Archive for the ‘ Sharpening ’ Category

The Argument from Necessity

“The Reformational doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture does not mean that the Scriptures are sufficient to answer all of our questions. Rather, the doctrine means that the Scriptures are a sufficient guide to our communion with God, a guide to faith and life in the religious sense. WCF 1.6: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture.”
Theonomists often argue that it is “necessary for…man’s…life” that humans have revealed directives for statecraft. If this argument were valid, however, why would it not be equally (or more) valid to argue that it is “necessary for…man’s…life” that humans have revealed directives for medicine? Is it not the case when our loved ones die that the Scriptures have not been, in their medicinal instructions, sufficient in providing what is “necessary for…man’s…life”? Is it not the case, when a suspension bridge collapses due to no construction failure, that the Scriptures have evidently not provided adequate instruction in the field of design?” – T. David Gordon, “Critique of Theonomy: A Taxonomy,” Westminster Theological Journal 56.1

Dominion

We often see something called “The Dominion Mandate” spoken of. It comes from the KJV rendition of Genesis 1:28, rendered in the NASB as “rule over”, rather than “have dominion over.” Obviously, “dominion” has a much better ring to it than “rule” – so that’s what stuck. Essentially, the version I’m discussing today (in a short example) says that it is “the duty to have children and to take dominion over the earth” – and “in its essence it is a call to take every thought, deed, and action captive to the Lordship of Christ, to advance the work of the Lord in every realm, and to live lives of Kingdom service to our Savior.” That sounds like a good thing, right? I mean, it is hard to argue with taking all our thoughts, deeds, and actions captive to the Lordship of Christ, advancing the work of the Lord in every realm, and living lives of service to God.

Here’s where you see the kicker, however. We have to examine at least some presuppositions to begin with, there. 1) What is meant by “the duty to have children” 2) Who is “to take dominion over the earth” 3) What it means to “take dominion over all the earth.” It is often assumed in these conversations that everyone agrees on what is being discussed – almost by default – but I don’t think think that this can be assumed, for a number of reasons, or from a number of perspectives. We will return to that, however, in a minute. Let’s look at the “key verse” for this viewpoint.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”[1]

Now, I don’t think anyone is going to argue that Adam was not given dominion over the earth in this passage. That’s so vanishingly rare an argument, at least in Christian circles, that it can be ignored. Where the objection is going to come in is at one, two, or both of the following points. 1) The Fall, and its ramifications regarding Adam’s position 2) Christ, seen as the second Adam.

My questions for supporters of the Dominion Mandate as expressed above, are as follows;

1) What sort of accounting have you made for this “Dominion Mandate” as a pre-lapsarian command?
2) Do you assert that the “Dominion Mandate” consists of having as many children as one possibly can?
3) If so, why?
4) What does it mean to take dominion in this post-lapsarian world?
5) What is this dominion over?
6) Who has, and is taking dominion in this post-lapsarian world?

As a discussion opener, let me answer the questions above.

1) The dominion mandate was given to the sinless Adam as his charge – to rule over the earth and all it contained as the subordinate of His Creator. His charge was to care for all things he was given authority over, and to cultivate them. When Adam fell, his rulership was perverted and therefore cursed[2], he himself was enslaved to sin[3], and his power usurped by Satan[4], who became the ruler of this world[5]. Dominion is used 4 times in the LBCF[6] – concerning the dominion of God over all His creatures, the dominion, which while he kept the command, Adam had in the Garden, and the last 2 times of the dominion of sin – thus, confessionally, we do not have an easy answer on this point. The catechism doesn’t help us any more on this point, as it only uses “dominion” once, and with a bare reference to Gen 1:28, and concerning Adam as created, not as fallen.

However, there is another route to take. What does the confession say about the results of Adam’s fall? “Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and we in them whereby death came upon all: all becoming dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.”[7] Wholly defiled, might we say, in dominion, as well? Well, we might say, if in Christ we are restored, does this not restore our dominion as well? I’m not so sure. Take this; “The corruption of nature, during this life, doth remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be through Christ pardoned and mortified, yet both itself, and the first motions thereof, are truly and properly sin.”[8] I don’t think this means that this same dominion is restored. Are we in union with Christ? Absolutely. In principle, we might say, we are restored to it, in some sense, perhaps – but that needs to be defined first. However, in practice, we do not have dominion as Adam did. First, because while we are in union with Christ, what does that mean concerning dominion? It is dominion mediated through Christ, who has that dominion, not direct dominion as Adam was given it. Second, there is another aspect – but we will deal with that in a bit, while answering another question – although I have essentially answered that question above, you may have noticed.

2-3) No, we are to be fruitful, and multiply. This doesn’t give us a set number, yet, recall, that this was also directly influenced by the Fall in specific, not just a general way. Childbirth was directly and specifically affected by the curse. It is accomplished in pain, and sometimes accompanied by death, as I can personally attest. Is there a regulative principle in Scripture concerning what number or factor we are to be focused upon? I argue that there is no such statement in all of Scripture – and since Scripture does not give such a principle, then insisting upon one is to argue for what Scripture does not – and that is itself a violation of the regulative principle. Abraham is blessed in Isaac, and there is no scorn placed upon him for his single legitimate offspring. Isaac himself has only Jacob and Esau. It is Rachel who is the blessed mother, despite dying in the birth of Benjamin, with only two children, while Leah has 10. Samson is an only child. We are to multiply, as a general rule – but I believe it cannot be said that Scripture puts a low or high figure on the amount of children we are to have.

Secondly, there is no direct connection between “be fruitful and multiply” and “dominion over all the earth” to consider “be fruitful and multiply” as an act of dominion. It is often assumed that there is such a connection, but I haven’t seen any good argumentation for this. As far as I can tell, the passage says 1) They are to be fruitful and multiply 2) Fill the earth 3) Subdue it 4) Bring all living things under dominion. It seems that dominion presupposes multiplication and filling; but it doesn’t seem that multiplication and filling presupposes dominion. You have to be many and in all places in order to take dominion; but multiplication et al does not presuppose dominion – it’s the other way around.

