Questioning Copan

The Gospel Coalition is running a series on apologetics, and today’s entry was by Paul Copan, entitled “Questioning Presuppositionalism”. What struck me, while reading his take on the subject, was how superficial and inaccurate it was. He introduces Van Til, and then says that Gordon Clark supposedly “generally followed” his methodology, along with Bahnsen and Frame, and then called it “variegated”. Well, given that he’s simply wrong concerning Clark, and that Frame consciously departed from Van Til as well, I’d supposed that’s an assumption guaranteed to result in a certain conclusion, wouldn’t you? It is not the case that Clark followed Van Til. Clark was not a student of Van Til’s, nor was a fellow professor. Clark taught at Wheaton, until 1944, roughly contemporary with the inauguration of the Controversy, at his ordination in the OPC, and taught at Butler consequently. Frame and Bahnsen, however, were students of Van Til at Westminster. Bahnsen, in many ways, was Van Til’s “prize pupil” – and arranged perhaps the definitive “reader” for Van Til’s published work.

Be that as it may, it’s even more useful to deal with the substance of Copan’s comments at this point. He begins with a story concerning Carl F. Henry, who said that we need more than probabilistic arguments of evidentialism. This merely echoes Van Til when he says God is not honored by being said to “probably” exist. In fact, it strikes to the heart of our theology. As Reformed believers, we profess that all men do, in fact, know that God exists. When we say this, we are not saying that they know “a god” exists – we are saying that they know God. I wrote a paper on that very subject[1] not all that long ago, and this doctrine is a mainstay of Reformed theology. Scripture teaches it, therefore we believe it, as would be expected by adherents of Sola Scriptura. Copan doesn’t seem to grasp the theological underpinnings of the method, in many ways – at least he doesn’t address it. As I’ve said many times before – this is simply Sola Scriptura in an apologetic context.

From there, we are taken through a very shallow view of presup’s foundations, without an eye to the subtleties of theology on which it is built. There is a casual mention of several elements, but the mentions seem to lack an accurate understanding, as we shall see later. We’ll take his comments as they come from here on in.

Presuppositionalism is common in Reformed circles. Cornelius Van Til, called the “fountainhead of presuppositionalism,” argued that one must begin with biblical revelation; otherwise, “logic” and “evidence” will become distorted to accommodate the suppression of truth in unrighteousness. Others like Gordon Clark, Greg Bahnsen, and John Frame have generally followed Van Til’s methodology—although in variegated fashion (which makes a brief assessment of presuppositionalism difficult). For example, Frame asks: “Are we not still forced to say, ‘God exists (presupposition), therefore God exists (conclusion), and isn’t that argument circular?'” He answers, “Yes, in a way.”

Elsewhere he says, “If Scripture is the ultimate justification for all human knowledge, how should we justify our belief in Scripture itself? By Scripture, of course!”

Yes, it is common in Reformed circles. Why is it common in Reformed circles? Because it is simply the consistent conclusion of Reformed theology. To paraphrase Van Til, Reformed theology requires a Reformed apologetic. I also find it interesting that he doesn’t quote Frame’s further explanation of what is meant by “circular”, or delineate between a “vicious” and “broad” circularity, as he would have to do, in order to adequately make the charge he does first. He also fails to note any of Van Til’s extensive argumentation concerning this very question – in his specific, full-length books on epistemology, or in his broader apologetic work. It’s rather disappointing, if the truth be told. I expected something significantly more robust. Unfortunately, he does much the same thing that Craig does, and the vast majority of Van Til’s critics, and simply sweeps the question of epistemology under the rug by a dismissal of “begging the question”. What is not quite so evident, but is nonetheless present, is Copan’s question-begging in return. If presupposing Scripture, as a unit, as a system, is seen to be “begging the question” – is not assuming the autonomy of man in starting with himself to reason equally question-begging? I find it quite puzzling that an experienced philosopher such as Dr. Copan would pass over such a fundamental issue at this point. But I’m running ahead of myself a bit, so I’ll return to his statements.

