The Gospel Coalition

Editors' Note: The Bible calls Christians to always be prepared to give an answer to those who ask for the reason of the hope within us (1 Peter 3:15). And so, from the very beginning of church history, Christians have publicly and privately labored to show the reasonableness of our faith against the objections of skeptics.

In the last century, Christians debating the relationship between reason and faith have divided into sometimes warring camps of classical, evidential, and presuppositional apologetics. If you're wondering how these views relate, then this week's series of five articles is for you. The Gospel Coalition welcomes apologists and pastors who will define, critique, and defend particular methods commonly used among Christians. But we don't want to stop at method, as if apologetics were just meant for the lab. We also hope to provide resources to not only firm up your grasp of the debates, but also to put apologetics into practice in preaching and evangelism.

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Misconceptions of so-called presuppositional apologetics abound. One reason is surely the fault of presuppositionalists. As an apologetic "school," emphases and tenets vary from person to person, according to one's theological system. This is inevitable, but is also unfortunate because confusing, and is one reason why I think the moniker "covenantal" best applies to the apologetic approach argued by Cornelius Van Til. Whatever he might have in common with other apologists, Van Til's approach is uniquely Reformed in a way the others are not.

I have been asked to respond briefly to Paul Copan's concerns about presuppositionalism as an apologetic methodology. I cannot respond for other "types" of presuppositionalism---Copan mentions Carl Henry as an example. What I hope to do is respond from a Reformed, Van Tilian, covenantal perspective. Though the responses will be brief, any interested in further discussions of the concerns below would do well to read Van Til himself. He both anticipated all of the concerns mentioned, and more, and, in various places, responded to them. For now, though, the following may suffice. I'll list Copan's concerns about a presuppositional apologetic methodology, then provide some covenantal food for thought.

Concern #1: Presuppositionalism engages in question-begging---assuming what one wants to prove. 

Copan's concern is that anyone utilizing a covenantal methodology will "get you an 'F' in any logic class worthy of the name." It is a bit naïve to think that Van Til, with a PhD in philosophy, would have missed something so basic. And, of course, he didn't. He explains his notion of circular reasoning in various places. The way I explain Van Til's use of circular reasoning can be found in Defense of the Faith, 4th edition, p. 123, n.8:
Van Til is not advocating fallacious reasoning here. Though much more needs to be said, a couple of points should be remembered when Van Til wants to affirm circular reasoning:

(1) Circular reasoning is not the same as a circular argument. A circular argument is one in which the conclusion of the argument is also assumed in one or more of the premises. Van Til's notion of circularity is broader, and more inclusive, than a strict argument form. For example, in William Alston, The Reliability of Sense Perception (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), Alston argues that it is impossible to establish that one has knowledge in a certain area without at the same time presupposing some knowledge in that area. His example is an argument for the reliability of sense perception. Any argument for such reliability presupposes that reliability. And it does so because of the epistemic situation in which human beings exist. Alston is right here, it seems. Not only so, but, to go deeper, the epistemic and metaphysical situation in which human beings exist is one in which the source of and rationale for all that we are and think is, ultimately, in the Triune God of Scripture. Circularity in this sense is inevitable. We will never be outside the context of image of God as we think and live---not in this life or the next.

(2) Van Til's affirmation of circular reasoning should be seen in the context of the point he makes in various places about "indirect" arguments. Any petitio principii is, by definition, a direct argument---containing premises and a conclusion. Van Til's indirect method moves one out of the context of a strict proof or direct argument, and into the context of the rationale for any fact or law assumed to be, or to be true. Thus, circularity is inextricably linked to the transcendental approach, and is not meant to be in reference, strictly speaking, to direct argumentation.

Maybe we can put it more simply. Is it possible to posit any truth at all without that truth having its genesis and its impetus from God's creating and sustaining activity? If not, then every truth presupposes that God is, that he is the Creator of all that is, and that he sustains it.

Concern #2: Christians share common ground with unbelievers, who are likewise made in God's image, which is not erased by the fall. 

Here's how I think Van Til would respond to Copan's second concern:

I have never denied that there is a common ground of knowledge between the believer and the unbeliever. I have always affirmed the kind of common ground that is spoken of in Scripture, notably in Romans 1 and 2, and in Calvin's Institutes. As creatures made in God's image man cannot help but know God. It is of this revelation to man through "nature" and through his own constitution that Paul speaks of in Romans.


That all men have all things in common metaphysically and psychologically, was definitely asserted, and further, that the natural man has epistemologically nothing in common with the Christian. And this latter assertion was qualified by saying that this is so only in principle. . . . As far as the principle of the natural man is concerned, it is absolutely or utterly, not partly, opposed to God. . . . So far then as men self-consciously work from this principle they have no notion in common with the believer. Their epistemology is informed by their ethical hostility to God.


Van Til is insisting that non-Christians who are true to their own principle of unbelief will never interpret one fact or one experience of the world properly, since every fact and experience has its rationale in God's creating and sustaining activity. Again, the point to be emphasized is the actual truth of the matter as Scripture gives it to us. This is one reason why Van Til's approach is a covenantal one. All men are either in Adam, as their covenant head, or in Christ. There is no third place to be. As such, we reason, think, live, and act according to the principles entailed in our covenant status.

Concern #3: Some (not all) presuppostionalists seem inconsistent about natural theology. 

This is no doubt true, given that presuppositionalists differ theologically. Since theology grounds and founds apologetic methodology, there will be differences all along the way. Maybe the best succinct response to Copan's third concern can be found in Richard Muller:
The question of the existence of God (existentia Dei) does not appear in all of the Reformed scholastic systems and, when it does appear, has an apologetic and polemical function rather than a substantive or formative one in the course of theological system. In neither the early nor the high orthodox eras do we find the proofs stated as a basis in rational philosophy or natural theology upon which the system of revealed doctrine can build: the use of the proofs and of natural theology as a prologue to a system of revealed doctrine occurs only in the 18th century under the impact of Wolffian rationalism (Muller, 3.170).

Van Til follows the Reformed scholastics here. Natural theology cannot be a prologue to revealed theology without giving way to a rationalistic theology. Van Til was clear that the problem with the theistic proofs was not the arguments per se, but rather the method used to present them, as that method presupposed that concepts such as "cause" or "necessity" were religiously neutral. The rationalistic method to which Muller eludes, requires that one reason from the finite to the infinite on the basis of neutral concepts and ideas. The transcendental method assumes that God has spoken and that what he says is true. That truth forms the basis and foundation for arguing against anything contrary to it. It is, thus, decidedly not an argument based on a supposedly neutral concept.

Concern #4: It is important to distinguish between the confident ground of our knowledge of God and the highly probable public case for the Christian faith.

With respect to a probability argument, the question to be asked here is, "On what such a probability might be based?" Probability itself has to be grounded in something. At this point, we need a rough and ready explanation of the kind of probability that is relevant to these kinds of discussions. Maybe we should call it epistemic probability. It just so happens that we have one:

Relative to K, p is epistemically more probable than q, where K is an epistemic situation and p and q are propositions, just in case any fully rational person in K would have a higher degree of belief in p than in q.


Given the difficulty of adequately defining epistemic probability, it is best simply to take this explanation as initially adequate, with one more clarification.
What does K include? What goes into an epistemic situation? . . . [L]et's say initially that K, for a given person S, would include at least some of the other propositions S believes, as well as the experiences S is undergoing and perhaps has undergone; it would also include what S remembers, possibly a specification of S's epistemic environment, and no doubt more besides.

This discussion can become quite technical. The point we can make here is that any notion of probability worth its epistemic salt will include a foundation of background knowledge (K, above) such that, whatever the probability calculus used in the equation, the numbers are "fixed" from the beginning, and they are fixed according to one's presuppositions. So a probable argument itself has to presuppose something known, or assumed to be known.

Wouldn't it be better to approach the discussion on the basis of the truth of the matter? What if we argued for Christianity based, not on probability, with its attendant problems, but on the certainty that Scripture provides? Or, to put it negatively, what if we didn't? Wouldn't we be forced to argue that God probably exists, that Jesus probably rose from the dead, and so our faith is probably not in vain? Is there any semblance of this kind of argument in Scripture, or in the minds of Jesus or Paul or Peter?

A covenantal (which is Van Til's version of "presuppositional") approach to apologetics is only as cogent and consistent as the theology on which it is built. Because Van Til sought self-consciously to make apologetic methodology conform more closely to the Reformed theology that he held, his method most explicitly aligns with that theology. The real question to be posed, then, in terms of anyone concerned with this methodology is this: "Is there anything in Van Til's approach that negates or undermines Reformed theology?" Because he believed that theology to be the most consistent expression of the teaching of Scripture, he was convinced, as am I, that it is the approach that a Reformed person is bound to use.

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Also in the apologetics series:



Comments:

littleGoose

March 26, 2012 at 05:25 PM

Hey there my friend, forgive my ignorance on some of these things, but I'm still confused. I agree that certainty is in Christian theism. I am 100% sure that Christian theism is true, but so is Paul Copan, R.C. Sproul, and William Lane Craig and none of them are presuppositionalists (or covenantal apologists). These apologists would say that though they know for sure because of the testimony of the Holy Spirit, they can only use probabilistic arguments in dialog with unbelievers. The presuppositionalist on the other hand would say that they argue from 100% certainty. This is where my question comes from. I'm open to the idea, but how do they argue for 100% certainty?

The answer that I usually receive is the transcendental argument (TAG) which I think is an amazingly strong argument, but only when it comes to the existence of a transcendental being (aka God). Forgive me for using TAG synonymously with presuppositionalism, but they do seem to be very closely related.

I hope my question makes sense. I am not the best at this stuff but help me understand.

your friend and brother in Christ.
-Kevin

[...] of view—beg the question (assume what we want to prove)?  (Paul Copan has made this claim, and Scott Oliphint has written a response.) In other words, is it really fair for the apologist to begin his defense by saying, “So, as the [...]

Jimmy Li

March 21, 2012 at 01:51 AM

Can't wait to see you again brother!

littleGoose

March 20, 2012 at 10:01 AM

that would be great! unfortunately I'm always busy nowadays, working full time and going to TMC. But hopefully there will be some sort of Alliance event (I think u go to an alliance church?)where we can hang out.

Brad Jones

March 20, 2012 at 07:43 PM

Hey Roger,

I second David's response. This comment thread isn't the best place for this kind of discussion. As I said before, you have an open invite to email me anytime at bradjones228@yahoo.com. I'll just touch on a couple points briefly:

1. The charge that the Christian faith is mindlessly indoctrinated into people doesn't do anything to prove or disprove the central claims of Christianity itself. The point is irrelevant and should probably be dropped in the future. My faith, for example, doesn't depend on my upbringing. I wasn't raised in a Christian home, nor did I want anything to do with Christianity. I used to dismiss it just like you. And it's not as if I'm some kind of exception. If anything, the Christian faith is now more international than ever, and is sweeping through many parts of the globe. Skepticism is not much of an issue in many of these places, as it is in the West. I would even propose that much of your skepticism reflects the intellectual climate that you were brought up in, Roger. In other words, your argument about beliefs being indoctrinated through culture/upbringing backfires on itself. In relativizing everyone else's views, you relativize yourself.

2. Here is not the place to engage all the questions you bring up about conflicting views. But perhaps I can temper your concern over all these divergences by referring you to the historical consensus of the church for about 1500 years now. of course, I'm referring to the ecumenical creeds that all Christian churches accept (i.e., the Apostles Creed, Nicaea-Constantinople, Chalcedon). We have managed to agree on who God is and what he has done and what that ultimately means for us. We believe in God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. We believe in the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting. I'm not saying that there is not mystery regarding the Trinity. But the church's Trinitarian formulation had to take place because everybody knew who Jesus was. He was the Lord, claiming all the prerogatives of God. And the early Christians, who were by no means the most literate, knew enough about Jesus to risk their lives to pass on the faith. They weren't bothered by all the questions that we're bothered with. They understood what was central--namely that God had come into the world in the person of Jesus Christ, died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and on the third day rose again. And now he rules as the Lord of the world and commands all people to turn from their sins and believe in him. This claim is not rocket science, as much as some would like to complicate things. It's rather simple. While it is possible for people to assert whatever they think is right, when it comes to what we absolutely need to know for life and salvation, God has spoken clearly enough.

Feel free to push back, but please do so by email. Again, I do appreciate your questions. In fact, I've wrestled with all of them myself. And I still wrestle with some of them to this day. But I would caution anyone against making mountains out of molehills. There is no reason for our inability to answer every question under the sun to keep us from Jesus Christ, who is clearly revealed to us so that we may know and believe God.

David Smart

March 20, 2012 at 06:48 PM

Roger Gelwicks,

As a comments box this is not the ideal place for lengthy and in-depth conversations. But since that is what you are looking to engage in, and rightly so, I want to extend to you the invitation to explore these issues more deeply through email correspondence, if you would like. (Click on my name to go to the web site where, at the top right-hand side of the page, there is a Contact Us tab; below the submission form are the email addresses for the site staff, including mine.) My response to you just here, though, will have to be considerably more brief than I would otherwise prefer.

To my question you answered that God can forgive our sins without their penalty being satisfied according to “just about every other religion, and what is common sense to all people.” That is essentially the answer I was expecting and it causes me to doubt that you have given that answer careful consideration. On the one hand, no other religion infallibly reveals anything about God, much less anything about his redemptive purposes. This or that religion might assert otherwise, but that is not relevant to a biblical worldview (other than confirming it). There is something logically messy about supposing that worldview X must be defended on the presuppositions of worldview Y; rather, worldviews are defended on their own presuppositions. Whether or not God can forgive our sins without their penalty being satisfied is a question answered by the Bible—and its answer is clear.

On the other hand, for God to forgive our sins without their penalty being satisfied actually flies in the face of our common sense about goodness and justice, which can be illustrated quite easily. Imagine that a sociopath raped, tortured, and murdered your wife and children; the evidence of his guilt and lack of remorse is incontrovertible. At the end the judge looks down from his bench and says, “I am a loving, gracious, and compassionate judge. Even though you are clearly guilty, I am acquitting you. You may go free.” I am rather confident that anyone with a modicum of common sense would find that morally outrageous and denounce that judge as neither good nor just. Yet that is precisely the sort of judge you are commending (“But if I believe that God is a loving and compassionate God, he can certainly pardon my wrongdoings and failings without a price having to be paid”). Ponder that when evaluating which is the “perverted view” that defies common sense.