Thirdly, note the context of the multiplication and filling – it is for the purpose of dominion over and throughout the earth. Yet, how does this work when humanity is already throughout the earth, and in this post-fall, ante-diluvian, post-Babel diaspora? Are we now multiplying to fill in every square mile? Are we shooting for a specific number or percentage of Christians per square mile? Or are we, perhaps, shooting for the maximum number of Christians per square mile? What standard are we using, here, for what is considered “proper” multiplication? Again, as there doesn’t seem to be any specific, regulative command for how many progeny we are to produce, where is it do we stop, and for what purpose? Are we to min/max procreation cycles to pump out children every 11 months? 13 months? Chart optimum recovery patterns for the womb so as to maximize births and minimize miscarriages as much as possible over the “usable lifetime” of our wife’s womb? Are we to consider this to be the highest goal, a middle goal, or a low goal, in our schema of overall obedience? By what standard is this to be determined? Is it determined by Christian liberty and godly wisdom in personal circumstances, or are there hard and fast guidelines to be observed from various passages I’ve somehow missed over the years? Am I okay with my six, or should I shoot to redeem the rest of my wife’s childbearing years and shoot for another half dozen with Jacob as my model, and ask repentance for our half-hearted observance of the dominion mandate? Obviously, you can probably tell my answers from the tenor of my return questions – but I think it bears mentioning that the general sense (although, obviously, there are exceptions) of the responses from those who espouse the “dominion mandate” in the sense outlined above are that it is a requirement, in some sense, to have as many children as possible, and that the cessation of child-bearing when there remains a capability for it is somehow sinful, or at the least, an unsatisfactory solution.

Fourthly, it might be argued that while there is no limit, there is no command to stop having children. In the same vein, however, I can argue that there is no command to keep having children. If the argument is that silence is golden, then the gold glints in either direction, does it not? There is no command to stop having children at any specific number, or factor of multiplicative replacement. Fine, let’s grant that for the sake of argument. By the same token, it also remains the case that there is no command to continue having children to any specific number, or until it is no longer possible to have more. Further, there is no specific blessing considered concerning, say, 12 children that is not also offered concerning 1, or 2, or 6. Let’s grant that a man with a quiver full of children is happy. How many arrows belong in a quiver? As Gill points out, “Septuagint, Vulgate Latin, Ethiopic, and Arabic versions, render it, ‘that fills his desire’ has as many as he desires or wishes for.”[9] How many arrows do I want, or need in my quiver, therefore? Now, this is not to say that God does not give the increase – but it also says that God gives us that which we desire righteously – that which is fitting for us to have. Instead of an insistence upon ever-increasing numbers, we should be mindful that God gives to each according to what He Himself wills, and according to what we are able to bear, or are suited for. Hence, here we have the true regulative principle of God’s ordination of the family unit – the precise amount of children which He Himself wills, in accordance with the gifts He has given us. As in all things, there is a proper balance which needs to be kept in mind. Some families only receive one child, and that is sufficient as well as proper. Others have a dozen, or even more. Let us not go beyond Scripture to insist on ever-increasing numbers when there is no warrant for doing so. In fact, let us recall that God uses means in accomplishing those ends – and one of those means may in fact be either the lack of desire or recognition of one’s lack of ability to provide for and parent more children than you have now. Not always, of course, but wisdom is granted to parents when they ask it in His name.

4-5) My answer to the question is that God gives the increase – but in the sense of “dominion,” you aren’t populating the kingdom by having children – because kingdom needs to be properly defined. You populate the kingdom by the preaching of the gospel and discipling those to whom it is preached and are given citizenship in it. In this fallen world, we live in a creation that groans to be released from bondage. We are not the ones who will strike off those chains. We have as much hope of that as we do of breathing life into dry bones. In fact, to think of dominion in terms of this world is to think of the kingdom in precisely the wrong fashion. We are not to be prophets, priests, and kings of this world. We are to be prophets, priests and kings in the world, but not of it. We are pilgrims and strangers in this world, and any dominion we have here will be equally ephemeral, if it is of this world. Focusing on dominion over this fallen, decaying world, which is passing away, is a waste of time and energy. This does not preclude the preservation of that which we are in, to some extent, but that preservation is that of salt – preserving that which is and must be decaying, due to the curse, in order that it might last until the appointed time, by the due use of means. Even the mountains will melt like wax at His coming, and all things will pass away and be made new. To try to usher in the kingdom here, and take dominion here is to invest precisely the wrong capital in precisely the wrong project. What we are given, we are given as prophets, priests, and kings in our families, churches, and only then to the world – but not directed toward the things of this world. We are not in the business of empire building in the material sense. We are in the business of empire building in the spiritual sense – in building up the church. Are we used as means in the restraint of sin and God’s common grace toward saint and sinner alike? Certainly. However, recall that common grace and the restraint of sin is for the sake of the elect. Not even primarily for their physical comfort or blessing, either – but primarily for their spiritual well-being and survival.

6) The answer to this question should be self-explanatory by now, but it needs to be explained. The dominion is Christ’s. The “dominion mandate” was given to Adam – and Adam failed to accomplish it. Christ, however, is the second Adam – He is the heir, and in Him is the restoration and summation of all things. Yet, what did He tell us? His kingdom was not of this world. Psalm 8 seems to be somewhat of a commentary on Genesis 1; in that commentary[10], we see that man is crowned with glory and majesty, rules the works of God’s hands, all things are under His feet. At that point, if you’re thinking “well, there you go! The dominion mandate is still in full flower!” – read the passage below.

What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You make him to rule over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea, whatever passes through the paths of the seas. O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth![11]

There’s a problem with the above interpretation of this passage as a continuation of the dominion mandate, however. It is found in the following passage, which cites Psalm 8.

For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. But one has testified somewhere, saying, “WHAT IS MAN, THAT YOU REMEMBER HIM? OR THE SON OF MAN, THAT YOU ARE CONCERNED ABOUT HIM? “YOU HAVE MADE HIM FOR A LITTLE WHILE LOWER THAN THE ANGELS; YOU HAVE CROWNED HIM WITH GLORY AND HONOR, AND HAVE APPOINTED HIM OVER THE WORKS OF YOUR HANDS; YOU HAVE PUT ALL THINGS IN SUBJECTION UNDER HIS FEET.” For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings.[12]

Note the first phrase. It is the world to come that is being spoken of. What does this mean? First, it means that it is speaking not of the world as in bondage, but of the world restored. After quoting the passage, he goes on to say that while everything is subject to Christ, we do not see all things subjected to Him. Here, we do not have a lasting city. We seek the one which is to come. He went away to prepare it for us – we are not here preparing it for Him. The verses above clearly specify the holder of this dominion to be Christ. This is inescapable. However, Christ Himself identified His kingdom as not of this world. Thus, if we receive our dominion from union with Christ, and by adoption as joint heirs with Him, our dominion is also not of this world.

