Apologetics & The Doctrines of Grace
If you are committed to a presuppositional apologetic, you presuppose the doctrine of Total Depravity.
Consistently speaking, there is really no way to separate the Doctrines of Grace from a presuppositional apologetic. The purpose of this post is to examine the relationship between each point of the Doctrines of Grace (TULIP) and the presuppositionalism of Van Til. This is not an exposition on the five points of Calvinism, but only a brief discussion concerning these relationships which I urge all Calvinists and non-Calvinists who use presuppositional apologetics to consider.
If you are committed to a presuppositional apologetic, you presuppose the doctrine of Total Depravity. This is the “T” in TULIP. The reason that total depravity is presupposed in a presuppositional apologetic is because this apologetic method relies on God’s activity to create spiritual life in the Christian. A presuppostionalist does not believe that using scientific evidence (apart from the Christian God) can compel someone into the kingdom of God. This is because Ephesians 2:1 says that before we were regenerated we were all dead in our sins. And, that there was nothing, as unsaved people, we could have done to please God (Rom. 8:7, 8).
Total depravity means that we, as fallen humanity, are “wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of the soul and body.” (LBC, 1689, 6.2) This means that, in accordance with Romans 1:18-20, before God regenerates the natural man (Titus 3:5) we will suppress the truth in unrighteousness. In light of this, it makes little sense to think we can persuade someone to salvation by way of arguing upon a basis of evidence. Drawing sinners is reserved for God and His work by means of the Gospel (Rom. 1:16).
Unconditional Election is the second point of Calvinism at which we now arrive.
The word “elect” comes from the Greek word eklegomai. It means “I choose”. We know, in light of total depravity, which all presuppositionalists inevitably assume to be true, that election can not take place on any other basis than that of an unconditional one.
If we are not able to choose God according to our own voluntary choice while in the flesh (Rom 8:8) then this election must be unconditional.
The word elect is used a number of times in the New Testament, and the concept is certainly seen in the Old Testament as well. Jesus uses this word in Matthew 24:31 (eklektos) and elsewhere. Paul uses the word in Romans 8:33 (eklektos) and 11:7 (eklogē). He also uses it in 1 Timothy 5:21 (eklektos) and Titus 1:1 (eklektos). Peter uses it in 1 Peter 1:1 (eklektos), and John uses it twice in 2 John. The word itself is used more than in just these instances, but this gives you the idea that the concept of an “elect people of God” is a very Biblical one.
By extension of its relationship with total depravity, those who make use of a presuppositional apologetic also assume this point of Calvinism to be true.
This is perhaps the most contested point of Calvinism. This point however is really no more than the logical continuation of the first two.
Limited atonement is that point which observes the tough truth that Jesus died, actually, for the elect. This raises question concerning categories of God’s will, secret and revealed, however, we will not get into that here. Limited atonement, in its most simplest of explanations, states that Jesus Christ died for the elect only.
Does this mean that the Gospel call is not well meant for all people? The short answer is no, but this is an issue we have not room to discuss here.
Consider the implication; all men are unable to save themselves, but God in His mercy saves some. On one hand, we know all people are totally depraved, and on the other hand, we know that not all people are saved. In between these two truths we know that it is God alone who saves.
By exhaustion of all other possibilities, Jesus Christ must have died for the elect only lest part of His death, His perfect sacrifice, be considered unsuccessful for those who never come to salvation.
Furthermore, the Bible is clear that God will save some and not others. Not only is Scripture replete with passages that talk about damnation, it also speaks of God creating wicked people specifically for the “day of trouble (Prov 16.4).” We find in Romans 9 that God hates some and loves others as well. Furthermore, consider hell alone. The very fact of hell, and that people are in hell and going to be in hell is a sure proof that Jesus has not died for all people. This is because we believe that Jesus came to actually save people on the basis of His work, not just make salvation a statistical probability.
The Bible does not say, “now that Jesus has died on the cross, people probably will get saved.” No, it says things like, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me (John 10:37).” Or, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him (John 6:44).”
The presuppositionalist must, albeit implicitly, assume limited atonement, in their apologetic, as a premise that results from total depravity and unconditional election. Two concepts boldly taught by Scripture.
Irresistible Grace is that point which observes the fact that sinners are called unto salvation despite the volition of their sinful will. In light of those passages listed above, if grace were to be resistible, we would all resist it if it were to come to us. However, this is a special, salvific grace of God which penetrates the hearts of even the most wicked men.
Consider Paul’s conversion in Acts 9. It was not by virtue of Paul’s desire that he was saved. In fact, his desire, at the time, was contrary to the Gospel. It was God’s irresistible grace which alone was able to convert Paul, despite his contrary desires.
Could have Paul resisted? Based on the first three points, we would answer “no”. Does this mean Paul was dragged kicking and screaming against his will?
There is a sense in which we could say salvation happens despite the will, but we must remember that it is all faculties of the human being which begin taking part in redemption at the point of the call unto salvation. Thus, with a change of the heart, a change of desire also takes place. Therefore, as a result of this irresistible grace, man is quickened unto the Gospel call and made able to respond positively, and will by no means do otherwise.
Logically following from the first three points, the presuppositional apologist now assumes irresistible grace, as well as the three preceding points.
PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS
The last point of Calvinism has to do with the fact that one a person is called unto faith, regenerated by the Holy Spirit, that person can never lose, or undo what God has done for them. In other words, once a person is called by God, they can by no means be rejected by God or torn from Him by anyone else (including themselves). The most explicit proof text for this concept reads as follows:
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand (John 10:28-29).
The context of this passage is the sheep of Jesus Christ, the children of God. Jesus here is responding to Jews, who He, in that instance, claims are not His sheep. In contrast to this, Jesus talks about those who are His sheep; that His sheep hear His voice, and that they will never be snatched out of the hand of God, by anyone.
Some take exception to this verse in allowing it to be said, “one cannot lose salvation, but they can surely reject it.” This is largely a theological construct which reads much external dogma into passages like this. The words used here for “ no one” come in the Greek (ou mē) as a double negative, strengthening denial. In other words, the definition of this would mean something along the lines of “never ever”. So it is seen that there exists not even one means by which a Christian can lose their salvation.
It is important, theologically, that we as Christians be consistent. We, as Christians, are called to be consistent with Scripture. The presuppositional apologetic is a Biblical apologetic, and it is a Biblical apologetic because it strives to present our faith, offensively and defensively, in accord with God’s Holy Word. This article was not meant to be exhaustive, but it is my prayer that it will encourage more thought along the very lines mentioned above.