What Sinners Ought to Know from Natural Revelation
A foundational text undergirding the presuppositional approach to apologetic is Romans chapter 1, specifically verses 18-32. There Paul teaches that all people have an implanted knowledge of God. They don’t merely know that God exists, but they personally know God (as enemy and opponent). God has revealed himself to them in what he has made. Likewise, they not only know God they also know something of his moral demands and that their violation of such demands warrants death (v. 32). Is there anything more to this knowledge? In this often neglected passage, Cornelius Van Til teases how some of what sinful man ought to know about God based on general revelation:
In the first place, he ought to think of God as the creator of this world. In the second place, he ought to believe in the providence of God. In third place, you have to think of the presence of a certain non-saving grace of God. At this last point is true follows for the fact that it is logically involved in the creation idea. If God is the creator of the world, he existed in complete self-sufficiency before the world was. There could be no evil in God; evil would have destroyed God’s self-sufficiency. Accordingly, evil must have come in by the hand of man. [Fourth] Thus logic should have driven men to see the truth of the tradition of the original perfection and the fall of man, and the tradition should have corroborated the logic. To quote Calvin in this connection, “Paul, accordingly, after reminding the Athenians that they ‘might feel after God and find him,’ immediately adds, that ‘he is not far from every one of us’ (Acts 17:27) everyman having within himself undoubted evidence of the heavenly grace by which he lives and moves and has his being” (Institutes 1.5.3).
In the fifth place, we believe men should even have concluded that somewhere in this world they had to be a manifestation of God’s special grace. Non-saving grace could not function without saving grace: “common” grace is not in end in itself, but only a means by which a field may be prepared for the operation of special grace. It is not a valid argument against this contention to say that no one could in advance of this coming argue for the necessity of a gift of grace, since grace is a free gift. We do not say that men ought to have been able to argue in advance that grace should come. We say rather that the world as a matter of fact exist in the way it did by virtue of grace alone as soon as it fell into sin. Moreover, mankind as a whole was brought face to face with the fact of special grace at the time of Cain, and again at time of Noah. Men ought to have seen that a sinful world cannot exist except by the presence of grace in it. Finally, in the sixth place, we may say that men ought to have concluded that the outcome of his failure to recognize the God whom he should serve would be his condemnation in eternal punishment. If they ought to know God as their Creator and ought to know him as the one from whom they had revolted, they ought also to conclude that this creator would put sinners out of his presence forever.
-Cornelius Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology: Prolegomena to the Doctrine of Revelation, Scripture, and God (2nd. Ed), 145-146.