So, by telling others to “take dominion” – what do you mean when you say that, and when you say it, are you telling us to take something that is rightfully and even possibly ours? “Taking dominion” seems to be a popular catchphrase – but the exegetical basis for it seems to be shaky, at best. How do you account for taking dominion over this world when the only dominion in view seems to be not of this world at all, but of the world to come? Assuming we all mean the same things when using these words is not going to work, nor is assuming the interpretation you have of them. There needs to be less buzzwords and more exegetical foundation for these ideas, or the audience you’re seeking to reach will quite simply not take it seriously. As for myself, I’m not convinced that we need to take dominion in the sense that it is being encouraged that we take it. In fact, I’m convinced that I need to spend less time taking “taking dominion” seriously, due to the lack of exegesis provided by the pro-dominion groups. If you are willing to make the case, however, go for it.

  1. [1] Gen 1:26-28
  2. [2] Gen 3:17-19
  3. [3] John 8:34
  4. [4] Eph 2:2
  5. [5] Eph 6:12
  6. [6] II.2, IV.3, XIII.1, XXI.1
  7. [7] VI.2
  8. [8] VI.5
  9. [9] Gill, Psa 127:5
  10. [10] See Gill on Psalm 8:4, as well
  11. [11] Psa 8:4-9
  12. [12] Heb 2:5-10

What is propitiation? That was one of the central elements of the Reformation of doctrine, and one of the most problematic issues in the modern Evangelical movement today. It has to do with many, many areas of theology, and we can’t possibly cover them exhaustively in a single blog post. But in a nutshell, what is it? In a nutshell, it is the “turning away of,” “appeasement” or “satisfaction for” the wrath of God due sinners. It is, therefore, intimately bound up to our notion of what the wrath of God actually is. It is bound up with sacrifice, atonement, substitution, holiness, sin, and many, many other subjects – to include the attributes of God, as we’ve already noted. With it having such a central place in our theology, the smallest misstep will have far-reaching consequences throughout.

If we are to talk about the wrath of God, are we to speak of it as something incidental to God, or as an attribute of God? It surely cannot be something incidental to Him. It is something He is said to possess; “My wrath”[1], and it is just as often called the “wrath of God”, or “of the Lord”. It is said to be magnified by the frequent use of modifiers such as “great”. God’s name is great, His power and strength is great, He is great in mercy, lovingkindness, and holiness. All of these likewise belong to God, and are affirmed of Him, then so must Wrath belong to God, and be affirmed of Him. It is one of His attributes.

If, as we have seen, it is an attribute of God, then it must be addressed per Divine Simplicity. Under Divine Simplicity, the wrath of God is omnipotent, immutable, eternal, sovereign, just, a se, infinite and holy.

Further, it must also be noted that it is not the natures of Christ that were our substitute, it was the Person of Christ – namely, the 2nd Person of the Trinity. If we are to say that He was our substitute, we must say that it was the God-man that was our substitute. We must also note the connection with this being the case alongside the nature of the wrath of God. Gill:

Eternity it not of the essence of punishment; and only takes place when the person punished cannot bear the whole at once: and being finite, as sinful man is, cannot make satisfaction to the infinite Majesty of God, injured by sin, the demerit of which is infinite punishment: and as that cannot be bore at once by a finite creature, it is continued ad infinitum; but Christ being an infinite Person, was able to bear the whole at once; and the infinity of his Person, abundantly compensates for the eternity of the punishment.

Let me add a few more notes, here. Gill, above the quote given here, notes

that Christ was ‘put to death in the flesh;’ as the apostle expresses it (1 Pet. 3:18), that is, in the body; that only suffered death; not his soul, that died not; but was commended into the hands of his divine Father: nor his Deity, or divine nature, which was impassible, and not capable of suffering death; and yet the body of Christ suffered death, in union with his divine person; hence the Lord of glory is said to be crucified and God is said to purchase the church with his blood (1 Cor. 2:8; Acts 20:28). And the death of Christ, as the death of other men, lay in the disunion of, or in a dissolution of the union between soul and body; these two were parted for a while; the one was commended to God in heaven; the other was laid in the grave: but hereby he was not reduced to a state of non-existence, as say the Socinians; his soul was with God in paradise; and his body, when taken from the cross, was laid in a sepulchre, and where it saw no corruption.

We cannot say that only one nature of Christ suffered, or we 1) Deny the union of Christ’s natures as expressed in Scripture, and formulated at Chalcedon, or 2) Deny, at least potentially, that Christ was our actual substitute, in His Person; we also cannot say that both natures suffered in the same fashion, however, at risk of 1) Denying the nature of God as immutable, impassible, eternal, and immaterial or 2) Violate the Creature/Creator distinction hypostatically. The Divine nature is immutable, impassible, immaterial, and eternal; hence not subject to the decay and corruption of death. It was, however, that one infinitely Divine Person who suffered the wrath of God. Not both natures alike, but both natures in union, and in concert, according to their nature. What the simply human cannot suffer immediately, the Divine Person, as Gill notes, did. Not equally in both natures, as the natures are not equal. This is a very, very complex subject, and we cannot treat it lightly. We cannot, on the one hand, attribute too much to mystery if it has, in fact, been revealed; but we cannot, on the other hand, speculate on things not revealed, and call them as such, if they are mysteries – so we must toe a very precise line. We must do so carefully, reverently, and studiously, lest we either take too much upon ourselves, or not enough.

It was not merely one nature which took the wrath of God upon Himself; else, we would be throwing out Chalcedon just as easily as Fudge does, if from a different perspective. We must ask ourselves – what was the point of it being the God-man who came if it was only the human nature which was under that wrath? We must also face the theological implications of passages such as “Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.” Only with a full-orbed Christology, a full-orbed Theology Proper, a full-orbed Anthropology and a full-orbed Soteriology can we have a full-orbed Eschatology. The one demands all of the others. A lack of concentration on theology as an organic, cohesive whole spells disaster for our theology, and the apologetic which flows from it.

