simply predicted by God and is not simply commanded; it is sovereignly inflicted as God’s judicial curse. The distinction and antipathy between the two seeds must and indeed will be maintained. Only in that light do we properly understand and hope in the Messiah’s crushing defeat of the tempter. Were that antithesis disregarded, diluted or dispelled, the very meaning of the gospel of salvation would be lost – either by consigning all men indiscriminately to the perdition of Satan, or by neglecting the discriminating love of God, which Paul says in Colossians 1:13, “delivered us out of the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of His beloved son.”

The entire Biblical message of redemption and the historical establishing of God’s kingdom both presuppose “the antithesis,” then, between the people of God and the culture of unbelief, between the regenerate and the unregenerate. Therefore, throughout history Satan has tempted God’s people to compromise “the antithesis” – whether by intermingling in ungodly marriages (Gen. 5:2), or by showing unwarranted tolerance toward the enemies of God (Joshua 23:11-13; Judges 1:21, 27-36; Ps. 106:34-35), or by departing from the authority of God’s word so that “every man does what is right in his own eyes,” (Judges 21:25), by committing spiritual adultery with other gods (e.g. Ps. 106:36, 39; Hosea 2:2-13; 4:12; Ezek. 16:15-25), by trusting in some power other than God (e.g. Kings 18:21; Chron. 16:7-9; Is. 30:7; 31:1; Ezek. 16.26-29), or by repudiating the Messiah along with the world (John 1;10-11), or by bowing the knee both to Christ and to Caesar (cf. Acts 17:7; Rev. 13:8, 11-17).

In fact, Satan even dared to tempt Jesus, the Son of God, to achieve God’s ends by compromising the antithesis with Satan himself. In Matt. 4:8-10, you remember how Satan showed Jesus the kingdoms of the world, and he said all of them would belong to Jesus if he would just bow his knee to Satan. (Of course, they belonged to Jesus anyway. Satan was proposing a shortcut.) So if we would live up to Paul’s assessment that Christians “are not ignorant of his (Satan’s) devices” (II Corinthians 2:11), then we must be sure not to ignore the tempter’s persistent device of suggesting that we can tone down or disregard the antithesis which God has imposed between His people and the world.

  1. GENESIS 4 – In the fourth chapter of Genesis, we read that Cain murdered his brother, Abel, because God had respect unto Abel’s offering instead of Cain’s. The antagonism between those who please God and those who do not was already at work then in human history. And John tells us specifically that this event illustrated the enmity which arises between the two seeds, for he says, “Cain was of the evil one. “He was of the seed of the serpent, and he slew his brother precisely “because his works were evil and his brother’s righteous” (I John 3:12).
  2. SUBSEQUENT PORTIONS OF GENESIS – The antithesis continues to be pressed in the literature of the Bible as the descendants of Cain and their accompanying culture are now distinguished from those of Seth in the fourth Chapter of Genesis. The family of Noah is set apart from the rest of mankind for preservation through the flood in Genesis 5-9. The seed of Shem is set apart from the seed of his brothers in Genesis 10. The ungodly attempt to unify all mankind at the tower of Babel is thwarted by God in Genesis 11. Abraham and his seed are specifically chosen out of all the other families of the earth in Genesis 12-15. The line of Isaac is chosen over that of Ishmael in Genesis 16-18. The line of Jacob is chosen over that of Esau in Genesis 25.
  3. EXODUS THROUGH JOSHUA – Eventually the children of Israel are called out of the land of Egypt, as the Book of Exodus shows us, to displace the Canaanite tribes and be established as a holy people unto God (as we read in the Book of Joshua).

Accompanying these Biblical stories, we read repeatedly of the hostility which exists between God’s children and those of the world. We see this whether we look at Ishmael’s persecuting mockery of Isaac in Gen. 21:9 (cf. Gal. 4:29) or Pharaoh’s harsh and murderous oppression of the Jewish slaves in Exod. 1:18-22 (cf. Heb. 11:23-27), or Israel’s military campaigns against Canaan’s abominable places of worship in Deuteronomy 7:24-25; 12:2-3.

  1. THE PSALMS AND PROPHETIC LITERATURE – The theme of antithesis thus runs through the Biblical drama like a subtle, unifying thread. We hear the theme of antithesis in the imprecatory psalms against God’s enemies, and in the prophetic denunciation of the nations, especially against the ruthless empires of Assyria and Babylon which took God’s chosen people into captivity.
  2. THE LAW -The necessity of living in terms of “the antithesis” is buttressed by the Mosaic laws’ demand that God’s chosen people be a “holy” people, separated from pagan unbelief and practices (e.g. Leviticus 11:44-45; I Peter 1:15-16). On this basis Peter says in the New Testament that we are to be sanctified in all manner of living. It was reiterated in the call of the prophets to “come out from among them and be separate” and “touch no unclean thing.” (Jer. 31:1; Is. 52:11), which is quoted by Paul in II Corinthians 6:17-7:1. We’re to be cleansed from all defilement of flesh and spirit. Now both of these moral injunctions assume and endorse an antithesis between the lifestyle of believers and unbelievers, and both injunctions are repeated for us in the New Testament. We had better take them seriously.
  3. THE NEW TESTAMENT – In the New Testament we see further evidence of, and a demand for, the antithesis between the church and the world. Jesus emphasized and called for a clear observation of that antithesis when He proclaimed “he who is not with me is against me,” (Matt. 12:30), because, he said, “no man can serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24). And Jesus identified “the enemy,” (that language is conspicuous), the enemyof the Kingdom (Matt. 13:39), as Satan. Peter called him the believer’s “adversary” (I Pet. 5:8).

And Paul utilized military imagery to rouse us to withstand the principalities and powers and spiritual hosts of wickedness (Eph. 6: 10-17). There is, according to the New Testament outlook, clearly a hostile encounter taking place in the world.

A graphic illustration of the antithesis, or enmity, between the seed of the serpent and the seed which belongs to God, is found in the account of Elymas the sorcerer, whom Paul denounced as “a son of the devil,” because he “opposed” the apostles by trying to turn aside Sergius Paulus from the faith, and by always “perverting the right ways of the Lord” (Acts 13).

We must call Genesis 3:15 to mind again when Jesus calls those who oppose the kingdom of God, “the sons of the evil one” (Matt 13:38), and when Paul identifies them as the ‘enemies” of Christ’s cross who mind earthly things, in contrast to the Christians’ heavenly citizenship (Phil. 3:18-20).

The apostle John reinforces the necessity of the antithesis by issuing the following command to believers in I John 2:15: “Love not the world…If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” And James drives home the antithesis pungently by declaring, “whoever would be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).

To end our short survey, we can finally observe that the antithesis will, once and for all, be ultimately confirmed by the eternal separation of all men into either heaven or hell, as Jesus taught in Matthew 25:31, 40.

  1. The Significance for Apologetics

The primary significance for apologetics of the Biblical teaching that there is a fundamental, everlasting and irreconcilable antithesis between the regenerate and unregenerate is found in the observation that this antithesis applies just as much to the mental life and conduct of men as it does to their other affairs. The “enmity” between Satan’s seed and God’s seed which is seminally spoken of in Genesis 3:15 is intellectual in nature, as well as social, or familial, or economic, or military, or political, or what have you.

Consider the words of Paul in Romans 8:7; “the mind of the flesh is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be.” The mentality of those who are unregenerate (those who are in the flesh) cannot subject itself to the truth of God’s Word. There is, then, no peace between the mindset of the unbeliever and the mind of God (which believers seek to reflect, cf. I Cor. 2:16; John 15:15). They are rather at “enmity” with each other.

Paul similarly describes the unregenerate, unreconciled spiritual condition of unbelievers in Colossians 1:21, when he says “they are alienated and enemies in their mind” (enemies in their mind) against God. The “enmity” is specifically one which is worked out “in the mind” or thinking of the unbeliever. The unbeliever is unable to be subject to the law’s greatest command, which is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all of your soul and with all of your mind” (Matt. 22:36-37). Instead, the unbeliever “hates the wisdom and instruction” of God, as Proverbs 1:7 puts it. Although the fear of the Lord is the beginning – the very starting point – of knowledge, there is no fear of God before the unbeliever’s eyes (Rom. 3:18). He is, as such, kept from realizing any of the “treasures of wisdom and knowledge” which are deposited in Christ, (Col. 2:3). The unbeliever’s intellectual enmity against God is simultaneously his epistemological undoing.

Paul concisely lays out the epistemological enmity of which we are speaking, and he plainly points to its consequences, in Colossians 2:8 – “take heed, lest anyone rob you (that is, rob you of the wisdom of the treasures of knowledge spoken of in verse three preceding) through his philosophy, even vain deceit, which is after the traditions of men, after the rudimentary assumptions of the world, and not after Christ.” Here, Paul sets a philosophy which is “after Christ” in antithesis to one that is “after worldly” presuppositions (his word is “rudiments”; the elementary principles of learning) and human traditions. And Paul says that the latter will have the effect of depriving those who maintain it of knowledge. Those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” are not only “without excuse” for their line of reasoning, but they also become “vain in their reasoning, their senseless hearts being darkened” (Rom. 1:18, 20-21).” Unbelieving philosophy is not “philosophy”, of unregenerate men against the Christian faith are thus only “the oppositions of knowledge falsely-so-called” (I Tim. 6:20), the foolish reasoning of those “that oppose themselves” (2 Tim. 2:25) in the process of prosecuting their enmity or hostility against God.

Now the apologist must realize these implications and thereby seek to expose the utter epistemological futility of the unbeliever’s reasoning. Paul’s challenge was this: “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (I Cor. 1:20). It was his conviction that, because the unregenerate mind is at enmity with God’s Word and Spirit – and thus also with the thinking of God’s people who are “renewed in the spirit of their minds” (Ephesians 4:23) – unbelievers, whether they are scholars or not, “walk in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their hearts.” If ever there as an indictment, line after line, Paul gives it in Ephesians 4:17-18.

