The art of apologetics often means one’s ability to confirm the truth of the faith against the opinions of non-believers. At times, apologetics can also spill over into a whole system—one worldview against all else. And when this happens, those inclined to apologetics often work hard to show why physics, biology, philosophy, and more besides fails or falls into idolatry.
So then any study of these fields becomes a sort of game of finding the problem, discovering idolatry, showing where it is wrong. While perhaps unintended, the apologist makes the entire field seem bad, twisted. There is nothing useful in biology or physics or philosophy since it is idolatrous. The only thing worth pursuing is the view of the apologist!
The effect is to make these fields of study seem dark, boring, and not worth our time. This, I think, is entirely wrong.
Apart from faith in God, all pursuits are imperfect, not complete. John Calvin speaks of total depravity as a disordered attachment in which our will, mind, and affections do not pursue natural ends for God’s glory. In this sense, all pursuits apart from God fall short of his glory, evince the sinfulness of our nature.
But that does not mean the natural pursuit somehow becomes entirely useless. We do not say that marriage and family are somehow twisted and wrong apart from faith. We know that marriage is naturally good, even if its goal is to image Christ’s union with his body, the church (Eph 5). But we still encourage marriage and family for societies.
Because natural ends are still good, even when tarnished by Sin. Corruption corrupts the good, but it does not obliterate all forms of it. Or else, is God’s creation evil? It is corrupt, not evil. There is a difference. We must still say, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps 19:1).
This is why, I think, the modern fascination with demolishing worldviews or the antithesis of faith versus the world and more besides can (not must) lead to a disenchantment of the world, of God’s good world.
That makes everything boring. It also makes us, dare I say, stupid. We do not pursue knowledge since we think “the world” is simply a ball of sin. But this view does not distinguish natural goods from supernatural goods nor sin from corruption.
Total depravity refers to the disfunction of each faculty in a person: will, intellect, mind, affections. We do not love God with our wholeself. We are completely broken. We sin, therefore. And yet a man helping an elderly person across the street, a teacher helping a child, a mother loving a child—these are genuinely good, naturally speaking. Just as marriage and family is.
We must distinguish or live lives that lack the full wonder of God’s glory in creation, becoming boring and lacking the motivation to know and understand.
As Isaiah reminds, God even teaches the farmer through nature:
Give ear, and hear my voice;
give attention, and hear my speech.
Does he who plows for sowing plow continually?
Does he continually open and harrow his ground?
When he has leveled its surface,
does he not scatter dill, sow cumin,
and put in wheat in rows
and barley in its proper place,
and emmer as the border?
For he is rightly instructed;
his God teaches him. (Isa 28:23–26)
How does God teach him? Through the book of First Farming? No, through the revelation of God in nature, the consistency of the universe, in the act of planting and watering itself which shows that good care of a seed produces a fruit.
This, in fact, is how Paul illustrates the truth of the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15. He knows, as we do, how the natural world works. A seed produces fruit. There are different kinds of seeds and different kinds of fruits. So the body, when planted in death, like a seed springs to new life in the resurrection.
Nature explains grace, and nature is good but corrupt. It will be renewed, but remains still something worth pursuing since anything good should draw us to itself. After all, God is Goodness Himself. And we might see the traces of that goodness in his creation that he, from the beginning, declared to be “very good” (Gen 1:31).
Davis Wetherell says
Hi Wyatt, thanks for your article and your thoughts on how worldview apologetics can send the wrong message. By referencing “worldviews” are you discussing presuppositional apologetics? I personally am convinced by the presuppositional approach to apologetics, and I am currently teaching a course at my church using that approach. But I am new to these ideas, and I am always looking to learn more!
If you are indeed interacting with presuppositional apologetics, would you say that your article is a criticism of the Van Tillian approach altogether, or perhaps just a derivative form of it that does not have a thorough understanding of God’s common grace nor a proper grasp of the presuppositional argument?
I have not read any worldview/presuppositional apologists who claim that there is “nothing useful in biology or physics or philosophy since it is idolatrous.” But I am not that widely read! What I have read has instead been claims of this nature: the work of biology, physics, and philosophy presuppose God’s existence and therefore would be self-contradictory when they are used to deny him.
Grateful for your thoughts!
Thanks, Davis. I include Van Till’s approach. But I tried to be careful to say that this CAN happen, not always or must happen. I appreciate Van Till.
My critique would be that an effect of worldview criticism is that it does not take into account how sometimes things are not either A or B. B might have a tonne of good insights, but is basically wrong. So A can disagree with B, while accepting some of his premises. Another critique would be that Van Till’s method might make someone believe all they have to do is memorize the Transcendental Method. But in real life, people are more complex. We need to often get to know them, etc.
So I’ve read Van Till. I basically agree with his main insights, but I am wary of some of his perhaps unintended effects.