This outpouring of the Wrath of God against sinners is something which must be addressed if we are to speak of the propitiation for those sinners, or of Christ’s substitution for those sinners. What it was that was suffered is intrinsic to our idea of propitiation. The nature of the God-man is something that cannot be overlooked if we are to deal with his propitiatory sacrifice on the behalf of his people. The nature of substitution, in a precise manner, is also something we cannot pass over. In short, this further shows that a modification of one element of CT has a great, if not catastrophic, effect on the rest of our theology and doctrine, if we see that doctrine as it truly is – an organic whole.

  1. [1] 2Ki 22:17, 2Chr 12:7, Psa 2:12, 6:1, 76:10, 78:38, 102:10, 106:23, Isa 34:2, 48:9, 60:10, 63:3,5,6, Jer 4:4, 7:20, 21:12, Eze 5:13, 6:12, 7:14, Hsa 5:10, 13:11,

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.

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.

On Old Earth Presuppositions

I was struck, this morning, by Jamin’s article, also reposted to AOMin. Let me explain. I’m in agreement with Jamin 99% of the time – I even contributed to his book – “The Portable Presuppositionalist”. However, there are some statements in this article that I’d like to address. He has been dialoguing via email to Fred Butler, of Hip and Thigh, and decided to share his recent response as a blog post. In this article, he has the following statement:

We can calculate some numbers back to Adam, and that’s pretty cool. But that in no way results in “inerrancy and old earth creationism can never mix.” Again, must we really take the lead of Morris, Hovind, Ham, Chaffey, and others on the old-earth debate just because they had some good things to say instead of thinking more critically and realizing that the age of the earth just is not a hill worth dying on?

When I examined the article a bit closer, I noticed a few issues.

In his response concerning the uniqueness of the Genesis account, I read this:

A. The primary (e.g. most explicit and obvious) internal structure of the book is the Toledoth formula – “these are the generations of” …, which is mentioned 11 times from 2:4 to the end of the book. This heading not only “indicates a historical impulse” (Introduction to OT, 54), but it encapsulates the whole book into one category…except Gen 1, which is the only chapter in the book not to have this introduction. … Gen. 1 is unique in that respect.

B. The only citation of Gen 1 in the NT is of man being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27 in Matt 19 and Mark 10), a strongly theological point; there is no reference to chronology of Gen 1 in any of the NT, and (as far as I remember) any of the OT. Instead, Genesis 1 has some other literary features and “Hebrew parallelism”:

Maybe I’m missing something… but wouldn’t it be a bit tough to have the Toledoth formula in the chapter where the progenitors of those generations are created? It reminds me (forgive me!) of the argument that is often presented in regards to the period of enscripturation of the NT. It is, by it’s nature, an exception – which leads me to the next point.

Maybe, again, I’m missing something – but isn’t there another formula in Genesis 1 that is inherently chronological? “And there was evening, and there was morning–the first day.” That would seem to me the formula that binds this together, and makes it a chronological account, all at once.

But it is to say that if we have a question specifically about chronology, Gen. 2 would probably be the first place we should go, and if we have a general question about theology and the origins of all things – from birds to water – we should probably go to Gen. 1.
So, those are a couple of “the ways” I was referring to, and this is why I am hesitant to say “I’m a literal 24-hr 6-day young earth creationist” even though much of what I believe falls into that camp.

As pointed out above, I think that we’re forgetting something very important here. Morning, evening, day. The context for “day” is clearly presented, by “morning and evening”. So I’m not hesitant to subscribe to my confession at all in the matter of 6-day creationism.

The genealogies provide a reliable chronological line that ruins any assertions of an old man, for the people are the concern of the genealogies, not the earth. Granted, there is a link between people and events in history and areas of the earth, etc., but, again, the primary purpose of genealogies are to show who lived when and from what persons they came. And, you seemed to have missed what I said about time itself being created during the creation account, and how there are countless assumptions about the time-space continuum that we bring to the table when making arguments about time and creation.

Well, for the first point, obviously I agree. That’s really not the point of an OEC, however – a TE, yes, but not an OEC. As for the second – of course people are the focus of genealogies – but the chapter in question is what is the *foundation for* those genealogies. Which really points out the central reason I’m writing this. My concern is for two things. First, whether or not we are examining this with Biblical presuppositions. Second, whether or not we are *truly defending Christianity as a system*, or “as a unit” – NOT in “block house” fashion. My concern is that we are *overlooking* the presuppositions that OEC brings to Scripture, as well as *failing to see* the presuppositions *in* Scripture at this very point. As to the time issue – I think the above also solves that issue. We’re talking days. Evening, morning. Day. God created time, obviously, but finitude requires it – so, as creation begins, time, at that instant, begins.

The next section is where the rubber hits the road for me.

But I challenge you and other Christians to think more clearly about what is more significant; the war we wage is not the age of the earth because there’s no clear, direct line being crossed. Not only is the science under debate, but the Christians of the OT and NT would be rather baffled about how the age of the universe is so central to defending the faith. But, they would, however, give birth to a royal conniption if someone told them “man came from animals and they’re still made in God’s image.”

I would disagree on several points here. First, we’re being given a choice – the age of the earth, or man came from animals, and they’re still made in God’s image. Second, we are told there is no clear line being crossed. Third, I haven’t mentioned a word about science yet, in my response. Fourth, this is a modern debate in this particular context.

First: Is it our goal, as Covenantal Apologists, to argue on this level? Don’t we have to look at the *presuppositions underlying the assertion*? Here’s the deal – and this is where I want the reader to pay attention, if they’ve been on cruise control thus far. The underlying presupposition of *both* Theistic Evolution and Old Earth Creationism is that autonomous man is the primary authority on matters of empirical/natural science. There is no reason that I can see to assert an old earth, whatsoever, apart from naturalistic assumptions. The same assumptions, I’d assert, that are *more consistently* applied by the TE advocate, and even more consistently by a secular naturalist. The assertion is human autonomy, and it regulates the pages of Scripture.

“The relation between science and Scripture is not one of synthesis between two tentative theories; rather, it must be one of subordination. If science is not subordinate of Scripture, then Scripture must be subordinate to science and science itself will be autonomous. If science is independent of revelation, then nature must be assumed to be self-sufficient and containing in itself the principles for its own interpretation. Thus God is either identified with nature (the error of pantheism) or is shoved out of the picture altogether (the practical result of deism). Either God is God, or science deifies itself.”