The defender of the faith who is faithful to the Biblical faith he defends, will not seek to abandon or diminish the crucial antithesis which exists between the philosophical reasoning of the regenerate mind and the self-destructive reasoning of the unregenerate mind. He will, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 10:5, “cast down reasonings and every lofty thing exalted against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” The antithesis must be central and indispensable to the work of the apologist as an ambassador for Christ in the intellectual arena, who beseeches men to be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:20).

  1. But Modern Thought Disregards And Disdains The Antithesis

The spirit of our age or culture, however, is not only antithetical to the perspective of God’s Spirit as generally revealed in the Scriptures; it is in particular antithetical to the Biblical view of antithesis itself. The enmity or antithesis between the regenerate and unregenerate mind, as presaging the final antithesis of heaven and hell is renounced by the modern spirit in the hope that all the world might some day “live as one.”

This erasing of the antithesis was the motivating theme and arousing sentiment of the song popularized by ex-Beatle John Lennon, in which he proposed, “Imagine there’s no heaven; it’s easy if you try, no hell below us, above us only sky. Imagine all the people living for today.” The song went on to preach that we should imagine that there is no country, no possessions, and “no religion too” – so that we might finally achieve a “brotherhood of man” where any and all antithesis, especially that proclaimed by the Bible, will be eliminated forever in a social, political, economical and religious monism of perpetual peace. It all begins, sings the modern siren, by imagining that there is no heaven and no hell. The God-ordained antithesis must not be conceded.

Even where the expression of the modern spirit is not as pronounced or poetic as John Lennon’s song, we see around us every day in the media. The contemporary spirit is one of egalitarian democracy and enlightened tolerance, and these attributes are nothing if not meant to be all encompassing. It is not enough that political democracy permits one to believe as he sees fit; there is as well the “epistemological democracy” which insists that no belief-system is inherently superior to any other.

The Biblical antithesis between light and darkness, between God-honoring wisdom and God-defying foolishness, between the mind of the Spirit and the mind of the flesh is an offense to the modern mentality. Nobody has the warrant to deem his perspective as more authoritative or imbued with any special epistemological privilege over others. All philosophical points of view must be rendered equal honor as worthy of our attention and having something worthwhile to contribute to our thinking. We must respect each other.

Accordingly, our age is characterized by intellectual pluralism and the spirit of rapprochement, not at all by a recognition of, or a regard for, a categorical antithesis between Christian and non-Christian viewpoints.

The result of neglecting the God-ordained perspectival antithesis between Christianity and the world is, as one might naturally expect, a failure of nerve in maintaining any distinctive and unqualified religious truth, a truth which would stand out clearly against every view which falls short of it or runs counter to it. “Nobody is wrong if everybody is right” has become the unwitting operating premise of modern theology.

The cognitive agnosticism of post-Kantian religious thought precludes identifying any clear-cut line of demarcation between truth and error – and renders the advocating of one a disreputable social faux pas. Modern theology is, accordingly, simply loath to press the fundamental antithesis between scholarship which submits to the revealed word of God and autonomous reasoning which either ignores or denies it. The inevitable result of suppressing this antithesis is that Christian theology loses its basic character and joins hands with what should be its very opposite: religious relativism. That is what has transpired in our age of anti-antithesis. For instance, there are no genuine “heretics” in the thinking of modern theologians – for the same reason there are no citations for indecent exposure in a nudist colony: viz. the preconditions for making those charges simply do not hold.

This is candidly illustrated by the text which I consider the most thorough and descriptively competent survey available for contemporary theology and philosophy of religion, one that was written by no less a scholar than the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity in the University of Oxford. In his book, Twentieth Century Religious Thought, John Macquarrie demonstrates a remarkable familiarity with the wide-ranging scope of philosophical trends which have interfaced with religious reflection since 1900.

Macquarrie has undoubtedly mastered the field of modern theological thought, and admittedly his insights and evaluations of particular themes or particular authors are often beneficial. But what has Macquarrie learned from all this? What conclusion would he draw from his study of twentieth-century religious thought? He is quite open about that matter in his chapter on “Concluding Comments” in the first subsection, entitled, “Some Findings and Suggestions.” The Oxford scholar writes:

Our survey, however, has undoubtedly pointed us in the direction of a degree of relativism. Absolute and final truth on the questions of religion is just unattainable…Although absolute truth is denied us, we can have partial insights of varying degrees of adequacy, glimpses that would make us less forlorn…

What we are driving at is that just as we have no absolute answers, so we have no absolute questions, in which everything would be noticed at once. Only God could ask or answer such questions. Our questions arise out of our situation, and both questions and answers are relative to that situation. This need not distress us for it could not be otherwise – it is part of what it means to be finite.

[We] have seen, there are many possible ways of understanding religion, and…no one way is likely to be the final truth…This is the situation in which finite man has got to make up his mind – an agonizing situation, if you like but also a challenging and adventurous one. So Kierkegaard viewed Christianity – not as a cozy convention but as a decision to be taken and a leap to be made.[7]

Macquarrie, who I think is representative of the modern mentality, is unwilling to countenance the radical antithesis (the God-imposed enmity) between belief grounded in God’s holy Word and unbelief. At best he sees the theological situation as a “dialogue among free men” who, adrift together in religious relativism and uncertainty, must make an adventuresome “leap” of faith since there is no “final truth” regarding religion for us or finite creatures whose thinking is dependent upon our local situation. Of course, as Macquarrie recognizes, God himself might provide “absolute answers” which would lift us above our human limitations. And Macquarrie is well aware that, “some theologians talk of a divine revelation to which they have access,” but then he promptly dismisses that “dogmatic and arrogant” perspective (due to difficulties connected with interpreting the revelation).

The farce in all this, I hope, is only too apparent. Macquarrie himself is no less dogmatic and arrogant in pronouncing that “absolute and final truth” on religious questions is “just unattainable.” He is absolute in his declaration that nothing is absolute! On the question of religious insight, Macquarrie’s own final truth is that there can be no final truth. This flagrant contradiction complements the subtle, but just as real, contradiction in his statement that “varying degrees of adequacy” can be recognized in different religious insights, despite the fact that “absolute truth” is denied us. When a final truth or religious standard is ruled out, on what basis could anyone judge the “degree” of approximation to the truth in any proposed religious idea? What kind of “adequacy” does Macquarrie expect religious insights to achieve, if not adequacy regarding their veracity? (Is it a religious truth that truth is irrelevant to religious adequacy?) The modern mind prefers such unpardonable lapses of intellectual cogency to the fearsome antithesis which an absolute divine revelation would represent and necessitate.

Dr. Van Til taught us that the tendency toward irrationalism in modern thought (the tendency toward skepticism, uncertainty, relativism, the acceptance of incoherence) is in fact allied with the tendency toward autonomous rationalism in modern thought (the tendency to exalt man'[s natural intellect as a final judge using the standards of logic and science). The reflective modern man wants it both ways: his intellect is adequate and authoritative, but not really adequate enough or finally authoritative. The arrogant demands of rationalism are counter-balanced by the humble concessions of irrationalism, and then the humble misgivings of irrationalism are shored up by the assurances of rationalism. Van Til pointed out that, ironically, the two tendencies toward rationalism and irrationalism actually call for each other:

There is nothing surprising in the fact that modern man is both utterly irrationalist and utterly rationalist at the same time. He has to be both in order to be either. And he has to be both in order to defend his basic assumption of his own freedom or ultimacy…The determinists and rationalists are what they are in the interest of defending the same autonomy of freedom of man that the indeterminists and rationalists are defending.[8]

The non-Christian presupposes a dialectic between “chance” and “regularity,” the formal accounting for the origin of matter and life, the latter accounting for the current success of the scientific enterprise…The non-Christian…attempts nevertheless to use “logic” to destroy the Christian position. On the one hand, appealing to the non-rationality of “matter,” he says that the chance-character of “facts” is conclusive evidence against the Christian position. Then, on the other hand, he maintains like Parmenides that the Christian story cannot possibly be true. Man must be autonomous, “logic” must be legislative as to the field of “possibility,” and possibility must be above God.[9]

And this is precisely what we see in the example of Dr. Macquarrie. Leaning toward irrationalism, he rules out absolute or final truth in religion, affirms that all of our questions and answers are relative, says we must be content with a leap of faith, and settles for glaring contradictions in the course of telling us so. he then turns around on the very next page and asserts an autonomous rationalism as his intellectual guide:

Our understanding of religion should be a Reasonable one. By this is not meant that some conclusive proof is to be given, for we have already rejected the possibility of absolute certitude…In asking for a reasonable understanding of religion, we simply mean that it should involve no sacrificium intellectus, no flagrant contradictions, no violation of natural reason, no conflict with what we believe about the world on scientific or common-sense grounds.[10]

This conspicuous exhibition of the rational-irrational tension in the thinking of a learned, modern thinker is pertinent to our subject matter in this discussion, for we can discern here the same suppression of antithesis on both sides of Macquarrie’s dialectic. On the irrationalist side, there can be no antithesis between divine truth and rebellious unbelief, for all religious insights are relative; all men are together in the same situation: a common dialogue where final and absolute truth is unattainable. Likewise, on the rationalist side of the dialectic, there can be no antithesis between divine truth and rebellious unbelief, for (again) all men are together in the same situation; refusing to sacrifice the autonomy of their “intellect,” honoring the demands of “natural” reason and “common” sense, and never believing anything contrary to what “we” (any man) believe(s) about the world on the basis of (generic) “science.” All men alike, whether servants or enemies of Jesus Christ, are lumped together by Macquarrie in his rationalist methodology (autonomous intellect is judge), even as they are lumped together in his irrationalist conclusion (there is no final truth). A fundamental religious antithesis in method and conclusion cannot be recognized by him.

A similar rejection of antithesis is found in the writings of one of the leading analytical philosophers of our age, Stephen Toulmin. In Toulmin’s The Return to Cosmology, which addresses the interplay of science and the theology of nature, Toulmin argues, in the face of the modern antagonism to the idea, that questions of the universe as a whole and man’s place in it should not be dismissed. Toulmin wants to return to comprehensive questions about the nature of the universe as a whole, to cosmological reflection which benefits from the dual input of natural science and religious philosophy.