Yes, God is good. As Paul Washer is fond of saying, that is one of the most terrifying truths of the Bible. And why is that?

Because you’re not.

And yes, a sacrificial payment for sin is a Judeo-Christian concept—one that has appeared in countless religions across several thousand years, wherein by nature man persistently expresses the truths that he intrinsically knows, bearing the image of God as he does. For millennia people have offered sacrifices to their idols in order to cleanse themselves of offense, appeasing the wrath of and finding favor with the gods (i.e., expiation, propitiation, and reconciliation).

Regarding your “which Bible” question, you did not respond meaningfully to my answer. You simply elaborated upon the examples from which you derived the question in the first place while not interacting with my answer in any way. “It seems to me that the core message of the Bible hangs together with the details,” you said, “and the details don’t hang together.” If it were true that the details don’t hang together, then is it not curious that you have yet to produce any logically valid example of that? (But this may not be the proper place to debate that point, so I will remind you of my invitation to correspond by email. Let us leave this comment box to issues pertinent to Oliphint’s article and presuppositional apologetics.)

P.S. You said, “It seems to me that your apologetic method (classical, evidential, or presuppositional) will dictate your evangelism to some extent (maybe a large extent).” In response to that I would suggest that what dictates your evangelism is your theology, which also dictates your apologetics.

[...] Dr. K. Scott Oliphint has answered common objections to presuppositional apologetics over at the Gospel Coalition. I hesitated to word the title in the way I did, since I agree with Oliphint that the term [...]

Roger Gelwicks

March 19, 2012 at 03:54 PM

Hi Brad and David. Well a new day and new beginning. I want to apologize from the start. I want to respond to both of your comments to me but I know this will take some time and length in writing. I don’t want to get off track for many of the respondents that have posted comments. One respondent mentioned that evangelism and apologetics are two different subjects although related. It seems to me that your apologetic method (classical, evidental, or presuppositional) will dictate your evangelism to some extent (maybe a large extent). It also seems to me that the discussion of apologetics is more theoretical (hence the scholarly language) and evangelism is the practical or the practice. At any rate I apologize if I have gotten off on a wrong track. For those not interested please skip over this response. It will be long.

Brad and David, I only know your names and not your backgrounds. You may be seminary professors, students at sem, or just very educated pew warmers. I, myself, am a retired pew warmer. I think its very kind of you to take the time to respond to me in length as you did, because I know that you have spent more than a few minutes of your time in writing responses to me. If nothing else you are gracious.

On to the hunt. Obviously my arguments did not move either of you. But they (my arguments) have certainly moved me. But I’ll have to honestly confess, I wasn’t convinced by your responses either. I am going to play the devil’s advocate in this response, but it’s obvious I’m more than playing. As I said, I am still a pew warmer in a Christian church (Presbyterian). Don’t give up on me yet. Isn’t evangelism persistent?

Thanks for both of your comments in regard to the scholarly language used throughout the some 140 responses on this blog. I can skip that point. I agree with you.

Let me jump to your third point, Brad, where you point out the difference between Christianity and other religions, between Biblical revelation and the revelations of other religions. Both Islam and Mormonism borrow from the biblical history, and then change that history in order to make their own claims. Good point. That’s the very point a Jewish scholar would make about Christianity. Christians have piggybacked on the Jewish faith and writings, claimed them as their own, and have so changed the Jewish faith that Christianity is abhorrent to them. Look at the acceptance that “Jews for Jesus” has among Jewish people. Christians have so changed the hope that the Jews see in their Scriptures that it has no resemblance to the hope they claim to have. And we can talk about the Old Testament shadows, now revealed in the New Testament, but it doesn’t convince the Jew in the least. It’s an in-house argument, and you have to stay in the (Christian) house to believe it. It doesn’t take with the Jew, the Muslim, the Hindu, the Mormon (maybe not the Mormon because they claim to be Christian) or any other religion. As for the building of the church since the resurrection of Christ, and maybe its phenomenal growth, contra Mormonism, remember that the Christian religion is an evangelical religion in contrast to Muslims, Hindus, and Jews. And yet other religions (without the evangelism methods of Christianity) have grown at phenomenal rates. Consider the Hindu religion which has been around in some measure before the time of Jesus. Or consider the Mormons who have a very short history and are evangelical. In another 100 years they will outnumber Christians in a lot less time than it took to grow the church. Their growth has been unbelievable worldwide. Of course, they say their numbers and growth is proof that God is blessing them as the true Christian church.

Brad you also claim the other religions offer a flawed view of God. These religions make no claim that a particular God has revealed himself and has actually come among us and died on a cross. Roger, I believe that you're a smart enough guy to evaluate each of these belief systems on their own terms. And when you do, I believe that you'll find them insufficient to offer a true account of the way things are. But certainly all other religions (except Buddhism, not really a religion) and their writings reveal a God who we are subject to in a variety of ways. He may not be the Triune God of Christianity, but again that is an in-house perspective that only some Christians believe. Christadelphians (claiming the Bible as their only authority) deny the Trinity. They are Arian in their understanding of God and Jesus.

Actually the Trinity, as held to by most Christians, is something of a late development, much like the Canon of Scripture. Matin Luther didn’t think the book of James should have been included. The doctrine of the Trinity didn’t really get firmed up until the formation of the Athanasian creed. There’s no direct statements of the Trinity in Scripture. It has to be inferred from deductions from Bible statements and so-called evidence from the Bible. And that all took a while to be fleshed out and finalized. So maybe the central claims aren’t so easy that a child can flesh them out. It took theologians, not children, to come to a Trinitarian understanding. And most Christians accept the teaching of the Trinity, not because they came to it themselves, but because it has been ingrained in them by their church from little on. The Trinity makes little common sense to anyone.

You assume that Christian teachings especially about the Trinity and Jesus make common sense and there should be no problem for a reasonable person to take hold of those truths. But you know as well as I do that the claims of Christianity are not reasonable. That’s why they have to be accepted by faith. The teachings of the Bible are based on a number of miracles, which most Christians (especially of a Reformed background) will say the age of miracles is past. Unless, of course, you are Roman Catholic or Pentecostal. Others will say miracles are only the figment of someone’s imagination, they are made up. Real miracles don’t happen, at least today. The teaching of the incarnation of Christ and the raising of Christ to life is an impossibility that has to be accepted by faith. I posit that these teachings are no more reasonable than the teachings of other religions.

A child raised in a devout Muslim home (not extremist) and taught the teachings of the Islamic faith, and modeled that faith by devout parents and church group, will likely grow up taking hold of the Islamic religion with the same devotion as their parents. This is much like a (covenantal) child growing up in the Christian faith. The Islamic grown child will see his faith as the only true faith revealed by God through the Koran. He, like the Christian, will say all others are lost for eternity unless they turn to the one true God as revealed in the Koran. They will likely lead as good a life as the Christian, because of their devotion to God. But the Christian will deny the Muslim’s faith and say there is no other name under heaven by which a person can be saved than that of Christ. Are all other religions wrong?

I would suggest you are like the child grown up in the Christian faith. You’ve likely never experienced another religion from their perspective, as an insider. But as an insider to the Christian faith, it is easy to say we are the only ones on the right track. You don’t know their (other religious adherants) love and commitment to the God they say is revealed in their holy scriptures. But you do know they are dead wrong. And I would suggest that you are as locked in (psychologically) to the claims of the Christian faith as are the people of different religions. To step outside is to risk the dangers of hell and damnation. But you probably claim it is the love of God that compels you. Are you sure?

David, you responded to my comment, that “God can forgive our sins without someone having to pay for them,” by saying, “He can? According to who?” Well, how about, just about every other religion, and what is common sense to all people. A sacrificial payment for sin is a Christian concept. I don’t deny that all people fall short of God’s high standard. Hardly anyone denies this. But if I believe that God is a loving and compassionate God, he can certainly pardon my wrong doings and failings without a price having to be paid. Your view would be like saying, I’ll pardon you but someone’s going to have to pay. Is that the kind of God you want? If I follow Reformed thought, God created humans knowing the human plight of sin. It was inevitable and part of God’s plan from before time. (I’ll not get into the supra/infralapsarian debate over predestination) But if I were to believe this, then certainly the God who made me sinful (or allowed my sinful inclination) can in time excuse my sin. It’s only the Christian who thinks otherwise. A somewhat perverted view.

At the end of the day, it’s not only the Christian religion that falls short and goes against reason. I’d say they all do. They all take a leap of faith to take hold of tenets that don’t make much common sense. Perhaps God has only revealed himself in natural revelation. Maybe it’s not his purpose to reveal more, and that should be enough. But human curiosity drives people to find out more about God than He intends to reveal, and to even invent religions that they think explain God further than natural revelation. Hence a multitude of religions including Christianity. I believe one day, one the other side, we will know more. For now we are participants in God’s great experiment for his world. And I’m satisfied to think God is a gracious and loving God and has good will in mind for the world he loves, including me.

As a last point, let me go back to which Bible I should believe? Previously I pointed out differences between different denominations and how each denomination can come to completely different conclusions as to any point in a theology book. Therefore the Bible can say whatever you want. But even more disappointedly, that happens within a single denomination. Take the point of creation or early history. From the time of Moses up until 60 years ago, no Christian doubted a literal six day creation. Plain and simple, the Bible says God created the earth and its inhabitants in six days. But science comes along and says the earth is very old, millions, maybe even billions of years old. So Christians, at least in the denomination I’m been part of for years, readjusts its thinking and says “a day is as a thousand years in God’s sight. So now the earth can be old and creation may have taken much longer than we first thought. But now science has been advocating evolution for so long and it’s sounding much more credible than it has in the past. So now Christians say, maybe the early chapters of Genesis only tells us that God is the creator God, and they don’t speak about what method he actually used. But now come along some Christian scientists of my denomination and they are arguing that if God did use evolution as his method of creation then we had better realize that Adam and Eve are more than likely mythical creatures, not historic. Within the same denomination we have come to astounding differences as to this important issue, all along claiming the Bible as our sure guide because of its infallible character. Yes, Bible scholars are using a changing hermeneutic to come to such different conclusions. Then take the subject of marriage and divorce as taught in the Bible. I remember the days when a divorced person would never be allowed to hold an official position in the church. They wore a scarlet letter on their chest. Today it’s completely different. Divorced men and women are welcome to serve on council as deacons and elders. Again, a changing hermeneutic? What about women in office? I remember when NAPARC kicked our denomination out of the group because we finally saw the wisdom of using women as elders. But I also remember when women were not only considered to lack the gifts and have the endorsement of God to lead, but were consider inferior to lead in the church or the family. In some churches women were treated like dogs, man’s best friend, but you wouldn’t allow your dog to make decisions. Women couldn’t vote in church, teach a mixed group of adults, or have any authority. But now women have proven to be excellent leaders in both society and the home and the church sees that holding women at bay was more cultural than Biblical (first century and today). Again a new hermeneutic and a new understanding of what the Bible teaches. What about “worldly entertainments?” How the church has changed over the years, as to what is sin and what is not. Dancing, movies, card playing? Or what about Sunday observance (or it is Sabbath observance)? There was a day when children in my denomination were not allow to ride a bike on Sunday, Sunday meals were prepared on Saturday, church members always went to church twice on Sunday, and on and on. Has our understanding of the Bible changed again in regard to Sunday? And we could go on to other issues that rise out of the Bible as well. I’m not saying that some of this change (maybe all of it) is necessarily bad. But it does seem as though the Bible is in a constant state of flux. And the differences from denomination to denomination or seminary to seminary are even greater, hitting core issues of the Bible’s teaching.

If a person falls off the wagon at one point, or maybe fifty, how long do you keep trusting them. If you believe a candidate for president was discredited at a hundred different points would you still vote for him? It seems to me that the core message of the Bible hangs together with the details. And the details don’t hang together.

So again I have a hard time believing the Christian message. It’s not a reasonable hope or message. It makes about as much sense as any other religion. Sure, there may be good teachings in the Christian faith as there are in any religion. But as to the core message of salvation, I’m not convinced. It will have to make more sense before I can be hooked.

Thanks for listening to my long rants, if you have indeed listened. I’d love to hear from you again, but understand if you don’t have the time. Peace and happiness. Roger

J. K. Jones

March 19, 2012 at 02:19 PM

Thanks.

taco

March 19, 2012 at 01:24 PM

See C.L. Bolt's intro series Parts 40-44. Though the whole series would be beneficial if you are new to the subject.

The Table of Contents is here: http://www.choosinghats.com/post-series/

J.R.

March 18, 2012 at 12:57 PM

No, theology samuri, I believe in the infallibility and inerrancy of scripture. And that it contains all that we need for faith and godliness.
But one of the features of the Reformed Faith is that a man can be a good plumber or farmer without being a Christian or having read the Bible.
It is YOU who have neglected the historic faith in favor of the much more shallow thinking of the NeoCals.
Grace and Peace- out here.

Roger Gelwicks

March 18, 2012 at 08:43 PM

Thanks Brad and David for your responses to me. I'm sorry about sending out two separate comments that sounded very similar. I had thought I lost my first "comment" while trying to send it, so I later wrote it over again and sent the second. Oops. I'll respond to your comments tomorrow. For now my favorite TV show is coming on, the Good Wife. Thanks again for your comments and understanding. Have a great night. Roger

McFormtist

March 18, 2012 at 07:51 PM

Tom, if you're interested, I wrote a little article on apologetic success just today. Not directly in response to you but I believe it may address a concern or two of yours: http://www.choosinghats.com/2012/03/the-substance-of-success-in-apologetics/

Hope it helps!

David Smart

March 18, 2012 at 05:48 PM

Roger Gelwicks,

As for your “which Bible” and “prayer” questions, I offered an answer to those above. I shall await whatever your response is to that, if any. Here I wish to address your more nuanced questions about the Holy Spirit.

1. “How does the Holy Spirit convince [...] the unbeliever of the Bible’s truths?”

All we can do is describe what the Spirit does, but nobody can tell you how the Spirit does it.

2. “How do I differentiate the working of the Holy Spirt and that of whim or wishful thinking?”

By appeal to Scripture, insofar as the Holy Spirit never works contrary to the written testimony he wrought (determined via sound exegesis, as I indicated earlier).

3. “I listen to different Christians talk about the Holy Spirit and I sense a different working in a host of people.”

Context is important. There is a difference between the work of the Spirit in regeneration and his work in prayer, worship, sanctification, and so forth.

