Archive for the ‘ Akouo ’ Category

God and Desire

It was a bit of an eyebrow raiser – mostly due to the nonchalance of the entire affair – (albeit unsurprising, given prior statements he has made) to read Piper simply handing over 1 Tim. 2:4 to Arminianism. What’s also quite interesting is that the handoff is done with practically no exegetical attention paid to the surrounding verses, or seemingly, even an attempt to interact with the historic Reformed commentators on the subject.

Put two texts together, and see what you see.

“God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (eis epignōsin alētheias)” (1 Timothy 2:4).

“God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (eis epignōsin alētheias)” (2 Timothy 2:25).

Now, do you see any treatment of the surrounding verses in the following discussion? I don’t. Essentially, it’s conceding the Arminian conception of the first verse – and there is no reason whatsoever to do so.

Here’s what I see:

1. Though God desires all people to be saved, he “may perhaps grant repentance.” Which I think means that God’s desire for all to be saved does not lead him to save all. God has desires that do not reach the level of volition. They are restrained by other considerations — like his wisdom, which guides him to display his glory in the fullest way. He has his reasons for why he “may perhaps grant repentance” to some sinners, and not to others.

First, what is meant by “all”? He doesn’t address the subject. In “The Potter’s Freedom”, there is an extensive treatment of this section of Scripture. Who do I want to bring to your consideration on this verse, however? Why, John Gill, of course! His commentary is amazingly thorough. I’ll post the rest of Piper’s comments, and then follow with Gill.

2. The “knowledge of the truth” is a gift of God. God “grants [i.e., gives] repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth.” Without the gift of repentance, we would not know the truth. This is evidently what 1 Timothy 2:4 means also: We must be “saved and [in that way] come to a knowledge of the truth.” Saved from our blindness to the truth.

3. Therefore the truth Paul has in mind is not truth that the natural man can see. But the natural man can see a lot of truth. Tens of thousands of truths are open to the natural mind. What truth can the natural man not see? The natural man cannot see the glory of Christ in the gospel. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).

4. This is why God must “grant” what it takes to see the truth of the gospel. We are blind to it. And Satan keeps us that way. Until God “grants” repentance (metanoia) — the change of mind that can see and receive the truth of the gospel.

5. Therefore, our prayers for the unbelievers we love, and our evangelism, should be driven by this one and only hope for their salvation: “God may perhaps grant them repentance.” Since he alone has the power to overcome spiritual deadness and Satanic blindness, we lay hold in prayer and witness on the truth: “God may grant repentance.” That is our only hope.

So let us follow Paul: “Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). And: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).

Now, although this looks, superficially, to be a complete answer – it isn’t. It’s a superficial answer. I appreciate the comments in the following points – 2-5 – but his comments on the first point are quite simply lacking, in a variety of respects. Compare Gill, starting at verse 1:

1 Timothy 2:1:

I exhort therefore, that first of all

The two principal parts of public worship, being the ministry of the word and prayer; and the apostle having insisted on the former, in the preceding chapter, in which he orders Timothy to charge some that they teach no other doctrine than that of the Gospel, gives an account of his own ministry, and call to it, and of the glorious Gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to his trust, and stirs up Timothy to the faithful and diligent discharge of his work and office; now proceeds to the latter, to prayer, and exhorts unto it; either Timothy in particular, for so read the Syriac, Arabic, and Ethiopic versions, “I exhort thee”, or “desire thee”; or else the church in general; unless it should rather be thought to be a charge to Timothy to exhort, and so Beza’s Claromontane copy reads, “exhort thou therefore”: but it is commonly considered as an exhortation of the apostle’s, which he was very urgent in: it was what lay much upon his mind, and he was greatly desirous that it should be attended unto; for so the words may be read, “I exhort first of all”, or before all things; of all things he had to say, this was the chief, or it was what he would have principally and chiefly done by others: for this does not so much regard the order of time, that prayer should be made early in the morning, in the first place, before anything else is done, and particularly before preaching, which seems to have been the custom of the primitive saints, ( Acts 4:31 ) but the pre-eminence and superior excellency of it; though the words may be rendered, “I exhort, that first, the supplications of all be made”: and so may regard public prayer, the prayer of the whole church, in distinction from private prayer, or the prayer of a single person; which is expressed by different words,

supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks:

the first of these, “supplications”, signifies such petitions for things that are wanted by men, either by themselves or others; and that either for their bodies or souls, as food and raiment for the one, and discoveries of pardoning love, supplies of grace, spiritual peace, comfort for the other: and the second word, “prayers”, signifies good wishes and desires, directed and expressed to God for things that are in themselves to be wished for, and desired of God, either for ourselves or others: and the next word, “intercessions”, intends either complaints exhibited in prayer against others that have done injuries; or prayers put up for others, either for the averting of evil from them, or for the bestowing some good thing on them: and the last word, “thanksgivings”, with which requests should always be made known to God, designs that branch of prayer in which thanks are given to God for mercies received, whether temporal or spiritual: and these are to

be made for all men;

not only for all the saints, for all the churches of Christ, and, ministers of the Gospel; nor only for near relations and friends, according to the flesh; but for all the inhabitants of the country and city in which men dwell, the peace and prosperity of which are to be prayed for; yea, for enemies, and such as reproach, persecute, and despitefully use the saints, even for all sorts of men, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, high and low, bond and free, good men and bad men: for it cannot be understood of every individual that has been, is, or shall be in the world; millions of men are dead and gone, for whom prayer is not to be made; many in hell, to whom it would be of no service; and many in heaven, who stand in no need of it; nor is prayer to be made for such who have sinned the sin unto death, ( 1 John 5:16 ) besides, giving of thanks, as well as prayers, are to be made for all men; but certainly the meaning is not, that thanks should be given for wicked men, for persecutors, and particularly for a persecuting Nero, or for heretics, and false teachers, such as Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom the apostle had delivered to Satan. But the words must be understood of men of all sorts, of every rank and quality, as the following verse shows.

(Ver. 2)

For kings, and for all that are in authority

For supreme governors, as the emperor of Rome, and kings of particular nations; and for all sub-governors, or inferior magistrates, as procurators or governors of provinces, and proconsuls, and the like; all that were in high places, and acted under the authority of those that were supreme; these are particularly mentioned, the then governors, whether supreme or subordinate, who were avowed enemies, and violent persecutors of the saints; and it might be a scruple with some of them, whether they should pray for them, and therefore the apostle enjoins it; and this in opposition to the notions and practices of the Jews, who used to curse the Heathens, and pray for none but for themselves, and those of their own nation:

that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, in all godliness and honesty;

which does not merely design the end of civil government by kings and magistrates, which is to preserve the peace and quiet of the commonwealth; to protect the persons and properties of men, that they may possess their own undisturbed; and to secure to them their civil and religious rights and liberties, that they may have the free use and exercise of religion, signified by “all godliness”; and to encourage morality and virtue, expressed by “honesty”; and so is an argument for prayer, taken from the advantage of civil government: nor does this clause only point out the duty of saints to live peaceably under the government they are, and not disturb it; to mind only their religious exercises among themselves, and behave honestly and morally among men, as they generally speaking are, the quiet in the land; but also expresses the thing to be prayed for; and the sense is, that since the hearts of kings are in the hands of the Lord, and he can turn them as he pleases, prayer should be made to him for them, that he would either convert them, and bring them to the knowledge of the truth, they now persecuted; or at least so dispose their hearts and minds, that they might stop the persecution, and so saints might live peaceably under them, enjoy their religious liberty, and be encouraged in their moral conversation. The Arabic version renders it, “that they may be preserved”: that is, kings, and all in authority. It is a saying of R. Hananiah, or Ananias, the sagan of the priests[1],

“pray for the peace or safety of the kingdom (one of their commentators on it adds[2], even of the nations of the world, which is remarkable, and agrees with the exhortation of the apostle); for if there was no fear of that, men would devour one another alive.”

(Ver. 3)

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.

Not only to live peaceably and quietly under the government men are, since that is the ordination of God, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, which his grace teaches; but to pray for all sorts of men, and for those who are set in the highest place of government, even though enemies and persecutors: this is good in itself, and in the sight of an omniscient God, who sees not as man seeth; and it is acceptable unto him through Jesus Christ, by whom every sacrifice of prayer or praise is so; for by God our Saviour is meant God the Father, who is the Saviour of all men, in a way of providence, and the Saviour of all the elect in a way of special grace;

(Ver. 4)

Who will have all men to be saved,…

The salvation which God wills that all men should enjoy, is not a mere possibility of salvation, or a mere putting them into a salvable state; or an offer of salvation to them; or a proposal of sufficient means of it to all in his word; but a real, certain, and actual salvation, which he has determined they shall have; and is sure from his own appointment, from the provision of Christ as a Saviour for them, from the covenant of grace, in which everything is secured necessary for it, and from the mission of Christ to effect it, and from its being effected by him: wherefore the will of God, that all men should be saved, is not a conditional will, or what depends on the will of man, or on anything to be performed by him, for then none might be saved; and if any should, it would be of him that willeth, contrary to the express words of Scripture; but it is an absolute and unconditional will respecting their salvation, and which infallibly secures it: nor is it such a will as is distinguishable into antecedent and consequent; with the former of which it is said, God wills the salvation of all men, as they are his creatures, and the work of his hands; and with the latter he wills, or not wills it, according to their future conduct and behaviour; but the will of God concerning man’s salvation is entirely one, invariable, unalterable, and unchangeable: nor is it merely his will of approbation or complacency, which expresses only what would be grateful and well pleasing, should it be, and which is not always fulfilled; but it is his ordaining, purposing, and determining will, which is never resisted, so as to be frustrated, but is always accomplished: the will of God, the sovereign and unfrustrable will of God, has the governing sway and influence in the salvation of men; it rises from it, and is according to it; and all who are saved God wills they should be saved; nor are any saved, but whom he wills they should be saved: hence by all men, whom God would have saved, cannot be meant every individual of mankind, since it is not his will that all men, in this large sense, should be saved, unless there are two contrary wills in God; for there are some who were before ordained by him unto condemnation, and are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction; and it is his will concerning some, that they should believe a lie, that they all might be damned; nor is it fact that all are saved, as they would be, if it was his will they should; for who hath resisted his will? but there is a world of ungodly men that will be condemned, and who will go into everlasting punishment: rather therefore all sorts of men, agreeably to the use of the phrase in 1Ti 2:1 are here intended, kings and peasants, rich and poor, bond and free, male and female, young and old, greater and lesser sinners; and therefore all are to be prayed for, even all sorts of men, because God will have all men, or all sorts of men, saved; and particularly the Gentiles may be designed, who are sometimes called the world, the whole world, and every creature; whom God would have saved, as well as the Jews, and therefore Heathens, and Heathen magistrates, were to be prayed for as well as Jewish ones. Moreover, the same persons God would have saved, he would have also

come to the knowledge of the truth:

of Christ, who is the truth, and to faith in him, and of all the truth of the Gospel, as it is in Jesus; not merely to a notional knowledge of it, which persons may arrive unto, and not be saved, but a spiritual and experimental knowledge of it; and all that are saved are brought to such a knowledge, which is owing to the sovereign will and good pleasure of God, who hides the knowledge of Gospel truths from the wise and prudent, and reveals them to babes: whence it appears, that it is not his will with respect to every individual of mankind; that they should thus come to the knowledge of the truth; for was it his will they should, he would, no doubt, give to every man the means of it, which he has not, nor does he; he suffered all nations to walk in their own ways, and overlooked their times of ignorance, and sent no message nor messenger to inform them of his will; he gave his word to Jacob, and his statutes unto Israel only; and the Gospel is now sent into one part of the world, and not another; and where it does come, it is hid to the most; many are given up to strong delusions to believe a lie, and few are savingly and experimentally acquainted with the truths of the Gospel; though all that are saved are brought to the knowledge of such truths as are necessary to salvation; for they are chosen to it through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.