At the very end of the book, where he discusses “The Future Cosmology,” he makes the following observation: “If there is to be a renewal of contacts between science and theology along the lines suggested here – if the cosmological presuppositions involved in talking about the ‘overall scheme of things’ are to be scrutinized jointly from both sides of the fence – we shall quickly encounter some knotty problems of jurisdiction.”[11] Toulmin is sharp enough to realize that “sectarian” disagreement and doctrinal particularism stand in the way of developing an effective, common cosmology in terms of which men can agree about their place and responsibility in the universe. The cosmology whose pursuit he endorses, therefore, is one which will not offend “the natural reason” of man. In the second to last paragraph of his book he writes:

Yet does this put us in a position to claim, quite baldly, that the entire scheme of Creation by which our moral and religious ideas are to be guided is transparent to “the natural reason” without regard for the doctrinal considerations of particular religions and sects? Preachers who exhort good Christians to let their Christianity permeate all their thinking, so that they may even end up with (say a “Christian arithmetic”) invite Leibniz’s objection that arithmetic is just not like that – even God himself cannot alter, or contravene, the truths of mathematics. And, if we were told that good Christians must subscribe to a different science of ecology from other people, a parallel objection might well be pressed. God intervenes in the World (Leibniz declared) within the realm of grace, not within the realm of nature. So perhaps the time has come to take our courage in both hands, and declare for a fully common and ecumenical theology of nature.[12]

 Toulmin is willing to return to cosmological thinking, just so long as any antithesis between a Christian theology of nature and any non-Christian conception is ruled out in advance. The Christian perspective is to be confined to the realm of grace, not allowed to create sectarian disputes within the realm of nature. The last thing that the modern mind is willing to accept is a distinctively Christian mathematics, a distinctively Christian natural science, a distinctively Christian anything. No special place may be afforded the Christian perspective. “The antithesis” must be removed if Christians are to dialogue with other religionists, philosophers, or scientists. Everyone must be respected for having a perspective which contributes to the rich understanding of this ultimately mysterious universe.

Toulmin immediately states that his fully ecumenical enterprise – what he calls a “theology of nature accessible to the common reason” will not bring universal support due to the intolerance of “fundamentalist theology.” But, even if it did, if all perspectives would accept the rationalist requirement of a common, autonomous intellectual method, would Toulmin’s ecumenical theology of nature prove successful? Would it bring us an assured knowledge of the grand scheme of things and man’s place in the universe? In the very last paragraph of his book, Toulmin asks, “Just how far, then, can the natural reason alone inform us in detail about what the overall scheme of things – the cosmos, or Creation – really is?” His answer (or non-answer) ends the book: “We have reached the threshold of some painfully difficult and confusing questions, but answering them is a task for the future.”[13]

Toulmin, the philosopher, has thus returned – along with the theologian Macquarrie – to the irrationalist modern tendency toward uncertainty and skepticism. The questions are so tough that nobody can really know for sure. The substitute for a distinctively Christian answer turns out to be, as always, the eschatological cop-out invoked by autonomous thought; answering the ultimate questions must ever remain a task for the future.

The modern repudiation of the antithesis between the regenerate and unregenerate minds, between the Christian worldview and its competitors, is itself (ironically) a reiteration of that very antithesis. Macquarrie’s promotion of religious relativism and Toulmin’s rejection of any distinctively Christian cosmology both take their stand over against the Christ speaking in the Scriptures. Contrary to the thesis proclaimed by Christ, the modern man asserts its anti-thesis. The God-ordained “enmity” between belief and unbelief (cf. Gen. 3:15) cannot ever be successfully overcome. In its effort to supplant it, unbelieving scholarship simply ends up supporting it.

However, that such a vain effort to eliminate antithesis between Biblical Christianity and its opponents is made by worldly scholars should come as no surprise. After all, respect for, and condoning of, that antithesis would be implicitly self-condemning. John 3:20 tells us that it is precisely an escape from God’s condemnation which unbelievers seek.

The remarkable thing is that even professedly “Christian” scholars would likewise make the vain effort to eliminate the antithesis between Biblical philosophy and unbiblical speculation.

The penchant of modern theologians and churchmen to ignore the inherent antagonism between the perspective of God’s holy word and the perspectives developed by men who suppress or dispute Biblical truth agonized Van Til to the depth of his God-fearing soul. By stressing commonality rather than conflict, such theologians surely find themselves more pleasing to men, said Van Til, but they do so at the price of coming under the displeasure of God – the God who, in the garden of Eden, Himself imposed the inescapable enmity between His people and the world.

Thus in The Great Debate Today, Van Til eschewed the lead of liberal and neo-orthodox pundits in order to follow Augustine, teaching that the “City of God” and the “city of man” stand over against one another in their total outlook with respect to the whole course of history. In the Reformed Pastor and Modern Thought,[14] Van Til argued against the apostate and man centered ecumenism of contemporary speculation – an ecumenism which, to be consistent, must acknowledge that even the radically anti-Christian proposals of Teilhard de Chardin and the God-is-dead proponents (about whom, see Van Til’s analyses in separate pamphlets from 1966), would not be kept out of the church (cf. Toward a Reformed Apologetics). In books such as The Sovereignty of Grace[15] and The New Hermeneutic,[16] Van Til warned against the synthesis between Christianity and post-Kantian thought which is the dangerous drift in the teaching of the later Berkouwer and Kuitert.

We cannot help but notice, then, that the message of antithesis is disregarded by worldly thinkers and theologians of perspectival synthesis. However, the one who above all wishes to see a dissolving of the antithesis of regenerate and unregenerate thinking in favor of synthesis, ecumenism, and a “common faith” of an autonomous or humanistic character is the one upon whom that antithesis was originally pronounced as a curse – Satan himself (cf. Gen. 3:14, 15). This is, in fact, his most effective tool against the redemptive plan of God and the maturation of the Messiah’s kingdom. This is his “last, best hope” that the gates of hell might after all prevail against the church of Christ (cf. Matt. 16:18), for according to philosophical reflection which disregards the antithesis between the “two seeds,” there is in principle no necessity for a fundamental clash between the church and hell’s gates anyway. Satan gladly works through the polemics of autonomous philosophers and relativistic, ecumenical theologians to badger or tempt God’s people to compromise “the antithesis” in their reasoning and scholarship, and he would especially have us lay aside any theoretical or practical application of the fact that the unbeliever’s “enmity” against God and His people comes to expression precisely in his intellectual life or thinking. Satan does so just because the Bible’s message of redemption, as well as the historical work of Christ and His Spirit in establishing God’s kingdom, both presuppose a powerful, systematically basic and intrinsic antithesis between the cultures of regenerate and unregenerate men.[17]

  1. The Systematic Nature of Antithesis

In terms of theoretical principle and eventual outworking, the unbeliever opposes the Christian faith with a whole antithetical system of thought, not simply with piecemeal criticisms. His attack is aimed, not at random points of Christian teaching, but at the very foundation of Christian thinking. The particular criticisms which are utilized by an unbeliever rest upon his basic, key assumptions which unify and inform all of his thinking. And it is this presuppositional root which the apologist must aim to eradicate, if his defense of the faith is to be truly effective.

Abraham Kuyper well understood that all men conduct their reasoning and their thinking in terms of an ultimate controlling principle – a most basic presupposition. For the unbeliever, this is a natural or naturalistic principle, in terms of which man’s thinking is taken to be intelligible without recourse to God. For the believer, it is a supernatural principle based on God’s involvement in man’s history and experience, notably in regeneration – perspective that provides the framework necessary for making sense of anything. These two ultimate commitments – call them naturalism and Christian supernaturalism – are logically incompatible and seek to cancel each other out. they must, as Kuyper argued in Principles of Sacred Theology, create “two kinds of science,” where each perspective (in principle) contradicts whatever the other perspective says and denies to it the noble name of “science.”[18] The natural principle develops its science, and the supernatural principle develops its science – and the two will not honor each other as being genuine sciences. And thus the unbeliever is bent on distorting, reinterpreting, or rejecting any evidence or argumentation which is set forth in support of, or which is controlled by, the believer’s ultimate commitment. To be consistent, the unbeliever cannot even allow for the possibility that the Christian proclamation is true.

There are two fundamentally different worldviews in terms of which men conduct their thinking and in terms of which they understand the use of reason itself.

Let’s just take that word “reason” for a moment. In the generic sense “reason” simply refers to man’s intellectual or mental capacity. Christians believe in reason, and non-Christians believe in reason; they both believe in man’s intellectual capacity. However, for each one, his view of reason and his use of reason is controlled by the worldview within which reason operates. A worldview is, very simply, a network of presuppositions which is not verified by the procedures of natural science, but in terms of which every aspect of man’s knowledge and experience is interpreted and interrelated.

The unbeliever’s worldview, according to Kuyper, is characterized by being autonomous. That is, it is characterized by self-sufficiency or an independence from outside authority, especially any transcendent authority (one that originates beyond man’s temporal experience or exceeds man’s temporal experience). The autonomous man, as Van Til puts it, wants to be “a law unto himself.” And this leads, then, to what our society calls, “secularism” or “humanism:” the view that man is the highest value, as well as the highest authority, in terms of knowledge and behavior, rather than some transcendent reality or transcendent revelation. Rationalism is humanistic or autonomous in its basic character, maintaining the general attitude that man’s autonomous reason is his final authority – in which case divine revelation may be denied or ignored in whatever area a person is studying.


  1. Antithesis in Apologetic Method

Now because the unbeliever has such an implicit system of thought or worldview – an autonomous, rationalistic, secular worldview – directing his attack on the faith, the Christian can never be satisfied to defend the hope that is in him by merely stringing together isolated evidences which offer a slight probability of the Bible’s veracity. Each particular item of evidence – whether it is historical evidence as John Warwick Montgomery wants to present, or logical evidence as Alvin Plantinga wants to present, or existential evidence like Francis Schaeffer was very adept at presenting – each particular item of evidence will be evaluated by the unbeliever (as to both its truthfulness and its degree of probability) by that unbeliever’s tacit assumptions. His general world-and-life-view will provide the context in which the evidential claim is understood and weighed.