David Smart

March 18, 2012 at 05:17 PM

Roger Gelwicks,

1. “A lot of it sounds like talking in riddles that the common layperson can never understand. But perhaps you are not trying to convince the person or even the Christian on the street.”

Context is important; namely, the manner of our speaking is suited to those we are speaking to. When theologians (and avid students of theology) are addressing these issues amongst themselves, attuned as they are to the nuances of this theology, their speaking may take a lot of things for granted and exhibit a stratospheric vocabulary that is confounding to the average shopper at Safeway.

But they are, of course, sensitive to that; how they speak to one another is not how they will speak to the average person on the street. In such circumstances they will adjust their vocabulary accordingly, speaking more plainly so as not to confound the average person with “riddles.”

2. “My problem is with Christianity. It sounds like the authority of Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit are key ingredients to being convinced of the Christian faith.”

Not quite. The key ingredients for being convinced of the Christian faith is the gospel of Jesus Christ attended by the work of the Holy Spirit. The recognition of Scripture as authoritative is a product of faith wrought by the work of the Spirit; in other words, apart from the work of the Spirit mankind’s natural bent is to reject God’s word as the final authority.

3. “Isn't the veracity of the Bible (therefore its authority) based on the internal witness of the Bible?”

No, the veracity (and thus authority) of the Bible is based upon God who speaks through it. And both Mormons and Muslims pay lip service to the Bible being from God but, since it is not their final authority, they have constructed theologies and religious texts which flatly contradict the Bible. You are right to say that there is “no external witness to the truth of any of these books,” but you are wrong to include the Bible because it enjoys both internal and external witness (among the latter are the Holy Spirit as well as natural revelation). Their religious texts may presume to be the word of God but they can’t be, since they contradict themselves, each other, and the Bible (which they say is the word of God).

4. “Assuming [...] that the Bible is true, which Bible is true?”

If you make the Bible say “anything you want it to say” (eisegesis), then in fact you are the final authority. If you let the Bible speak for itself (exegesis), then the Bible is the final authority. Scripture says only one thing, and under the hermeneutic principle of exegesis the student of God’s word seeks to find out what that is. Certainly disagreements occur; but every interpretive conflict is reducible at some point to a conflict between (i) whether or not the Bible is the final authority and (ii) whether we are imposing something on the text or letting it speak for itself.

5. “Will God agree with anyone totally when we get to the pearly gates? I doubt it.”

Actually, I think the issue is whether or not we agree with God.

6. “A Christian can say he feels good, bad, angry, convinced, or happy as a result of the Holy Spirit’s influence. But so can the unbeliever.”

The blessings and chastisements we receive from God through the Holy Spirit are issues separate from the unity and authority of Scripture.

7. “It’s similar to prayer [...]. Jesus says, ‘Ask and it will be given to you.’ But the Christian is no better off than the non-Christian when it comes to getting what they prayed for.”

Such is the case for those who see prayer as a shopping cart and God as a spiritual mall. But as Scripture says, “I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have before him: that whenever we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in regard to whatever we ask, then we know that we have the requests that we have asked from him” (1 John 5:13-15). Prayer is never a magical rite by which we manipulate spiritual forces to get what we want. As God’s children we seek his will, not ours, because he knows best, not us. Our prayers will be like those of Jesus, who sought nothing but the Father’s will.

8. “God can forgive our sins without someone having to pay for them.”

He can? According to who?

Brad Jones

March 18, 2012 at 04:58 PM

Hi Roger,

One comment from me was intended for a question posed by J.K. Jones. The technical answer was to a more technical question. I offered a more layman-oriented response to you above in response to the question you posed. The only thing that I would add is that some things in the Bible are hard to understand. Even the Apostle Peter was willing to admit this much (2 Peter 3:16). But the central claim of Christianity is plain enough that a child can understand it--Jesus Christ died and rose again so that by believing in him we can be reconciled to God. Christianity stands and falls based on what God did in history through his Son. The Holy Spirit breaks through our rebellious hearts so that we may believe and grow in faith and repentance towards God. He convicts us of our sin and brings glory to Christ, among other things. But see my comment to you above. The Van Til reference was not directed to you.

Roger Gelwicks

March 18, 2012 at 04:23 PM

Thanks for the articles on the defense of the Christian faith, especially from the presuppositional apologetic point of view. Your articles and much of the comments are rather technical and a tough read for the layperson. I suspect these articles may not be for readers in the pew. But we have questions too, that might best be answered by someone such as yourself.

From what I’ve read and understood two things are especially necessary to the defense of the Christian faith: an infallible and authoritative Scripture, and the working of the Holy Spirit. But those two items seems to be a problem with many skeptics. Now the problem isn’t necessarily a belief in God or a supreme being. Even as the apostle Paul affirms, God is known by the world around us. The problem is with the Christian faith or even any other faith.

First question: which Bible or Scripture am I to believe in or affirm as the true Word of God: the Baptist Bible, the Presbyterian Bible, the Lutheran Bible, the Pentecostal Bible, the Mormon Bible, the conservative Bible or the liberal or whatever other Bible there may be? The Bible can say almost anything you want as long as you claim it as God’s unerring word. But whose word is true and authoritative?

For instance what does the opening chapters really say about the origins or the world and people? Some claim that earth can only be approximately 10,000 years with a literal reading of the six days of creation. Others claim the Bible is not a science book and therefore the earth could be millions of years old like scientists claim. Others say that God could have even used evolution (even of the human race) and maybe Adam and Eve are only mythical characters. So at the very beginning of the Bible we have a host of problems or understandings of what is really true.

Then we could go on to the end of the Bible and the end of the ages. When does the millennial reign of Christ take place: pre-mil, post-mil, or a-mil? Or what about the return of Christ: pre-trib, mid-trib, or post-trib? Dispensational or covenantal? For many Christians these issues seem to be a crucial. For some churches this is all important. Whose understanding of the Bible is really true? Who should I listen to?

But between these two extreme (in time) teachings of the Bible almost every other Bible doctrine can be seen differently. There is the nature and character of Christ and his ministry; human or divine or both (Arianism or not). Who may or may not be baptized? What about baptism with the Holy Spirit? What about the Lord’s Supper? The real body and blood of Christ, or is it the spiritual body and blood, or does it merely represent the body and blood? What is the real nature and character of prayer? Divorce and remarriage? Women in office? What constitutes sin? How does the Holy Spirit work in a person’s life? We could go through the pages of any systematic theology book and there would be differences as to almost every teaching in the book. Which Bible should I take as the true and authoritative one?

This morning I listened to a sermon (title: A Simple Comma) in which the minister said many if not most Bibles place a semi-colon at one point in a particular Bible sentence. But it could also be a comma instead, and if a comma (this minister’s preference) then the meaning of the verse was totally different. Then the minster expounded on this different nuance. Again which Bible do I take as the true word of God? With a semicolon or a comma? The Bible can say almost anything you want, especially while claiming the Bible as the true and sacred word of God.


This seems to say something about Bible interpretation, or the inerrency or infallibility of the Bible. It makes a sham of the Bible carrying any kind of authority, which is necessary to a true defense of the Bible’s message.

The second area of concern is the work of the Holy Spirit convincing the unbeliever of the Bible’s truths. How does the Holy Spirit convince a person? This seems so subjective? How do I differentiate the working of the Holy Spirt and that of whim or wishful thinking? I listen to different Christians talk about the Holy Spirit and I sense a different working in a host of people. In some the Spirit is very subtle, in others they are slain in the Spirit. Nothing subtle there. Some say, the Spirit told me to do this or that (some of it is really ridiculous) and others speak of a still small voice. It’s like prayer. Jesus said, ask for what you want and it will be given to you. Really? In the southern states with all the recent tornadoes, five people were huddled together in a trailer praying for safety. Five were killed, one came through. Is that the kind of answer anyone would be looking for from a kind and loving God? The minister this morning told of one city that was almost totally destroyed by one tornado and the mayor thanked God that more lives were not lost. Isn’t God good. The city was destroyed. Christians talk about God answering their prayers in this way or that, but their unbelieving neighbor had the same results without consulting God. A Christian can call anything an answer from God whether it turned out good or bad. The unbeliever says, we have good days and bad days. Again it is so subjective (based on or influenced by personal feelings, tastes, or opinions). So seems the working of the Holy Spirit.

So how am I to be convinced of the Christian faith? What Bible should I believe? Does the Bible really have any authority if I can make it say whatever I want, as do so many (if not all) Bible scholars? And how do I discern the true working of the Holy Spirit to convince me of the true way of salvation (depending on what that might be)?

I’m sorry for being so wordy. I could have said more. It would nice to have an answer to my questions without being referred to another book. And it would be nice if an answer was in layman’s terms. Thanks for your listening ear. Roger

David Smart

March 18, 2012 at 03:19 PM

I suppose that depends entirely on how you are using the term “success” here. It is difficult to engage your question apart from knowing that.

David Smart

March 18, 2012 at 03:12 PM

“God uses a variety of methods. Yes.”

No, God uses one method—the gospel of Christ attended by the Spirit. He uses a variety of contexts (from robust apologetics to flawed apologetics) but only one means (the power of the gospel). In other words, it is not as if God blesses this method but not that method; his salvific grace (e.g., regeneration) attends the gospel, regardless of apologetic method. Therefore, when it comes to breaking down the intellectual and heart barriers within the unbeliever, the issue is not the method we choose but the message we share, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As for “a principle by which to choose [an apologetic] method,” I would suggest the principle of sola scriptura, which is just to say that the final authority in our apologetic should be no different than our final authority in our theology, namely, the word of God. If our methodology appeals to any final authority other than the word of God, then our methodology is inconsistent with a biblical worldview. Nevertheless, I certainly agree with your rejection of pragmatic principles.

J.R.

March 18, 2012 at 01:56 PM

Resequitur, You probably won't read this, since it's been a while. But you accuse me of being RC, simply because I want to admit that there is a potential for common ground between the apologist (believer) and the non-believer and then to use that as a point of contact for dialogue. However, if you admit that the non-believer can only embrace the truth of special revelation by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, then you're really not dealing with a non-believer are you?

As you've presented it, presuppositionalism then presumes that the person you are in apologetic debate with must already be a believer to actually agree with you -- on anything!!!
I hope you can see how that is basically irrational (or at a minimum VERY unhelpful).

All in all, thanks for the engagement.
Grace and peace, out here.

J.R.

March 18, 2012 at 01:12 PM

So, perhaps we're not saying the same thing. However, I do think that presuppositionalism, at the end of the day, really employs the classical approach much more than its adherents are willing to admit. RC Sproul brought this out in his debate with Bahnsen, because Bahnsen relies on logic without allowing it as a premise. That really is my sticking point. Thank you Taco!

J.R.

March 18, 2012 at 01:02 PM

Agree to disagree, but thank you for your time and the exchange here.

Brad Jones

March 17, 2012 at 11:03 AM

Hi Roger,

I appreciate your comments and you raise a lot of important questions. The only reason for offering a brief response here is for the benefit of others who may be "listening in."

1. I think you would agree that our knowledge of God is absolutely groundless unless God first reveals himself. If God doesn't first reveal himself, then we will be stuck trying to imagine who God is, if there is any God at all. This would be a fruitless exercise, indeed. But the Bible makes the claim that God has, in fact, made himself known. But God is not the God of deism (that you're okay accepting). God is not a God who is far off; God is also near. God not only made the world (including us), but God continues to sustain the world at every point. In other words, the world is the way that it is, and we are who we are, because God exists. We simply are not made to look around at the world and conclude that there is no God.

2. The truthfulness of the God who has revealed himself in the Bible is ultimately seen and verified in the person of Jesus Christ, in whom God is ultimately revealed and clearly seen. Again, God is not just a "far off" God. God stoops down to become personally involved in human history. God is not only involved in all the tiny details, but he is involved in our salvation. The Bible offers us an authoritative, dramatic account of how God came to us for our salvation. The Bible is what we could call "redemptive revelation." The Bible does not answer all the questions that we may have, but it does afford us with the basic building blocks of a reliable worldview, and ultimately presents to us Jesus Christ. The coming of the Lord Jesus Christ was the central piece of God's redemptive plan, a plan that was in the making before the world ever began. The history recounted in the Bible is simply the progressive unfolding of God's plan to give us every blessing in Christ by him becoming a curse for us. There is no claim that the Bible makes that is more ultimate for you and me than this one-- to turn from our rebellion and believe in the Son of God.

3. You did mention other religions that make similar claims and have their own authoritative books. These religions do teach us the important point that God must reveal himself if we are to know him. Any religion invented by man is no real religion at all. Thus, "revealed" religions have had staying power in our human history. However, your characterization of other religions is oversimplified, with all due respect. Both Islam and Mormonism borrow from the biblical history, and then change that history in order to make their own claims. This is a more technical discussion, but I would simply assert that these religions are in error. The claims they make are in total opposition to what Jesus has revealed. As a Christian, my faith is unashamedly placed in Jesus Christ, who is Lord over everything. Jesus is not simply a prophet, nor does he allow us to dismiss him as such. He is more than a prophet and is to be worshiped, trusted and obeyed (contra Islam). The Gospel hasn't been lost for over a millennium, but Christ has been building his church since the day that he rose again from the dead and ascended to the right hand of God (contra Mormonism). Other religions of a non-revealed nature may offer some insights into the world that we live in, and who we are as human beings. This is what we should expect, since we all experience the same world and must deal with the same problems. Other religions evidence the common ground that we share with all people, otherwise these religions would not be believable. The grains of truth to be found in other religions are not so because of these religions per se, but rather because these religions have been historically formed in God's world. But at the end of the day, these religions make no claim that a particular God has revealed himself and has actually come among us and died on a cross. Roger, I believe that you're a smart enough guy to evaluate each of these belief systems on their own terms. And when you do, I believe that you'll find them insufficient to offer a true account of the way things are. As for the Christian faith, you must account for its central claims. How did the church even begin? Were all the witnesses of the resurrection simply wrong? What was it that caused them to live and die for Jesus Christ, a man condemned to death by the religious leaders of the day and under the governorship of Pontius Pilate? You may not be convinced that the Bible is a perfect book fallen out of heaven. But over the years, after much study, I think it is fair to say that the Bible is reliable enough to point us to Jesus Christ.

This post is already longer than I initially wanted it to be. My plan was to just write a paragraph to you, and invite you to correspond with me via email. I want to do full justice to your questions because I do appreciate you raising them. So the invitation is an open one, and you may feel free to email me anytime at bradjones228@yahoo.com. Many blessings to you Roger, and thanks for putting your questions out there.