—–

The difference is stunning. The “quick” answer – the “put two verses together and see what you get” approach – just doesn’t work. It’s not sound, and it gets you into trouble – even if you’re John Piper. If you want to get the real answer, you have to really dig into theology proper – dig deeply into systematic and biblical theology. Otherwise, the “combination” you try to make just isn’t going to be sound. I’d also recommend to you Gill’s comments on 2 Tim. 2:25, as well. In the end, the whole difference between these two solutions is exegetical. Piper doesn’t give an exegesis of the text – Gill does. Dr. White gives an exegesis in his book, too – and comes out with the same conclusion as Gill. This should be instructive to us.

One further point to make. Job 23:13 says this: “But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does.” God, of course, is the referent of this verse. vs. 3-12 in this same chapter all refer to God Himself. What does it say? God accomplishes all that He desires. The Hebrew word for “does” is עָשָׂה – the primary semantic domain of the term is “to do, fashion, accomplish, make” – and this is not the only place where this is said, of course. Isa 46:10 says ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure.’ The word for “good pleasure” is חֵפֶץ – delight, pleasure, with the further connotation of “desire”. Thus, it can be established that that which God desires, is that which is accomplished. It is no solution to assert that there is a “desire” which does not rise to the level of “volition” – as God is eternal, and thence is to be seen as eternally frustrated in His desire. This is no fitting view of God. While I appreciate the work that John Piper has done for the kingdom, and his faithfulness as a shepherd – he is simply wrong on this issue of God and desire.

  1. [1] Pirke Abot, c. 3. sect. 2.
  2. [2] Bartenora in Pirke Abot, c. 3. sect. 2.

For days, the blogs and facebook statuses have been replete with pro and anti Prop 26 messages. What I haven’t seen from the anti side, however, is much of anything that isn’t a Slippery Slope fallacy.

The common refrain is that this proposition will *likely* lead to the banning of abortion, IVF treatments, stem cell research, and human cloning. It will keep women from receiving chemo while pregnant, deny them treatment in case of ectopic pregancies or other life-threatening pregnancy problems, “most” birth control options will be removed, that if a woman’s miscarriage is “suspicious” they will be subject to investigation,in vitro fertilization will almost certainly be regulated and priced out of existence, the State should force a pregnant woman to carry a dying fetus until it miscarries naturally, victims of rape (including the mentally disabled and girls as young as 8 ) should be forced by the State to carry and give birth to their rapists’ babies, that there will be additional thousands of babies brought to term and in foster care. That’s a selection.

The problem with all this being; it’s a fallacious argument. Namely, the Slippery slope fallacy. This fallacy is presented in this form:
Event X has occurred (or will or might occur).
Therefore event Y will inevitably happen.

Unfortunately, there is no argument typically given for *why* this will inevitably happen. More often, the wilder the claim concerning what will occur, the better. For instance, I read on a forum that this means “reproductive rights are being stripped away right before my very eyes.” Followed shortly after by another saying that the passage of this bill will make us “a country that reduces women to incubators.” Such rhetorical silliness is truly amazing, but it gets better. A woman wonders what the “future would hold in a country where abortions & birth control are illegal, and a woman is a second-class citizen compared to the fetus she carries.” One opines that women will be “required to go through inquests when they have miscarriages to determine if they were somehow at fault for “murdering” their fetus.” This is the kicker: “Do you not realize this is the first step to taking away freedom? What’s next? Your freedom to religion? Speech? To vaccinate your kids or not? Its a slippery slope.” That’s a fallacy, folks. There’s no argument for why this is the case. It’s just stating that it is the case. X, therefore y – no intervening premise.

Is there a good reason not to vote for Prop 26? Yes, actually. Because it’s considered by some to be unconstitutional. Does that mean it isn’t right? No. That’s the best argument I have seen on the matter, bar none. However, there are arguments on the other side, as well. It is not a *direct* ballot initiative – it requires legislature review. It was presented to the MS legislature early this year. Hence, the counter-argument goes, the constitution is speaking of direct initiatives. As this was reviewed by the state legislature, it does not fall under that purview. Clear as mud? Good! That will likely be the “best bet” of the folks arguing against this, if it gets adopted – but we’ll see how far they get. That, however, is just my opinion on the matter. I’m also not sure they have any federal appeal in this instance, as it’s an article of a *state* constitution.

Here’s the argument: The State Constitution says that “(5) The initiative process shall not be used: (a) For the proposal, modification or repeal of any portion of the Bill of Rights of this Constitution”
This initiative specifically states that it is amending Article III (the Bill of Rights, in the MS Constitution).
Therefore, the initiative is unconstitutional.

However, there are a couple ways to go, here. The first is that this isn’t a modification, addition, or repeal – but a clarification. The second is that since it was an indirect initiative, and under the supervision of the state legislature, that it doesn’t qualify under that heading. I don’t know how far that one goes, but that’s one response I’ve seen. I’m sure there are others, but there are two quick outlines.

I have yet to see an objection, save the objection of it’s illegality, that is not a slippery slope fallacy. Saying what you *think* will happen in the future is something else altogether than making a logical argument. It’s simply stating your opinion on the matter of it’s eventual result. On the contrary, I can pretty clearly tell you what it does prohibit. 1) Abortion 2) The intentional destruction of any fertilized embryo 3) Human clones being considered “non-persons” in such an eventuality 4) Killing unborn children with the “morning after” pill. This is in terms of how it defines a person; the language used, not my feelings concerning it. This is always a tough thing to do – look at an issue from the standpoint of it’s logical implications, not it’s emotional ones. Logically, murder is of a person. If a person is a fertilized embryo, then destruction of a fertilized embryo is, therefore, murder. Abortion, obviously, is murder – as is the use of the “morning after” pill. These are all issues that have surrounded the pro-life movement for the last couple decades. There should be no surprise from anyone to see the oft-discussed logical implications in other areas besides abortion.

Does this mean we will be faced with some tough choices? Sure, it does. Does it also mean that we’ll have to be ethical in terms of unborn children in a similar fashion to the way that we have to be in the case of adult or infant persons in the case of triage situations? Yes. Is there established law in these cases? Yes, there is. Saying that there isn’t is simply just untrue. Putting an unborn child on a “level playing field” with a child a matter of months older is nothing more than being consistent. What is at issue is establishing, legally, what a person is. Using rhetorical tricks such as were outlined above is, simply, beneath us. Thinking logically about these sorts of issues is what we should be doing, not making emotionally laden accusations without anything more than speculation to go on. It is not “mean”, or “condescending” to point out that an argument is fallacious. In fact, we should welcome such criticism, if it helps us think more clearly about the issue.

Since I am a Christian, let me clearly state my position. I believe that life begins at conception. This is not a slogan, but a Biblically exegeted position, culled and exposited from Scripture. This means that we are making a point of *principle*, and applying those principles to the world around us, as we all do with our principles. In the case of this position, it is exposited from the story of Samson, in Judges 13. His mother was promised a son, after having been barren for many years. She was told that this child would be dedicated to God – a vow called the “Nazarite” vow, discussed previously on this blog. She is told 1) That she *will* conceive. 2) She is told to be careful not to eat anything unclean, or to drink any wine (things forbidden by the vow) – starting now (vs 7). 3) The child is dedicated from when? From the womb. With conception explicitly mentioned, and all things related to this vow were to be put in effect, as of now, in order to ensure there was no violation. If the point at which we are concerned is not conception, then what shall we say it is? There is also the witness of John’s recognition of Christ “from the womb”, and being filled with the Holy Spirit “from the womb.” There is David’s testimony that God knit him together in his mother’s womb(Psa 139), and God’s concern for him there. There is the recognition of a spiritual state, even while in the womb, in Psalm 51. I also note Stott’s words on Psalm 139; “The psalmist surveys his life in four stages: Past, present, future, and before birth, and in all four refers to himself as ‘I.’ He who is writing as a full-grown man has the same personal identity as the fetus in his mother’s womb.”

Not only that, but human life is just as valuable in the womb, as it is outside of it. Shedding of innocent blood is often remarked on, in Scripture. This, incidentally, does not mean “innocent” as in “sinless”, but “innocent” as in “unworthy of being slain.” In Gen 9, we are told that whoever sheds the blood of man, by man will his blood be shed; but this is because man is created in the image of God. The doctrine of the imago dei is far-reaching, and central to why we take the position we do. We know when life is considered to start; and we believe that the image of God is intrinsic to the life of His human creatures. As such, they are the imago dei from the very beginning. In Exodus 21, we are told that even causing a woman to give birth prematurely (even though there is no lasting harm) is worthy of the husband choosing what to fine the guilty party. Directly after, we are told that any harm is to be met with life for life, etc. This is very plain. The unborn child is considered to be human life on equal footing with the adult. Just the potential of harm, in carelessness, is worthy of punishment, because they endangered a child. Proverbs 24:11-12 commands us to deliver the innocents from slaughter. (This verse is often cited in relation to the Holocaust, as well.) Deu 27:25 states that the one who accepts money to kill the innocent is cursed. In Amos 1:13, killing unborn children is cited as a sin. In 2 Sam 4:11, David tells men who killed Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, in his bed, that that deed was worthy of them being blotted from the earth. How much more, if children in the womb are being killed in the only bed they know?

In the case of rape; are children to be held accountable for the sins of their fathers, contra Deut 24:16? Do they deserve death? In the case of “freedom”, are we allowed to use that a covering for sin, contra 1Pe 2:16? Are we to kill the disabled, rather than care for them, contra Lev 19:14? Third, a woman’s body “belongs” to her no more than a man’s does. We belong to God. Instead of using speculative excuses for why it might not be most convenient for us were we to adopt an equitable law, it would behoove us to submit our convenience to the principles laid out in Scripture. Equity is found in just laws, not in the speculative enumeration of possible abuses or inconveniences we might face as a result. Scripture tells us that conception is when God considers life to begin. We are being given problems, but no solutions for those problems in reply. A fallacy is not excused by convenience. Immorality is likewise not excused by convenience. Even if IVF is made more expensive as they retool their procedures, for example – what is that to you, if it preserves life, and restrains evil? What else is it the government’s principal job to do? Instead of offering your personal nightmare scenarios, offer me an alternative. Further, tell me why the amendment *itself* is wrong – not why the potential consequences are wrong. There is a whole network of fallacies involved in that sort of argumentation. Speculative consequences are not a conclusion for an argument, if you don’t connect premise a to conclusion c. You can’t skip b, and call it a valid argument.