For this reason the apologetical strategy that we see illustrated in Scripture calls for argumentation at the presuppositional level. When all is said and done, it is worldviews that we need to be arguing about, not simply evidences or experiences. When Paul stood before Agrippa and offered his defense for the hope that was in him, he declared the public fact of Christ’s resurrection. We see that in Acts 26: 2, 6-7. There is no doubt that Paul was adamant to proclaim the public fact of the resurrection of Christ; “for the King knows of these things unto whom also I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him, for this has not been done in the corner” (v. 26). However, what you must make note of is the presuppositional groundwork and context which Paul provided for his appeal to fact. The very first point Paul endeavored to make in his defense of the faith was not an observational truth about what was a public fact, but rather a pre-observational point (something that preceded observation and is not based on observation) – a transcendental matter (about what is possible). Thus we read in verse eight; “Why is it judged impossible with you that God should raise the dead?” Paul wanted to deal first of all with the question of pre-observational worldview – what is possible and what is impossible – and in terms of that he dealt with the historical fact of Christ’s resurrection.

God was taken as the sovereign determiner of what can and what cannot happen in history. Paul then proceeded to explain that the termination of hostility to the message of the resurrection requires not that we consult more eyewitnesses, but rather requires submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ (vv. 9, 15). “I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth… (later) “I said, ‘Who are thou Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecuteth.'” There was an antithesis that Jesus sovereignly overcame in Paul’s life. the unbeliever, like Paul, must understand who the genuine and ultimate authority is: It is Jesus whom the unbeliever would persecute. Paul went on to explain that the message he declared called for a “radical change of mind.” That is, etymologically, what metanoeo means – the changing, the turning around of, the mind – turning from darkness to true light, from the domination of Satan to (the domination of) God, as Paul says in verses 18-20. The unbeliever must renounce his antagonistic reasoning and embrace a new system of thought. His mind must be turned around, and thus his presuppositional commitments must be altered.

Finally we notice that Paul placed his appeal to the fact of the resurrection within the context of Scripture’s authority to pronounce and interpret what happens in history, verses 22-23: “Having therefore obtained the help that is from God I stand unto this day testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses did say should come; how that the Christ must suffer, and that He first by the resurrection of the dead should proclaim light both to the people and the Gentiles.” In verse 27, Paul says, “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets?”

Paul’s apologetic did not deal with just isolated evidences. He dealt with transcendental matters (what is possible), with ultimate authority (“it is Jesus you are persecuting”), with Scripture, (“don’t you believe the prophets?”). The ultimate ground of the Christian certainty and the authority that backs up his argumentation must be the Word of God. Paul could go to the facts then, but only in terms of an undergirding philosophy of fact and in accordance with the foundational presuppositions of a Biblical epistemology.

We see that most clearly when Paul went to Athens and there met the learned unbelievers of his day – the philosophers in the capital city of philosophy, Athens. On Mars Hill, (actually before the Areopagus council, I believe) Paul defended his Christian faith, as we read in Acts 17. We must make special note of what Acts 17 says, Paul pressed the antithesis, and Luke draws that to our attention.

Acts 17:16 tells us that Paul was provoked at the idolatry of that city. The citizens who heard the disputation of Paul disdained him as an intellectual scavenger, some sort of pseudo philosopher (v. 18). They called him a “seed picker,” someone who just stands around and picks up scraps here and there. “This man is no real philosopher.” And so as verse 32 tells us, in the end they mocked him. Here is Paul provoked at idolatry. Here are the idolaters mocking Paul. This does not look like commonality; it looks like conflict. We need to see that Paul did not bring with him common philosophical perspectives that he shared with Plato and Aristotle, or more particularly with the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers. Rather, they saw him as bringing something “new” and something “strange,” (vv. 19,20). it was just because they saw a difference with Paul that he was scrutinized by Areopagus council.

When Paul appeared before the council he did not ask the philosophers to simply add a bit more information to their systems. He rather challenged the controlling presuppositions of those very systems. And as verse 30 says, he ended by calling them (as he did Agrippa) to “repentance,” to a change of mind, not just to the supplementation of what they already believed.

Paul recognized their strange religiosity, their “superstitious” ways (as verse 22 puts it). In verse 23 admittedly Paul says, “you worship what you admit is unknown.” Over against this, Paul set forth his ability to declare the divine truth against their ignorance. Consider verse 23 in Acts 17, Paul puts this very antithetically: “what therefore you worship in ignorance, this I set before you,” – i.e., what you don’t know about, I have the ability, I have the position and the authority to declare to you. And when you look at what Paul said to the Areopagus council, if you have any knowledge of ancient Greek philosophy (especially that of the Stoics and Epicureans) you will notice that virtually everything Paul said stands over against the philosophical themes and premises of these schools of thought.

But now someone will say, nevertheless, that it is in this particular apologetical encounter where we see Paul explicitly making common cause with the philosophers because in verses 27 and 28 he cites them in favor of the Christian message! In Acts 17:27, speaking of all men seeking God (or that they should seek God if aptly they might feel after Him and find Him) Paul says “though He is not far from each one of us, for in Him we live and move and have our being as certain even of your own poets have said; we are also His offspring,” Doesn’t Paul then make common cause with the Greek philosophers at this particular point?

What Paul actually says in these verses though is that men will try to seek God, “if perhaps they might feel after Him.” The subordinate clause that is used in that particular verse expresses an unlikely contingency; it’s not likely that they are going to seek after God. Indeed Paul tells us in Romans 3 that “there is none that seek God; they have all turned aside and become unprofitable.” But even if they should seek after God, Paul says that what they do is “grope” or feel after Him. The Greek word that is used is the same word used by Homer for the groping around of the blinded Cyclops. Plato used that word for what he called amateur guesses at the truth. Paul says, even if men might seek after God, their groping in darkness, their amateur guesses, give no authority to what they are doing. And so far from showing what Lightfoot thought was a clear appreciation of the elements of truth contained in their philosophy, at Athens Paul taught that the eyes of the unbeliever are blinded to the light of God’s revelation. As he says in Romans 1, unbelievers have a knowledge of God, but it’s one that they suppress, thereby meriting God’s condemnation. Commenting on this, the earlier Berkouwer, writes: “The antithesis looms larger in every encounter with heathendom. It is directed, however, against the maligning that heathendom does to the revealed truth of God in nature, and it calls for conversion to the revelation of God in Christ.”[19]

Then in verse 27, Paul explains that this inept groping of the unbeliever is not due to any deficiency in God – not due to any deficiency in God’s revelation. Verse 28 begins with the word “for.” It is offering a clarification, an illustration, of the statement that God is quite near at hand, even for blinded, pagan thinkers. If perhaps they might grope after Him, Paul says, God is not far from any one of us. And how do you know that? Well, you see, even pagans like yourselves are able to say things which are formally true.

The strange idea that these quotations of the pagan philosophers stand as proof, in the same way as Biblical quotations do for Paul elsewhere in Acts, is not only contrary to Paul’s decided emphasis in his theology upon the unique authority of God’s Word, but it simply will not comport with the context of the Areopagus address, where the groping, unrepentant ignorance of pagan religiosity is forcefully declared.

Paul was quoting the pagan writers not to enlist their support, not to make common cause with them, but to manifest their guilt. Since God is near at hand for all men, his revelation impinges on them continually, and they can’t escape the knowledge of Him as their Creator and as their Sustainer. And what Paul says is that even your philosophers know this. Even pantheistic Stoics are aware of, and obliquely express, God’s nearness and man’s dependence upon Him. And so Paul quotes Epimenides and Aretus (who himself was repeating Cleanthes’ hymn to Zeus).

Knowing the historical philosophical context in which Paul spoke, and noting the polemical thrusts of the Areopagus address, we can not accept any interpreter’s hasty pronouncement to the effect that Paul “cites these teachings with approval unqualified by allusion to a totally different frame of reference.” That is what Gordon Lewis says, arguing against Van Til’s understanding of Acts 17.[20] Those who make these remarks eventually are forced to acknowledge the qualification anyway. Lewis goes on to say that Paul is not commending their Stoic doctrine and did not reduce his categories to theirs. I think Berkouwer is correct here, when he says “There is no hint here of a point of contact, in the sense of a preparation for grace, as though the Athenians were already on the way to true knowledge of God.”[21]

Berkouwer says of Paul’s quotation of the Stoics:

This is to be explained only in connection with the fact that the heathen poets have distorted the truth of God…Without this truth there would be no false religiousness. This should not be confessed with the idea that false religion contains elements of the truth and gets its strength from those elements. This kind of quantitative analysis neglects the nature of the distortion carried on by false religion. Pseudo religion witnesses to the truth of God in its apostasy.[22]

Surely Paul was not committing the logical fallacy of equivocation, by using pantheistically conceived premises to support a Biblically conceived theistic conclusion. Rather Paul appealed to the distorted teaching of the pagan authors as evidence that the process of theological distortion cannot fully rid men of their natural knowledge of God. Certain expressions of the pagans thus manifest this knowledge of God, but manifest it as suppressed – as distorted. Ned B. Stonehouse in his excellent discussion of the Areopagus address, observed:

The apostle Paul, reflecting upon their creature-hood, and their religious faith and practice, could discover within their pagan religiosity evidences that the pagan poets in the very act of suppressing and perverting the truth presupposed a measure of awareness of it.[23]

And so their own statements unwittingly convicted the pagan philosophers of the knowledge of God, the knowledge they suppressed in unrighteousness. About these pagan quotations, Van Til observed:

They could say this adventitiously only. That is, that it would be in accord with what they deep down in their hearts knew to be true in spite of their systems. It was that truth which they sought to cover up by means of their professed systems, which enabled them to discover truth as philosophers and scientists.[24]

Men are engulfed by the revelation of God. Try as they may, the truth which they possess in their heart of hearts cannot be escaped, and it will inadvertently come to expression. They do not explicitly understand it properly (to be sure), and yet those expressions are a witness to their inward conviction and their culpability. Consequently, Paul could take advantage of pagan quotations, not as an agreed upon ground for erecting the message of the gospel, but as a basis for calling unbelievers to repentance for their flight from God.