~Greg Bahnsen

While Van Til notes, of course, that unbelievers are “in principle” autonomous, while believers “in principle” think God’s thoughts after Him; in practice, we are inconsistent. What we’re seeing here is either more or less “in practice” denial of the principles of believers – in favor of the practical adoption of autonomous principles. In this area – and remember, we defend Christianity as a unit – they have atomized their position, and are standing on enemy ground in their examination of Scripture. Since this is the case – be it severe, in the case of the unbelieving evolutionist, great, in the case of a theistic evolutionist, or small, in the case of an Old-Earther, the principle is the same. The extent of consistency to be found is the difference we see here.

Second, the line is clear, and has been crossed. The line, however, is not the age of the earth, it is the dividing line between man’s theology and God’s. In one case, we are affirming that the earth is relatively young, because we have the history of that relatively young earth in our hands, in the Scriptures. In the second, we have naturalistic principles being used as the “colored glasses” through which we see the world. We have God as center, and we have man as center – I would respectfully submit that the central issue is one of presupposition – and that brings OEC into a light other than that presented in this article.

Third, the problem is the naturalistic assumptions which underpin the desire of the OEC advocates to *adhere to this stance in the first place*. The desire is, as Bahnsen pointed out earlier, to “synthesize” science and Scripture. What ends up happening, however, is that Scripture is *subordinated to* science. This is, as I’ve pointed out, the *same presuppositional issue* found in TE. The difference is in their level of consistency.

Fourth, would Jamin make this same argument concerning the ECFs not addressing later controversies? Since this is a modern argument, we won’t find it addressed in history in the context we are in today. Every generation has it’s own apologetic context in which it has to give an answer – and, as I’ve argued, the central issue is *the* central issue of our apologetic and the theology from which it springs – who God is, and what He has revealed about Himself and His creation. Is our view on this subject God-centered or man-centered? A subject similar was addressed by Augustine, as has been argued ad nauseum elsewhere thus won’t be detailed here, but it was not the same context at all.

And that is, indeed, the true line that is being crossed with theistic evolution, and as such, it is where our attention should be directed. The BioLogos forum needs to be held accountable not for their standard evolutionary view of the age of the earth, but for their anti-Christian view of God’s images. Even though some more popular apologists, thinkers, and Christians are finally waking up to the sheer absurdity of this primary thesis of BioLogos, I am still surprised more Christians aren’t as upset and aren’t more proactive in trying to set up a moderated debate with someone from the BioLogos Forum over this issue.

Here’s where I’d like to point out that the line being set is a bit arbitrary. I agree that the problem is not the age of the earth – but once again, I think this article has mistaken the correct focus of the debate. It is not on the age of the earth – but on the presuppositions underlying our position on the age of the earth. The image of God in man is our point of contact with the believer, yes? Well, since when are we saying it’s satisfactory to give into the presupposition that naturalism can be the interpretive grid by which we exegete Scripture? The extent of consistency to that position is less than the TE would go, true – but is it not the same presupposition? When we say that man’s autonomy, presuppositionally, is the root – we can, to some extent, “prioritize” – but I don’t see the root issue as anything other than the same root issue of Arminianism, evidentialism, or other topics we’re more than happy to address, and spend a great deal of time in so doing. Van Til, as I’m sure Jamin knows, spent an extensive amount of time tracing down autonomy as the root for a great number of issues – and this fits that pattern like a glove.

Here’s a great illustration from Van Til. If they are, as I claim, embracing autonomy on this point – “…the… apologist would not be in a position to wipe out any of the signs that point in the wrong direction. An… apologist meeting the natural man as both stop at one of the service stations is in a strange predicament. Since he is a Christian, he should really speak to the natural man about the fact that he is following the wrong signs. But since he himself holds to a measure of autonomy for man, and since this undermines his own belief in creation, he can at best say to his friend that is it doubtful which signs are right. Then as far as his “neutral” apologetic method is concerned, … in the interest of getting his friend to go in the right direction, admits that the signs that point in the wrong direction are right. He himself goes in the wrong direction for some distance too with the natural man. He fully agrees with the natural man when together they start on their wrong course, and he still fully agrees on the way to the city of destruction. Then suddenly he puts on the brakes and turns around, expecting his friend will do the same. Thus in the whole business he has dishonored his God (a) by practically admitting that his revelation is not plain and (b) by himself running away from God in his interpretation of natural revelation and in his subjection of supernatural revelation to the illegitimate requirements of the natural man.” (Defense of the Faith, pg 135)

Just to note something interesting – and a bit providential – just moments before the link to this posted in #pros, I was reading an article on Justin Taylor’s blog touting Tim Keller’s “Reason for God” DVD. Nic had posted a comment related to whether or not something Dr. Keller said in that trailer was a violation of the myth of neutrality. We were discussing that issue, and I was posting a comment to Dr. Keller right then. Like you, I would be glad to see a debate with BioLogos – but I’d also like to see a more presuppositional tack – and heat – applied to the OEC position, as well. He replied, incidentally, and my response was to ask him whether his naturalistic presuppositions were capable of providing him a consistent position from which to defend.

While I understand your approach to priority, I disagree with the emphasis. I’m concerned with the presuppositions they are bringing to the table by embracing OEC; since, as I’ve argued, they are the *same* presuppositions the naturalist, be they secular or theistic, bring to the table. As you and I both know, inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument – my intent here was to point out that the same root issue is beneath OEC that is under Arminianism, Roman Catholicism, Evidentialism, and a host of other man-centered movements and positions – autonomy. Thank you for your patience in looking through my response.