Brad Jones

March 17, 2012 at 06:35 PM

To J.K. Jones:

Covenantal (presuppositional) apologetics addresses other forms of theism simply by affirming the Triune God of Scripture as the ultimate presupposition behind all of created reality. This may be done from a more biblical angle or from a more philosophical angle. The two examples below will be illustrative of these two different angles of approach and will hopefully guide the way to further exploration on this topic:

1. The tri-unity of God makes it possible for God to both create all things and reveal himself (you'll have to think deeply about this one for a while, but it should eventually click). Put another way, the covenantal tie that God has established between himself and all of creation is made possible by his tri-unity. The plan of God is original with the Father, executed by the Son, and effected by the Spirit (this is more of a biblical response.

2. Since unity and plurality are equally ultimate in the Godhead, the problem of the one and the many (unity and diversity) is only effectively resolved by confessing the Triune God of Scripture--Father, Son and Holy Spirit (this is a more of a philosophical response).

I apologize that my response here must be brief. I wish I had the time to unpack these things further. Hopefully these philosophical-theological reflections aren't overly dense. And maybe others will be able to add other insights as well. The important take away is that we don't worship a "monadic" God who cannot act. We are to worship the dynamic, internally coherent, ontological Trinity who is essentially a vital communion of intra-personal Love. There is undoubtedly great mystery here.

See further, Van Til's chapter on a Christian Philosophy of Reality in his book, Defense of the Faith.

J. K. Jones

March 17, 2012 at 04:15 PM

One concern that Copan raised I do not see addressed here.

How does a presup. / covenental apologist address other forms of thiesm?

Jimmy Li

March 16, 2012 at 12:19 PM

When you have the chance, let's grab lunch!

Theology Samurai

March 16, 2012 at 12:04 PM

Ok, glad we're on the same page. Thanks

Joshua

March 16, 2012 at 10:38 AM

Those would be opinions, I believe...

Joshua

March 16, 2012 at 10:36 PM

righty-o

Theology Samurai

March 16, 2012 at 10:22 AM

JR,

1) Apparently you don't even have a basic understanding of Sola Scriptura, which is betrayed by your silly question.

2) RK holds to the traditional doctrine of inerrancy and that Scripture is sufficient for all matters of life and faith. Not that they are THE only foundation for all and any thought, like what kind of wine goes best with salmon.

Joshua--Odd, silly? Are these opinions or cogently argued assertions?

Roger Gelwicks

March 16, 2012 at 09:38 PM

I'm not quite used to getting into these Biblical and theological debates, but I read with interest. Most of it is above my head. A lot of it sounds like talking in riddles that the common layperson can never understand. But perhaps you are not trying to convince the person or even the Christian on the street.

At any rate, I have no problem with deism, believing in a God or a supreme being. The world around us, like the apostle Paul points out, makes it abundantly clear there is a god. My problem is with Christianity. It sounds like the authority of Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit are key ingredients to being convinced of the Christian faith.

But isn't the veracity of the Bible (therefore its authority) based on the internal witness of the Bible? And if so isn't that like saying the the Book of Mormon is true because it was given to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni, therefore is God inspired? Or like saying the Koran is the true word of God because the Koran was given to Mohammed by the angel Gabriel, therefore can't help but to be true? There seems to be no external witness to the truth of any of these books, including the Bible. They all claim their writings are the true word of God because their Scriptures say it is the only word of God. Simply an internal witness.

But assuming somehow (maybe by the witness of the Spirit) that the Bible is true, which Bible is true? It seems as though the Bible can say nearly anything you want it to say, as long as you claim the infallibility and truthfulness of Scripture. Christians come to a huge variety of conclusions as the the origin of the earth and its age based on ones interpretations of the early chapters of Genesis and that even includes the historicity/mythology of Adam and Eve. Or what will happen at the end of this so-called age? Pre-mil, post-mil, a-mil, or the pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib return of Christ? And just about every so-called Biblical teaching between these two extremes in time can be called into question by one group or another of Christians. For instance the character and nature of Jesus Christ (Arianism or no), the person/influence and work of the Holy Spirit in a Christian's life, the true meaning and nature of baptism and who may be baptized, the Lord's Supper (this is my body), the meaning and effectiveness of prayer, divorce and remarriage, women in office. We could almost go through an entire systematic theology book and find differences on almost every point of doctrine inside its pages depending on which Biblical scholar you listened to. The differences are vast and many. There are even differences as to which is the true method of apologetics, supported by the Bible. So whose Bible carries any real authority.

It would seem you make the Bible say almost anything while claiming a God inspired Scripture. So how can the Christian claim the authority or truthfulness of the Bible. And there are scholars in every denomination. The authority of the Bible is lost on all these differences of opinion. Will God agree with anyone totally when we get to the pearly gates? I doubt it.

So much for the authority of Scripture. What about the working of the Holy Spirit. That seems so subjective. A Christian can say he feels good, bad, angry, convinced or happy as a result of the Holy Spirit's influence. But so can the unbeliever. It's so subjective (depending on the whim of the individual). It's similar to prayer which also seems totally subjective. Jesus says, "ask and it will be given to you." But the Christian is no better off than the non Christian when it comes to getting what they prayed for. We can say, look how God answered my prayer but so can the non Christian without even praying, and the non-christian will have the same result as the Christian. Last week during the devastation of tornadoes in the southern states five were huddle together in a trailer praying to God for safety. Four were killed. I suppose God's answer was, "I'm sorry." Not too convincing to me.

All religions claim a God who cares for them and protects them. They also claim a god-given Scripture. And most claim an exclusivity. "The is no other name under heaven by which one can be saved." I can't see where Christianity has a better message than the others. After all God can forgive our sins without someone having to pay for them. We do it all the time in our relationships. The message of other religions is no more or no less convincing than Christianity.

The Christian's argument for the Christian faith, over all other faiths, seems very weak, no matter which method of apologetics one may use. I'm sorry for taking so long in trying to make my point. I could have taken a lot longer but didn't want to belabor my argument. Thanks for listening (if you really did). I would love to hear a response (without reading a book) if you are up to it. And if you do respond, please try to make it understandable in layman's terms. Thank you. Roger

[...] A recent arti­cle posted on the Gospel Coalition’s web­site by K. Scott Oliphint, Answer­ing Objec­tions to Pre­sup­po­si­tion­al­ism, reminded me of the evidentialist–presuppositionalist [...]

Jimmy Li

March 16, 2012 at 01:46 AM

Wow, what a small world! We should meet sometimes...do you still talk to Mark?

RazorsKiss

March 15, 2012 at 12:40 AM

I'm curious whether Ken believes in Sola Scriptura or not. It certainly doesn't seem that way. Theology matters.

C.L. Bolt

March 15, 2012 at 12:35 AM

"Any book might claim to be a true book or the Word of God."

Right, but irrelevant. Any person might claim that he or she had a spirit reveal to him or her that some other book is true or is the Word of God as well.

"A claim cannot be the basis for knowledge that the claim is true."

It can be if God is the one making the claim.

"We can know that the Bible is the true Word of God only because the Holy Spirit reveals that fact to us with a certainty that cannot be obtained from any other evidence."

Knowledge does not require certainty, but that aside, dismissing the self-attestation of Scripture is dangerous and inconsistent. To what end does Scripture make such statements concerning itself if we know that the Bible is the Word of God *only* because the Holy Spirit reveals that fact to us? You are right to bring up the role of the Holy Spirit in persuading men to recognize the Word of God for what it is, but wrong to exclude Scripture's proclamation concerning its own nature.

"If that is mysticism, so be it."

It is not, but it is also not consistent with Reformed theology, which I take to be the truest expression of the Christian worldview.

Acts 17 and Covenantal Apologetics

March 15, 2012 at 12:17 AM

[...] by C.L. Bolt on March 15, 2012 Re-posted from here – http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/03/13/answering-objections-to-presuppositionalism. [...]

Joshua

March 15, 2012 at 11:35 PM

Well, maybe not silly so much as odd...

littleGoose

March 15, 2012 at 11:28 AM

These posts are great! I've always been confused about presuppositionalism. I love TAG, but I have a lot of questions. Why is it that presuppositionalism claims certainty? It seems like the best presuppositionalism can do is argue for God's existence. Otherwise, how does TAG prove Christianity with 100 percent certainty?

Brian

March 15, 2012 at 10:33 AM

Agreed. This is a good and helpful clarification.

Jeff Young

March 15, 2012 at 10:03 AM

Thank you Dr. Oliphint for your commitment to Scripture, sound exegesis, erudition, irenic tone and willingness to contend for the Truth.

Ken Hamrick

March 15, 2012 at 09:21 AM

C.L. Bolt,

"Right, but irrelevant. Any person might claim that he or she had a spirit reveal to him or her that some other book is true or is the Word of God as well."

The relevance comes in the realization that men cannot prove these spiritual truths to other men. It is the Holy Spirit's role to convict men of these truths, and it is responsibility of sinners to embrace what God reveals. Biblically, the root cause of unbelief is always rebellion, not ignorance. That is why no one can ever be argued into faith by mere reason and evidence. While skeptics may argue reasonably at first, if pressed by a superior argument they will invariably resort to irrationality and denial.

"It can be if God is the one making the claim."

This is somewhat circular, since you are assuming the knowledge that it is God who is making the claim. I agree that any claim made by God is true, but God Himself needs to first reveal that it is indeed God making the claim.

"Knowledge does not require certainty, but that aside, dismissing the self-attestation of Scripture is dangerous and inconsistent. To what end does Scripture make such statements concerning itself if we know that the Bible is the Word of God *only* because the Holy Spirit reveals that fact to us? You are right to bring up the role of the Holy Spirit in persuading men to recognize the Word of God for what it is, but wrong to exclude Scripture's proclamation concerning its own nature."

Rather than dismissing the self-attestation of Scripture, I'm pointing out the true power of that self-attestation. The Word of God is more than words on a page spoken by God long ago. It is the Word of God that God still speaks through, by the witness of the Holy Spirit. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, the Bible would still contain truth, but it would have no power to present itself as truth to the hearts of men.

"It is not, but it is also not consistent with Reformed theology, which I take to be the truest expression of the Christian worldview."

It is perfectly consistent with Reformed theology. WCF I.V. (bold mine):
(blockquote)//V. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the holy Scripture; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.//(end quote)

Ken Hamrick

March 15, 2012 at 08:41 AM

?K,

Yes, Sola Scriptura. But this presupposes that the Holy Spirit bears certain witness to the truth of Scripture.

[...] Anyone read Oliphint's? Jonathan Reformed Baptist Philadelphia, PA Without subscription finalized. Help me justify my [...]

Resequitur

March 15, 2012 at 08:09 PM

"Why is it that presuppositionalism claims certainty?"

Certainty is in Christian Theism, which is the content of the biblical apologetic

"It seems like the best presuppositionalism can do is argue for God's existence.:

I'm not sure this makes any sense, the content of presuppositionalism is Christian Theism, which sets itself against all other manifestations of unbelief.

"Otherwise, how does TAG prove Christianity with 100 percent certainty?"

You shouldn't use TAG and presuppositionalism (Covenant apologetics) synonymously. The Covenantal apologetic employs TAG, because the argument must take place at the level of presuppositions and final authorities.

littleGoose

March 15, 2012 at 05:13 PM

hey Jimmy! I think you go to TMS and know Mark Pakingan. I talked to you at Shepherds conference a couple of years ago about presuppositionalism. Anyways, small world lol

[...] Answering Objections to Presuppositionalism [...]

Thomas Larsen

March 15, 2012 at 04:36 AM

Presuppositionalists, I'm curious; have you used presuppositional apologetics with much success?

Thomas Larsen

March 15, 2012 at 04:34 AM

Presuppositionalists, I'm curious: have you used presuppositional apologetics with much success?

JR

March 15, 2012 at 04:02 PM

1- Then, according to the scripture, which job should I take? The one in city A or the one in city B? Come on. Chapter and verse. What does it say?

2- Do tell then, sir. Please.

JR

March 15, 2012 at 04:01 PM

Taco, that simply is not true. Presuppositionalism comes from the Post-Kant, Post-enlightenment, Post-modernist impulse that is skeptical of the classical view of the reason.

In addtition, presuppositionalism doesn't account for twisted hermeneutics or twisted interpretational methods. That is a discussion that perhaps you and I can delve a little deeper into.

BTW-The link you provided doesn't address this topic at all.

Resequitur

March 15, 2012 at 03:52 PM

"Sorry Requitir, That reply doesn't make any sense. Of course it might have been to something I commented on elsewhere."

Yes, it was a direct response to your comment on evangelism and apologetics


"Again, you and I have different definitions of what apologetics actually is."

Yep, we sure do.

" As I stated above, I often use apolegtics and evangelism together (not separate),"

Of course you use them together, you can't use them separately, it's impossible. I already affirmed the distinction, without the severance. When one is reasoning with an unbeliever on unbiblical grounds, instead of according to Christ, that person is being double-minded. It's just a glorified bait-and-switch. If you don't start out reasoning from Scripture, then you will never end up that way.

"clearly have distinct differences in method and intended outcome.":

There is a distinction, but if the apologetic is biblical, then the intended outcome is the same.

"Unfortunately, I am again in a hurry and don't have time to develop the distinction between the two fully and completely."

Again, a distinction doesn't entail a separation.

Theology Samurai

March 15, 2012 at 03:48 PM

Yes, heretics have always found such convictions to be silly.

However, I don't think RK is a Clarkian, so you haven't restated his point accurately...

Just trying to help...

March 15, 2012 at 03:45 AM

I agree wholeheartedly.

But the question is regarding meta-methodology... God uses a variety of methods. Yes.

God does the “break[ing] down [of] the intellectual and heart barriers within the unbeliever” using many methods and so forth. Yes.

But the question implies a need for a principle by which to choose a method. While I agree with everything you said, still there is something lacking: a meta-methodological normative principle (shall we say).

Not wishing to make this into a debate: I suggested careful and prayerful study of the Scripture and the reading of authoritative sources on the matter. And then obedience and faithfulness to the convictions you believe the Lord has revealed to you; rather than pragmatic consideration as to what "works".

Would you agree? I'm just trying to help my friend out! :)

Blessings!

JR

March 15, 2012 at 03:44 PM

CL Bolt, I've already told you that I've had enough of Frame and Bahnsen to last my life on this planet. Especially in the case of Bahnsen, as I've never been impressed by his teaching. IN the case of Frame, moreso in recent years for various reasons.


