To help answer this question, we looked at the Biblical justification that Van Til and especially Rushdoony taught. Because Genesis posits “God as Uncreated Being” (a term derived from Scripture rather than one explicitly found therein), we first see that God is utterly and absolutely transcendent over His creation and not a part of it, nor subject to its laws. “In the beginning God created …” in Hebrew has reference to God as being “other than” or “above” every aspect of His creation.
Van Til emphasized this Creator/creature distinction. Specifically, God as Uncreated Being is still a “being,” that is God is not a mere abstraction, He is not merely a “limiting concept,” but is “from the beginning” personal. “Created being” is time, space, matter, energy, or motion in the visible realm, and we can say that created being extends to the invisible realm of thoughts, ideas, or potentiality. Therefore, all of reality is what it is by virtue of God’s creation of it.
When we use the term presuppositional, we are acknowledging that (1) God the Creator is the ultimate point of reference for all facts; and (2) it follows from this that every fact “has behind it” the meaning, purpose, and significance that God created it to have. Thus for every fact man encounters, he must ask what is presupposed or assumed to be true about that fact in order for it to be what it is. We get that answer by first going to God’s special revelation, the Bible, and second to God’s general revelation (e.g., the physical world).
When the late Greg L. Bahnsen taught on this principle, he suggested we ask the question this way: “What must be true in order for this or that to be so? Or, how can one account for this idea, fact, or principle?” If the God of Genesis did not exist, there would be no ultimate point of reference outside of a person’s mind or experience; therefore, presupposing anything would be a moot point. The opposite of presuppositionalism, as we’re applying the term, is what Van Til called brute factuality, a term that describes how facts appear to a reprobate, a “covenant breaker.”
A brute fact is an atomistic fact: it “stands on its own.” Since God has not created it, a brute fact is “uninterpreted”— “neutral” to the mind and to experience. But if this is the case, then there can be no necessary difference between one fact and another fact (any difference is a purely arbitrary or tentative evaluation). Thus there can be nothing inherently true about what a person thinks or experiences; therefore, nothing can be presupposed or assumed concerning any such “fact” he encounters. Rushdoony argued that in such a scenario no knowledge is possible, so reality itself cannot be known even if it could be shown to exist.
In his sin, man suppresses the requirement that all of reality has a presuppositional basis (the Creator God as the ultimate reference point), which leads him to the illusory belief that he can grant or withhold to any given fact its meaning, purpose, and significance. But man does not live in “his world” but God’s. God as Creator is exclusively responsible for the definition of all things, including man himself. Thus the definition of all words, all concepts, and all material things has fixed boundaries, discoverable either in God’s general revelation or by His special revelation.
According to this distinctive, the CRA demands to know the presuppositional basis of any assertion of fact because when one correctly discovers the Biblical presupposition, God is uniquely glorified and exalted above all else. What is “compelling” about this distinctive is that there can only be one possible presuppositional basis for any given fact or set of facts because God alone is God; “There is none else” as the prophet Isaiah declares. There is only one basis for truth because God alone is immutable and He imparts this characteristic to His own creation decree. Just the opposite is true for man.
Man was created to change and adapt the way he thinks and acts. All creation is contingent. So while man must indulge in numerous interpretations, while he must experiment and test things, behind that reality can be only one ultimate basis for the truth-value of any factual assertion he makes. This is not to say that there is only one possible interpretation, rather that any interpretation that contradicts or undermines God’s decree is false and can only lead in due time to failure.
Mankind is obligated to find truth but especially to find it in God and in His revelation. Take for example the principle of causality. This is foundational to science and metaphysics. The Scriptures clearly teach “nothing happens by randomness and chance.” Therefore, this causal principle is the presupposition operative whenever causality is referenced to explain either a scientific phenomena, an historical event, or a future potentiality. Obviously, this is not of little significance in life. When one denies the God of Genesis, and instead gives credence or authority to some other metaphysical scheme, he doesn’t find a “new reality” or a “new truth”—he finds confusion, contradiction, and death.
The second distinctive is that only God has ultimate authority, only God is sovereign. God’s sovereign authority forms the presuppositional basis for God’s government of all creation, all reality, and all factuality. Only God’s truth is truth, but Genesis reveals that God “spoke” the creation into existence; God spoke the truth into existence. Truth was not an abstraction in the Greek sense, a mere “Idea” hanging in the air or alternatively hidden in the cloudy memory of man, as it were. Rather truth or factuality was the manifestation of God creatively speaking His “decree” in real time, in real history.
God’s decree not only defined what a thing was, it was also the law governing its meaning, purpose, and significance. For example, the Creator revealed “light” to be a physical property, a metaphor describing His truth, and what the reprobate will never see if he dies in his reprobate (unregenerate) condition. So we can say that God’s sovereignty is the ultimate authority upon which He governs every aspect of creation. But there is something even more significant here for our purposes: the corollary to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty is that only a “sovereign” can generate moral precepts (e.g., what is right and wrong) and thereby exercise the ethical use of power.
Rushdoony called attention to the first American dictionary definition of sovereignty, written by Noah Webster and published in 1828: sovereignty is an attribute that properly belongs only to God. Man’s dominion is sometimes confused with sovereign rule, but this is a serious error. The subduing of the earth was a calling imposed by God on man and limited by His decree. The authority God gave man was real, and man would always be responsible for how he exercised it. But it was also (a) conditional on his faithfulness (as a consequence of man’s evil he was banished from the Garden and lost his dominion privileges), (b) limited in scope (e.g., no dominion over man was comprehended), and (c) absolutely subordinate to the prior sovereign authority of God his Creator.
Having acknowledged these Biblical precepts, we can better understand how the notion of sovereignty brings to the surface an important aspect of mankind’s evil. When a man asserts his own evil, he is asserting an autonomous claim for his own authority (which in time becomes an ultimate claim). He makes himself the “determiner” or “author” of what is “good and evil” because as his own “sovereign,” he claims for himself the autonomous authority to do so.
This is not “authority” but “presumption.” Presumption in the political realm was correctly identified by Rushdoony as “statism” (see his study Christianity and the State), while in the social sphere it became “civil rights” (see his study The Politics of Guilt and Pity). In both cases, an illegitimate sovereign authority is at work. Thus we understand the spiritual and ethical motivation of our Founding Fathers, who insisted on a system of checks and balances in their newly created “constitutional republic.” But they also knew well that no form of human government could truly mitigate the depravity of autonomous sovereign authority.
What is compelling about this distinctive in setting forth a CRA is that God’s ultimate authority and sovereignty becomes the only justification, the only presuppositional basis for asserting the truthfulness and moral legitimacy of any fact. “By what authority does a man claim a righteous thought, word, or deed? In God’s or his own?” The CRA demands to ask such a question. And if a man should refuse to answer honestly in this life, he will surely be required to give an answer in the next.
- Eugene C. Newman
Gene Newman, a Jewish Christian since 1981, has been married to Robin (Armenian father) for 37 years, and has ten children and nine grandchildren. He’s a Ruling Elder in his EPC church, and has taught the Reformed and Reconstructionist faith for 25 years. He and Robin have been homeschooling for 19 years, and Gene is the former president of Christian Home Educators of Michigan (1993 to 1999). He is currently vice president for a company in the wholesale pharmaceutical industry (15 years). Email: [email protected]