To wrap this up; if you want to offer an argument, offer us a premise b. Offer us a premise b, further, which the conclusion can be shown to follow from. Saying that y will occur if x occurs, without any reason given to think that y will occur is just simply illogical. Also, note that we are talking about something 1) Unprecedented and 2) That hasn’t yet occurred. Saying that we are speaking of “facts” in a case such as this is absurd. There are no facts to be had about the consequences of a future event. You might make an inductive case, but you have to make the case! So, please work on those arguments, boys and girls.

Continuing the series I started with in my prior post, we’re examining the About.com article “Seven Reasons Why Mormons are Christian”, by Rachel Bruner. In our prior post, recall that we examined 1) The remarks of their elder statesmen on this topic, 2) The distinct tendency on the part of the LDS to “redefine” terms in the Christian lexicon, and 3) The necessity for a transcendental argument to settle the question.

In this installment, we will examine the first reason we are given for believing that Mormons are Christian.

1. Christ is Head of (the) Mormon Church

I’ve duplicated the link from the article, as we will discuss the content found therein, as well. The article gives the following as support for the preceding statement:

Everything we teach and everything we do is to bring us unto Jesus Christ. He is the Son of God and all our beliefs and doctrines focus on Him as our Savior and Redeemer. He is the head of our church (see Ephesians 5:23), which many people refer to as “Mormons” but that is only a nickname. The proper name of our church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

When the Nephites disputed what to call the church, Christ said:

“And how be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (3 Nephi 27:8).

Now, let’s address some presuppositional commitments, before we get into the response. The “Jesus Christ” of Mormonism is who, precisely? According to the link for #1, “Jesus Christ is the firstborn spirit child of God[1] and although each of us is a spirit son or daughter of God, the Eternal Father, only Jesus Christ is God’s son in the flesh. Born of the virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, is the only begotten son of the Father.”[2] [3] Now, let’s compare this conception of Jesus to the Biblical conception of Jesus. Gill puts it thus: “[H]e is an individual, distinct, though not separate from the divine nature, he has in common with the Father and the Spirit; he subsists of himself in that nature distinctly, and independently; is not a part of another, the whole fulness of the Godhead dwells in him; nor is his human nature, which he assumed in time, a part of his person, nor adds anything to his personality; but being taken up into union with his person, subsists in it; he has life in himself, and is the living God; is intelligent, has understanding and will; knows himself, his Father and the Spirit, and all creatures and things, and does whatsoever he pleases.”[4]

Let’s set forth these conceptions of Christ in antithesis, as they ought to be placed – we will draw from other places in Mormon writings to give us a fuller picture, as well.

Who is Jesus Christ?
Attributes CT (Christian Theism) ~CT (Mormon Theism)
Deity Monogenes (Unique Son)[5] First[6] of many spirit children[7]
Conception Miraculously, by the Spirit[8] In the flesh, by Elohim[9]
Relationship to Satan Lord and God over[10] Spirit brother to[11]
Relationship to Man Transcendent God over and Creator of[12] [13] [14] Spirit brother to[15]
Nature In Hypostatic Union[16], 2nd person of the Trinity One of a plurality of gods,[17] firstborn of Elohim[18]
Temporality Eternal, as God alone[19] One of a plurality of antemortal[20] spirit brethren in endless temporal existence
Material Relationship Essentially Spirit, took on flesh, yet immutable[21] Essentially Spirit, which is itself a form of matter [22]
Sonship Eternal[23] Began in time, in the flesh[24] [25]
Atonement began On Calvary[26] In Gethsemane[27]

This suffices for our purposes at the moment; it does, however, clearly illustrate that the Mormon and Christian conceptions of “Christ” are fundamentally at odds! Since we have our two worldviews at antithesis on the most basic of levels, we must transcendentally argue our case(s), as what is at stake is the very intelligibility of what it is we are saying. Mormonism, after all, claims to be founded on the Christian Scriptures, and merely a continuation, to be carried along by their “living prophets”. Christianity, on the other hand, claims that the revelation of God is complete in the 66 books of the Bible, and that in that Scripture alone we may rest secure, and find certainty. So, what are we to do? Throw up our hands? Not in the least! We will argue on the level of worldviews, rather than over individual facts, in a piecemeal fashion. If Christ is the head of the church – which we both seem to affirm – which church is that, precisely? As we saw in the last installment, it is quite clear that whatever “church” the “Jesus” of the LDS is the head of, is not the church that orthodox Christians are members of. On the other hand, Scripture tells us that Christ is the head of His church, and that the church is defined as all of the elect throughout history[28]. So, how are we to resolve this?

Let us take the doctrines of Christ, and of the Church, and set them in opposition. First, will proceed to do an internal critique of the LDS position, and demonstrate that the position of the LDS church is incoherent, and makes both “Christ” and “Church” unintelligible.

To the LDS church, we have been without a “valid” church since shortly after the apostles were martyred.[29] At very least they point to Nicea as an example of the “great apostasy” that had gripped the “Christian” church.[30] So, in effect, there was no valid church from at least 325 until 1820 (but probably longer than that). In the eyes of the LDS, there was effectively no church on the face of God’s earth for centuries. Only with the “Great Restoration”[31] of Joseph Smith was the church brought back in any meaningful fashion. So, we can say that to the LDS, Jesus is the head of the LDS church, and all else is apostate.

There is a problem with this assertion, however. Are we to believe that the church who Christ told Peter that “the gates of Hades”[32] would not stand against fell, for centuries? That God did not preserve for Himself a remnant[33]? On the one hand, we have the Scripture that the LDS claims to believe telling us that the church will not fall; On the other hand, we have the testimony of Joseph Smith and his fellow “Latter Day Saints” that the church did fall! If, as the LDS claims, the church of Jesus Christ went into apostasy in a wholesale fashion[34], what are we to believe of the promises of God[35]? Even more urgently, however, how shall we explain the seeming contradictions between the teaching of the Apostles themselves, and the LDS church, on a massive variety of points? For instance, the Apostles taught, explicitly, that God is One[36]. So did Christ.[37] If this is the case, how are we to believe that in reality, (as the LDS teaches) they taught that there are many gods? It is undeniably the case that the Old Testament and New Testament both teach that God is one in being[38] However, the LDS church teaches that there are a plurality of gods. In order to make their teaching an intelligible continuation of the teaching of the Old and New Testaments, it would have to be the case that the OT and NT teach that there are a plurality of true gods. In Scripture we are told of that there is a plurality of false gods, but never that there is a plurality of true gods. Even more problematic, how are we to ground, for instance, the one and the many[39] in a pluralism of deities? How are we to ground an objective morality in a plurality of deities? How are we to ground logic, or uniformity in a mutable, temporally-bound pantheon such as Mormonism presents us with? As Mormonism presents it, there is no visible uniformity in their ecclesiology[40], nor in their doctrine of scripture. Both are presented as mutable, and discontinuous[41] – even contradictory[42]. As such, their inability to grant us the preconditions of intelligibility[43] in human experience and external reality make their worldview impossible.

In contrast, Christianity presents us with an ecclesiology and doctrine of scripture grounded in monergism[44]. From first to last, the work and nature of God is the precondition for every doctrine we believe. The church is made up of those who are elected[45] from eternity[46] by the Father, brought to the body of Christ by the work of the Spirit, and atoned[47] for by the death and obedience[48] of Christ. In the Triune God, there is a foundation for the unity and diversity of the church, the certainty of revelatory and ecclesiological continuity and objectivity.

Let us move on the the doctrine of Christ. In the Old Testament, we are presented with multiple “theophanies”[49], as well as the express revelation of God to man. In the New Testament, it is revealed that God the Son took on flesh, and walked among us. We are told by the LDS church that God the Son became the Son at a certain point in time, and was conceived physically by intercourse with Mary. We are also told that God the Son is of the same order of being as we are, differing only in his degree of exaltation, as we (and Christ) differ from Elohim only in our degree of exaltation. We are told that Christ is of the same order as the angels, as well, since Lucifer is his spirit-brother. We are told that he did not create the world ex-nihilo[50], but that he organized pre-existing matter, which is conterminous with God; who is similarly temporally infinite, if not timelessly eternal. In fact, we are told that “spirit” is merely a different order of matter! He is not the eternally begotten Son, but the temporally begotten son of Elohim. On this basis, how can we affirm that by him were all things made? He, himself, is a made thing. Of pre-existing matter, to be sure, but the Father is, to the LDS, himself, pre-existent matter. Ne is no different in order, essentially, from any other human, be they humble or exalted. So, is he to be considered as creator of himself, or is he similarly the creation of another, as to the LDS, “creation” is the reorganization of pre-existing matter? This is a gross contradiction. He cannot be both creator of all and not-creator of all at the same time, and in the same sense. Further, how is he to say “I AM that I AM” in true self-sufficiency, being a created thing as any other? How is he to be “who was, and is, and is to come”[51] in a properly eternal sense? An endless succession of moments is not, properly, eternity. Yet, to be truly eternal, there must be no change. Change, however, did occur, in the very nature of the Christ of the LDS. Hence, he is not properly eternal, nor self-sufficient, nor self-existent, nor immutable, and certainly not perfect. Perfection is to have no lack. Christ had to become, and needs still become, to be as great as his father, in the doctrine of the LDS. In short, the Christ that the LDS presents is unintelligible. He is a self-contradiction. Their adherence to the Christian Scripture merely points out the contradictory nature of their conception of Christ; the Christ shown purely by the LDS’ distinct writings is similarly self-contradictory, if not so obviously so. By presenting as “God” an exalted man, spirit child of Elohim, firstborn of the flesh, they have presented a “Christ” that is expressly self-refuting. A “Christ” who is an imperfect creation, one of many, not one of a kind except in an incidental sense, whose church fell almost immediately. This “Christ’s” “atonement” paid for nothing in any meaningful sense, was challenged by Lucifer as a being on par with himself, achieved no lasting benefit, and had to be “jumpstarted” 1800 years later in order to be even known at all. A “Christ” such as this does not resemble the πρωτότοκος that Scripture depicts. It is a weak, powerless figure that couldn’t be further from the “Faithful and True” on Revelation’s white horse.

In contrast, we have the eternal, self-existent Son of God; timeless Word before creation or time began. The Creator of all, Sovereign Lord and Redeemer; unchallengeable and unconquerable. Omnipotent, unrivaled, glorious and without peer – firstborn above all creation, He who took on our sins for the glory of God the Father[52], and is glorified beyond all mortal knowledge. Omniscient, unchanging, in whom all things hold together.[53] In Him alone are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.[54] It is such a Christ that makes all else in His creation make sense, and in whom we may know, and repose in certain faith. There is no shadow of turning[55] in Him; no contradiction, or alteration. Only in the eternal and immutable Sovereignty of the Scriptural Christ of Christian orthodoxy can we find the meaning to all we might desire, and all that He designs to reveal of His eternal purpose.

The “Christ” of Mormonism, and it’s long-failed church fail to give us coherence and an intelligible reality. They fail to ground the meaning of all creation in the person of Christ. They are mere shadows; echoes of the triumphal beauty of the Christ revealed in Scripture Alone. With the impossibility of their position, we alone can say that our Christ does that, and is truly all in all. Only the Christ of Scripture is the head of a Church worth worshiping in. May the Mormon people find Him, and may they rest in His certainty, rather than in the morass of doubt that Mormonism entails.