For everyone's sake, try not to be so smug and to needlessly disparage everyone who disagrees with you. I happen to be someone who appreciates and holds to a different flavor of Reformed Theology than you and your hereos --one that is not wrapped up in a commitment to presuppositional, post-millenial, theonomic, hyper-coventantalism. And I'm not a fan of post-modernist ideas.

DO NOT assume that somehow I am not studied. From your tone and contributions here, my guess is that I've likely been alive twice as long as you and have studied theology more years than you've been able to read.

The other thing that you must understand is that majority of presuppositionalists I've encountered simply are not well-trained apologists. Their arguments are not compelling and they don't leave the dialogue having convinced the other person of the strength of their argument.

Finally, with regard to Acts 17, my pastors at my previous PCA preached from the pulpit many, many times that Paul was mistaken in Acts 17, specifically because he deviated so much from the presuppositionalism by approaching the Greeks by quoting their own philosophers. If that is not classical apologetics, then nothing is. And I'm not denying that someone who is cemented to the presuppositionalist veiw can twist and contort the scripture to fit their framework, but a plain reading simply doesn't get you there.

Grace and Peace to you.

taco

March 15, 2012 at 03:30 PM

The strands of the reformed faith (as taught by Calvin and his contemporaries) run all through church history and are given throughout the NT epistles and the OT prophets.

That is the exact reason your comment was so off. It completely ignores the very ideas that Van Til appeals to from the Bible and throughout Church History. C.L. Bolt addressed this even further in his comment to you here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/03/13/answering-objections-to-presuppositionalism/?comments#comment-25295

taco

March 15, 2012 at 03:28 PM

Presuppositional Apologetics rejects the the claim of neutrality in Classical Apologetics.We are hardly saying anything remotely close. Classical apologetics views man as mostly right about how he reasons about God or a god. Presuppostional apologetics takes into account what the Bible teaches about man's reasoning when man suppresses the knowledge of God.

JR

March 15, 2012 at 03:19 PM

Taco, sorry, I should have said (pre-Kant) But I think you got what I meant.

Your analogical argument is not a true parallelism, however. Now, if I had said that before the late 19th Century there was no such thing as VanTillianism, then you would have been dead on. But that is NOT what I said.

The strands of the reformed faith (as taught by Calvin and his contemporaries) run all through church history and are given throughout the NT epistles and the OT prophets.

JR

March 15, 2012 at 03:04 PM

Taco, actually, it does seem like we are saying almost the same thing. I'm almost starting to think that it would be better not to try to make such sharp distinctions between presuppositionalism and classical apologetics, but rather to work harder at finding the common ground.

JR

March 15, 2012 at 02:56 PM

RK is implying that if you don't think that the Scripture provides THE only foundation for all and any thought, then you're admitting to some sort of heresy. Silly, huh?

JR

March 15, 2012 at 02:54 PM

Sorry Requitir, That reply doesn't make any sense. Of course it might have been to something I commented on elsewhere. Again, you and I have different definitions of what apologetics actually is. As I stated above, I often use apolegtics and evangelism together (not separate), but they clearly have distinct differences in method and intended outcome. Unfortunately, I am again in a hurry and don't have time to develop the distinction between the two fully and completely.

JR

March 15, 2012 at 02:50 PM

Excellent Truth Unites! I'm with you now. Sorry, if I misunderstood before.

Jimmy Li

March 15, 2012 at 02:48 AM

Reading these comments here makes me realize that the objection against Presuppositional apologetics as being unbiblical warrants the continuing importance of encouraging those outside the Van Tillian camp to become aware of the exegetical project in support of Presuppositionalism. Finishing up my last draft for my thesis on Jesus' apologetic methodology and it's implication (I'm a full Van Tillian) makes me realize the need to have something available beyond writing for school and academia.

David Smart

March 15, 2012 at 02:29 AM

Tom Larsen,

“Which God or book or framework should the presuppositionalist presuppose?”

The same one everyone presupposes: the biblical worldview, grounded and revealed in Scripture by the only God that exists.

“Why?”

Because it is necessarily true and thus inescapable.

“Is presuppositional apologetics used in the Bible?”

From start to finish.

David Smart

March 15, 2012 at 02:28 AM

Truth Unites... and Divides,

“Hasn’t God used [classical and evidential as well as presuppositional apologetics] to gain and gather genuine disciples to himself?”

Those may have been the contexts but they were never the means. What God uses to draw his sheep unto himself is the gospel of Jesus Christ, attended by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 1:16; 10:13-17; 1 Cor. 1:18-24; 2:4-5; Col. 1:4-6; 2 Thess. 2:13-14 [cf. 1 Thess. 1:4-5]; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23-25; and so forth). God may call people unto himself through a variety of contexts, whether evidential apologetics or covenantal apologetics—or even logically flawed armchair rhetoric!—but never confuse the means by which he draws them with the contexts in which he does so.

That point having been put forth, please understand and bear in mind that neither evidential nor covenantal apologetics “breaks down the intellectual and heart barriers within the unbeliever” such that “he now embraces the gospel of Jesus and repents of his unbelief.” The saving grace of God in regenerating that person’s heart does that. For example, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying” (Acts 16:14; cf. Luke 24:45; John 6:44-45; Phil. 2:13). “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow. So neither the one who plants counts for anything, nor the one who waters, but God who causes the growth” (1 Cor. 3:6-7).

Brad Jones

March 14, 2012 at 12:59 PM

To Tim: The presuppositional approach definitely arose to prominence within a historical context. Before the Enlightenment, God was basically assumed by the culture at large. The subjective turn, following Descartes, led to the eventual necessity of getting to the bottom of one's presuppositions. In the Ancient and Medieval worldview, most people understood that the intelligibility of the universe, human rationality, and everything else in creation was held together and sustained by God(s) or some power greater than ourselves. The Christian insight that we bring to the table is that God has revealed himself in all of creation, in the Scriptures, and in Jesus Christ. The revelation of God (understood in the broadest sense) is simply inescapable. Presuppositionalism may not be the only approach to apologetics. But in this day and age, I would argue that it's the best approach, especially for hardcore skeptics. This is not to say that apologetics gets someone to faith and repentance, but it does till the soil.

J.R.

March 14, 2012 at 12:54 PM

AMEN!!

J.R.

March 14, 2012 at 12:51 PM

taco,
Non-presuppositionalists argue that Acts 17 is clearly a classical (specifically Greek) apologetic used by Paul. You'll need to find another example to make your case. "So Paul, standing in the midst of Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religiou. For as I passed and observed the objects of your worship, I found an altar with this inscription, 'To the unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you."

Timothy Durey

March 14, 2012 at 12:32 PM

taco,

I'm simply saying that from an apologetic perspective, people like Calvin and Augustine didn't seem to work from a presuppositionalist angle. There is a question that begs answering, "If presuppositionalism is the only biblical model, then how did people come to Christ before presuppositionalism was embraced?"

Of course, I'm trying to be a little humorous, but I have a difficult time elevating one method of apologetics so high as to say that one is the ultimate and only way when I (and many other Reformed men) believe in total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. In addition to this, I believe in the authority of Scriptures and His natural revelation.

taco

March 14, 2012 at 12:31 PM

Van Til addresses your accusation in his book "In Defense of the Faith." I am afraid he doesn't respond to the "Illuminati conspiracy" but the charge he was an idealist is dealt with in detail.

Jack Brooks

March 14, 2012 at 12:31 PM

I have read every published work by Van Til, over many years, several times each.

Jack Brooks

March 14, 2012 at 12:30 PM

IOW, you don't actually know why the Bible is the true book, you just assert it post facto an experience, which means your inner mystical experience is your real authority. Strip away the faux intellectualism, and Van tillianism also comes forth as a form of mysticism.

Jack Brooks

March 14, 2012 at 12:27 PM

No evidence was provided. Description isn't evidence.

"Oh, this isn't circular reasoning, it's a circular argument, silly goose." Please. A distinction with no difference.

In addition, to say '"I can know" is a fundamental axiom', isn't anything like saying "The Bible is God's book." It isn't even in the same ball park. The first qualifies as a true axiom because you can't go any deeper or further regarding it. Even to say it is to know. There are no such axiomatic demands in a saying like "The Bible is divinely inspired."

And again, just to make the point, the Bible doesn't teach Van Tillianism. Knowledge is not analogical.

[...] Answering Objections to Presuppositionalism by K. Scott Oliphint Share this:StumbleUponDiggRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

Tom-Wij

March 14, 2012 at 12:25 PM

On what basis should the presuppositionalist presuppose his whole argument? On the basis of the truth which has been revealed by God in the Scripture. Truth shall lead to the truth itself at the end. Why should we afraid of getting "F" in the logic class if we say truth shall be only proved in the circular reasoning? You cannot prove or defend the truth with the false presupposition. We can say that all the truth-claims must be tested and proved in the truth-circular reasoning, even the law of logic itself. If not, then on what authority we use to test the truth?

Scripture is true because it is written to testify that all the events in the Scripture are true. All the external-evidences that prove Scripture is true is part of the circular reasoning to testify that Scripture is true. You do not believe it? Then you can try to prove anything you need to prove as truth. You will be brought back to the circular-system and found that at the end you will be using the circular-reasoning to prove that you are true. Hehe. That's why I believe that all the standard of truth must be brought back to the Scripture (the ultimate standard). That is circular argument (or "reasoning") also. And that is true. Even in the scientific method and in our experience of life. The real scientist can only use the scientific method to prove the validity result of his experiment. He must work in the circular-system of scientific method which has been generally agreed by "the scientist world" itself. If not, then what are they trying to prove? You can only try to prove that Bible is wrong by presupposing that Bible is wrong.

Maybe the further question is regarding the truth found in the creation or natural theology. Can it be used in the presuppositionalism apologetic? If can, can it be clear as the truth which is revealed in the Scripture? Then we can talk about the common ground between believers and unbelievers. That is my thought.

taco

March 14, 2012 at 12:24 PM

Only if you think Van Til is the proprietor of Reformed Theology and more generally historic orthodox Christian doctrine.
I am not sure why anyone would even try to say that if they have read anything by him.

SLIMJIM

March 14, 2012 at 12:23 AM

Thanks for this post Dr. Oliphint! Wow, I guess this is read by many Presuppers online...

Jack Brooks

March 14, 2012 at 12:19 PM

Yes, part of the appeal of Van Tillianism is that "Illumnati" angle -- "we are newly enlightened. He synthesized Dutch Idealism into his Dutch Reformed Christianity, which was a modernist innovation. Yep, everyone was wrong for 2,000 years, until Van Til arrived.

Timothy Durey

March 14, 2012 at 11:59 AM

So, the majority of believers throughout the last 2,000 years were wrong until we got to Van Til?

C.L. Bolt

March 14, 2012 at 11:57 PM

"CL,
1 - The point is that Act 17 is almost universally regarded as a classical apologetic approach."

You did not answer my question. I asked, "Why not say that since presuppositionalists argue that Acts 17 is clearly a presuppositional (specifically Van Tilian) apologetic used by Paul that classicalists will need to find another example to make their case?" You replied that, "Act 17 is almost universally regarded as a classical apologetic approach." But that does not answer my question. Acts 17 may be almost universally regarded as a classical apologetic approach by classicalists, but that is rather uninteresting, especially given that Acts 17 is almost universally regarded as a presuppositional apologetic approach by presuppositionalists, and given that this the disagreement at hand. Or to state things more plainly: you are begging the question.

"In fact, most presuppositionalists (other than Bahnsen - the linked to article) avoid Acts 17 because it is so clear in this regard."

That's strange. Which presuppositionalists are you reading? Not only does Greg Bahnsen addresses Acts 17 in terms of apologetic method in the article you reference, but he does so in his other books as well. Presuppositionalist John Frame works from Acts 17 in a discussion of apologetic method in Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. K. Scott Oliphint discusses it in The Battle Belongs to the Lord. All three men are leading presuppositionalists who studied under Cornelius Van Til and held or hold positions teaching the presuppositional method of apologetics. They are, in other words, authorities on the method, and one would expect to find other presuppositionalists following their example.

But the list goes on. Another published presuppositionalist, Richard Pratt, scatters references to Acts 17 throughout his book Every Thought Captive. Michael Butler, who studied under Bahnsen, relies heavily upon Acts 17 in a sermon leading up to an explanation of presuppositional apologetics. Lane Tipton, a professor at Westminster Theological Seminary and authority on presuppositional method in apologetics, wrote an entire article on Acts 17 as it pertains to apologetic method for the book Revelation and Reason. I even picked up Massimo Lorenzini's book A Reason for the Hope, flipped to his chapter on presuppositional methodology, and lo and behold, he addresses Acts 17 as well! Just for good measure I will mention that so far as I know all eight contributors to the presuppositional website Choosing Hats would agree with Bahnsen's understanding of the text in Acts 17 as supporting a presuppositional approach to apologetics.

I've provided you with a long list of presuppositionalists who do not avoid Acts 17 as it pertains to apologetic method, but directly address it and see it as supporting their approach. You have not provided a single example of a presuppositionalist who avoids Acts 17, much less established that "most" of them do so. Or to state things more plainly: I call your bluff.

"I have even heard a couple presups argue that Paul 'made a mistake' by approaching his appeal that way!!"

Really? Who? Give us some names, links, and/or bring them here.

"My point is that the argument that Acts 17 somehow proves that the Bible validates presuppositionalism is a very, very weak one, if even one at all."

Well that is your assertion, but you have not done a very good job of supporting it. In the mean time you have a lot of reading to do. A good place to start is the list of works cited above.

"2 - the only quotations that Paul uses in Acts 17 are from the Greek philosophers."

You may want to read that Bahnsen article (http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pa045.htm) and focus especially on the section called "Scriptural Presuppositions." See also Isaiah 42.5, Deuteronomy 10.14, Psalm 115.16, Psalm 50.8-12, 1 Chronicles 29.14-16, Job 33.4, Zechariah 12.1, Genesis 3.20, Deuteronomy 32.8, and Psalm 74.17 for starters, though there are other passages to consider. See also Frame's argument that Acts 17 is a continuation of Paul's earlier dispute.

And please, for both of our sakes, do not comment on things you have not studied. I am assuming that you are not being dishonest. Either way, your comment concerns me.

Jack Brooks

March 14, 2012 at 11:41 AM

You committed a non sequitur. The statement "laws of logic are a proof of God's existence" doesn't mean that circular reasoning is OK. I already agree that the laws of logic themselves are evidences of God. But classical evidentialists have said that for centuries. A Van Tillian claiming ownership of that observation is like a baby boomer tripping over a geyser and claiming to have discovered hot water.