~RK

Addendum: I’ve had one criticism thus far, and they say about my post, “it reads like a criticism of Hubner over Old Earth creationism”. While it is, in a sense, it’s a criticism of his position concerning challenging said OEC position. The criticism is of OEC, yes – but to point out how it’s presuppositions are the same as TEs, just not taken as consistently – and that, in order to point out that it should be critiqued on the same basis as TE. Whatever view the critique’s author holds (and he doesn’t say, other than to tell us that this doesn’t apply to him), he is left with the same dilemma as always. He can say that man is old – which Jamin specifically rebuts: “The genealogies provide a reliable chronological line that ruins any assertions of an old man, for the people are the concern of the genealogies, not the earth.” Or, he can appeal to “days” not being “days” (which seems to be his tack, given this quote: “the age of mankind and the age of the earth are not the same thing”). In that case, I refer him to the confession he claims to subscribe to, which specifically states that “In the beginning it pleased God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the manifestation of the glory of his eternal power, wisdom, and goodness, to create or make the world, and all things therein, whether visible or invisible,in the space of six days, and all very good.” I don’t see how he escapes the dilemma of subverting Scripture’s statement that creation was in 6 days, save by the presupposition of naturalistic presuppositions. He says that is not what he has – and says that he does subordinate science to Scripture – but how do you do such a thing when Scripture *says otherwise*? In any case, I note that he accedes to my argument, as stated, and as directed. “For those Old Earth creationists who do this (and I think that the majority of them do; e.g., Hugh Ross from Reasons to Believe), the criticism Whipps raises is spot on.”

Apologetics and the Arminian

The purpose of this post is to address a response to the above presentation, wherein presuppositional apologetics seems to be misunderstood by the author. The author’s response can be found here, but I will address most of the post, if not all, in the following article.

James White recently argued for presuppositional apologetics and against evidential apologetics. (link) He starts out with an analysis of Colossians 1:16-18, and Colossians 2:2-9, which focus on the Lordship of Christ. James White points out that the gospel is a radical claim, which unbelievers reject.

If you watched the above video (or heard the show), you’d note that Dr. White makes a specific point of not using either term until he’s made his argument. Why does he do so? To demonstrate that presuppositionalism is directly exegeted from the text of Scripture. That’s a minor note, so I’ll move on.

What caught my attention was James White’s denial that unbelievers can have ‘true knowledge’

It’s a rather open thing that Dr. White is a presuppositionalist. I’m confused as to why this would be noteworthy.

“If Jesus is who we claim He was, then He is the standard in all of human knowledge. You may be familiar with the term epistemology – the study of knowledge – how we know what we know. For so many Christians today, philosophy, history, science, epistemology, it’s all over in that realm, and Jesus is over here. That is not Biblical Christianity. Full orbed Biblical Christianity recognizes the absolute Lordship of Christ in every aspect of our lives because Christ is Lord in all of the universe and over everything because he created everything. In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. That is an amazing statement – and if you’re going to defend the faith, you have to defend the whole faith, the Biblical faith – not a cut down, watered down, simplified, minimalized, just a few facts faith – try to trick someone into accepting a skeleton of Christianity, and once you get ’em in, hope you can try to convince them of the rest of it over time. That is a certain form of apologetics, but it’s not a Biblical form of apologetics.”

Also note this, this, this, this – we could go on. Just recently, he went through the Price debate, outlining his presuppositional methodology in engaging Dr. Price.

As to the denial that unbelievers can have “true knowledge” – this is merely Biblical. Pro 1:7 – “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” – If you don’t have the beginning, how can you have the result? Pro 2:6 – “For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” – Do unbelievers have true wisdom? From whence do they hear it? Isa 47:10 – “”You felt secure in your wickedness and said, ‘No one sees me,’ Your wisdom and your knowledge, they have deluded you; For you have said in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.'” Can “I think, therefore I am” be harmonized with this? Phil. 1:9 – “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” “Real knowledge” is ‘epignosis’ – a precise, correct knowledge. What does that imply? There there is a false knowledge, correct? Not to mention Col 2, which Dr. White discussed, in detail. If all treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ – how does an unbeliever find them? Note also this verse – Col 3:10. “and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” – also uses epignosis. Remember who Paul is writing to. Gnostics, who claim to possess a secret knowledge. What is Paul’s response? ALL knowledge is *Christ’s.* Note also this verse: I Timothy 6:20 – “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” There is a true and false knowledge. So, when unbelievers “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” are they knowing correctly? Are they not suppressing “true knowledge” – in favor of “knowledge so-called”?

and his objection to the approach of starting from common ground between believers and unbelievers to show the reasonableness of believing in the God of the Bible and other Christian doctrines.

Honestly? There’s a very simple answer to this. The only common ground you have is God’s ground. The image of God in you both. “What partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” We are to act, and *think* differently from the world. If your philosophy is indistinguishable from the world, and doesn’t have at it’s heart the Scriptures of the Triune God… you’re in trouble. Big trouble.

We don’t make the Gospel “more palatable” to sinners – it’s *supposed* to be offense and foolishness to unbelievers. So is our apologetic – because we are defending *the Gospel*. It should be offensive to them, strike at the heart of their unlawful thinking, undercut the fortresses they erect against the knowledge of God, and tear them down – how? “in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left.”

God makes *foolish* the wisdom of the world. His word is His voice, speaking to men – and we are to speak it boldly on His behalf. We have *no other message*, folks. If you don’t argue FROM Scripture, FROM the God who IS there, you gave up the field to start with – and you did NOT, having done all, stand. If you pretend that we’re all neutral, and we just have to present the right evidence to convince them… you’ve already failed. Unbelievers *are not reasonable*. They *suppress* the truth in unrighteousness. They have become futile in their speculations.

Since this is so, and since they *do not think as a Christian does*, they WILL reject any evidence they deem to be unsuitable – by their OWN standard. We have a different standard, and we must argue by HIS standard, not ours.

There is no neutral ground. The picture in Eph. 6 is of a soldier holding the line *he was assigned to hold*. You do NOT advance to no-man’s land and parlay. You hold the line. You don’t advance without orders, and you don’t retreat. Advancing to “common ground” is simply to isolate yourself, and invite defeat in detail. When you are in line, you are covered by the shield of the man to your right, and cover the man to your left. You *stand*. “Common ground” is only defection or an invitation to surround you.

Presuppostionalism, as I understand it, has two distinct schools of thought; the Gordon Clark camp and the Cornelius Van Til camp. Clarinan (sic) presuppositionalism is not my cup of tea, but it’s fairly innocuous. My main complaint against Clark’s presuppositionalism is that he presupposes the truth of sola scripture,

Well, here’s the deal. The author doesn’t seem to understand the nature of Clarkian “presuppositionalism”, nor it’s actual differences from Van Tillian. Allow me to quote from a book I’ve quoted a good bit from recently.