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  1. [1] D&C 93:21
  2. [2] John 3:16
  3. [3] Original references duplicated when possible
  4. [4] Gill, Body of Doctrinal Divinity
  5. [5] μονογενής – single of its kind, only
  6. [6] LDS.org: Firstborn
  7. [7] Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders
  8. [8] Matt 1:20
  9. [9] LDS.org: Jesus Christ
  10. [10] Hebrews 1:5
  11. [11] Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders
  12. [12] Isa 40:21-31
  13. [13] Isa 6:1
  14. [14] John 12:41
  15. [15] Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood: Basic Manual for Priesthood Holders
  16. [16] “This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son [of God] must be confessed to be in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably [united], and that without the distinction of natures being taken away by such union, but rather the peculiar property of each nature being preserved and being united in one Person and subsistence, not separated or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son and only-begotten, God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ” – Chalcedonian Definition
  17. [17] D&C 132:19-22
  18. [18] Ensign: The Father and the Son
  19. [19] 1 Tim 1:17
  20. [20] Ensign: The Father and the Son
  21. [21] John 4:24
  22. [22] D&C 131:7-8
  23. [23] Heb 13:8
  24. [24] “All men were first born in pre-existence as the literal spirit offspring of God our Heavenly Father…and are in the similitude of the universal Father and Mother, and are literally the sons and daughters of Deity…Christ, destined to be the Only Begotten Son in Mortality, was the first spirit offspring in pre-existence” (Mormon Doctrine, p. 84).
  25. [25] “God the Father is a perfected, glorified, holy Man, an immortal Personage. And Christ was born into the world as the literal Son of this Holy Being; He was born in the same personal, real, and literal sense that any mortal son is born to a mortal father. There is nothing figurative about his paternity; He was begotten, conceived and born in the normal and natural course of events, for He is the Son of God, and that designation means what it says” (Ibid. p. 742)
  26. [26] Rom 5:10-11
  27. [27] McConkie, The Purifying Power of Gethsemane
  28. [28] Eph 1, Heb 12:23
  29. [29] Early Signs of the Apostasy
  30. [30] The Fulness of the Gospel: The Nature of the Godhead
  31. [31] The Message of the Restoration
  32. [32] Matt 16:18
  33. [33] Psa 100:5, Psa 119:90
  34. [34] Early Signs of the Apostasy
  35. [35] 2 Cor 1:20
  36. [36] James 2;19
  37. [37] Mar 12:29
  38. [38] Exo 3:14, John 5:44
  39. [39] Also known as the problem of unity and diversity or of universals and particulars
  40. [40] Doctrine of the Church
  41. [41] having intervals, or gaps
  42. [42] in logic, a proposition so related to a second that it is impossible for both to be true or both to be false.
  43. [43] What is required to render meaningful, or make understandable
  44. [44] the doctrine that the Holy Spirit acts independently of the human will in the work of regeneration; may also more widely applied to the work of God in general
  45. [45] the choice by God of individuals, as for a particular work or for favor or salvation
  46. [46] in timeless and immutable self-existence
  47. [47] the reconciliation of man with God through the life, sufferings, and sacrificial death of Christ
  48. [48] both active and passive obedience – see Gill, A Body of Doctrinal Divinity, Book V, 3,4
  49. [49] “appearance of God”
  50. [50] Out of nothing
  51. [51] Rev 1:4,8
  52. [52] Phil 2:6-11
  53. [53] Col 1:17
  54. [54] Col 2:2-3
  55. [55] Jam 1:17

In About.com‘s article “Seven Reasons Why Mormons are Christian[1], Rachel Bruner offers us some interesting claims to examine.

Her Seven Reasons are as follows:
1. Christ is Head of Mormon Church
2. Faith in Jesus Christ
3. Prophets Preach of Christ
4. Scriptures Witness of Christ
5. Mormons Act in the Name of Christ
6. Holy Ghost Testifies of Christ
7. Mormons Believe in Atonement of Christ

In this series, we’ll examine each of her claims. In this post, we’ll examine some presuppositional issues, and provide some introductory comments. For reasons not given by the author, it is deemed important that the title “Christian” be applied to the LDS Church and its adherents. When we look at the very statements of Mormon statesmen, however, we find that there is no such desire to be found numbered among Christendom.

“I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”” [2].

Note this; if you follow the link, you will find that Smith specifically mentions Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians as the target of these words – so, we are being informed that none of these groups are Christian – yet the article’s author is arguing that Mormonism, on the contrary, is Christian. Keep this in mind.

“The fact is that orthodox Christian views of God are Pagan rather than Christian.” [3]

If the orthodox Christian view is Pagan – what are we to believe is ‘Christian’? Further, note that anything that “Christians” consider “orthodox” is, by this definition, pagan. If so, who is determining what is Christian, and why does it seem to be exclusively unorthodox?

“The Roman Catholic, Greek, and Protestant church, is the great corrupt, ecclesiastical power, represented by great Babylon….” [4] “Both Catholics and Protestants are nothing less than the “whore of Babylon” whom the lord denounces by the mouth of John the Revelator as having corrupted all the earth by their fornications and wickedness.” [5]

Pratt, apparently, is even more willing to throw out every putative Christian group in his sweeping statements. We are left wondering; who is left, by this point? The modern apostates and cults who self-identify as ‘Christian’? (Simply because they are too new to fall under this indictment, obviously.) Mormonism, evidently, is self-identifying itself as, if not the only, at least the best ‘Christian” group, isn’t it?

If necessary, we can delve more into these and similar statements at a later date, but this should suffice to pique our interest; why, if the elder statesmen of the LDS had these things to say about “Christendom”, do modern Mormons want to be considered “Christian”? We are also left wondering due to the explicit statement of D&C 1:30: that “this church” is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.” Puzzling, to be sure.

It must also be understood that within Mormonism, there is a distinct tendency to “redefine” terms. As Dr. James White puts it, “Mormonism uses our language, our terminology, but it fills those words with utterly foreign meanings.”[6] As such, when they speak of “Jesus Christ”, it can be conclusively demonstrated that we’re not talking about the same thing we are talking about. When they speak of “God”, they are similarly not speaking of the identical “God” that we are speaking of. We are not speaking of the “atonement” they are speaking of. In short; when we are speaking of practically anything in the Christian lexicon, the Mormons have a different definition for it. When we deal with issues that they raise, we must keep this clearly in mind; we must accurately represent both what we believe, and what they believe – set them in opposition, and argue transcendentally. In doing so, we will not merely be “arguing about the facts” – we will be arguing the meaning of fact, on a presuppositional level – and able to truly compare these two worldviews in a fashion that will be decisive and clear. This we will do in the remainder of our series, Lord willing.

Next

  1. [1] About.com
  2. [2] Joseph Smith History 1:19
  3. [3] Mormon Doctrine of Deity by B.H. Roberts, p.116
  4. [4] Orson Pratt, Orson Pratt, Writings of an Apostle, “Divine Authenticity,” no.6, p.84
  5. [5] Pratt, The Seer, p.255
  6. [6] AOMin.org

Why Shouldn't Paul Baird Choose Hats?

Paul Baird has given us his opinion in the case of the use of worldviews he does not adhere to.

This is a common complaint ie why argue a worldview that you do not hold ? The answer is the tallest child in the playground argument ie I do not have to be the tallest child in the playground to point out that you are not the tallest child in the playground – I can point out that individual (in this instance it would be a child of equal size).

Paul’s understanding here doesn’t really deal with the problem being brought forward. It may, of course, deal with the problem he thinks is being brought forward, but that is something else altogether. The complaint is in Dustin’s terms, of course, but it may be helpful to put it into the terms that our primary sources use, so that it might be recognizable. I appreciate Dustin’s work of course, but his expression of the problem, to me, seems to be unclear. When we speak of the problem at hand, we are speaking of the ability of a worldview to provide the preconditions of intelligibility. This may be expressed in the context of several different subjects, but chiefly, it must be said that it is only being expressed in terms of entire worldviews. When, for example, we speak of the preconditions for the intelligibility of knowledge, which seems to be the point of contention in the context of Paul’s remarks, we are speaking of epistemology. At this point, we are dealing with the subject of the quote “Choosing Hats” is named after.

Every system of philosophy must tell us whether it thinks true knowledge to be possible. Or if a system of philosophy thinks it impossible for man to have a true knowledge of the whole of reality or even of a part of reality, it must give good reasons for thinking so. From these considerations, it follows that if we develop our reasons for believing that a true knowledge of God and, therefore, also of the world, is possible because actually given in Christ, we have in fact given what goes in philosophy under the name of epistemology. It will then be possible to compare the Christian epistemology with any and with all others. And being thus enabled to compare them all, we are in a position and placed before the responsibility of choosing between them. And this choosing can then, in the nature of the case, no, longer be a matter of artistic preference. We cannot choose epistemologies as we choose hats. Such would be the case if it had been once for all established that the whole thing is but a matter of taste. But that is exactly what has not been established. That is exactly the point in dispute.

As such, it is obvious that this subject needs to be addressed by something more robust than “I do not have to be the tallest child in the playground to point out that you are not the tallest child in the playground.” In fact, it would point to the need for something far stronger than this particular assertion. What are the presuppositional commitments required for the assumption that the examination of epistemological foundations is as simple a matter as the observation of children’s heights? When looking at the subject at the level of presuppositional commitments, we see that it is no such matter at all. You cannot “simply observe” the validity of an epistemological foundation – it must be considered in terms of whether this epistemological foundation can provide the preconditions of intelligibility. Just as it is more than simple observation, it is likewise more than a matter of simple communication to “point out” who the “tallest child” on the playground actually is.

We are dealing with, not observational data collected by the senses, but epistemological foundations. You can’t “just look at” an epistemological foundation without having an epistemological foundation to be looking from. Paul, here, is missing the point in a rather unfortunate way. We are speaking of what makes anything intelligible at all – what must be presupposed in order for the “facts” he wants everyone to consider to be intelligible in the first place. He is making comparisons of that to empiricism, as if it is remotely applicable. It’s rather frustrating to watch Paul beating his head on a brick wall of his own misapprehensions, yet condescendingly dismissing his sore head as the fault of the person on the other side of the wall – on the basis of those same misapprehensions.