Stephen

March 14, 2012 at 11:37 AM

And Dr. Anderson addressed this in particular in his article yesterday as well (which was referenced several times in the meta of Dr. Copan's article):

http://www.proginosko.com/2012/03/does-presuppositionalism-engage-in-question-begging/

Brian

March 14, 2012 at 11:31 AM

On what basis is circular reasoning "never okay?" On the basis of the laws of logic? What must be assumed by a Christian in order to apply the laws of logic with any confidence that they conform to reality? Are the laws of logic suspended in mid-air with no source or ground? In the end there is no consistent Christian epistemology that does not begin with the God of the Bible.

Matt Foreman

March 14, 2012 at 11:22 PM

Thanks, Drs. Edgar and Oliphant and thanks to TGC for this discussion.

If I could throw a wrinkle into the debate, I think sometimes people get confused between Van Til's epistemology and Van Til's apologetics. (I am a thorough-going VanTilian.) It may help people to try to distinguish and understand first what Van Til says concerning a Christian theory of knowledge. Only then will the question of his apologetics make more sense.

I would argue that covenantal apologetics can embrace theistic proofs and many different methods of apologetics for evangelism (multi-perspectivalism is Van Tilian) - but only by first and consistently committing to a covenantal epistemology.

[...] Answering Objections to Presuppositionalism — K. Scott Oliphint [...]

taco

March 14, 2012 at 11:07 AM

I personally don't understand why we cannot use varying methods of apologetics at various time

Because there is only one Biblical method and it is brought forth from Scripture. If you read Dr. Oliphint's post closely you will see why the method is demanded of Christians.

I tend to agree with the concept taught in yesterday's post that God uses means to bring people to Himself.

I'm not sure why you think that Covenantal Apologetics teaches that God does not use means to bring people to Himself.

As for the rest of your comment I suggest the article I posted for Tom Larsen above and Dr. Oliphint's book "The Battle Belongs to the Lord."

Just trying to help...

March 14, 2012 at 10:57 PM

Truth Unites... and Divides,

Five Views on Apologetics:
http://www.amazon.com/Five-Views-Apologetics-Steven-Cowan/dp/0310224764

A good place to start, but I would read a few more to get a better handle on their differant biblical/theological arguments.

Just trying to help...

March 14, 2012 at 10:35 PM

Ha! I like your style!

Yeah, this debate can sometimes complicate practical matters like your example suggests. My response (again, not pushing sides) is that one should be most concerned with one's faithfulness to Scripture and not faithfulness to "what works". After studying the matter to the best of your ability (maybe reading a few books on different methods along with the prayerful reading of God's Word), if you become convinced by a particular method's biblical argument then this conviction should be your reason for using the apologetic method that you use. You maybe wrong, you maybe right. But I think you will have been as faithful to God as you can be.

If the method doesn't work on certain people... Maybe the person you are talking to isn't ready for the Gospel (or maybe, for a Reformed take, possibly isn't one of the elect). This shouldn't change your method. Just keep defending and sharing the Gospel in the faithful manner you have been doing.

Remember: The Gospel is not a product and we are not salesmen/saleswomen. Ultimately, it is the Spirit who changes peoples' hearts, not different sales pitches.

Glad to talk with you!

Ken Hamrick

March 14, 2012 at 10:32 PM

Truth Unites...

Not at all! :) Millard Erickson, in Christian Theology,(Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), p. 247, explains it this way:

(blockquote)//There are a number of reasons why the illumination or witness of the Holy Spirit is needed if man is to understand the meaning of the Bible and be certain of its truth. (Neither the church nor human reason will do.) First there is the ontological difference between God and man. God is transcendent; he goes beyond our categories of understanding. He can never be fully grasped within our finite concepts or by our human vocabulary. He can be understood, but not comprehensively. Correlated with God’s transcendence is man’s finiteness. He is a limited being in terms of both his point of origin in time and the extent to which he can grasp information. Consequently, he cannot formulate concepts which are commensurate with the nature of God. These limitations are inherent in man’s being man. They are not a result of the fall or of individual human sin, but of the Creator-creature relationship…

Beyond these limitations, however, are limitations which do result from the sinfulness of man and of the human race. The latter are not inherent in human nature but rather result from the detrimental effects of sin upon man’s noetic powers. The Bible witnesses in numerous and emphatic ways to this encumbrance of human understanding, particularly with regard to spiritual matters.

The final reason the special working of the Holy Spirit is needed is that man requires certainty with respect to divine matters. Because we are concerned here with matters of (spiritual and eternal) life and death, it is necessary to have more than mere probability. Our need for certainty is in direct proportion to the importance of what is at stake; in matters of eternal consequence, we need a certainty that human reasoning cannot provide…//(end quote)

taco

March 14, 2012 at 10:30 AM

He just made up his own peculiar definition of "circular"


Dr. Oliphint provided the evidence that what you accuse is not the case. C. L. Bolt then provided even more evidence in his link above. To continue to demand that what Van Til does is fallacious is also to cut down your own epistemology whatever it may be.

Jack Brooks

March 14, 2012 at 10:09 AM

"A covenantal (which is Van Til's version of "presuppositional") approach to apologetics is only as cogent and consistent as the theology on which it is built."

But the truth of the theology on which presuppositionalism is the question at hand. So even here in a defense of invalid reasoning we find invalidity.

You may not build a case for a thesis in which the thesis at hand is your evidence! The fact that an atheist using the laws of logic is being inconsistent with his own worldview is irrelevant to the issue of whether circular reasoning is okay. It is never okay, and Van til was wrong. He just made up his own peculiar definition of "circular", so as to make his way of being circular sound defensible. But esoteric term definitions are also a fallacy.

Dean P

March 14, 2012 at 10:05 AM

Yeah Timothy I agree most of my professors at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis are with you on this. It's basically using the whatever you can kind of approach, and not a one size fits all methodology.

Timothy Durey

March 14, 2012 at 09:51 AM

I personally don't understand why we cannot use varying methods of apologetics at various times, and I would love anyone's help in understanding why we can't use multiple models.

I tend to agree with the concept taught in yesterday's post that God uses means to bring people to Himself. The natural man, left to himself, will not embrace the real meaning behind natural or special revelation. Yet, that doesn't mean God won't open (or begin to open) someone's eyes through His revelation - natural and special.

When I look in the Scriptures, I see Paul reasoning with people - utilizing their knowledge of an unknown God, and also utilizing two common, secular sayings - to point to God. Then he states Truth based on the Scriptures - seemingly without quoting Scripture. (This seems to merge two apologetic methods.) Other places, we'll have Peter quoting the Scriptures consistently as the basis of his arguments(Acts 2). Other times (1 Cor. 15), we have Paul using proofs to point to Jesus' resurrection - seemingly saying, "There's external, verifiable, objective proof. If you don't believe me, talk to the hundreds of people who saw Him."

If someone could help me understand why we must stick with one apologetic method, I think that would help me greatly.

Truth Unites... and Divides

March 14, 2012 at 09:50 PM

"True faith must be grounded on certainty."

You must be a postmodern emerger!

Ken Hamrick

March 14, 2012 at 09:46 PM

Any book might claim to be a true book or the Word of God. A claim cannot be the basis for knowledge that the claim is true. We can know that the Bible is the true Word of God only because the Holy Spirit reveals that fact to us with a certainty that cannot be obtained from any other evidence.

If that is mysticism, so be it. God is Spirit, and He does not choose to work in ways that permit apologetic certainty apart from personal revelation of this truth. Any other view will provide only probabilities. In matters of eternal destiny, probabilities are not solid enough. True faith must be grounded on certainty.

taco

March 14, 2012 at 09:16 AM

Which God or book or framework should the presuppositionalist presuppose?

The Trinue God of Scripture

Why?

Because we are Christians

Is presuppositional apologetics used in the Bible?

Acts 17 - "The Encounter of Jerusalem With Athens" http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pa045.htm

Dr. Oliphint has a good book "The Battle Belongs to the Lord" that would also address some of your concerns.

Truth Unites... and Divides

March 14, 2012 at 09:12 PM

How about a disciple uses evidential apologetics-evangelism first with an unbeliever. He hopes it's sufficient and that the unbeliever responds by embracing Christ as his Lord and Savior.

But suppose the evidential apologetics method doesn't work over an extended period of time. The disciple then switches gears and adopts presuppositional apologetics with the unbeliever.

Hopefully, this breaks down the intellectual and heart barriers within the unbeliever and he now embraces the Gospel of Jesus and repents of his unbelief.

If not, well at least, the disciple has shot both barrels of apologetics methodology into the unbeliever and can still pray for the unbeliever.

Left, right, pray!

Just trying to help...

March 14, 2012 at 09:03 PM

Sorry, I should have been clearer:

In terms of prescribing a certain principle in choosing one methodology over against another, the principle:

"Hasn't God used both [method x and method y] to gain and gather genuine disciples to Himself? If so, why don't I use both methodologies as they seem fit to the occasion and to the non-believer that I'm witnessing to?"

won't do; since, God has (thankfully!) chosen in his grace and wisdom to use some methods of evangelism and defense of the Gospel that he has not biblically sanctioned and which, though he uses them, are not always faithful representations of what he has commanded us to do.

My comment is not in favor of any method in particular. Its just that since people on various sides of the debate on apologetical methodology have cited Scriptural reasons for why they believe which methodology is correct, we must therefore examine those arguments rather than relying on the principle that you have cited above.

I am very thankful that God uses a variety of of different human methods to bring unbelievers to himself, though I think some of these methods are more faithful to Scripture than others.

I hope that helps...

McFormtist

March 14, 2012 at 08:25 AM

Tom, provided the "presuppositionalist" is a Christian (i.e. a Covenantal apologist), then The Bible. A Christian would not presuppose the veracity of the Quran (though he may be inclined to take it temporarily in certain cases, and merely for the sake of argument), for obvious reasons. The reason he presupposes the Bible in his apologetic is because only the Bible is the true Word of God.

Paul used what could be considered presuppositional apologetics at the Areopagus where he proclaimed to the people the God they did not know, the One to Whom all their other "gods" were subject. He proceeded precisely by drawing a contrast between their philosophies of gods and God Himself as revealed to mankind, and even, you might say, argued in a transcendental manner. That is, he proclaimed that God is the one who created the world, the One in Whom we "live, and move, and have our being." God was effectively set forth by Paul, not merely as the best explanation, but positively as the very reason those pagans lived at all.

It's important to note that Paul never compromised on his principles, and never suspended his grasp on his own presuppositions. He didn't stoop to their level of thinking, granting that the way they were going about their knowledge-attaining was valid. He called them to wholesale embrace of the Christian God.

So, it's not quite as though Paul is contending nature points back to God. He starts with God, and expounds nature.

Resequitur

March 14, 2012 at 05:56 PM

" To me, that is evangelism, not apologetics."

Again, evangelism and apologetics are distinct, but not separate. Both involve one another, they are interrelated, There is a "perichoresis"

See Van Til in response to a critic:

"You are certainly right in saying that I did not, in the discussion among Mr. White, Mr. Grey, and Mr. Black, make any sharp distinction between witnessing to and defending the Christian faith. I am not convinced by the evidence from Scripture which you cite that any sharp distinction between them is required or even justified. My defense of the truth of Christianity is, as I think of it, always, at the same time, a witness to Christ as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. We do not really witness to Christ adequately unless we set forth the significance of his person and work for all men and for the whole of their culture. But if we witness to him thus then men are bound to respond to him either in belief or disbelief. If they respond in disbelief they will do so by setting forth as truth some 'system of reality' that is based on the presupposition of man as autonomous. I must then plead with them to accept Christ as their Savior from the sin of autonomy, and therewith, at the same time, to discover that they have been given, in Christ, the only foundation for intelligent predication."

E. R. Geehan, ed., Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Apologetics of Cornelius Van Til [Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1977], 452).

Tom Larsen

March 14, 2012 at 05:48 AM

An "apologetic" is a defence of a particular view; so I do not think that Genesis 1.1 really counts as an "apologetic," although Paul does contend that the natural order points back to God (see Acts 17, for example).

taco

March 14, 2012 at 05:45 PM

The method of understanding that I (and John Calvin quoted above) describe is based on scripture and the historic teaching of the church. This is God-given knowledge/understanding (however much is surpressed in unrighteousness).

I'm not sure why you disagree when that is the very thing being appealed to. Do not confuse their method of understanding with how they actually understand.

J.R.

March 14, 2012 at 05:33 PM

Resequitur, I'll have to come back to this later. It has been very helpful. I want to respond to a few items with agreement, disagreement etc.
However, for the time being, I want to reiterate, that it really seems like we both have different ideas of what the purpose of apologetics is. Above you wrote about bringing someone to faith. To me, that is evangelism, not apologetics. I'll be back later on. Thanks for the exchange so far.

J.R.

March 14, 2012 at 05:26 PM

"We strip away their false method of understanding"
Again, point of disagreement. The method of understanding that I (and John Calvin quoted above) describe is based on scripture and the historic teaching of the church. This is God-given knowledge/understanding (however much is surpressed in unrighteousness).

Also, kind of a side note, ever notice how other creatures, not made in the image of God, were not given the faculty of reasoning -- the ability to know that God exists through His creation?

Douglas Perry

March 14, 2012 at 05:16 PM

Brad Jones, Great comment! This is very helpful.

Minny_Man

March 14, 2012 at 05:14 AM

Tom, how about Gen 1:1, "In the beginning God . . ."? Moses presupposed God's existence and then began to speak about what God had done. Being that Moses was living in a region where competing worldviews existed about the nature of gods and of reality, Genesis 1-11 is an apologetic that God is the only true god, even creating the moon and the stars, which were worshiped as gods by the surrounding nations.

Resequitur

March 14, 2012 at 04:55 PM

"If someone is in a pool drowning and I'm standing on the dry, firm ground, what good is it if I don't engage him first where he is, and pull him up to safety? Of course, I don't just jump in with him, otherwise you now have two drowning people."

Yep, you have firm footing on solid ground to pull him up to. That solid ground isn't man's reasoning. Rather it is Christ's Word:

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock"



"But you've gotta have a point of contact. That's general revelation."

I would go far as to say the point of contact is the imago Dei. The problem is that we are sinful, and he is going to interpret the general revelation his own way. That's why we have to combat it with special revelation, which is God's interpretation. You keep missing this every time.