“With all due respect for these three men, (inserted: Clark, Schaeffer, Carnell) their sincerity, Christian commitment, and hard work, we must press on to see why their apologetical systems are not fully satisfactory. Although many fine points of presuppositional character can be found scattered throughout their writings, we regretfully note that their positions as a whole are inconsistent with these points. This inconsistency might might make it appear that criticisms offered below could be rebutted by retreating to the better parts of the writer under scrutiny; however, after trying to harmonize the conflicting assertions and to read them in a sympathetic spirit, I am simply unable to reconcile the major differences or eliminate the tension among them.”
~Dr. Greg Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, Part 2, Introduction, pg 135

In this recent post, wherein I quote from a nearby section of the same book, we see that Clark does not, in fact, “presuppose sola scriptura” – how can he, when he doesn’t even presuppose the Word of God AS the Word of God? This is the fundamental, bedrock principle OF presuppositional apologetics. Here is another example, in case one doesn’t convince my readers. Directly following a discussion of Clark’s comments on statements from R.G. Collingwood, Bahnsen states “In all this Clark has not made the truth of Scripture an absolute and necessary presupposition, a genuine transcendental of meaningfulness for all science, history, etc. Indeed, by contrast, one could easily be led to believe that logic per se is his transcendental rather than Scripture. Instead of the attempt to be independent of God’s Word, ‘the denial of the law of non-contradiction, or even the failure to establish it as a universal truth, was the downfall of secular philosophy.'” (Quoting Clark, The Axiom of Revelation, 64) (pg 144, PA: S&D)

Bahnsen continues in the next section, entitled “Possibility vs. Necessity.”

“God should be taken by the Christian as the source and standard of all material, as well as logical possibility; He is the one who determines all things (even the operation of the human mind and its limits). But for Clark the possibilities of human imagination and the bare possibilities dictated by formal logic have precedence to God (at least in Clark’s writings). God too seems to be drawn into an environment of ‘possibility’ (i.e., made subject to the conditions thereof); of course, then, this must also be the case for God’s Word. Instead of demanding that Barth, for example, must recognize the subordination of all thinking to God’s Word because it is our absolute, transcendental presupposition that makes intelligibility, thinking, evaluating, and meaning possible, Clark wants Barth, in considering such a subordination, not to “bluntly rule out this possibility.”

A more skeptical view of the amount of truth obtainable by experimentation, with the help of operationalism, might bring the idea of subordinationism back again within the limits of possibility. The Scripture is a better source than experimentation is for the norms of ethics and politics; perhaps there is some way to bring physics and zoology under this authority. (Clark, Karl Barth’s Theological Method, 68)

Because Clark, thus, does not take the truth of God’s Word as an absolutely essential presupposition to which all thought must (not merely possibly) be subordinated, it is not surprising that he should write, “From a logical standpoint it is equal whether one’s assumptions are philosophical or theological, Christian or not.” (Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation, 8) This is not the case! Cristianity and unbelief are not on an equal footing, for unbelief has no fotting whatsoever. And even logical possibility cannot be a common background to Christian and pagan systems of thought, for Christianity alone makes logic possible. With this quote, whatever absolute character Clark’s presupposition of God’s Word may have had is completely dissolved.” (PA:S&D, 145-146)

Bahnsen, as you may know, was the “heir apparent” to Van Til. He is the definitive exegete of, and successor to, Van Til. As you can see, it is the Van Tillian school that believes that Scripture Alone is presupposed. This may not be considered ideal by the author to which we are responding, but this is certainly the case. Clark, like most modern day apologists, has conceded the absolute truth of the Word of God to a “possibility” – we do not, and cannot.

whereas I think the evidence for the truth of scripture and problems of other sources (Pope’s, Councils, the Koran…) is very strong.

Let me just ask a single, simple question. By what standard? This is the real topic of any debate with anyone. What is your standard? To a Romanist, it is the magesterium, which mediates Scripture by it’s authority. For a Muslim, it is the Quran, which likewise mediates Scripture by it’s authority. For Clark, it is logic that mediates the truth of Scripture. As Bahnsen says shortly thereafter, “By not viewing the truth of Scripture as a presupposition that is absolutely necessary, Clark reduces the status of the Bible to a hypothesis.”

While everyone has some presuppositions, I generally try to minimize what I presuppose and if something can be demonstrated, there’s no need to presuppose it. On the other hand, Van Til’s version of presuppositionalism is marked with antinomy and skepticism.

I agree that everyone presupposes something – I would like to know what the author would define as “some”, however. I likewise minimize what I presuppose – to what God has revealed in His Word! I would also like to know how, precisely, Van Tillian presuppositionalism is “marked by antinomy and skepticism”. I would agree that we Van Tillians are highly skeptical of any “falsely called knowledge” that results from any thinking not in accordance with the Word of God. If that’s what he means, I’m happy to plead “guilty”.

While James White didn’t declare himself to be in either Gordon Clark’s or Van Til’s camp, and generally didn’t get into much detail about presuppositionalism, but his denial that unbelievers can have ‘true knowledge’ and his objection to common ground between believers and unbelievers seems to show more influence from Van Til than Clark, since Van Til famously denied the same things.

I know for a fact that Dr. White is Van Tillian in method, just so you know. Note that neither Van Til nor Bahnsen denied common ground *completely* – but common ground as *popularly conceived.* Our common ground is in the fact that all men are created in the image of God – and it is to that Imago Dei that we appeal, as Paul did in Acts 17. As to knowledge, remember that we don’t deny that unbelievers can have *any* knowledge – they can know the truth, but they *suppress* it, and believe, instead, a lie. However, even when you believe something that is objectively true – but for subjective reasons – you do not believe the *truth*, as it is, for the reasons you *should* believe it – and therefore do not truly know it. There’s more to it, including another post where he responds to a page James Anderson linked him, but that’ll do for now.

I have a couple more issues I’d like to address. In the comments of the above post, A.M. Mallett says the following:

…it is my opinion that presuppositional apologetics is the leaven that fuels the advancement of Calvinism’s carnal flavor. It’s premise is founded on the ability to dissuade the merits of other belief systems rather than relying on the scriptural evidences of God’s power and truth. The LORD did not instruct us to go out and argue against the merits and beliefs of other systems. He tells us instead “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isa 55:11 AV). He tells us again “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (1Co 1:18-21 AV)
I do not believe presuppositionalism has any ground in scripture.