When he brings out his “pagan” worldview – he is assuming a commonality in everyone’s assessment of it, of atheism, and of Christianity. If he would care to read through Van Til, or Bahnsen, he would have to address the arguments they make as to why there is no neutrality in those sorts of assessments. What we actually are saying is not what Paul is assuming here. We aren’t assuming that there is some “common ground”, like the playground, where we are all assessing the heights of the respective “children”, or worldviews, in a collegial atmosphere. What we are saying is that the real discussion is over things like 1) Whose playground it is 2) Whether the “children” are children or chimera 3) What “tall” means in the first place 4) How you know what “tall” is supposed to be, anyway. To simply say “well, let’s see what this kid over here says” is to miss the entire point altogether. This is a round-robin affair, Paul. You are not a pagan, Paul. The Pagan child and the Atheist child do not agree with each other, let alone the Christian child. The Pagan and the Atheist agree insofar as their distaste for and disbelief concerning the God of the Christian – but they give wildly variant answers on questions such as “What is this playground?” What is the playground to a pagan? Is it, per Wicca,the manifestation of deity? Is this the same “playground” an atheist has? I can’t see how that is remotely the case. The atheist, as they claim, fails to hold every god-belief. So, for Paul to claim that this “answers” the problem we’re posing requires him to say that he agrees with what the Pagan’s playground is, if he is going to cite the Pagan’s opinion of the matter! Further, and this should be obvious, it necessitates a rather disturbing state of affairs for the atheist – it requires him to state either 1) It is unequivocally not the case that we are on the same playground OR 2) It is unequivocally the case that we are on the same playground, in which case he has to make a positive claim considering WHOSE playground it is. To make an actual positive claim seems to be anathema to an atheist of Paul’s stripe – and it seems that in order to make a claim, he’d also have to make an argument. This mode of operation seems similarly anathema to Paul. It would also require Paul to actually get what we are talking about, which at this point does not seem likely.

Let me reiterate; We are speaking of the nature of playgrounds, tallness, children, and pointing, not about “who is the tallest child on the playground”. We are speaking of the “nature of facts”, not of the “facts themselves”, as if facts are simply “there”, and uninterpreted. When speaking of a worldview, you are speaking of everything the worldview posits – be it metaphysics, epistemology, or physics. What seems sadly absent in Paul’s thinking is the willingness to pay close attention to what we are speaking of. He would rather dismiss it as whatever he thinks it to be, instead of exercising due diligence in understanding it. Since this has been the case up until this point, Paul must decide something for himself. Is he willing to actually look at what we are saying, or will he continue to insist on misrepresenting it? Up until now, he seems to have had serious problems grasping the nature of what he has been presented with. A case in point.

When he brings out Bahnsen’s quote concerning the “self-sufficient knower,” he insists on understanding it as some variant of the cosmological argument. He then proceeds to claim that Paganism fulfills the condition of “self-sufficient knower”. He doesn’t tell us why it does. He just says it does. After redefining what the argument is, for us, he then pronounces that paganism satisfies it! Says who? First, he doesn’t even identify the argument correctly, or it’s proper context. Second, he doesn’t give us any reason to think his worldview fulfills these conditions, or any clear sense of what these conditions are! Let’s examine first what this argument is, and it’s proper context, and then, what is necessary to fulfill that argument’s conditions.

In the cited argument, there is the stipulation that a self-sufficient knower cannot be denied, as the person denying such would, in the nature of the case, be himself a self-sufficient knower. Secondly, it is stipulated that there cannot be a plurality of self-sufficient knowers. You cannot have “two ultimates.” Thirdly, it is stipulated that if the first two are granted as insuperable, then you have three alternatives; solipsistic, skeptical, and revelational epistemology. Paul does not deal with that resultant discussion – and it is very germane to the discussion. It is not germane because it supposedly “develops a cosmological argument” – it is germane because it is an example of an argument from the impossibility of the contrary. In the first case, an argument is given which demonstrates the impossibility of solipsism. In the second case, an argument is given which demonstrates the impossibility of skepticism. Following that, he argues that only a revelational epistemology affirming the God of Scripture – the “self-contained God” Van Til speaks of, satisfies the preconditions for the intelligibility of knowledge. In short, only a self-sufficient knower as God reveals Himself to be can grant us a functional, intelligible epistemology. If Paul would pay more attention to Christianity’s extensive library of theological definition and explanation, and less to his own self-congratulations, he might get somewhere with the conversation, instead of continually demonstrating his need for correction and instruction on what he is claiming to object to.

The Pagan worldview I’ve put forward satisfies all of Bahsen’s and Dustin’s conditions, furthermore Bahsen’s conditions do not rule out the possibility that such a non-Christian worldview could exist, yet Presuppositional Apologetics is based on the assertion that none could exist because of the impossibility of the contrary (to the Christian worldview).

It becomes easier to discern the parlour trick when it’s set out like this and it does perhaps explain why Sye, and his fellow Presuppositionalists, try so hard to focus the exchanges on the areas of the laws of logic and human perception as well as morality rather than, in Chris Bolts words, begin with the question “Where’s the beef ?”

Dustin lists 12 Questions for Mockgodafarians which I’ll answer from the Pagan worldview. Please remember the tallest in the playground argument throughout this. My answers are in purple.

Paul’s problem is that he keeps thinking he has found a “silver bullet” – when his real problem is that he doesn’t know where the beef is at. When he doesn’t investigate these sources, but instead reads them in such a way as it “says what he wants”, he gets something all out of kilter to what is being said. It isn’t contextual, and it doesn’t bear any relationship to what he thinks it says. It is obvious Paul doesn’t own this book. I do. If he had the book, he could look one page over and see an extensive discussion on the particulars and universals of knowledge. He would see exactly what I was speaking of earlier, in terms of entire worldviews, as a universal system of principles, and not merely “the particulars of his knowledge”. Only in a universal system of principles can be found an adequate interpretation of the particulars of knowledge. It is within the entirety of the Christian worldview – in the systematic exposition of Reformed theology – where he can find what it is we are saying. Reinterpreting our statements through his personal experience has done nothing but lead him astray from where the discussion is. If he persists in doing so, he is going to be left as the only one discussing what he is discussing. This is the case, because it bears no resemblance to what we are saying, nor does it accurately reflect what we believe. If he wants to rectify his problematic interpretation of what is being said, all he need do is begin asking questions, rather than making pronouncements about what the subject is. It’s really that simple. The problem is not that we are somehow “hiding” the argument away – it’s that Paul has shown almost no effort whatsoever toward understanding what the argument is, or what it means. It is not especially difficult, were he willing to put in that effort. I hope he does, and begins to ask, rather than to tell us.

Adventures in Missing the Antithesis

Paul Baird recently addressed what he seems to think is the “philosophy that underpins the Christian Presuppositional Apologetics.”[1] He’s wrong, of course, but let us show him why, shall we? He cites Chris’ citation of an argument tucked away in the appendix of PA:S&D as that supposed “underpinning.” Interestingly, he goes on to ask why “do Presuppositional Apologists not start with this explanation that PA is about establishing the need for a unique self sufficient knower and identifying that self sufficient knower exclusively as the Christian god?”[2] Well, that is readily apparent – because we don’t believe that to be the case. It’s not only false, but ridiculously so. See, Paul is suffering from the same problems that many do. They take their own presuppositional commitments, map them onto our own, and claim equivalency. This is not only highly detrimental to a proper understanding of what it is we are saying, but highly detrimental to being taken seriously as an objector. If Paul wishes to be taken seriously in his objections to PA, he must actually understand what does underpin it. Namely, he has to understand that Reformed Theology is what determines what we are saying – and that this predates Bahnsen significantly. In fact, he needs to understand that Bahnsen himself is not the one to look to at all for this! If Paul is serious about understanding what PA is, he must understand what Reformed Theology is. It’s that simple. The proper application of Reformed Theology in an apologetic context is what gives us the Presuppositional Apologetic.

So, if this isn’t what underpins the Presuppositional Apologetic, what does? Let’s make sure we, at least, don’t miss the antithesis! What we are after, contra Paul’s assertions, is to “press the antithesis” – indeed, as Bahnsen himself puts it, “This theme of the principial, epistemological and ethical antithesis between the regenerate, Bible-directed mind of the Christian and the autonomous mind of the sinner (whether expressed by the avowed unbeliever or by the unorthodox modern theologian), remained part of Van Til’s distinctive teaching throughout his career.”[3] Van Til, who we regard as the founder (and revivalist of) Presuppositional Apologetics, said that “It is necessary to become clearly aware of the deep antithesis between the two main types of epistemology”[4]. In short, if it is to be said that there is a fundamental underpinning to PA, it would be the doctrine of antithesis. Says Van Til, “Rather than wedding Christianity to the philosophies of Aristotle or Kant, we must openly challenge the apostate philosophic constructions of men by which they seek to suppress the truth about God themselves, and the world…It is only if we demand of men complete submission to the living Christ of the Scriptures in every area of their lives that we have presented to men the claims of the Lord Christ without compromise. It is only then that we are truly Biblical first and speculative afterwards. Only then are we working toward a Reformed apologetic.”[5]

We, then, cannot be considered to be trying to “establish the requirement for there to be a self sufficient knower, a variation of the argument from necessity that is usually articulated as the prime mover argument, and the assertion that that self sufficient knower can only be the Christian god.” That, according to Van Til, would simply be “wedding Christianity to the philosophies of Aristotle or Kant”! Further, Bahnsen argues, it is not this one argument which is the foundation of our apologetic. “In terms of theoretical principle and eventual outworking, the unbeliever opposes the Christian faith with a whole antithetical system of thought, not simply with piecemeal criticisms. His attack is aimed, not at random points of Christian teaching, but at the very foundation of Christian thinking. The particular criticisms which are utilized by an unbeliever rest upon his basic, key assumptions which unify and inform all of his thinking. And it is this presuppositional root which the apologist must aim to eradicate, if his defense of the faith is to be truly effective.[6]

Our goal is to set the presuppositional commitments of believer and unbeliever in antithesis – not to make a pseudo-cosmological argument. What we are concerned with, however, is arguing by “presupposition” – not by “prime mover”. All too often, neophytes to the study of Reformed theology and its commensurate apologetic pack the baggage of non-Reformed theology and argumentation over into that sphere. This is not the “silver bullet” they think it is – it is, unfortunately, a simple error, and quite commonly made. What Paul seems to have done is to take an argument from an appendix, in a book written when Bahnsen was quite young, incidentally, and make it into an all-encompassing, foundational principle of methodology. It’s neither the case that this argument is foundational, nor that it is fundamental to our methodology. Paul would be far better served by paying attention to what Van Til laid out as those foundations, and what Bahnsen himself said were those foundations. To make such a spectacular leap of unwarranted proportions simply denudes Paul’s comments of their strength and accuracy.

Paul tells us “the argument” is “about establishing that there ought to be a god, not that there is a god.”[7] If Paul had done the requisite study on the topic, instead of making unwarranted leaps, he would know that this is simply not the case. The PA argument is an argument “by presupposition” – it is a transcendental argument, from the impossibility of the contrary. Further, Van Til expressly states that it’s not about “establishing that there is a god.” Paul is negligent in his treatment of the position he is critiquing, yet again. Van Til tells us: “Christianity offers the triune God, the absolute personality, containing all of the attributes enumerated, as the God in whom we believe. This conception of God is the foundation of everything we hold dear. Unless we can believe in this sort of God, it does us no good to be told that we may believe in some other sort of God, or in anything else. For us everything depends for its meaning upon this sort of God. Accordingly, we are not interested to have anyone prove to us the existence of any other sort of God but this God. Any other sort of God is no God at all, and to prove that some other sort of God exists is, in effect, to prove that no God exists.”[8] Further, he replies: “The apostle Paul lays great stress upon the fact that man is without excuse if he does not discover God in nature. Following Paul’s example Calvin argues that men ought to see God, not a god, not some supernatural power, but the only God, in nature. They have not done justice by the facts they see displayed before and within them if they say a god exists, or that God probably exists. The Calvinist holds to the essential perspecuity of natural as well as biblical revelation.”[9] So, as we can see, Van Til says the express opposite of Paul’s assertion. Paul seemed to have implied that our recent Journal was a “waste of 30 minutes” – but with his seemingly consistent misunderstanding of our position, it becomes fairly clear that his reading comprehension and attentiveness is to blame on this score. If he had read my first paper, for example, he would know that I said “our opponent must, in order to actually address us, object to something very particular” – not to mention that I cited Van Til, just as I did above. Further, if he had read my second paper, he would know that I said: “Unregenerate men have knowledge of God sufficient to leave them without excuse; They know the God who created them exists, and enough of what He is like to well know that they are responsible to Him in all respects, and must submit to Him accordingly. They know that they are sinners against that God, and that they will have to account for their sin before Him. Yet, they do not want to hold that knowledge in the light, where it confronts them. They constantly attempt to suppress that truth, and to replace it with an unlivable lie.” Properly, I used a definite article, and was specific.