In 1 Corinthians 1:17, Paul says, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel; not in the wisdom of words lest the cross of Christ should be made void,” Paul says that to use the unbeliever’s worldly wisdom – the wisdom of words in his apologetic – would be to make void the word of the cross. This is a very strong statement. Paul says he cannot make common cause with worldly wisdom because, to the degree that he does the cross of Christ is emptied of its meaning.

In II Corinthians 11:3 Paul wrote “But I fear lest by any means as the serpent beguiled Eve in his craftiness, your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity and purity that is toward Christ.” Paul wanted us to have our minds free from corruption. He wanted us to be pure toward Christ, to have a simple devotion to Him and not (like Eve) to be deceived by the serpent. We are not to put our authority above the authority of God’s Word or challenge it.

Paul, as we have seen above then, could use facts or evidences in his apologetic. He could quote unbelieving philosophers. But he never lost sight of the presuppositional antithesis in defending the faith. The apologist needs to recognize that because of “the antithesis,” the debate between believer and unbeliever is fundamentally a dispute or clash between two complete world views, between ultimate commitments and assumptions which are contrary to each other. An unbeliever is not simply an unbeliever at separate points; his antagonism is rooted in an overall “philosophy” of life. (As Paul says in Col. 2:18, “beware lest any man take you captive through his philosophy.”) Two philosophies or two systems of thought are in collision with each other. One submits to the authority of God’s word as a matter of presuppositional commitment; one does not. The debate between the two perspectives will eventually work down to the level of one’s ultimate authority. The presuppositional apologist realizes that every argument chain must end, and must end in a self-authenticating starting point. If the starting point is not self-authenticating, the chain just goes on and on. Every worldview has its unquestioned and its unquestionable assumptions, its primitive commitments. Religious debate is always a question of ultimate authority.

What is the apologetical method that results from these observations? It will be contrary to that method which we see in men like John Warwick Montgomery, Gordon Clark, or even Francis Schaeffer. When worldviews collide the truly presuppositional and antithetical approach will involve two steps. It will involve first of all an internal critique of the unbeliever’s philosophical system, demonstrating that his outlook really is masking a foolish destruction of knowledge. And then, secondly, it will call for a humble, yet bold, presentation of the reason for the believer’s presuppositional commitment to God’s Word. We see this illustrated in Proverbs 26:4-5, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.” Show the fool his folly – where his thinking leads – so he does not think he has anything going for him, “lest he be wise in his own eyes.” And then as Proverbs says, “Don’t answer a fool according to his folly, lest you be like unto him” lest you end up in the same situation of destroying all possibility of knowledge. In the apologist’s case; lest you be like the fool, don’t answer him according to his folly, foolish presuppositions, but answer him according to your own revealed presuppositions and outlook. Such a procedure can resolve the tension, the debate, the antithesis, between competing authorities and conflicting starting points because it asks, in essence, which position provides the preconditions for observation in science, for reasoning and logic, for absolutes in ethics, and for meaningful discourse between the believer and the unbeliever. The presuppositional approach is basically a setting out of the preconditions of intelligibility for all human thinking.

In Toward a Reformed Apologetic, Van Til puts it this way:

In seeking to follow the example of Paul, Reformed Apologetics needs, above all else, to make clear from the beginning that it is challenging the wisdom of the natural man on the authority of the self-attesting Christ speaking in Scripture. Doing this the Reformed apologist must place himself on the position of his “opponent,” the natural man, in order to show him that on the presupposition of human autonomy human predication cannot even get underway. The fact that it has gotten underway is because the universe is what the Christian, on the authority of Christ, knows it to be. Even to negate Christ, those who hate him must be borne up by Him.[25]

The Christian, by placing himself on the unbeliever’s position can show how it results then in the destruction of intelligible experience and rational thought. The unbeliever must be unmasked of his pretensions. Paul challenges “where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (I Cor. 1:18-20). The unbeliever must be shown that he has “no apologetic” for his viewpoint (Rom. 1:20). In Romans 1:20, Paul says that unbelievers are left “without excuse,” but etymologically one could actually translate it into English that “they are without an apologetic.” They have no defense of the position they have taken. Non-believers are left, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:17-24, with vain, darkened, ignorant minds that need renewal. The Christian should then teach the unbeliever that all wisdom and knowledge must take Jesus Christ as its reference point (Col. 2:3) – that Jesus Christ is the self-validating starting point of all knowledge. Christian apologists should press the antithesis in debating with unbelievers.

  1. Unbelievers Eventually At War With The Word

Jesus, of course, categorically claimed to be the truth “I am the way the truth and the life” (John 14:6). John himself reveals Christ as the very word, the logos, of God (John 1:1). And thus Jesus, who categorically claims to be the truth, Jesus who is the very word and logos of God, becomes the starting point, the self-vindicating foundation of the Christian’s worldview and reasoning. Due to the antithesis between the believer and unbeliever, all unbelieving reasoning must then take its stand in opposition to the word of God and to the truth of God. To put it briefly, the unbeliever must be “at war with the Word.”

The unbeliever’s enmity against the Word of God is not narrowly a religious matter. Sometimes I think we understand this enmity as though the unbeliever just does not like the religious idea of Jesus being the Son of God and our Saviour. But far more, the unbeliever’s enmity entails opposition to the very worldview which is the context and foundation of any particular, Biblical message or applications. Now since only the Christian worldview makes language and rationality (logic) intelligible, unbelievers will be led, if they are consistent, to oppose language and rationality themselves in order to oppose the Christian worldview which alone sustains their intelligibility and possibility.

To put it somewhat by way of pun, the unbeliever’s war with the Word (that is to say, their war with Scripture and Christ) will lead them to be at war with the word – all human language and meaning. Because they reject the transcendent Word of God, Jesus, who is the very Truth of God, they are led in the immanent domain to reject the idea of the word, meaning, truth, and logic as well. This is just what we see, for instance, in the modern, literary Deconstructionist movement.[26]


The conclusion I wish to draw from this discussion is that the “antithetical” nature of Christianity calls for a presuppositional method of defending the faith. According to Dr. Van Til, “the antithesis” revealed in the Bible must be pressed with unbelievers in order to guard Christianity’s uniqueness, exclusivity, and indispensability.

First of all, the antithesis must be pressed to guard Christianity’s uniqueness. Christ cannot be presented to men as simply another Bodhidsatva, another Avatar. He cannot be absorbed into a larger philosophical coherence with other religions.

Secondly, Christianity must not be presented to men as just a general axiom. It is rather an historical particular, Christianity deals with a specific individual, the Christ of history who did particular things at a particular time. It is not just a philosophy understood in the idealist sense. John 14:6 tells us that there is no other way to God. Acts 4:12 tells us that there is no other name under Heaven whereby we must be saved. In Toward a Reformed Apologetic Van Til says:

Romanism and Arminianism have, to some extent, adjusted to the gospel of the sovereign grace of God, so as to make it please sinful man in his would-be independence of God. Romanism and Arminianism have a defective theology. Accordingly, they also adjust their method of reasoning with men so as to make it please sinful men. They also have a defective apologetic. They tell the natural man that he has the right idea about himself, the world and God so far as it goes, but that he needs some additional information about these subjects.[27]

What Van Til is getting at is that our task is not to show that Christianity does justice to rationality and to the facts. Van Til says that Christianity alone saves rationality and the facts. It is not simply better than the non-Christian view, it is the only option available to a rational man. And for that reason the apologist does not need the autonomous man’s “favors.” In The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel, Van Til declares:

Instead of accepting the favors of modern man, as Romanism and Arminianism do, we should challenge the wisdom of this world. It must be shown to be utterly destructive of predication in any field. It has frequently been shown to be such. It is beyond the possibility of the mind of man to bind together the ideas of pure determinism and of pure indeterminism and by means of that combination to give meaning to life.[28]

To put it briefly, Van Til says do not allow your apologetic to be absorbed into a larger coherence. Rather present it antithetically – as the only way that any coherence can be saved.

Thirdly, Van Til wanted to guard Christianity’s indispensability. Christianity does not need to satisfy autonomous man’s test of logic and facts. It does not need to bow before the authority of the autonomous mind of men. In Toward a Reformed Apologetic, he says:

Romanism and Arminianism try to show Christianity can meet the requirements of the natural man with respect to logic and fact…. The rational man must be told that it is not he that must judge Christ but it is Christ who judges him.[29]

And he is told that when the natural man has it explained to him, that when he goes to war with the Word of God, he goes to war with the word of man as well. In The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel, Van Til uses these stirring words:

The implication of all this for Christian apologetics is plain. There can be no appeasement between those who presuppose in all their thought the sovereign God and those who presuppose in all their thought the would-be sovereign man. There can be no other point of contact between them than that of head-on collision.[30]

So, if we are true to the antithetical nature of Christianity, we must engage in a presuppositional challenge to unbelievers to show them that in terms of their worldview they cannot make sense of logic, facts, meaning, value, ethics or human significance.

An objection is sometimes raised that if you press the antithesis, then you will scuttle communication. Interestingly, only presuppositional argumentation can actually handle the antithesis. If someone thought that the antithesis really undermined apologetical argumentation, then he would face the choice of (1) denying the antithesis which the Bible so clearly presents, or (2) giving up apologetics altogether.