"That's common grace. If he can see that and admit it"

God must give Him the eyes to see and the ears to hear, the Word must be in his heart for him to admit it "“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart”" (Romans 10:8)

Special grace restores him to the true knowledge that was forfeited to sinful thinking in the garden. Common grace restrains him from being as sinful as he could be.

He isn't going to admit what isn't in his heart. This is the fundamental error of thomistic thought.

THEN you get to special revelation."

This thought doesn't reflect Reformed teaching of Sola Scriptura at all. You're just agreeing with Rome on this point.

Resequitur

March 14, 2012 at 04:42 PM

"You are assuming that the apologist doesn't have Christ sanctified in their hearts. "

the apologist that uses his own reasoning to prove the *authority* of God's Word is a non-Christian reasoning method. (Not saying that the apologist himself is not a Christian, but he isn't reasoning like one on this point [Matthew 12:30] ). The Christian must then start with the self-authoritative Word of Christ in setting out to do apologetics, he is commanded to do so.

" I have not switched anything around."

yes you have. you're trying to work from the ground up, and allowing the unbeliever to pull himself up by his own bootstraps.

"Why or how you make this claim is beyond explanation."

There was an explanation, you must have read over it, or ignored it.


"The nonbeliever, of course, does not have Christ sanctified in his heart, so why should I presume this?"

Who said you should presume such? You are continually demonstrating your inability to read the other side.

Faith comes by hearing, and hearing the Word of Christ. Therefore our reasoning must correspond with God's Word, so that the Word of God will produce the faith necessary for the unbeliever to sanctify The Lord Jesus in his heart.

Reasoning like a romanist isn't going to give him faith in anything but his ability to reason, and he will come up lacking everytime. Yet that apologetic method invites him to keep doing so. There are moral issues here as well.

taco

March 14, 2012 at 04:24 PM

Before the late 19th century (post-Kant), there was no such thing as presuppositionalism.

This is like saying before the 16th century (post-Calvin), there was no such thing as Calvinism. Yet that isn't the point at all when one makes an appeal to history.

Joshua

March 14, 2012 at 04:19 PM

Say what now?

Resequitur

March 14, 2012 at 04:19 PM

"Sounds like your issue is with the quote that I used. Because VanTil used it and I simply copied and pasted."

Nope the issue isn't with the quote that you used, if you are referring to Oliphint quoting Mueller.

" I don't like equivocation and half truths any more than you do. (by the way, I typically don't use the word 'opponent', so you don't have to either, unless of course your apologetic method requires it) ;)"

I don't use the word as if there is personal enmity between us, and i apologize for coming across that way. I only meant it in a formal sense. Since we have opposing positions concerning apologetics.

"Nice try, but, as you know, ad homenim attacks are fallacious. Oh wait. Maybe I have a lack of understanding... Are presuppositionalist area allowed to make fallacious arguments? Maybe you can tell me..."

It wasn't meant to be a personal attack, I didn't call you stupid, I simply said you lack substantiative understanding of the covenant apologetic. This can come from reading secondary sources, misinterpretation on your part, etc.

"You are simply mistaken in your understanding about general revelation and special revelation."

Where am I mistaken? Please demonstrate this.

"All men know that God exists through general revelation. period. "

We agree here!


"They don't know Him completely, personally, or in a salvivic way unless they know Him through special revelation in His son, Jesus Christ and in the power of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. "

We agree here as well.

The point of disagreement is the apologetical ramifications.

" I've quoted extensively to this end using Romans 1 and 2, as well as Calvin's Institutes.

Book 1 of the Institutes gives a very thorough treatment of this, with which I agree fully and commend."

Yes it does, Van Til would agree with you that he provides a thorough treatment of this. He would just disagree with your conclusion that he argued in a thomistic fashion. See http://www.the-highway.com/articleAug00.html

JR

March 14, 2012 at 04:13 PM

"Peter says that we should have already sanctified Christ as Lord in our hearts (mind, affections, and will) before we set out to give a defense. But you've switched it around here." Absolutely wrong here.
You are assuming that the apologist doesn't have Christ sanctified in their hearts. That's ridiculous. I have not switched anything around. Why or how you make this claim is beyond explanation. The nonbeliever, of course, does not have Christ sanctified in his heart, so why should I presume this?

If someone is in a pool drowning and I'm standing on the dry, firm ground, what good is it if I don't engage him first where he is, and pull him up to safety? Of course, I don't just jump in with him, otherwise you now have two drowning people. But you've gotta have a point of contact. That's general revelation. That's common grace. If he can see that and admit it, THEN you get to special revelation.

RazorsKiss

March 14, 2012 at 04:06 PM

That's why presup is so nice. It brings about these sorts of admissions.

Joshua

March 14, 2012 at 04:01 PM

'Wouldn't it be better to approach the discussion on the basis of the truth of the matter? What if we argued for Christianity based, not on probability, with its attendant problems, but on the certainty that Scripture provides? Or, to put it negatively, what if we didn't? Wouldn't we be forced to argue that God probably exists, that Jesus probably rose from the dead, and so our faith is probably not in vain? Is there any semblance of this kind of argument in Scripture, or in the minds of Jesus or Paul or Peter?'

Since we weren't eyewitnesses, we can't have the kind of certainty that the Apostles had. But I approach Scripture from an entirely different angle - I.E., I don't believe that Scripture is a deposit of infallible knowledge that provides a foundation for any and all thought, so that's my main beef :)

JR

March 14, 2012 at 04:00 PM

Even if that presumption hasn't been proven?

All we have so far is a Strawman argument

taco

March 14, 2012 at 03:58 PM

Well if you quoted him fully and read it, it might help.

Van Til is insisting that non-Christians who are true to their own principle of unbelief will never interpret one fact or one experience of the world properly, since every fact and experience has its rationale in God's creating and sustaining activity.

(emphasis mine) This is simply the practice/principle distinction.

No, we don't appeal to their "potential to discover truth." Our point of contact with them is that they are creatures made by God living in God's world. We strip away their false method of understanding by showing how it cannot truly account for what they do in practice. Then it is demonstrated that their practice can only be accounted for if Christianity is true. It is an appeal to the image of God; it is an appeal to the Sensus Divinitatis; it is an appeal that leads directly to the Gospel.

JR

March 14, 2012 at 03:55 PM

1 - Sounds like your issue is with the quote that I used. Because VanTil used it and I simply copied and pasted. If he contradicted himself somewhere else, then you will need to take it up with his editors or Dr. Oliphant. I don't like equivocation and half truths any more than you do. (by the way, I typically don't use the word 'opponent', so you don't have to either, unless of course your apologetic method requires it) ;)

2 - Nice try, but, as you know, ad homenim attacks are fallacious. Oh wait. Maybe I have a lack of understanding... Are presuppositionalist area allowed to make fallacious arguments? Maybe you can tell me...

3 - You are simply mistaken in your understanding about general revelation and special revelation. All men know that God exists through general revelation. period. They don't know Him completely, personally, or in a salvivic way unless they know Him through special revelation in His son, Jesus Christ and in the power of regeneration by the Holy Spirit. I've quoted extensively to this end using Romans 1 and 2, as well as Calvin's Institutes.

Book 1 of the Institutes gives a very thorough treatment of this, with which I agree fully and commend.

Resequitur

March 14, 2012 at 03:42 PM

"Okay, but what is the purpose of apologetics????"

"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 Cor 10:5)

"Are you arguing to prove that scripture is the ultimate authority?"

No, I'm , by grace, demonstrating the failure in autonomous thought, shutting the mouth of the unbeliever, and staying faithful to the Word of God which, on it's own merit, is the ultimate authority. To say otherwise is not a Reformed principle. Which is why Classicalism is more akin to Romanistic thought.

"That's the Holy Spirit's job. He's the only one who can prove and impress that upon a non-believer.

And He does it by His Word, that we are supposed to be preaching, and arguing by normatively. :)

"Like I said, my job as an apologist is to help that unbeliever see and admit that there is a God. "

You don't have to help him there, he already knows it (we agree here). Your job as an apologist is to demonstrate the futility in suppressing the Truth of God in exchange for a lie.

"All people KNOW there is a God thru general revelation. I'm helping them connect the dots (using mostly classical methods), waiting for that ah hah! moment when it clicks for them."

The problem is, here, is the conflict of authorities. He is trying to reason thinking of himself as the final reference point, and the Christian theist is reasoning on God's authority. If you allow him to reason on his own terms, then he will continue to do so. You, as apologist must challenge him to reason according to God's revelation. In doing so you are demonstrating the futility and irrationality of unbelief, and the epistemic salvation (along with all other benefits) found in Christ "in whom are hidden all the the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col 2:3

"Then I'm sharing Christ as their Lord and Savior (and praying for their salvation), that's different- that's evangelism. A person can only be saved through divine revelation - Word of God in Christ."

Peter says that we should have already sanctified Christ as Lord in our hearts (mind, affections, and will) before we set out to give a defense. But you've switched it around here.

"sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; (1 Pet 3:15)

Truth Unites... and Divides

March 14, 2012 at 03:30 PM

The neophyte then withdraws the question, if the presumption is that one apologetic methodology is good and the other one is bad.

JR

March 14, 2012 at 03:29 PM

Taco, thanks for the quotes. Pardon me, but this sounds like a huge equivocation with VanTil.
Which is it? Either we can try to appeal to a non-believer's potential to discover truth (because of the grace of God/common grace/general revelation whatever we want to call it and the image of God in them) or we can't.
Oliphant and the quote he uses explicitly states: Unbelievers "will never interpret one fact or one experience of the world properly;" therefore, we do not have common ground.
That particular premise is one of the biggest issues that I think presuppositionalist apologetics has against it, both because it goes against scripture, it goes against experience and it makes dialogue almost impossible.

Just trying to help...

March 14, 2012 at 03:26 PM

One reason is that using this reasoning also produces this result in regards to other forms of evangelism:

Hasn't God used both [prosperity gospel preaching and biblical expository preaching] to gain and gather genuine disciples to Himself? If so, why don't I use both methodologies as they seem fit to the occasion and to the non-believer that I'm witnessing to?

Tom Larsen

March 14, 2012 at 03:25 AM

Which God or book or framework should the presuppositionalist presuppose? Why?

Is presuppositional apologetics used in the Bible?

taco

March 14, 2012 at 03:17 PM

what I am saying is that that are inconsistent, because they do actually get it right sometimes!!!

The point of the practice/principle distinction is that the unbeliever cannot consistently live by their principles and will necessarily be inconsistent. They cannot be consistent because they are God's creature and must act in God's world. It is not that they interpret the fact correctly by virtue of their principles it is that they interpret a fact correctly in spite of their principles because of mercy and grace from God.

2- And in order for unbelievers to be "utterly consistent" with their depraved nature/minds, you will have to reject the reformed view of total depravity.
Once again this is a caricature as C.L. Bolt was explaining with the practice/principle distinction.

Perhaps, you might want to take issue with the quote from VanTil, remember? Unbelievers "will never interpret one fact or one experience of the world properly"


The first objection that suggests itself may be expressed in the rhetorical questions 'Do you mean to assert that non-Christians do not discover truth by the methods they employ?' The reply is that we mean nothing so absurd as that. The implication of the method here advocated is simply that non-Christians are never able and therefore never do employ their own methods consistently.
(The Defense of the Faith, p. 103)
(emphasis mine) http://www.vantil.info/articles/vtfem.html#AI2

JR

March 14, 2012 at 03:16 PM

Timothy, that's an excellent point. Before the late 19th century (post-Kant), there was no such thing as presuppositionalism.

Resequitur

March 14, 2012 at 03:15 PM

"Umm.. were we supposed to be talking about theological systems or apologetics and polemics???"

Comments like that demonstrate that you aren't listening to your opponent. Van Til stressed a distinction between Theology and apologetics, but not a severance. Apologetics flow from theology, otherwise what in the world are you defending? If it isn't the Triune God, then you aren't defending any god at all.

"This might the key to most of my issues with VanTil/ Presuppositionalism -- ie, the confusion over purpose."

It seems the key to your issues with Covenantal apologetics is the fact that you lack a substantiative understanding of it.

"In addition, Romans 1 and 2 give us the basis for use of Natural Law. "

Romans 1 and 2 also give you God's interpretation of the natural law as well. Here again, you can't separate general revelation from special revelation. They both come together as a unit. Where you have general revelation, you aslo have God's interpretation of that revelation as well. Notice how when in the garden, man substituted God's interpretation "eat of the tree and you will die" (Gen 2:17) with their interpretation " So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, (Gen 3:6) sin entered the world. This is the basic issue with our reasoning, and we need to always take our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ

JR

March 14, 2012 at 03:13 PM

Okay, but what is the purpose of apologetics????
Are you arguing to prove that scripture is the ultimate authority? That's not my job as an apologist! That's the Holy Spirit's job. He's the only one who can prove and impress that upon a non-believer.
Like I said, my job as an apologist, I believe, is to help that unbeliever see and admit that there is a God. Scripture tells us that all people KNOW there is a God thru general revelation. I'm simply helping them walking them through what they already know, connecting the dots (using mostly classical methods), waiting for that ah hah! moment when it clicks for them.

Then when I'm sharing Christ as their Lord and Savior (and praying for their salvation), that's different- that's evangelism. A person can only be saved through divine revelation - Word of God in Christ. Divine revelation isn't necessary to prove that God exists.

Truth Unites... and Divides

March 14, 2012 at 03:08 PM

If a neophyte to apologetics-evangelism were to peek into the debate and ask:

Hasn't God used both classical evidential apologetics and presuppositional apologetics to gain and gather genuine disciples to Himself? If so, why don't I use both methodologies as they seem fit to the occasion and to the non-believer that I'm witnessing to?

emilio

March 14, 2012 at 02:59 AM

So typical that I would be posting at 3am, like so many other presups (I work best at night). Great post Dr. Oliphint. The issue really does boil down to a theological one; the only question is whether one will reason from a anthropocentric (i.e. autonomous, "neutral") perspective or a Theocentric (i.e. Biblical) perspective. As a confessing believer in the LORD Jesus Christ anything but the latter would be immoral.

JR

March 14, 2012 at 02:56 PM

#3 - "The question of the existence of God (existentia Dei) does not appear in all of the Reformed scholastic systems and, when it does appear, has an apologetic and polemical function rather than a substantive or formative one in the course of theological system" - Mueller

Umm.. were we supposed to be talking about theological systems or apologetics and polemics???
This might the key to most of my issues with VanTil/ Presuppositionalism -- ie, the confusion over purpose.