First off, the presuppositions of the comment’s author are abundantly clear. “Calvinism’s carnal flavor”. I’d like to hear how, exactly, his man-centered system of theology has a basis to critique a system with “Sola Deo Gloria” at it’s heart. His caricature of presuppositionalism is also manifest. While the author may, as he states, have this opinion – it is an eminently foolish opinion to hold. First, he seems to be saying that all we do is tear down the systems of others. While this is incorrect; we are arguing FROM Scripture, and positively arguing the intrinsic truth of the Scripture in response to our opponents as well, it is also incorrect to say tearing down the idolatrous systems of others is NOT commanded in Scripture. How would he explain 2 Cor 10:3-5, if this is the case? Further, note the verses he quotes. How DOES God destroy the foolish wisdom of the world? Through the defense of the faith by His people. Just as God uses means to spread the Gospel, so He uses means to destroy the wisdom of the world. Notice it is His WORD that does not return void. Since our task is to destroy the world’s wisdom by the use of the Scriptures, is that not the very essence of not returning void? I also note that the passage he quotes actually militates against his desire to use evidences as neutral facts. *Anything we say that is grounded in the Word* is foolishness to unbelievers. Unless you are conformed to this world, the world *will* scoff at it. If you are conformed, they may very well accept it – but have you not read 1 Cor 1:17? “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void.” NOT in cleverness of speech, my friend. If your apologetic is not consistent with the Gospel, it is no apologetic. As for it having “no ground in Scripture” – I suggest you take a gander at Acts 17, Romans, Colossians, Ephesians, and Galatians. Also see Jesus’ words to the Saducees; “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God.” What is Paul’s answer to the Athenians? “What you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you”. You don’t know – so I’m going to tell you. Then, he tells them – right out of the Scripture. So, let me repeat – you, sir, are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, nor the power of God.

One more thing to add – recently Christopher Weaver left a comment on this post where he stated the following: “the nonbasic source of knowledge that is scripture”. I’d just like to point out that Scripture, to a presuppositionalist, is THE basis of knowledge, period. This is the fundamental problem with non-Scriptural apologetics, as a rule. They don’t believe Sola Scriptura applies to all of life – just in compartmentalized areas. I bring this up because I left a comment to his initial objection (which boils down to “there can be a counter-factual to the counter-factual which you already denied, so you’re wrong” (aka: I assume counter-factuals)). When you assume what Scripture denies, you also denied Sola Scriptura (not that I have any evidence to believe that he holds to that position in any meaningful fashion in the first place).

Evidence that Evidentialism Fails

All one needs to do to demonstrate the title of this post is true is to examine the Caner Scandal. Ergun Caner’s defenders have consistently refused to examine the evidence of Ergun Caner’s multiplicitous prevarications – and instead have attacked those criticizing Dr. Caner. See, evidentialism is all about presenting “brute facts”, “objectively” from a putatively “neutral” standpoint. There are many problems with this. First, no one is neutral. Second, there are no brute facts. Third, there is no objectivity from any position save that of a worldview based soundly in Christian theology.

Here’s where evidentialism goes off the rails. They assume that man can reason properly, absent God’s regenerative grace. Based on that, they assume that given “facts”, in this universal reasoning ability, you can come to the correct conclusion if the case is reasoned well. Third, they “cut down” the whole of Christian theology, and argue from “bare theism”.

Let’s take the first. Scripture most definitely denies this assertion. Romans 1 tells us that men “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”, they “become futile in their speculations” and thus God gives them over – to lusts, to passions, and to a depraved mind. Proverbs repeatedly tells us that the fear of the Lord is the *beginning* of wisdom. Tell me – if you don’t even have the beginning, how can you have any at all? I could go on, but this is going to be short, so I’ll stop there.

Second, no fact is examined apart from your own already-formed conceptions. Until and unless those conceptions, or presuppositions, are addressed, you will go nowhere. Everything a man examines is filtered through the matrix of their presuppositions. There are no “brute” facts, which merely need to be seen to reach the proper conclusion.

Third, the assumption that there is an “objective” viewpoint for unbelievers to look at facts from is absurd. Did not Christ say “I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life?” That means there is, definitionally, no other! Does not Paul say, in Colossians, that ALL treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ Jesus? This means that all other purported wisdom, purported knowledge, is foolish – it is only “falsely called wisdom”. (1 Ti 6:20)

So, back to our example. When presented with video, audio, legal documents, examples from his own writings – what is the response of Caner’s defenders? I’ve seen a few types of response.
1) Ignore it
2) Spin it
3) Attack the messenger

Now, does this look to you like all you have to do is present the evidence, and they will see the light? If someone doesn’t *want to believe the evidence* – they won’t – and only an act of God will change that desire. After all – isn’t that we’re always saying? Only those drawn by the Father will come. Only those given ears to hear, will hear.

Tim Rogers is claiming that Caner was “exonerated”. Do people who are exonerated get fired as President of a seminary? Peter Lumpkins is claiming that “Ergun Caner did not make up his life testimony.” Tim Guthrie claims that “He is NOT a liar.” Excuse me? On what possible grounds can any of these statements be made? Oh, that’s right – on presuppositional grounds. Faulty presuppositional grounds. If none of the evidence presented, save that which can be refuted (and has also been refuted by Caner’s *Christian* critics, save for one undiscerning soul), is considered valid *a priori*, or has been examined at all, it’s easy to say that. It’s just as easy to say a red light is green – if you’re colorblind.

So, as I said – this situation points out quite clearly what the issue is. It’s NOT evidence. it’s *presuppositions*.

To close with a couple quotes from Dr. Robert Price, a skeptic Dr. White recently debated:

Dr. Price: “if you had your video camera, you’d have picked it up – but nobody did… I don’t know what on earth could prove that Moses divided the Red Sea, save a trip in a time machine… it’s a question of theology, not a historical judgement” – from that recent debate.
Dr. White: (selected) “this issue this evening is not just the skepticism that says we don’t know… if we are not for God having spoken, we are where Dr. Price is this evening…. so, there could not be any evidence from antiquity that could convince you?”
Dr. Price: “no, I can’t see how, given the nature of documents from antiquity”
Dr. White: “Does it not follow that there cannot be anything short of multiply attested recordings of an event to prove it?”
Dr. Price: “”I’m afraid that’d be so.”

Our intrepid defenders, note – are even MORE skeptical than Dr. Price. Even video cannot prove whether something happened, to these folks. I rest my case.

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