But does the antithesis scuttle apologetics? Kuyper thought it did. Kuyper clearly saw the antithesis and recognized that because of it there would be the development of two sciences or cultures. But from that fact he drew the fallacious conclusion that Christian apologetics was useless. He states in Principles of Sacred Theology, that “It will be impossible to settle the difference of insight. No polemic between these two kinds of science…can ever serve any purpose. This is the reason why apologetics has always failed to reach results.”[31]

This conclusion does not follow, however, when other equally Biblical insights are taken into account. For instance, the unbeliever’s intention may be to follow his naturalistic principle consistently. He may claim to be doing so. But to do so in practice is actually not possible. He cannot escape the persuasive power of God’s revelation around and within him. Indeed, by the common grace of the Holy Spirit, he is restrained from successfully obliterating the testimony of God. And so, he ends up conducting his life and reasoning in terms of God’s revelation, since there is no other way for man to learn and make sense of the truth about him or the world. He does that, all the while, verbally denying it, and convincing himself that it is not so.

In The Defense of the Faith, Van Til writes, “I am unable to follow (Kuyper) when from the fact of the mutually destructive character of the two principles he concludes to uselessness of reasoning with natural man.”[32] Van Til says the spiritually dead man cannot in principle even count and weigh and measure. Van Til says that unbelievers cannot even do math or the simplest operations in science. By that he means the unbeliever’s espoused worldview or philosophy cannot make counting or measuring intelligible. Now why is that? Briefly, because counting involves an abstract concept of law, or universal, if there is no order. If there is no law, if there is no universal, if there is no order, then there is no sequential counting. But the postulation of an abstract universal order contradicts the unbeliever’s view of the universe as a random or chance realm of material particulars. Counting calls for abstract entities which are in fact uniform and orderly. The unbeliever says the world is not abstract – but that the world is only material; the universe is not uniform, but is a chance realm and random. And so by rejecting God’s word – which account for a universal order or law – the unbeliever would not in principle be able to count and measure things. As it is, believers do in fact count and do in fact measure and practice science, but they cannot give a philosophical explanation of that fact. Or as Van Til loved to put it: unbelievers can count, but they cannot account for counting.

In light of these concerns, the antithesis we have been discussing is not an insurmountable impediment to apologetical argumentation. It is, ironically, what makes successful apologetics possible! Not only is the apologist able to mount a compelling argument against the cogency of the unbeliever’s espoused philosophy and the adequacy of his interpretation of the facts, but the unbeliever can also be expected to understand and feel the force of the apologist’s reasoning. Apologetical argument – intellectual reasoning which goes beyond mere testimony – must not therefore be disparaged or ignored by those of us who honor the antithesis. It must not be reduced to a futile effort made vain by the perspectival antithesis between the regenerate and the unregenerate.

Van Til says that Christianity must be presented to men as the objective – objective because it has a public nature. That is the common ground between us, believer and unbeliever; the truth that is objectively, publicly there. It is true independent of our feelings; it is true independent of anyone’s belief. We must present the gospel as objective truth and provably true. Warfield was right in that regard. It is not only a moral lapse, but it is also an unjustifiable, intellectual error to reject the message of God’s revealed Word. Because of the antithetical nature of Christianity, only a presuppositional method of argument is able to press home that transcendental challenge with consistency and clarity (arguing from the philosophical impossibility of the contrary position).

The approach to apologetics which gives us piecemeal evidences (e.g. John Warwick Montgomery), or the approach to apologetics which gives us pragmatic, personal appeals (e.g. Francis Schaeffer) or the approach to apologetics which begins with voluntaristic, fideistic axioms (e.g. Gordon Clark) do not adequately deal with the antithesis – thus with Christianity’s indispensability for making sense of rational thought, history, science, or human personality. It is not a matter of whether we should choose between those approaches and the presuppositionalist approach. Given the fact of antithesis, the only approach that will be usable is the presuppositional one. The situational perspective advanced by Montgomery and the existential perspective advanced by Schaeffer cannot compete with the normative apologetical approach of Cornelius Van Til. Only that perspective challenges the unbeliever with Christianity’s indispensability.

Van Til wrote at the end of Toward a Reformed Apologetic:

Finally, it is my hope for the future, as it has always been my hope in the past, that I may present Christ without compromise to men who are dead in trespasses and sins, that they might have life and that they might worship and serve the Creator more than the creature…Rather than wedding Christianity to the philosophies of Aristotle or Kant, we must openly challenge the apostate philosophic constructions of men by which they seek to suppress the truth about God, themselves, and the world.[33]

Van Til says we are children of the King. To us — not to the world — do all things belong. It is only if we demand of men complete submission to the living Christ of the Scriptures in every area of their lives that we have presented to them the claims of the Lord Christ without compromise. In short, we must not synthesize Christ’s words with unbelieving philosophies, but rather present Him antithetically in apologetics. Only then do we do so without compromise.



[1] Van Til, Cornelius, A Survey of Christian Epistemology [Originally "Metaphysics of Apologetics,"] (New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publ. Co., 1969), v.

[2] (New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publ. Co., 1946), p. 364.

[3] (New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publ. Co., 1947), p. 3.

[4] (New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publ. Co., 1955), pp. 319ff.

[5] Geehan, E.R., Jerusalem and Athens, (New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publ. Co., 1955), pp. 20, 21.

[6] (N.p., n.d.) Pp. 24-28.

[7] (London: SCM Press, rev. 1971) pp. 372,373.

[8] Van Til, C., The Intellectual Challenge of the Gospel, (New Jersey: L.J. Grotenhuis, 1953) p. 17.

[9] Geehan, pp. 19, 20.

[10] Macquarrie, p. 373.

[11] (Berkeley: Univ. Of Calif. Press, 1982), p. 273.

[12] Toulmin, p. 274.

[13] ibid, p. 274.

[14] (New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publ. Co., 1955)

[15] (New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publ. Co., 1969)

[16] (New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publ. Co., 1974)

[17] At this point in the original lecture, Dr. Bahnsen enters into an extended critique of Francis Schaeffer’s notion of antithesis. Bahnsen argues that “one might think, then, that we would welcome any Christian scholar or writer who makes the summons back to antithesis central to his encounter with modern culture. But, this is not entirely the case. In a rather odd way, some conceptions of the antithesis can unwittingly, but, nevertheless, truly work to undermine the very antithesis which is presented in and essential to the Biblical viewpoint…this is what we find the case of Francis Schaeffer’s apologetical work and writings.” Moreover, Bahnsen argues, Schaeffer not only offers a false conception of antithesis, but he also seriously misconstrues the nature and importance of the philosophy of Hegel. Schaeffer embarrassingly imputes various blatantly “unHegelian” views to Hegel. Christian scholarship must rise above this sort of mistake. Antithesis will publish Dr. Bahnsen’s important critique of Schaeffer in its June/July issue (Vol. 1, No. 3, 1990).

[18] Kuyper, A., Principles of Sacred Theology, trans. J. Hendrik De Vries (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1968 [1898]), pp. 150-156.

[19] Berkouwer, G. C., General Revelation, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955), p. 145.

[20] “Mission to the Athenians,” Part IV, Seminary Service, (Denver: Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary, 1964), p. 7.

[21] Berkouwer, p. 143.

[22] ibid, p. 144.

[23] Stonehouse, N.B., Paul Before the Areopagus and Other New Testament Studies, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957), p. 30.

[24] Van Til, C., Paul at Athens, (Phillipsburg: L.J. Grotenhuis, n.d.) p. 12.

[25] Van Til, Reformed Apologetic, p. 20.

[26] At this point in the original lecture, Dr. Bahnsen turns to criticize the contemporary literary/philosophical movement known as Deconstructionism. Dr. Bahnsen uses contemporary Deconstructionism as a primary example of the non-Christian “war against the Word.” Since Deconstructionists reject the transcendent Word of God, they are led to war against the immanent “word” – all human language and meaning. Jacques Derrida and his disciples do this by attempting to display the radical indeterminacy of linguistic meaning due to the putative absence of any objective norms, universals, or Truth. Dr. Bahnsen argues that Deconstructionism fails to meet its claims and is self-defeating. Deconstructionism, nevertheless, is valuable in that it can be used to demonstrate the failure of non-Christian viewpoints in general.

[27] ibid, p. 3.

[28] Van Til, Intellectual Challenge, p. 40.

[29] Van Til, Reformed Apologetic, p. 6, 7.

[30] Van Til, Intellectual Challenge, p. 19.

[31] Kuyper, Principles, p. 160.

[32] Van Til, Defense, p. 363.

[33] Van Til, Reformed Apologetic, p. 28.


The above article is an excerpt from the 1987 Cornelius Van Til Lectures, delivered by Dr. Greg Bahnsen at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia.


Antithesis I: 1 (Jan./Feb. 1990) © Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938


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Reaping and Sowing

The Reaping Seasonhay man!cross

By Greg L. Bahnsen

  Don’t let anyone fool you.  Ideas are not irrelevant.  The most basic way that people think – the way they see themselves and the world around them – makes a walloping difference to their world and their behavior in it.

plantingFor instance, plenty of people think of this as a “chance” world.  Things happen randomly, with no necessity or sufficient reason, and certainly with no transcendent direction by a sovereign God.  Even the regularities of nature “just happen” to be the way they are and could be different – perhaps will change in the future.  Even our alleged evolutionary past is thought to be fortuitous, not guided by any purpose or aim.  There is no inner connection that links all things in the world, links all events, and accounts for a causal order in our experience.