We do not argue for or about “a god.” This is incontrovertible, despite Paul’s attempted controversies. Second, we are not making some sort of “prime mover” argument, nor is the central, foundational, basic argument of the PA anything other than a transcendental argument. It’s not as if we haven’t explained what the transcendental argument is. It is not as if we have not expressed what the heart of our apologetic is. It is, however, the case that objectors consistently and unaccountably ignore these explanations, in favor of their speculative theories, which are easily countered by reference to what we have actually said. Paul keeps asking what a transcendental argument is. Paul, however, is apparently unable to read our website, OR any of the primary literature which we constantly refer to, to find out what that is. If we did share it with him, again, I have no doubt that he would begin to tell us what we are “actually” arguing, as he did in the post I’ve cited. Instead of making himself look foolish in such a visible and puzzling way, I would once again exhort Paul to take the time to actually examine what it is that we are saying, instead of reinterpreting sidebar discussions as if they are central of fundamental, in the strange and un-compelling fashion he has chosen to do so thus far. When he discusses the quotation from Bahnsen he presents, he shows no evidence of familiarity with the context of the citation. If he’s willing to make such a controversial comment on it, to the tune of an assertion that this, in juxtaposition to our stated position, is the real basis of a PA, it would make sense for Paul to argue why this is the case, would it not? Unfortunately, it does not seem to be the case that Paul even owns this book, nor that he has read it. Contrary to Paul’s assertion, this argument regarding the self-sufficient knower is being made in the context of a transcendental argument. It is pointing out the preconditions for the intelligibility of knowledge, contra solipsism and skepticism. Paul, to be taken seriously with these sorts of comments, really would be better served by reading the books he is making arguments from, as he apparently has failed to do. Chris properly used Bahnsen’s citation in context; Paul failed to do so, in a rather spectacular fashion.

  1. [1] http://patientandpersistent.blogspot.com/2011/10/fundamentally-flawed-discussing-pa_08.html
  2. [2] Ibid.
  3. [3] Bahnsen, At War With the Word: The Necessity of Biblical Antithesis, Introduction – http://www.reformed.org/apologetics/index.html?mainframe=/apologetics/At_War_With_the_Word.html
  4. [4] Van Til, Cornelius, A Survey of Christian Epistemology [Originally “Metaphysics of Apologetics,”] (New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publ. Co., 1969), v
  5. [5] Geehan, E.R., Jerusalem and Athens, (New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publ. Co., 1955), pp 24-28
  6. [6] Bahnsen, At War With the Word: The Necessity of Biblical Antithesis, 1.B.3. – http://www.reformed.org/apologetics/index.html?mainframe=/apologetics/At_War_With_the_Word.html
  7. [7] http://patientandpersistent.blogspot.com/2011/10/fundamentally-flawed-discussing-pa_08.html
  8. [8] Van Til, Defense of the Faith (4th Ed.), pg 34
  9. [9] Ibid., 120, emphasis his

A Feminist Examines Presup

The post I’m about to respond to came in on my google alerts today. It was so packed with common objections and misconceptions that I decided to answer.

Evidentialism v. Presuppositionalism
I have noticed a worrying trend among some Christians. It is the turn away from evidentialist apologetics toward presuppositionalist apologetics.

Let’s start our presuppositional examination right here. From the get-go, presup is a “worrying” trend. Second, the author is apparently unaware of the link between Sola Scriptura and Covenantal apologetics. As I have said quite often on this blog, and in our chat channel, Covenantal apologetics is Sola Scriptura in an apologetic context.

Evidentialism holds that belief should rest on evidence.

Presuppositionalism holds that belief rests on presuppositions.

What would have been both accurate and useful would be to explain what we do believe about evidence, and to cite something, anything, from the primary sources concerning what the actual discussion hinges on. Namely, that your presuppositional commitments determine both what is considered to be evidence, and how this evidence is interpreted. This is a common problem with evidentialist and unbelieving critiques. For instance: “Nor can we disagree with [Warfield] when he says that the Christian faith is not a blind faith but is faith based on evidence.” [1] “I see induction and analytical reasoning as part of one process of interpretation. I would therefore engage in historical apologetics. (I do not personally do a great deal of this because my colleagues in the other departments of the Seminary in which I teach are doing it better than I could do it.) Every bit of historical investigation, whether it be in the directly biblical field, archaeology, or in general history, is bound to confirm the truth of the claims of the Christian position. But I would not talk endlessly about facts and more facts without challenging the unbeliever’s philosophy of fact. A really fruitful historical apologetic argues that every fact is and must be such as proves the truth of the Christian position. [2]

Evidentialist apologetics attempts to bring converts by revealing the evidence behind Christianity. Evidentialists say that scientific evidence actually supports Young Earth Creationism, that archeology has proven the truth of the Bible, both new testament and old, and that the evidence for Christ’s historic existence is overwhelming.

I would simply point out that vanishingly few evidentialists argue for YEC at this point in time. Further, they would not argue that it was “proven”, but that there is a greater probability for the truth of the Bible and/or Christ’s historic existence, as a rule. I would humbly submit to you that their “philosophy of fact”, as Van Til would say, has brought them to this point.

Presuppositionalist apologetics attempts to bring coverts by arguing that the only rational, coherent worldview is that which begins by presupposing the divinity of the Bible, the existence of God, and the reality of Christ’s sacrifice. In other words, presuppositionalists say that one must presuppose Christianity, and that trying to convince someone based on evidence is flawed.

We don’t argue for the “divinity” of the Bible. We don’t believe in a quadrinity, a la Fristianity. We don’t argue that the Bible is equal to Christ, as the Word, either. One must presuppose Christianity to be making an intelligible argument, obviously; but it might behoove the author to do a bit more research into what exactly is being said on this point. If the author means “convincing someone based on evidence” as if “evidence” was something everyone agreed upon, as if it was some sort of neutral ground, sure. Obviously, Scripture says that we and world consider each other to be foolish. It’s hardly the case that we should be expected to see eye to eye on what is, or is not, “the facts”. Hence, Van Til’s discussion of “brute fact”, which the author would be well-served to study, in my humble opinion. We don’t “attempt to bring converts” by this method. We, after all, are Reformed. As such, we are divine monergists, not synergists or human monergists, so conversion is quite obviously the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, according to election. Neither “the facts” nor a transcendental argument will save – God saves, not man. Sure, they won’t hear without a preacher – but as the name “Yeshua” points out, salvation is of the Lord.

Evidentialist apologetics is traditionally associated with evangelicalism and fundamentalism while presuppositionalist apologetics is associated with more reformed traditions. This actually makes a lot of sense given that arminianism emphasizes free will while calvinism emphasizes predestination. It also makes sense given that Cornelius Van Til and Francis Schaeffer, both reformed, are the major luminaries who developed presuppositionalist apologetics. More and more these days this approach is spreading beyond reformed circles and into evangelicalism and fundamentalism in general.

Actually, evidentialism initially comes from Romanism, as has been carried along with the rest of the Romanist doctrine still held to by Arminianism and general Evangelicalism (to include the modern fundamentalist movement). I’d invite the author and her readers to take a gander at classical Thomism, and see what exactly the difference is supposed to be. The Reformation, of course, was a movement to “restore” Christianity. To restore it back to its historical orthodoxy. A walk back through history, and through the development of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura, will show the intrinsic link between a practical use of Sola Scriptura and a presuppositional methodology. Van Til’s contribution to “Semper Reformanda” was the Reformation of apologetic methodology to the principle of Sola Scriptura. This understanding is positively vital to understand what is actually being said, and what it comes from. Most objections along these lines are not truly to presuppositional methodology; but to the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. To answer these objections, and to accurately make objections in the first place, requires an understanding of this, and the proper relationship to be found there. General evangelicalism is attracted to covenantal apologetics in spite of itself, to be frank. The methodology does not lend itself to an Arminian, Romanist, or Dispensational hermeneutic. There are too many preconditions that are simply missing for it to be consistently and coherently used. As such, there will be a host of problems in execution, principle, understanding, and doctrinal compatibility that kill the method aborning, if you try to adapt it in some way. This is not to say that every group listed above is equally inconsistent, or that every individual is equally inconsistent; however, there is a specific doctrinal basis that it springs from, and without which, it simply does not have the framework in which to operate. Those varying inconsistencies crop up at various and sundry points – but keep in mind, please, that a truly Covenantal apologetic argues on the level of worldviews – and that it argues all of Christianity versus its antithesis; and that part of that expression of Christianity plainly states that there are but two worldviews.

I was raised on evidentialist apologetics (not surprising given that my parents were strong arminians). My parents were fond of telling the story of Josh McDowell, who started out as an atheist attempting to disprove the truth of Christianity and ended up concluding, based on evidence, that Christianity was actually true. I was taught to follow the evidence, and assured that evidence led directly to Christ.

This is actually fairly typical. Note, however, that there is usually a decided de-emphasis on the work of the Spirit in the use and presentation of evidence (not to mention the philosophy of evidence) in this apologetic methodology. Let’s be frank. If the Spirit is mentioned at all, it’s usually in a touchy-feely “invitation” at the end, after God is “proven” by means of “higher probability”. What the Spirit’s work is, as stated in Scripture, is practically never mentioned, and if it is, it bears practically no resemblance to the Scriptural testimony. The emphasis is more likely on the target’s will, and intellect – and practically never on that same person’s moral guilt before the holy God, which both affects and taints everything about that will and intellect. On the contrary, Reformed doctrine requires that the unbeliever be confronted with their sinfulness before God and their inability to reason, will, or act in any righteousness before God whatsoever. This is a confrontation that is just as much evangelical as it is apologetical. They are, after all, two sides of the same coin. The emphasis in evidentialism and evangelical doctrine, rather than on the Triune God’s monergistic work of salvation – in election, atonement, and regeneration – is on the synergistic work of man in reasoning, willing, and acting rightly of themselves, to “meet God” in the middle.

