«Lesson 2 The Myth of Neutrality: Part Two Based on Lecture 1 of Greg L. Bahnsen’s Basic Training for Defending the Faith “The weapons of our ...»
The Myth of Neutrality: Part Two
Based on Lecture 1 of
Greg L. Bahnsen’s Basic Training for Defending the Faith
“The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction
of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the
knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”
(2 Corinthians 10:4–5)
We are continuing our study of Dr. Bahnsen’s first lecture on the myth of neutrality. This is a foundational issue for beginning a biblical defense of the Christian faith. And it is an issue largely unknown to the modern world. Therefore, we are offering two full lessons on it.
I. Central Concerns Let us see how Dr. Bahnsen fleshes out and demonstrates the problem of (alleged) neutrality. In his lecture he declares two important truths which impact our apologetic method. One matter is factual, the other is moral: (1) Factually, we must recognize that the unbeliever is not neutral. To overlook this it to approach the unbeliever from a position of blindness. (2) Morally, we must understand that the believer should not be neutral. If we do not realize this we will engage the defense of the faith in a non-faithful way.
First, the Unbeliever is Not Neutral Despite their loud and frequent claims to the contrary, unbelievers do not practice neutrality in approaching the question of God’s existence. In fact, they do not approach any issue neutrally.
Any claim to neutrality is a pretense, and as Dr. Bahnsen will show in this lecture series, it is philosophically impossible.
As a Christian you believe God’s Word is true. You also have a Savior who prays for your sanctification (your being set apart for God and His service) by means of God’s Word. He declares that God’s sanctifying Word is absolute truth: “Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth.” And that very Word of God deals directly with the matter of neutrality in the unbeliever’s outlook.
The Unbelieving Mind is Hostile toward God The Bible points out that the unbeliever is not neutral towards the question of God. But it goes
further, declaring that he is actually hostile toward it:
This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart. (Eph. 4:17–18) Observe that Paul does not speak of the unbeliever’s mind or heart as neutral. To the contrary,
declares the absolute “futility” of the unbelieving mind. The non-Christian’s mind is actually “darkened,” not dim. It is even “excluded” from God, not “on the fence” regarding God. This is because of his “ignorance,” not confusion. It is “hardened” against God, not indifferent toward him. These observations are just what you should expect in light of the fall of man into sin (Gen.
3:1–7; Rom. 3:10ff; 5:12ff) and God’s curse in Genesis 3:15.
Rather than allowing the believer to adopt the unbeliever’s mind (which is characterized in Eph. 4:17–18), Paul states that the believer has not so “learned Christ” (Eph. 4:30). That is, you as a believer did not come to a sure knowledge of Christ through fallen thought processes.
Such a method, then, is inappropriate for apologetics. Because of this, Paul calls upon you to put
away the former ways by renewing your mind:
In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Eph. 4:22–24) Ephesians 4:17 teaches that you are either set aside for God or alienated from Him. No third option exists, no middle ground—men simply are not “neutral.” Men will either follow the world or the Word. They either have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16; cp. Eph. 4:23–24) or a mind of futility (Eph 4:17). His thoughts are either “captive” to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5) or are “hostile” to Him (Col. 1:21). Note that some of Paul’s images of the two minds imply warfare: The Christian’s mind is “captive” 1 to God, whereas the unbeliever remains “hostile” 2 to him. Here we see the enmity of Genesis 3:15 separating the unbelieving mind from the believing.
The Greek word is aichmalotizo, which is a part of a word group often used of war captives, see for example: Luke 21:24; Eph. 4:8; Rev. 13:10. In fact, Paul speaks of the “weapons” of our “warfare” and the “destruction” of “fortresses.” Simply put: the mind is not neutral. As Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other” (Matt.
6:24), and “He who is not with Me is against Me” (Matt. 12:30).
Paul presents the same problem in Romans 1. This is not a stray thought in his understanding of man’s condition. Notice his forceful depiction of the fallen mind as hostile to
God and actively working to suppress the truth within:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.... For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie (Rom. 1:18–22, 25).
Later in Romans he also declares that “the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so” (Rom. 8:7).
Any apologetic method that does not recognize the hostility of the fallen mind is not only gravely mistaken is resisting the teaching of the very Scriptures which apologetics should be The word “hostile” is a translation of the Greek echthros, which is often translated “enemy,” see Luke 1:74; 10:19; 1 Cor. 15:25–26.
defending! Dr. Bahnsen urges you to recognize the reality of non-neutrality in the actual world;
you must understand that neutrality is a myth.
Contrary to the grievously impoverished theology in much of modern evangelicalism, the Scriptures teach what is known as the “noetic” effect of sin. “Noetic” is derived from the Greek word nous, which means “mind” (see: Luke 24:45; Rom. 7:23; Phil. 4:7). This is one aspect of the doctrine of “total depravity,” which declares that the fall reaches deep down into a man’s very being, even to his mind, his reasoning processes. As Dr. Bahnsen observes, “The noetic effect of sin (the depravity of man’s intellect) does not imply, for Van Til, that the unbeliever cannot have a keen intellect. He may be very smart indeed, and thus all the more dangerous to himself and others. Depravity gives a distorted and destructive orientation to the sinner’s mental functions.” 3 This is evident in Paul’s writings quoted above.