Christians know that this outlook is mistaken.  Their hearts havesun been changed by the power of God’s grace, and their eyes have been enlightened to the truth of God’s self-revelation in the Scriptures.  So they have come to believe what the bible says about God’s sovereignty and His providential control of everything in the world and everything that transpires there.  The living and true God “works all things after the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11) – all things.  God has a purpose for every event in the world, every detail of our personal experience.  He even numbers the hairs of our heads (Matt. 10:30).  And God is a personal God, with infinite knowledge and wisdom, and a holy character.  The way in which He governs the affairs upon earth is not mechanical and devoid of moral considerations. “The LORD is righteous in all His ways and holy in His works” (Psa. 145:17).

double rainbowUnbelievers who see this as a random, chance world have made a fundamental mistake in their view of reality and their view of history, then.  But so what?  Is not this just an isolated error in their philosophical outlook, an abstract and irrelevant defect in their doctrine? Not at all.  Do not let anyone fool you: ideas have consequences.  Because people think things happen by impersonal chance, they are not led to believe that there is a connection between their ethical opinions or behavior and the way things turn out for them in the world – or for the society around them.  If all events are at base random, then there is no reason to expect that the moral character of a person’s attitudes and actions will have any bearing upon the quality of his life or his society.  This leaves us quite free to make moral mistakes in our convictions or conduct, as well as culturally free to alter our mores.  If the world is random, then ethics can be relative.  Regardless of what you think and do about right and wrong, there is “no harm, no foul.”tree 2

This kind of foolish thinking is diametrically at odds with the wisdom taught in the inspired book of Proverbs.  The choices which people make will make a definite difference to how well they get along in this world. God is the Creator of the world, and He governs it according to His character and aims.  Therefore, to live contrary to God’s revealed will is to disregard “the Maker’s instructions.”  You cannot get along well in God’s world when you disregard or disobey God’s word. And for that reason it does not make good sense to sin.  Personal and cultural happiness are not unrelated to personal and cultural submission to God’s law. Although the Tempter would have us think otherwise, the fact is that doing what seems best in our own eyes does not bring pleasure and prosperity ultimately. To be blunt: sin is stupid.

The wisdom of God is personified in Proverbs 1:20-33.  It cries aloud for men to heed His words.  Does it make any real difference whether people listen to God’s wisdom and instruction?  Does it matter if they conform to His direction or not?  You had better believe that it does.  God declares that if His counsel is set at naught, he will have the last laugh – “I also will laugh at your calamity . . . when distress and anguish come upon you” (vv. 24-27).  There will be consequences to disobedience.  “They hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of Jehovah; they would have none of My counsel and despised all My reproof.  Therefore they shall eat of the fruit of their way” (vv. 29-31).  On the other hand, by stark contrast, God’s wisdom promises that those who hearken to His word will enjoy the pleasant consequence of security (v. 33).  Chapter 2 in Proverbs continues the same theme.  Honoring God’s commandments (v. 1) is wise (v. 2) and beneficial (vv. 7-11) – it brings longevity and peace (3:1-2), good health and prosperity (3:8-10).  Surely then: “Happy is the man that finds wisdom” (3:13).  Compare the remainder of chapter 3 for yourself.  Read on in chapter 4.  You cannot miss it.

The point should be obvious that the quality of our moral choices will affect the quality of our lives, individually and corporately.  It is utter foolishness to believe that erroneous thinking about ethics and human behavior, along with attendant moral transgression, will prove irrelevant in this world.  God will scoff at those who scoff at His word (3:34), and He will hold fools up to shame (3:35).  The way of wickedness is thus difficult and unrewarding.  “The way of the wicked is a darkness; they know not at what they stumble” (4:19).  Sin and rebellion against God are suicidal.  “He who sins against Me wrongs his own soul: all those who hate Me love death (8:36).  This is, then, a moral universe where God personally and sovereignly controls all events with a view to His holy character and plans. Those who depart from the revealed will of the Lord not only incur eternal guilt and the curse of God, they likewise live contrary to good sense and curse themselves to the miseries of sin.

There was a time when our culture had a general sense of the truths rehearsed above.  For all of the doctrinal deviation and defects which existed, there was a generalized Christian perspective on life and how it should be lived.  People believed in a personal God who controlled the outcome of events.  People believed in moral absolutes reflecting God’s holy character.  People believed that there was some relationship between happiness and prosperity in God’s world and submission to God’s will.  But not today.  The spirit of our age is not one which sees God as a reality with which to reckon seriously.  Our general outlook does not take God to be a person who is sovereign and holy.  The culture about us has adopted a relativistic understanding of morality.  This has been the generation of revolutions – in our view of authority, in our pursuit of sexual pleasure, in our educational aims and methods, in our use of the legislature and judicatories, in our financial habits and respect for private property, etc.  Ours is a century which has seen dramatic reversals in the written and unwritten codes of personal conduct.

So how is it going?  What kind of consequences are we experiencing for our tinkering with the moral absolutes found in God’s revealed will?  An honest look around leads me to suggest that the late twentieth century could be called “the season of reaping.”  Our departures from God’s word began making a visible impact upon our lives in this world. The consequences are not subtle, nor are they desirable.  One would think that even the spiritually blind would be able to see this (though they cannot, as Scripture teaches).

God’s word clearly teaches us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all knowledge (Prov. 1:7; Col. 2:3).  Our schools have proceeded along another path altogether. God is seen as irrelevant to science and history, if He exists at all.  His moral guidelines are just one opinion among many, it is thought.  For years schools have played the hypocritical game of religious neutrality.  Where has this gotten us?  Are our children more literate today? More tolerant of differing viewpoints? More industrious and self-sacrificial? More  respecting of authority in this world?  The questions are rhetorical for anyone who pays attention to even the liberal media.  Our schools are in perpetual crisis – academic decline, financial failure, student apathy and misconduct.

God’s word clearly teaches that the joy of sexual intimacy has been ordained by God for marriage – monogamous, heterosexual marriage (Matt. 19:4-6; I Cor. 6:9-10, 18; 7:2).  In the twentieth century we saw the abandonment of God’s standards in favor of divorce at personal discretion.  We have seen in the theater, movies, popular music and now even prime-time television the promotion and condoning of illicit sexual relations between unmarried people.  Homosexuals have come out of the closet to demand acceptance as people involved in nothing more than an alternative lifestyle.  Yet our culture has not gained greater satisfaction for its disdain for God’s law.  There is greater heartache and despair over relations which prove meaningless or temporary.  There are scores of young people burdened with the effects of their promiscuity when they are ill equipped to raise children – and the statistical incidence continues to rise, not fall, even with birth control and sex education.  Gonorrhea and herpes are visited upon licentious living with lasting, painful ramifications, AIDS has already killed thousands in our culture and will destroy the dignity and life of thousands more.  Homes are destroyed by the effects of pornography and infidelity (and by increased domestic violence and murder).  The increase of sexual crimes – from date rape to child molestation – is horrifying and disgusting.

God’s word clearly teaches that we are to honor those in authority over us and not only respect, but protect, the property of others (Ex. 20:12, 15; Psa. 50:18; I Pet. 2:13).  However, in the present moral environment, a parent who attempts to enforce respect for authority by an appropriate spanking of a wayward child could face charges of child abuse.  Children, instead, grow up to abuse their teachers, use any manner of profanity against police officers, show disdain for the elderly, resent the imposition of work standards by an employer, and do whatever pleases themselves.  They do not have to listen to anybody.  Vandalism of private property is rarely stopped, even by neighbors who know that it is taking place.  Theft is so common in some major cities (and crimes of violence so pressing) that the police will not even come out to take a report of incidents.  Entire divisions of police departments are given to nothing other than cases of stolen automobiles.

God’s word clearly teaches that human life is to be respected and protected because it images  God Himself (Gen. 1;26; Ex. 20:13; Jas. 3:9).  Our culture no longer sees inherent value in human life, but evaluates it only in terms of utilitarian considerations.  The developing baby is murdered by abortion if the pregnancy is inconvenient or otherwise unwanted.  Statistics on abortion prove that our society’s bloodthirstiness and insensitivity have surpassed even the worst estimates of Hitler’s genocide.  Questions in medical ethics – from killing babies in the womb to disconnecting life-support systems – are determined by reference to the usefulness or happiness of patients, if not that of their prospective parents or heirs.  Human life, to be brief, has become cheap.

Many, many other examples present themselves to us in daily affairs and news broadcasts.  What we see all around us is the mounting evidence that disobedience to God does not bring happiness and prosperity, but despair, suffering and misery.  “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap” (Gal. 6:7).  Our society has been sowing the seeds of sin, and now it is reaping corruption (v. 8).  Indeed, we are experiencing an ever-worsening season of reaping, having thought that our departure from God’s revealed will would be irrelevant to our happiness.   “There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Prov. 14:12).

This is an opportune time to remind ourselves and others of the Biblical truth that God’s commandments were never meant to be a burden, but were rather revealed for our good (Deut. 10:13).  It is an opportune time to demonstrate to those around us the foolishness of sin for us as individuals or as a society.  It is an opportune time to call them to the promise of eternal life in Christ the Redeemer, and in so doing, to promote walking in the path of life by submission to Christ our King.  The season of reaping is an opportune time for obeying the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) – making disciples of all nations and teaching them to observe whatsoever Christ has commanded.  The season of reaping is, at the same time, a season for important sowing.


 The Seventh Trumpet, Vol. V, No. 4, Sep/Oct 1990, Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938

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Reflections of Rushdoony’s take on War

Rushdoony on Warthe spirit of 76

by Dr. Joel McDurmon

 In a previous article, I related the teachings of Greg Bahnsen on War. His non-interventionist conclusions are virtually identical to mine—both being gleaning from the continuing validity of Deuteronomy 20. Today we will see similar views, though in a much shorter venue, from the godfather of the Christian Reconstruction movement, R. J. Rushdoony.

gloryThese also are taken from comments on Deuteronomy 20. The following notes were compiled a few years ago by a strong proponent and fan of Rushdoony, John Lofton. John was the editor of Michael Peroutka’s The American View. John acceded from the church militant to the church triumphant recently, on September 17, 2014, at the age of 73. I owed him an interview from a long-outstanding promise on which I never made good. I appreciate much of the work he left behind, and his unwavering loyalty to the Christian Reconstruction movement.

I have taken Lofton’s notes on Rushdoony on Deuteronomy anti liberty 220 and given them some editorial rearrangement for topical purposes, and made minor corrections for typos, etc. Here goes:


Throughout the Christian era, much has occurred in the way of efforts, both successful and unsuccessful, to limit injustices in wartime. Although the history of Western warfare is not good, it still is different from the ferocity of most pagan conflicts, until recently.

In v. 1, God stresses through Moses that He is with them: therefore, “be not afraid of them.” This is a command: to believe in God means = to trust in His Word.