Having been raised on evidentialist apologetics, when I arrived at college and found new evidence I had never heard of as a child, I didn’t simply reject that evidence. Instead, I researched and read and studied and reevaluated my beliefs based on new evidence. I found, for example, that the evidence does not actually indicate that Young Earth Creationism took place (quite the opposite), that archeology has actually contradicted the Bible in many places, and that the Bible actually does contain historical errors and contradictions. This process of reevaluation started a long spiritual journey, and even today I continue to strive to follow evidence, and I work to make sure I take into account any new evidence I encounter.

In other words, having been raised in evidentialism, and the freewheeling doctrinal imprecision of arminian/evangelical churches, the author was never taught to 1) Think Biblically or 2) Think about what “evidence” means, or is predicated on. Since “evidence” is considered to be a neutral ground between believer and unbeliever upon which we have a point of contact, and since she was never taught how to deal with evidences on the level of their presuppositional commitments, she was caught between a rock and a hard place. If you are stuck between fundamentalist evangelicals and fundamentalist secularists, you will be either be grist for the mill, or “bail” in one direction or the other on any given “fact” that is presented. The “fact”, or how it is presented and interpreted, is never really examined. It “just is”, as if it is on the level of the self-existent God. Instead of interpreting “the facts” through Biblical presuppositions, “the facts” are, in reality, being interpreted through secular presuppositions that state that it is flatly impossible that the world could have come into being as the Bible said it did. If we are never taught to “dig beneath” the level of “brute fact”, we are simply fodder for the antithetical worldview, raised against the knowledge of God. “Striving to follow evidence”, then, is mere slavish adherence to secularist presuppositions concerning the nature and meaning of evidence.

The goal of evidentialist apologetics is to convince others of the truth of Christianity by using evidence. It assumes that anyone who honestly looks at the facts will arrive at the truth of Christianity, and that the facts support the truth of Christianity. In the last few years, my parents have been moving toward presuppositionalism. This makes sense, given that the evidentialist approach actually led me away from their beliefs and that Vision Forum is actually openly and proudly presuppositionalist.

The first two sentences are a more or less accurate restatement of evidentialism. The second two are more or less well-poisoning concerning presuppositionalism. Let’s notice two things about the former. First, she is talking about persuasion, not proof. As we’ve already mentioned, there’s a doctrinal divide there. Persuasion, in Reformed doctrine, comes only when the regenerate encounter the truths of Scripture, and believe them as it is given them to do so. This is separate from proof, which also has a fundamental divide in view. For the Christian, apart from the Triune God of Scripture, you can’t prove anything. For the non-Christian, proof is determined by their own presuppositional commitments as to what a valid “proof” consists of. Secondly, it is “assumed” that a) anyone who b) honestly looks at c) the facts will arrive at the truth of Christianity, and that those facts support the truth of Christianity. Let’s look at a) for a moment.
First, there is a lack of any sort of Biblical notion of election, or division between sheep or goats, or the effects of sin, or of the necessity for regeneration. This is a doctrinal issue, at base. Let’s look at b). Arminianism, following Romanism, considers men to be able to choose good, to be intellectually honest, or to act in such a way as to properly respond to the truths of God – of themselves. This is vastly different from the historical orthodoxy the Reformation sought to return to, following Scripture, which teaches that men, in and of themselves, are evil, and they do the work of their master, Satan. They are slaves to sin, and unable to break those chains. Only the regeneration of the Spirit can break those chains, given men a new heart and mind, and give them the faith which which they believe the Gospel. This is a fundamental disconnect, and cannot be overemphasized. As for c), we simply point out that God is truly and exhaustively Sovereign. This is also a fundamental disconnect from the insistence on libertarian free will that stems from Romanist/Arminian/Evangelical doctrine. I’d also point out that it differs not a whit from the insistence of the world on their own self-determination in the realm of the intellect, the will, and their own actions. This is also a doctrinal issue. As Reformed believers, we stress, with much insistence, the Biblical testimony to the exhaustive sovereignty of God over all things whatsoever that come to pass. Given this doctrine, all facts are God’s facts. I’ll repeat this; All facts are God’s facts. If all facts are truly God’s facts; if God ordains both ends and means, and every single relationship thereof, in a truly exhaustive fashion, then there is no room for “the facts” as they are presented to us by the Evangelical/Secularist position. All facts are, given what God has revealed to us in His Word, guaranteed to us by His Spirit, and shown to us in ourselves, and in the creation surrounding us, actually evidence for the truth of Christianity. It is not neutral evidence. It is a hostile witness against a rebellious subject.

Presuppositionalism argues that the evidence we experience in the world is simply facts and pieces of data that must be interpreted through an interpretive framework, or worldview, and that the only way to consistently interpret these facts is through the Christian worldview.

The first part is wrong; the second part is right. Here’s why, and it will be expanded below. It ignores that “all facts are God’s facts”, as we just explained. As she will say below, she assumes exactly the opposite of what we believe, and inserts that in our position. It is not the case that “facts and pieces of data” are “simply” that, and merely need to be “interpreted” – it is actually the case that the only framework through which facts are even intelligible is that which is revealed to us by the ordainer and the creator of all that is to be filtered through that framework, and of the framework itself. Facts are not neutral.

In other words, a person looking at facts and evidence will not necessarily be led to Christ; rather, one must start by assuming the truth of the Bible in order to find Christ. You can see the influence of calvinism here. Presuppositionalist apologetics, then, focuses on pointing out inconsistencies of other worldviews and arguing that Christianity is the only coherent worldview, the only way to explain the existence of reason and logic. In fact, presuppositionalism literally goes so far as to argue that evidence-based apologetics – as opposed to apologetics based on contrasting worldviews – is contra-Biblical.

Actually, we go quite a bit farther. The Shepherd finds His sheep – we don’t “find” Him, because we aren’t the One looking. Yes, Calvinism is in view here, but I’m not sure how much the author really has studied Calvinism as a complete system. The point isn’t that we “assume the truth of the Bible to find Christ” – it’s that the Spirit’s regenerative work, and the gift of faith and repentance are the preconditions for our salvation; that the work of Christ in His atoning work for His people propitiates the just wrath of the Father, and that the electing grace of the Father, who draws men to Christ is the precondition for it all. In short, it’s not anywhere near this simplistic presentation. The Spirit grants us faith – and the new heart and mind to accompany it, so we believe and/or trust the Author of Scripture as we ought. The focus of Covenantal apologetics is two-fold, actually, not singular. It “pushes the antithesis” between Christianity and it’s opposite, to show that a) Christianity, as revealed by the Creator of all things, is the sole possible precondition for the intelligibility of all things; and b) that it’s opposite is impossible. It’s a two-step method, not a one-step method. “The first step is to lay out the Christian worldview in terms of which human experience is intelligible and the objection of the unbeliever can be contextually defeated. The second step is to show that within the unbeliever’s worldview, nothing is intelligible – not even objections to the Christian’s viewpoint.”[3]

Presuppositionalists don’t deal with evidence, because they argue that evidence and facts are neutral and can be used to support any worldview, because they are interpreted through that worldview’s lens. In other words, if someone presupposes a world without God, that’s what they’ll see; if someone presupposes a Christian world, that’s what they’ll see; if someone presupposes a Muslim world, that’s what they’ll see; etc. That is why presuppositionalists spend their time not on the evidence but rather on trying to show that their worldview is only rational, coherent worldview in existence, and that every other worldview is internally contradictory. Evidence doesn’t matter; what one chooses to believe is what matters.

This is catastrophically wrong. It is absolutely opposite to what we believe, in fact. First, I categorically deny that evidence and facts are neutral. In fact, I have specifically stated that they are not. On every single point the Christian and non-Christian are fundamentally at odds. There is no point in our respective worldviews where we have any neutral ground whatsoever. If that isn’t clear enough, I’ll spend as much time as it takes to make it clear. This statement is absolutely, unequivocally false. There are two worldviews, and they take antithetical positions on every fact whatsoever. It is the case that facts are not neutral, and can only be intelligible when the Christian worldview is presupposed. It is not the case that facts are neutral and can be interpreted differently, depending on which worldview you happen to hold. Additionally, please take note of the usage of “worldview” here. I have said, several times, that we believe there are two worldviews. We are not saying that there are three, or any higher number. There are two, and only two. There are many practically inconsistent variations of the non-Christian worldview; just as there are inconsistencies in the Christian worldview of many actual (or putative) Christians. Yet, there are only two worldviews. I’ll leave you to research the principle/practice dichotomy Van Til presents.

We don’t spend our time on “trying to show that their worldview is only rational, coherent worldview in existence, and that every other worldview is internally contradictory” because “evidence doesn’t matter”; we spend time proving that the Christian worldview is the only possible worldview by demonstrating that the contrary worldview is impossible – it does not provide the preconditions for intelligibility. We do this because it is actually the case that the non-Christian worldview does not provide those preconditions. Not because “evidence doesn’t matter” – but because evidence is unintelligible unless our worldview is presupposed. The last sentence is the real problem with the author’s view of presuppositionalism. “What one chooses to believe” is predicated on what you presuppose. What you presuppose is directly consonant with whether you are regenerate, or unregenerate. It is that clear cut. Are you a “slave to sin” or are you “Christ’s slave”?

The problem with these people is that you can’t argue with them. They’re going to believe it because they believe it, and nothing else matters. As an example, Answers in Genesis, a Young Earth Creationist group that runs the Creationist Museum in Kentucky and has recently embraced presuppositional apologetics wholeheartedly, is actually completely open about the fact that it simply rejects evidence that contradicts their interpretation of the Biblical account of creation. It’s not about the evidence. It’s about the presupposition. And no matter what you say, you’re not going to change their minds.

“These people” seems to indicate what the author thinks of those who adhere to this method. Instructive, indeed. Far from not being argued with, I can personally attest to the fact that I am argued with constantly by objections from unbelievers as well as putative believers. Once again, the distinction between persuasion and proof is not being addressed. An argument is a proof. Acceptance of it as true is persuasion. It is not that they “can’t argue with these people” – it is that they a) aren’t persuading us and b) are not being persuaded. As we have already stated, this is both accounted for by the Scriptures, and expected. God changes hearts and minds, not us. As to the attempted well-poisoning concerning AiG – I’d like to present this as evidence. If the author would like to share some substantiation of their statement, I’d love to see it. My suspicion is that it is yet another example of a confusion between a) proof and persuasion or b) the author’s misunderstanding of our position concerning evidence. What the author is doing with the continual drumbeat about “evidence” is simply confusing what we actually have to say concerning evidence. It’s not simply about evidence. We have no intention of being that superficial and unreflective concerning the nature of the discussion. What we are doing, however, is addressing the philosophy of evidence along with the evidence itself. If the author would like to show how she has done anything remotely similar in addressing this subject, I’d love to see it. What the author has done is to demonstrate the importance of what we are actually saying; a sort of demonstration concerning the law of unintended consequences. Unless she addresses the philosophy of evidence along with the evidence, she is simply assuming her own position vis a vis her philosophy of evidence, and demanding that others accept it. If others do not kowtow to her wishes, she dismisses them, and says “you can’t argue with these people”. “These people” would beg to differ, and would invite the author to address the philosophy of fact, or evidence, along with the facts and evidence.

Problems with presuppositionalism include:

The logic is circular: you prove something is true by assuming it is true.