In addition, Romans 1 and 2 give us the basis for use of Natural Law. It is historical and reformed. All of the early reformers before 1850 held to a view of Natural Law.

Resequitur

March 14, 2012 at 02:47 PM

sorry the reference is the WCF Chapter 1 Section IV

Resequitur

March 14, 2012 at 02:46 PM

"Thus, as a classical apologist, I would argue that there is at least one Truth that requires no genesis or sustaining activity and that is that God Is.

"While a presuppositionalist demands that this be presupposed to prove anything else, a classicist will say that anything else that exists necessarily traces its genesis back to the uncaused cause or the first and only self-existent thing, (or even the prime mover, as Aristotle called it.) As an apologist, this is actually the crux of the job at hand - imo."


Yes, the Vantillian is arguing that the Triune God of Scripture must be taken as the final authority in reasoning. So we would argue that we are starting epistemologically from the truth of His Word. It is He that is the ultimate precondition for intelligibility. This is what we mean by arguing at the level of presupposition. So unless we are starting with the Triune God of Scripture, who ordained the facts to be what they are for His Glory, we cannot prove anything at all.

It is Christ, the Word, who holds it all together, and He's told us that in His Word. His Word is the ultimate authority.

If (arguendo) we were to bring God's Word down, and try to prove that it is the ultimate authority, then we are undercutting our own apologetic. If we could prove by a lesser reference point (authority) , that the Word of God is the final authority, then it would be, ipso facto, not the final reference point.

Consider the WCF IV "The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God"

Resequitur

March 14, 2012 at 02:31 PM

"The statement "laws of logic are a proof of God's existence" doesn't mean that circular reasoning is OK."

I think it's already been shown that all reasoning ends up in circularity. It's also already been said that the problem is vicious circularity.

" I already agree that the laws of logic themselves are evidences of God. But classical evidentialists have said that for centuries. "

And Scripture is where they got it from. According to evidentialist standards, that's a big no-no.

"A Van Tillian claiming ownership of that observation is like a baby boomer tripping over a geyser and claiming to have discovered hot water."

A Vantillian wouldn't claim ownership of that. We would just say that the Christian apologist would be more consistent reasoning from a revelational epistemological foundation, i.e. the Scripture.

[...] Scott Oliphint, “Answering objections to presuppositionalism,” The Gospel Coalition (2012, March 13). [...]

J.R.

March 14, 2012 at 02:15 PM

I'm already too familiar with Bahnsen- not interested.

J.R.

March 14, 2012 at 02:14 PM

CL,
1 - The point is that Act 17 is almost universally regarded as a classical apologetic approach. In fact, most presuppositionalists (other than Bahnsen - the linked to article) avoid Acts 17 because it is so clear in this regard. I have even heard a couple presups argue that Paul "made a mistake" by approaching his appeal that way!!
My point is that the argument that Acts 17 somehow proves that the Bible validates presuppositionalism is a very, very weak one, if even one at all.

2 - the only quotations that Paul uses in Acts 17 are from the Greek philosophers.

RazorsKiss

March 14, 2012 at 02:04 PM

Van Til was obviously part of the NWO, Chris. Jack should probably call in to Coast to Coast to let them know that presuppers are part of the vast conspiracy.

J.R.

March 14, 2012 at 02:02 PM

CL, That is not an effective argument. Satan quoted God.

J.R.

March 14, 2012 at 01:54 PM

CL Bolt, I'm sorry but you are incorrect.
1- I do not assume at all that unbelievers are true to their principle unbelief. In fact, what I am saying is that that are inconsistent, because they do actually get it right sometimes!!!

2- And in order for unbelievers to be "utterly consistent" with their depraved nature/minds, you will have to reject the reformed view of total depravity. Remember it's not "Utter Depravity" (that is an error of neo-calvinism).
http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/sproul/depravity.html

Perhaps, you might want to take issue with the quote from VanTil, remember? Unbelievers "will never interpret one fact or one experience of the world properly"

J.R.

March 14, 2012 at 01:42 PM

"Is there anything in Van Til's approach that negates or undermines Reformed theology?"
#1 - "Maybe we can put it more simply. Is it possible to posit any truth at all without that truth having its genesis and its impetus from God's creating and sustaining activity? If not, then every truth presupposes that God is, that he is the Creator of all that is, and that he sustains it." - This is where Romans 1 and Calvin's Institutes apply more aptly than in #2.

(Taken from Calvin's Institutes, Book 1, Chapter 5):
"The apostle Paul, stating this still more clearly, says, “That which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has showed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead,” (Rom. 1:20).

2. In attestation of his wondrous wisdom, both the heavens and the earth present us with innumerable proofs not only those more recondite proofs which astronomy, medicine, and all the natural sciences, are designed to illustrate, but proofs which force themselves on the notice of the most illiterate peasant, who cannot open his eyes without beholding them. It is true, indeed, that those who are more or less intimately acquainted with those liberal studies are thereby assisted and enabled to obtain a deeper insight into the secret workings of divine wisdom. No man, however, though he be ignorant of these, is 52incapacitated for discerning such proofs of creative wisdom as may well cause him to break forth in admiration of the Creator. To investigate the motions of the heavenly bodies, to determine their positions, measure their distances, and ascertain their properties, demands skill, and a more careful examination; and where these are so employed, as the Providence of God is thereby more fully unfolded, so it is reasonable to suppose that the mind takes a loftier flight, and obtains brighter views of his glory.5757 Augustinus: Astrologia magnum religiosis argumentum, tormentumque curiosis. Still, none who have the use of their eyes can be ignorant of the divine skill manifested so conspicuously in the endless variety, yet distinct and well ordered array, of the heavenly host; and, therefore, it is plain that the Lord has furnished every man with abundant proofs of his wisdom. The same is true in regard to the structure of the human frame. To determine the connection of its parts, its symmetry and beauty, with the skill of a Galen (Lib. De Usu Partium), requires singular acuteness; and yet all men acknowledge that the human body bears on its face such proofs of ingenious contrivance as are sufficient to proclaim the admirable wisdom of its Maker.

3. Hence certain of the philosophers See Aristot. Hist. Anim. lib. i. c. 17; Macrob. in Somn. Scip lib. 2 c. 12; Boeth. De Definitione. have not improperly called man a microcosm (miniature world), as being a rare specimen of divine power, wisdom, and goodness, and containing within himself wonders sufficient to occupy our minds, if we are willing so to employ them. 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); every man having within himself undoubted evidence of the heavenly grace by which he lives, and moves, and has his being. But if, in order to apprehend God, it is unnecessary to go farther than ourselves, what excuse can there be for the sloth of any man who will not take the trouble of descending into himself that he may find Him? For the same reason, too, David, after briefly celebrating the wonderful name and glory of God, as everywhere displayed, immediately exclaims, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him?” and again, “Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast ordained strength,” (Psalm 8:2, 4). Thus he declares not only that the human race are a bright mirror of the Creator’s works, but that infants hanging on their mothers’ breasts have tongues eloquent enough to proclaim his glory without the aid of other orators. Accordingly, he hesitates not to bring them forward as fully instructed to refute the madness of those who, from devilish pride, would fain extinguish the name of God."



Thus, as a classical apologist, I would argue that there is at least one Truth that requires no genesis or sustaining activity and that is that God Is. While a presuppositionalist demands that this be presupposed to prove anything else, a classicist will say that anything else that exists necessarily traces its genesis back to the uncaused cause or the first and only self-existent thing, (or even the prime mover, as Aristotle called it.) As an apologist, this is actually the crux of the job at hand - imo.

C.L. Bolt

March 14, 2012 at 01:32 PM

Jack Brooks,

Since you disagree with philosophers William Alston, Thomas Morris, Alan Musgrave, Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and James Anderson concerning circularity and since several of them have provided actual argumentation concerning circularity I expect you to actually address their points. As it stands you are merely waving your hand. There *was* argumentation provided. I would point you first of all to the post by James Anderson in response to Copan, and the post by Steve Hays as well.

C.L. Bolt

March 14, 2012 at 01:26 PM

"I have read every published work by Van Til, over many years, several times each."

Then you know that Van Til repeatedly speaks of how he is standing on the shoulders of giants, you see how he uses Augustine, Calvin, Kuyper, and Bavinck, and you know that he explicitly credits them.

So why the Illuminati comment?

Joe Torres

March 14, 2012 at 01:23 PM

Here I've provided a couple of direct quotations from Van Til and his disciples that demonstrate the the charge of question-begging is inaccurate:

http://apolojet.wordpress.com/2012/03/15/presuppositionalism-and-circularity-again/

C.L. Bolt

March 14, 2012 at 01:22 PM

Eh? Since, "non-presuppositionalists argue that Acts 17 is clearly a classical (specifically Greek) apologetic used by Paul" it follows that presuppositionalists will, "need to find another example" to make their case? Why would that be? Why not say that since presuppositionalists argue that Acts 17 is clearly a presuppositional (specifically Van Tilian) apologetic used by Paul that classicalists will need to find another example to make their case?

And what is with Paul explicitly quoting from the Old Testament in Acts 17? I didn't think we could do that since the philosophers he was reasoning with didn't believe the Bible?!

taco

March 14, 2012 at 01:19 PM

Maybe the further question is regarding the truth found in the creation or natural theology. Can it be used in the presuppositionalism apologetic? If can, can it be clear as the truth which is revealed in the Scripture? Then we can talk about the common ground between believers and unbelievers.

Our common ground with the unbeliever and consequently our point of contact with them is very important to Covenantal Apologetics. I recommend Joshua Whipps article "EXPOSITION OF ROMANS 1:16-2:16 - THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD" in the In Antithesis journal: http://www.choosinghats.com/antithesis-a-reformed-apologetic-journal/in-antithesis-volume-1-no-1-september-2011/

C.L. Bolt

March 14, 2012 at 01:17 PM

Jack,

That did not sound even remotely close to what he stated.

We know that the Bible is the "true book" (the Word of God) because it states as much concerning itself. That is, the Word of God is self-attesting. This is an appeal to an objective matter, not a subjective matter.

Apologetically, then, if you reject that claim that Scripture makes concerning itself then you necessarily embrace subjectivism and/or skepticism. It is irrational to disagree with the God of Scripture.

So, no, Van Tilianism is not mysticism.

taco

March 14, 2012 at 01:12 PM

Oliphint's evidence is from Alston. C.L. Bolt gave Musgrave and Morris.

C.L. Bolt

March 14, 2012 at 01:12 PM

J.R.,

I'm sorry, but that is incorrect. You are assuming that non-Christians are true to their principle of unbelief, but that is false. We should be careful to differentiate between principle and practice. Non-Christians practice what they cannot in principle (because of unbelief)account for.

taco

March 14, 2012 at 01:05 PM

I would submit that Paul is actually practicing Covenantal apologetics in Acts 17 and I suggest the article linked and Dr. Oliphint's book "The Battle Belongs to the Lord" for your perusal for the exegesis.

taco

March 14, 2012 at 01:03 PM

I'm not sure what makes you think Calvin did not presuppose the truth of Christianity.

I don't see how it follows that just because there is one method that should be followed as a matter of moral impetus that God does not or has not saved through less than biblical methods. That, however, does not make such methods correct. For example, Moses struck the rock, he was not supposed to and he was judged for it. It did however work in a pragmatic sense. Hopefully that helps.

J.R.

March 14, 2012 at 01:02 PM

"Is there anything in Van Til's approach that negates or undermines Reformed theology?"

Yes, in #2. "Van Til is insisting that non-Christians who are true to their own principle of unbelief will never interpret one fact or one experience of the world properly, since every fact and experience has its rationale in God's creating and sustaining activity."

This completely negates experience. Even Doug Wilson, a noted presuppositionalist, hails Christopher Hitchens for his wisdom and discernment on a host of cultural topics.
Our fallen nature does not erase the fact human beings are created in the image of God and are capable of interpreting facts and experiences in the world properly.

Greg Forester writes in his new book "The Joy of Calvinism":
Besides being false to all experience, such a view is easy to disprove from Scripture. The Bible frequently notes the presence of qualities in unbelievers that are good in some way. Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites and... praises them for tithing scrupulously (Matt. 23:23). More generally, Paul declares that "Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires" (Rom. 2:14). Perhaps most profoundly, we are admonished not to murder anyone because all people are made in the image of God (Gen. 9:6)."

Does #2 undermine Reformed Theology: The answer seems to be a resounding "Yes".

Brian

March 14, 2012 at 01:01 PM

You seem not to be following the line of reasoning here. VanTillian apologists do not argue that the laws of logic are a proof of God's existence. It would actually be more accurate to say that God (as He has revealed himself) is proof that the laws of logic exist meaningfully. Covenantal apologists believe that God must be assumed in order for logic and reason to have any meaning whatsoever (otherwise they are simply culturally derived principles with no fixed axioms). It is in this sense that the Christian must start with God in order to use logic or reason to argue for God. Of course evidentialists have always acknowledged that logic is an "evidence" for God's existence...but that's not what covenantal apologists are arguing.

Patrick H.

March 13, 2012 at 11:17 PM

Dr. Oliphint, I am eager to read more posts from you regarding apologetics. I appreciate your work in this area.

taco

March 13, 2012 at 11:02 PM

Thank you for addressing this Dr. Oliphint.

C.L. Bolt

March 13, 2012 at 10:53 PM

Some other examples of what was being pointed out above in Alston:

http://www.choosinghats.com/2011/12/three-very-different-philosophers-on-the-necessity-of-circularity-in-epistemology

And no doubt there are many more, hence why I am so baffled by the tired old objection in question.

Great post.

RazorsKiss

March 13, 2012 at 10:30 PM

Thanks, Dr. Oliphint. I had an inkling you would be the one to respond to that piece. Appreciate the comments!

james jordan

July 2, 2013 at 04:55 AM

Presuppositionalism is simply a Calvinist rasberry. "I've assumed Calvinism is true, therefore it is." Then no matter what you say, they respond "Calvinism is true, because I presupposed it to be true." Its more a method for annoying Arminians than for serious debate with atheists. And not only that, but when debating atheists they want to use it to prove not only the existence of God (which it is logical to presuppose) but also the Trinity (which it is totally illogical to presuppose). You cannot presuppose the Trinity because there is no logical reason to cap the number of persons in God arbitrarily at 3: why not presuppose a 500-billion person God? There is good reason to presuppose a purely monotheistic God, but not a Trinity.