The army must then trust in God, not in the size of the army. Wars are not outside of God’s providential government, and the most necessary equipment for battle is a trust in God. It is clear from all this that military service was voluntary, not compulsory. The covenant people were to place their hope in God, to use godly soldiers, and to eliminate from the rinks of the volunteers all men who might be for any cause double-minded. . . .

Deuteronomy deals with warfare in chapters 20:1-20; 21:10-14; 23:9-14; 24:5; and 25:17-19. Even a modernist like Anthony Phillips has called the laws “humanitarian.”

In v. 9, the officers speak “unto the people.” Instead of a drafted army, the soldiers are the people, come together to defend their cause or their homes. This is basic in Deuteronomy. Instead of a state decreeing war as a matter of policy, we have a people ready to fight for their cause. Instead of men drafted, made soldiers by compulsion, we have a gathering of the clansmen to defend their cause. The first step before battle is to send home some of these men. . . .

As a result, two kinds of exemption from military service are granted. First, all those whose minds are distracted and preoccupied by their affairs at home, i.e., a new house as yet not dedicated nor used, a bride betrothed but not taken, or a new vineyard finally producing but as yet unharvested. All such men, however willing to fight, are to be sent home, both as a merciful act and also to eliminate distracted minds (vv. 5-7). Second, all who are fearful and fainthearted are also to be sent home. Their presence in the army is a threat to their fellow soldiers.

These exemptions are to be declared by a priest. They are religious exemptions and are therefore to be set forth by a priest. . . . The exemptions applied to all ranks of soldiers. If, therefore, clan leaders dropped out because of some kind of exemption, then captains of armies were to be made out of the remaining men. The officers were thus named by the men of courage. . . .

The captains or commanders were, according to A. D. H. Mayes, apparently chosen on the same basis as were elders in cities and in the temple life of the people, captains over tens, twenties, hundreds, and thousands. The original commandment for this is cited in Deuteronomy 1:9-15.

  1. C. Craigie’s comments on this text are very telling. He states,

Israelite strength lay not in numbers, not in the superiority of their weapons, but in their God. The strength of their God was not simply a matter of faith, but a matter of experience.

The legitimate wars were godly wars because their purpose was to remain secure in their possession of the land and their exercise of godly dominion therein. Again quoting the admirable Craigie:

The basis of these exemptions becomes clearer against the background of the function of war in ancient Israel. The purpose of war in the early stages of Israel’s history was to take possession of the land promised to the people of God; in the later period of history, war was fought for defensive purposes, to defend the land from external aggressors. The possession of the promised land, in other words, was at the heart of Israel’s wars, and the importance of the land, in the plan of God, was that Israel was to live and work and prosper in it. The building of homes and orchards, the marrying of a wife, and other such things were of the essence of life in the promised land, and if these things ceased, then the wars would become pointless. Thus, in these exemptions from military service, it is clear that the important aspects of normal life in the land take precedence over the requirements of the army, but this somewhat idealistic approach (in modern terms) was possible only because of the profound conviction that military strength and victory lay, in the last resort, not in the army, but in God. . . .

Verse 4 states that “God is he that goeth with you.” This has also been rendered as “God who marches with you.”

We see here as elsewhere that there is nothing outside of God’s government. Work, worship, war, eating, sanitation, and all things else are subject to His laws. He is totally the Governor of all things. The marginal note to this text in the Geneva Bible tells us, “God permitteth not this people to fight when it seemeth good to them.” We are in all things totally under His government.

God’s laws of warfare view legitimate warfare as the defense of the family and the land. Modern warfare is waged for political, not covenantal, reasons. Moreover, nonbiblical wars are waged more and more against civilians, as were pagan wars. Thus, there is a great gap between political wars and those permitted by God’s law.

The rules of warfare are further cited in these verses. In vv. 10-15, distant cities, outside of Canaan, are the subject, and, in vv. 16-20, the Canaanite cities. In the first instance, even though the armies are on foreign soil, it is defensive warfare against a city-state which had attacked the covenant people. In the second instance, it is a war of seizure and occupation against the Canaanite peoples. This warfare was legitimate because God the Lord was dispossessing them as tenants of His earth. Outside of Canaan, only Amalek was to be treated similarly (Deut. 25:17-19). Amalek was God’s enemy also and had to be treated as such.

Apart from these peoples, the practice of total war is strictly forbidden (vv. 19-20). God’s purpose for the earth is that it become His Kingdom in faith and obedience, and He requires that His law protecting all fruit trees be faithfully observed. Only non-fruit trees can be used to build siege works against a city. This law applies to warfare against any people. . . .

The productivity of the earth, in the form of fruit trees, vines, and the like, was not to be a target of warfare. The dominion mandate (Gen. 1:26-28) called for such an exercise of man’s efforts to turn this earth into God’s Kingdom. In waging war against other men, for men to destroy the fruits of dominion by anyone was to wage war against God’s law, and therefore against God. . . .

This law is especially important because an ancient and modern practice of war is to destroy fruit trees. This left an area somewhat unproductive for some years. The Assyrian kings at times boasted of this practice. Roman generals such as Pompey and Titus applied this strategy rigorously. Mohammed destroyed the palm trees of the Banu Nadir, and he claimed to have done so by revelation. Modern warfare concentrates on civilian populations and their food-producing abilities. This law was observed in the conquest of Canaan. An exemption was made, by God’s command through Elisha, in the case of Moab, centuries later (2 Kings 3:1925). We are not told the reason for this exception, but it is clear that it was not simply a prediction by Elisha but an order. Apart from this, when war was waged, it was to be against enemy soldiers, not the trees of the field. The future was to be protected by respect for the fruit trees.

In vv. 16-18, the radical destruction of the Canaanite cities and their inhabitants is ordered. These peoples were radically at war with God. They had been a source of disease and death to Israel before their entrance into the land. They were to be put under the ban, to be devoted totally to God. The people could not touch their wealth nor protect the persons of the Canaanites. They were under a ban or taboo. The Hebrew word is herem, which is related to our word harem, a secluded women’s quarter. There are two kinds of bans. First, some persons and things are banned as an abomination to God. Second, others are consecrated to Him and are therefore banned from man’s possession or control.

The following are declared in God’s law to be banned. First, the false worship of God is banned because it is offensive and an insult to God. There is a religious contamination to such false worship. Those under a ban contaminate all things (Josh. 7:24-25). Second, the seven Canaanite nations were banned: the Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites (Deut. 7:1-220:17). Third, whatever a man devotes or promises to God is irrevocably God’s property, and no man can legitimately promise something to God and then go back on his word.

In the Christian era, a form of the ban has been proscription and excommunication, not always wisely used. The biblical ban has reference to God and His law, not to an institution. Proscription in Western history has been an act either exiling or reducing a man to an outlaw status. Beginning with the Temple in late pose-exilic times, proscription could mean the expropriation by the Temple treasury of one’s assets. But men have no right to assume the power of God in any sphere, not to add to or to diminish God’s law to any degree.

When men are indifferent to God’s ban, and they see no importance in obedience to God and His law, they replace God with a human agency, most commonly now the state. The modern state increasingly places a ban on many of its citizens for very arbitrary reasons. Their properties, money, and assets are confiscated at will. This is less and less by due process of law and more by the state’s fiat will. God’s ban is spelled out in His law. Man’s ban is an act of arbitrary will and hate.

In vv. 10-15, the rules of war laid down by God require that, whatever the aggressive acts of the enemy, on reaching their city-state to besiege it, it was mandatory to offer terms of peace to it. These rules stipulate that, first, these people became thereafter a subordinate state. This meant that they would become part of the Hebrew realm. Second, “they shall serve thee” (v. 11), i.e., there would be labor levies of their men. Such labor levies could be hard, as with Israel in Egypt, or, they could be comparable to the French monarchy’s local levies (not the levies to build Versailles). The people would repair their local roads and bridges as a community venture, usually agreed upon in the local church. Of course, a king like Louis XIV, like Pharaoh, worked to death countless thousands to build Versailles. Thus, the labor levy of a city-state which surrendered could be light or severe. In Solomon’s latter years, they were severe toward his own people.

If they rejected the offer of peace, then, on losing, all the males would be killed. Their women and children, their cattle, and all their wealth, went to the people of Israel.

Similar rules of warfare, coming from Deuteronomy, governed Europe at least through the seventeenth century. Their use was generous or brutal, depending on the generals and their armies.

The city-state that surrendered became a vassal realm. To further its compliance, it could be and often was treated well. According to Hirsch, the word “males” in v. 13 refers to all capable of waging war. Of v. 20, Hirsch noted, “[O]ur text becomes the most comprehensive warning to human beings not to misuse the position which God has given them as masters of the world and its matter to capricious, passionate or merely thoughtless wasteful destruction of anything on earth. Only for wise use has God laid the world at our feet when He said to Man ‘subdue the world and have dominion over it’ (Gen. 1:28 et seq.).”

Warfare is always a brutal matter, and never more so than in our time, when it is waged against civilians, against churches, and against monuments of the past. In World War II, as in Iraq, the U.S. went out of its way to destroy churches.

Verse 18 gives us a practical reason for the destruction of the Canaanites, “That they teach you not to do after all their abominations, which they have done unto their gods; so should ye sin against the LORD your God.” There was virtually no sexual practice which was not a part of the Canaanite worship. Evil was made into virtue. For Israel to tolerate the Canaanite way of life was to reject God. There was no legitimate way to reconcile God’s law-word with the Canaanite lifestyle. Then as now, all too many want to reconcile good and evil, God and Satan. To all such, God’s clear commandments seem harsh because they are uncompromising.


From just this brief overview of Rushdoony’s exegesis on War, it is clear to me that I can repeat the conclusions I gleaned from Bahnsen’s and my own:

These laws calls us to war only in just causes, for defensive wars only, with voluntary militias, only after every possible avenue of peace is exhausted, only in measured responses, only when feasible physically and financially, and only where we have legitimate jurisdiction to do so. These laws, according to Bahnsen, forbid standing armies, wars of aggression, and interventionism. Bahnsen’s non-interventionist principle would have us as a nation, most of the time, minding our own business, pursuing peace, and sending missionaries instead of soldiers.


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