Have you read any counters to this incredibly common objection before? I don’t see any discussion about those rebuttals in this post. There are… many… rebuttals. Example.

Presuppositionalism could be used to “prove” any religion, or even atheism.

Please provide an example. This is another common objection, incidentally.

Just because a worldview is coherent doesn’t mean it’s true.

Who ever told you that was our argument? Again, this is a two-step method, not a one-step.

There are many things about the Christian worldview that are arguably not coherent.

This is a great example of uncritical thinking. Do we consider them to be arguable? If not, why are you begging the question in your own favor?

There are other worldviews that also explain the existence of reason and logic.

Please enlighten us 😉

You can’t actually know something is true if you simply discount evidence entirely.

Utterly false description of our position.

Finding truth involves not making presuppositions, but trying to rid yourself of them.

Start with this one, please. We don’t make presuppositions; they are revealed to us. Second, this is really, really bad.

Presuppositionalism holds that everyone starts out with assumptions, and that starting by assuming the Bible is therefore no different than what anyone else is doing. Actually, most people start out with fairly simply assumptions.

No, it doesn’t. Seriously, if you don’t even know what you’re talking about, why are you writing on the subject? That is not even remotely our position. Do you really think the Bible is no different than what anyone else is doing? Do you think any Christian does? If so, why are they Christian, then? If even a fairly liberal type doesn’t even do that, why on earth are you saying Calvinists do, of all people? I can’t believe that you thought this through especially well.

I, as an example, start out by assuming that I can trust my senses and that the world around me is something I can seek to understand. Lest a presuppositionalist argue that these are atheist or materialist assumptions, I would point out that essentially everyone starts out with these assumptions. In fact, I have never met a Christian who didn’t start out with these same assumptions. Assuming that we can trust our senses and learn about the world around us is completely different from assuming the truth and divinity of the Bible or the existence of God.

“Lest” I do or not – those aren’t materialistic assumptions. Materialistic assumptions don’t exist, as assumptions are definitionally immaterial. However, even from another perspective, they don’t belong in materialism (per se) either, because she has no reason whatsoever to trust her senses, or to assume that she should. See, she’s saying next that “we all do it” – but the real question is “what justifies it?” Starting where she starts is purely arbitrary. Second, who says that this is “completely different”? Asserting assertions assertively is not an argument, or even close to one. Plus, she is an atheist. Hence, atheistic assumptions. Is this really that hard?

I have a friend who is a presuppositionalist. I recently asked her what she would do if archaeology directly contradicted a literal reading the Old Testament (it does). She told me that it would not change anything, because she would simply assume that future archaeological finds would clear up the contradiction and line up with the Old Testament. In other words, actual evidence in the here and now does not matter, not one whit. All that matters is her assumption that the Bible is true.

Notice: Facts are once again “brute”. Her philosophy of fact isn’t even examined. Whatever it “is”, is unquestionably. (Don’t look behind that curtain, Dorothy!) I can say to her, in return, “all that matters is your assumption that the facts are true”.

But I have to ask: If you simply assume your beliefs are true and throw out any use of evidence at all, if there is no possible evidence or experience that could disprove your beliefs, how in the world can you actually know they’re true? It would be like me saying that there is an invisible pink unicorn that lives in my room. You can’t touch it or hear it or detect it with any sort of test. You’re not ever going to come to the unicorn’s existence through evidence, and you shouldn’t try to. Rather, you simply have to assume it’s there. But then, if there is no evidence for it and it can’t be disproven, how in the world do I know it’s there in the first place? I don’t: I just assume it. Wha?

This incessant drumbeat on “throwing out evidence” is key to her ideas concerning our methodology. It’s demonstrably false. If she had read any primary source materials concerning our methodology, this would be painfully obvious. Instead, we are treated to one of the most asinine comparisons we’ve ever heard from atheism. As an aside? Using secularist arguments right after you imply your distance from secularism isn’t that great a strategy.

Interestingly, this emphasis on maintaining a persuppositional worldview is is why Vision Forum and others like it see secular colleges and secular sources of knowledge as dangerous. For them, facts and evidence are not neutral, but are interpreted through an assumed worldview. Therefore, a Christian should never study under a non-Christian, because what he will be learning falsehoods, not truth. One can only learn truth by studying under other likeminded Christians. The insularity this produces is overwhelming.

Interestingly, this emphasis on maintaining an objective view is is why Atheists United, American Atheists, Atheists Alliance International and others like it see religious colleges and religious sources of knowledge as dangerous. For them, facts and evidence are not neutral, but are interpreted through an assumed worldview. Therefore, a secularist should never study under a Christian, because what he will be learning falsehoods, not truth. One can only learn truth by studying under other likeminded secularists. The insularity this produces is overwhelming.

  1. [1] Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge, p. 250
  2. [2] Ibid., p. 293, emphasis original
  3. [3] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic – Readings & Analysis, pg. 268, Note 22.

Blessed be the Name of the Lord

Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped. He said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

I received a call I’d been half-expecting this morning, yet hoping I wouldn’t get. My wife called me, sobbing. They didn’t find a heartbeat this time. Our little girl was diagnosed several weeks ago with hydrops fetalis, a serious disorder where the interior of the body fills with fluid. She was called home sometime in the last day. We don’t know for sure. We don’t need to. What we do know for sure is this; God has a purpose for all things that come to pass. From the least to the greatest, His hand controls it all. I started packing up at work, knowing she would need me home, and knowing I needed to be home. A kindly friend at work took over for me, and I headed back. I’m not ashamed to admit that I sobbed then, too. I love children passionately, and I know I won’t see my daughter this side of heaven.

Yet, I don’t mourn as those who have no hope. I know my Redeemer lives. I trust him with my daughter’s eternal welfare as I trust Him with my wife, with myself, and with my other children. Implicitly. My God is true, He is faithful, He is gracious, He loves us all, and He is the God of HOPE. What hope could I possibly have in the world the atheist professes to believe in? I know, for certain, to the marrow of my bones, and to the depth of my soul, that there is hope, peace, and rest in my Savior. I have a depth of sorrow that I have never experienced before; I’ve never lost a child before, and I pray I never will again. This sorrow is tempered by the understanding that this mortal life is not the end. It is a mere beginning. It is the stage that God has set for His glory, and our good; even, dear brothers and sisters, this tragic event.

I learned, truly, today, how to hate. You always hear or watch the maudlin fist-shaking at God at times like these; it’s become fashionable to doubt, for uncertainty to be a part of “what it is to be human”. Friends, let me make this plain. I learned to hate today. I learned to hate sin. Sin, friends, is the bringer of death. It is the destroyer. Those wages were paid today, and my daughter was the recipient. I hate sin. Death has always been something at arm’s length from me; an abstraction. Something for the old, who have lived their appointed years in full, not something for the child in the womb, or the young. When you hold something as an abstraction, but do not yet grasp the horror that it truly is, you are somewhat insulated from it. I have been to a funeral, seen a corpse laid out at a wake; but this time, sin and death are in my household, and crouching at the door – and I no longer have merely an intellectual, abstract view of it. My wife, at this very moment, is still carrying our poor dead daughter in her womb, awaiting a delivery we will schedule shortly. Death is HERE. The curse has cast it’s baleful eye upon us, and it is terrible indeed to look upon.

Sorrow with us. Sorrow in hope, if you are of His people. Mourn with us, and rejoice in faith together with us that one day we will be reunited. If you are not one of His, and you read this today; please, consider your own time on this earth. Consider the death that awaits us all. Consider that without Him, there is no hope. There is only death, and that eternally. I do not, and I cannot, mourn without hope. I am a child of the King, and the King has taken to Himself what is His. She was under the curse; sick, weak, and crippled by sin’s result. Now, with David, I know that I will go to her, though she will not come to me. The Lord’s mercies are great, and I rest in them. If you are not one of His own; I plead with you to ask the Lord for the hope only He can grant. Salvation from sins, and the only redemption that man can obtain, though the death of Christ. All the world can give ends in death. God alone can grant life, and that eternally. I trust in that promise, and cling to it; therefore I have hope.

Only in the sovereignty, purpose, and faithfulness of God do we have an answer to give at all. Only if God turns even this great evil to good is there hope and a blessing to be found. Only in the bottomless love of the infinite Creator can be found sufficient comfort to mend the hurts we suffer. I cannot cling to doubt and act as if this is sufficient to tether me through life’s buffeting. The only foundation we may possibly have for the peace and comfort truly found in Christ is the soul-anchoring certainty of faith in the immutable God, sealed by the Spirit of Truth into the very depths of me. Doubt is soul-murdering separation for the sake of self. We cannot live that way without destroying that very self.

Hate sin, brothers. The Lord is faithful and just to forgive it; but we must learn to hate it. DEATH! Where is your victory? DEATH! Where is your sting? But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! We do not mourn like those who have no hope. Therefore, we must not answer like those who have no hope, either. This is why Christ must always be sanctified in our hearts. Not just to help our arguments. We cling to Christ, and He alone keeps us and sustains us. Only then can we be always ready to give an answer for the hope within us. It is built on the Rock, and His steadfast love for us. As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives.

We Ask Your Prayers For Our Baby

Our unborn child has been diagnosed with a very serious case of hydrops fetalis – a disorder where there is an abnormal accumulation of fluid below the baby’s skin, inside the abdomen, or other areas. Further, there is an incidence of cystic hygroma as well. What this means is that there is a extremely great chance the baby will not live to term, and if he or she does (we haven’t been able to find out as yet), there is a rather high chance that the baby will have long-term disabilities of some sort. This accumulation is not localized, but encompasses the baby’s entire body. These, as I understand, are symptomatic of an underlying genetic or developmental disorder or disease. We are working on obtaining a more targeted and detailed diagnosis in the very near future.

We have a plan in place with our regular OB (a righteous, loving, and spectacularly winsome man of God we have known for a decade, and whom we thank God for – Dr. Chuck Robinson), have been in consultation with a specialist, we are having regular weekly checkups. We’re looking for an amniocentesis appointment soonest. As of today, the baby’s heartbeat is strong. We’re 19-20 weeks right now, and we’re hoping and praying that the Lord is gracious, and allows our little to live long enough to be viable and treatable; it’s still too early for most treatments, and our prayer is that God will strengthen our little one, and mitigate (or heal – we believe that God is still in the healing business, and pray that God’s will be done) the horrific disease causing these symptoms. Please pray for us, that the Lord would strengthen our baby, Bethany, and myself as we prepare to fight for our baby’s life. The Fall sometimes has heartbreaking results in the lives of even little ones; but we still serve and trust a Sovereign God, who will bring His glory and the good of His people out of the midst of this trial. We trust, love and glorify our God because of this, and crave your intercession before the throne of grace. Whatever the outcome may be, Soli Deo Gloria. May His name be praised, and may He use this for His own glory, and our good.

Debate Announcement

On Februrary 5th, I will be debating Roman Catholic Dan Marcum (a Skype debate) on the proposition “Sola Scriptura is an essential Christian doctrine, and necessary for instruction in faith and practice“. My goal is to argue this proposition presuppositionally. I’m planning on a couple of podcasts in the near future to give the audience some preparation, and to ensure my opponent knows where I’m standing, going into the debate, so stay tuned.

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