The Unbelieving Mind Denies Reality Neutrality strikes at our faith in another way. Our faith declares that all things were made by and belong to God, so that there can be no neutrality in such a world. Consider the following biblical
God made all things. The doctrine of creation is a foundational biblical doctrine which shows God as the Creator and the Universe as His creation. The Bible rightly opens with the doctrine of creation, and the New Testament affirms it. “In the beginning God created the Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Reading and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1998), 154 note 17.
heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:3). 4 Paul uses the doctrine of creation to condemn men for failing to worship him as their Creator (Rom. 1:16–25). God created everything in the universe from its smallest atomic particle to its farthest flung galaxy. As God’s creatures living in his world you cannot legitimately be neutral regarding your Creator’s existence. This is especially true in that man exists as God’s image (Gen. 1:26; 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7; James 3:9).
God made all things for himself. The God of Scripture is not the God of deism. 5 That is, God did not simply create the world and withdraw Himself from it. He created it for Himself and positively for His own glory. “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever” (Rom. 11:36). “All things have been created by Him and forHim” (Col.
1:16d). 6 God does not welcome neutrality in His creation, for neutrality denies God’s glorious purpose. Caleb Colton (1780–1832) once commented that “Neutrality is no favorite with Providence, for we are so formed that it is scarcely possible for us to stand neutral in our hearts.” God owns all things. One recurring theme in Scripture is found in the words: “the earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world and those who dwell in it” (Psa. 24:1). 7 No man can trespass on another’s property and claim he is neutral to the other man’s ownership. Neither may man claim such in the earth, which is “the Lord’s.” Human property rights are protected in God’s See also: Exodus 20:11; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 104:24; 148:1–5; Isaiah 40:22–28; 44:24; 45:12, 18;
Ephesians 3:9; Colossians 1:16–17; and Hebrews 11:3.
“Deism” is a natural religion view of God which was very prevalent in the 17th and 18th centuries.
This belief about God is derived solely from natural revelation and reason and not special revelation. The god of deism created the world, but does not interfere with it by means of providence, miracle, incarnation, or any other Christian affirmation.
See Psalm 82:8; Proverbs 16:4; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Hebrews 2:10; Revelation 4:11.
See Genesis 14:19; Exodus 9:29; 19:5; Leviticus 25:23; Deuteronomy 10:14; 1 Sam. 2:8; 1 Chronicles 29:11, 14; Job 41:11; Psalm 24:1; 50:12; 89:11; 104:24; 1 Corinthians 10:26, 28.
Law (e.g., Exo. 20:15; Lev. 19:11; Acts 5:4). You well know God’s special redemptive ownership of believers (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 1:18). God has property rights over all that He has created, and He has created all things.
God governs all things. The world and the universe do not operate randomly by blind chance or under their own inherent power. God actively controls all things and continuously directs them to His own wise end. Everything exists and has its meaning and place because of God. He “declares the end from the beginning and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’” (Isa. 46:10). Christ “is before all things, and in Him all things hold together” (Col.
1:17). Christ “is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:3a). We “have been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will” (Eph. 1:11). 8 Thus, everything is controlled by the will of God for His purpose, not for the sake of neutrality.
God will judge all men. As creatures of God existing in His image, we are responsible to Him and His will. “God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil” (Eccl. 12:14). “He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed” (Acts 17:31a). 9 In fact, you will even give account for every “idle word” that you speak (Matt. 12:36). None of your words is neutral;
each one is subject to God’s evaluative judgment. Your apologetic methodology, then, will even The Westminster Confession calls the doctrine of predestination as a “high mystery” (WCF 3:8). It is a difficult doctrine to understand, but a very biblical one. See: Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1932). Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., “Predestination Study Series” (www.kennethgentry.com).
See also Ecclesiastes 3:17; Matthew 10:28; Acts 17:31; Romans 14:11; Philippians 2:10; Hebrews 12:23; and Revelation 20:12.
be subject to God’s searching assessment. God’s judgment is inescapable in all of life, as David discovered when he tried to flee God’s presence (Psa. 139:1–17). Dr. Bahnsen explains it this
Herein lies the problem: neutrality is impossible. Secularists have no claim to neutrality because everyone has a set of presuppositions that guide their moral and ethical analyses. Contending for any position depends upon this framework in that it is through one’s presuppositions that facts are interpreted and related. No one lives or operates in a vacuum where the mind is a “blank slate” and facts are uninterpreted. Were that the case, “brute facts” would exist independently of God and have no logical relation to one another. Accordingly, man could not know
Dr. Bahnsen’s first point is affirmed in Scripture: We must not work from the assumption of neutrality in man’s thinking. The unbeliever is not neutral, why should you be? Let us now consider his next point.
Second, the Christian Should not be Neutral As a Christian you are obligated to deny neutrality in your apologetic methodology. This should naturally follow from your understanding of sin. Man is not neutral; he is a sinner. Quite obviously you should not adopt a position that contradicts the biblical doctrine of sin. We may, Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 38.
however, go further than this in speaking against the neutrality principle. Dr. Bahnsen points out
in Always Ready:
No such compromise is even possible. “No man is able to serve two lords” (Matt.