Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently. (WCF 5:2)
I’m a postmillennialist; I fly that banner high. But my flag pole has several flags on it, and if I’m forced to fly one flag at the top, above all the rest, I’ll unfurl my presuppositionalism and let that sucker whip in the wind for all to see. An unbelieving friend at work (an atheist who knows very little theology) understands presuppositional apologetics better than many Christians because I’ve been using them on him for three years. Of all the tools in my pouch, the rubber grip on my presuppositionalism is worn the thinnest. It’s the most culturally relevant and useful doctrine I own.
In my estimation, no thoughtful, consistent presuppositionalist can avoid a biblical view of God’s law or the future. Yet, not all presuppositionalists believe what I believe about eschatology or the Mosaic civil laws. Be that as it may, typically, someone who has their presuppositional ducks in a row will engage the culture more effectively than someone who has their end times chart in order. But before I go on, I need to define “presuppositionalism” and explain how it relates to providence.
John Frame offers us a clear and concise definition:
“Presuppositional apologists claim that there is no neutrality, invoking Jesus’ saying that ‘one cannot serve two masters’ (Matt. 6:24). There can be no compromise between the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world. Unbelief leads to distortion of the truth, exchanging the truth for a lie (Rom. 1:25). Only by trusting God’s Word can we come to a saving knowledge of Christ (John 5:24, 8:31, 15:3, Rom. 10:17). And trusting entails presupposing: accepting God’s Word as what it is, the foundation of all human knowledge, the ultimate criterion of truth and error (Deut. 18:18-19, 1 Cor. 14:37, Col. 2:2-4, 2 Tim. 3:16-17, 2 Pet. 1:19-21). So the apologetic argument, like all human inquiries into truth, must presuppose the truths of God’s Word…” (Presuppositional Apologetics).
This is essential to properly applying WCF 5.2, as any discussion of God’s providence presupposes the authority and inspiration of Scripture. You can’t arrive at the Westminster Divines’ conclusions about providence without presupposing the self-authentication (evident trustworthiness and authority) of the Bible. And given that this article in the confession is one of the more philosophical statements of the divines, we need to understand how to apply it. Presuppositional apologetics helps us do that. When we head out of the house each morning to build a Christian civilization, we need presuppositionalism swinging from the hammer loop in our carpenter jeans.
Now, in this article, the Westminster Assembly emphasizes the consistent manner in which God brings his purposes to fruition – “second causes.” Second causes are simply the typical means God uses to bring about his will. For instance, when God predetermines ten bowling pins will fall, He brings this to pass through the force of a 14-pound ball slapping the strike pocket at 18 miles per hour, sent down the lane by a bowler who freely chose to put spin on the ball. Or, to keep it theological, God ordains so-and-so will turn to Christ in faith through the preaching of some evangelical firebrand. God’s plan is the primary cause, but the means He uses to bring His purposes to pass (the bowling ball and the preacher) are the second causes. This kind of thing drives humanists nuts.
For example, unbelieving scientists hate the doctrine of God’s providence because, as Cornelius Van Til wrote, “[For the unbelieving scientist], the idea of science… presupposes freedom… to make any hypothesis that he thinks may fit the facts….” If the biblical doctrine of God’s providence is true, the scientist’s “hypothesis would then have to be of such a nature as to be in accordance with, and even subordinate to, the idea of this all-controlling Providence. This would exclude all newness in science. All would be already fixed” (Van Til’s Apologetic, Greg Bahnsen, [Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1998], 380). Van Til also comments that unbelieving scientists are agitated by providence because it allows room for God’s miraculous intervention, which meddles with the laws of nature scientistic hypotheses are so dependent on. They just don’t like truth.
Van Til’s observation applies to more than science. You could use that line of reasoning to explain why unbelievers in any line of work or academic discipline hate God’s providence. You could easily critique postmodern art in exactly the same way. Many contemporary artists (authors, sculptors, painters, musicians, etc.) revel in chaos and chance. They believe despair is beautiful, and this beatific brokenness is the underlying principle in their poems, novels, plays, sculptures, paintings, and compositions. They’re angrier than a wet cat when you tell them God’s exhaustive sovereignty and providence ensure everything is designed (second causes and all) for His glory. And apart from getting them to share your presupposition that Scripture is the infallible word of God, you’ll never get them to agree with your conviction that all things happen according to God’s predetermined purpose through second causes. But you tell them the truth anyway, and you show them how bankrupt, irrational, and altogether ugly their worldview is.
So here are three ways presupposing the biblical doctrine of God’s providence should change the way you do business, create art, and engage the culture.
First, we should actually engage the culture. We have incredible promises in Scripture concerning the future of the Church: “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Dan. 2:44). However, as surely as God has predestined the Church’s victory, He has ordained the means (second causes) of that victory: familial and cultural dominion. It’s time to get our hands dirty creating culture (e.g., painting, writing poetry, making movies) and taking political action (especially at the local level).
Second, in our conversations with people of different religious and philosophical backgrounds, we should be honest about our starting point. We’re not rationalists. We begin with God’s special revelation a hundred times out of a hundred. We make no apologies about using Scripture to justify our claims that Hurricane Harvey was designed by God for His own glory. Is there any purely philosophical reason to believe that, “in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently”? Not really. So we shouldn’t expect to convince others of this doctrine on rational grounds. But Scripture teaches that it’s true, so we’re obligated to believe it, and so is everyone else.
Third, we should yank our children out of anti-Christian educational institutions (e.g., public school) like “brands plucked from the burning” (Zec. 3:2). God has given us glorious promises concerning our children: “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Gen. 17:7). However, the means – the “second cause” – the Lord uses to bring our children to mature faith is covenant nurture. And “mature faith” requires our children to understand the scientific method is valid precisely because the biblical doctrine of God’s providence is true, because God uses second causes. Our children will imbibe the wrong presuppositions from humanist schools, presuppositions that will undermine their faith in God’s providence.
Fallen man is held inexcusable by natural revelation, but he cannot reason himself back to God’s exhaustive providence (or His use of second causes) apart from faith in the word of God. Sin makes men stupid, and God’s providence is one of those doctrines we’re unable to comprehend apart from Scripture. So keep your Bible’s open, and remember, there’s no neutrality, “one cannot serve two masters” (Matt. 6:24).
Now Apply It!
- Choose three areas of study (e.g., math, drama, music) and use the doctrine of providence and second causes to give your children a biblical context for these disciplines.