Frame argues that we all have presuppositions, and if we assume that reason can be used to assess worldviews, then this one is depending upon rationalism, which itself begs the question (or is circular). Since there is no presupposition-free zone, one can legitimately “presuppose” the Christian faith to make sense of reality and engage with alternative worldviews.

Copan’s discussion, strangely, doesn’t get into why we say this. He doesn’t discuss the nature of what is presupposed by the non-Christian, and by himself, in arguing with the non-Christian on his own terms. What is sorely lacking in these responses is an in-depth look at the questions and objections posed by the method to the theological and philosophical underpinnings of their evidentialism/classicalism. It is simply passed over by a retreat to “begging the question” or “circular reasoning” – and fails to address the question-begging and circularity present in their own view – even when it is mentioned, as we will see shortly.

As I see it, presuppositionalism has the following strengths: its emphasis on (a) the noetic influence of sin (sin’s effect on the mind); (b) the non-neutrality of worldviews (they are heart-commitments); and (c) the need for the Spirit for faith to take root in one’s heart. I would also disagree with presuppositionalism at certain points.

While I’m sure Dr. Copan is being complimentary here, I don’t think he is aiming at the right place. The foundation, for Van Til, is only accurately represented if it is viewed as a “totality” – as a unit. Taking certain elements of the method and pulling them out for scrutiny directly denies what the method itself says should be done, and can be done – so how can a denial of what the method says be a “strength” of that method? All of the above are part of Reformed theology, sure – but they are all only part, and inseparable from the whole.

First, it engages in question-begging—assuming what one wants to prove. It begins with the assumption that God exists, and then concludes that God exists. Such reasoning would get you an “F” in any logic class worthy of the name! [Note: For a broader critique of Frame’s starting points, see Harold A. Netland, “Apologetics, Worldviews, and the Problem of Neutral Criteria,” Trinity Journal 12/1 (Spring 1991): 39-58.]

As we have repeatedly explained, there is a crucial difference between “broad” and “vicious” circularity. Van Til expresses this at length throughout his works. There is no mention of the difference herein, nor is there any sign that he has dealt with the issue in any sense. Until this is done, it is “question begging” to say that what we explicitly deny is in fact the case. This is one of the points on which the debate turns. Defining it away does not answer the question, nor does saying that it would get you an “F”. If Dr. Copan defined Van Til’s position as such, I’d give him an “F”. Simple retortion, and just as sound, argumentatively. It is by no means clear that what is being spoken of is simple question-begging, especially given the paucity of context in view. One might only refer to our FAQ section on the topic, or to Butler, Pratt, Bahnsen, or even Frame himself for a refutation that this is what is in view. If Dr. Copan takes simple question-begging to be our position, he is mistaken. In fact, he should know better, as there is no lack of material to be found on the topic.

While we begin our worldview examination from somewhere, universal logical laws like the law of non-contradiction or excluded middle are inescapable for assessing and critiquing worldviews. In his debate with Henry, Hackett said that without some set of “neutral criteria” that are logically prior to consent or commitment to a particular worldview, “there is no way to show that one worldview perspective is more plausible than another” since both parties are “starting from totally different assumptions.” Indeed, the statements of Scripture themselves presuppose the validity of logical laws of non-contradiction and excluded middle; they also appeal to criteria beyond Scripture—the court of appeals of historical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection (1 Cor. 15:1-19)—things that were not done in a corner (Acts 26:26).

Here is where the rubber meets the road. We are told that these laws are “universal”. How does one know that these logical laws are “universal”? Is it not begging the question in favor of your own position to say that they are universal, on your own authority? One can try to escape to coherentism, foundationalism, or any numbers of “isms” to attempt to demonstrate it externally, but to do so, you are still assuming that which you set out to prove, those laws of logic, are you not? Even if, as it seems, the appeal is to pragmatism – it is “inescapable” – does the necessity of using a thing justify knowledge of the thing to begin with? We aren’t told why, if this is so. I’m aware that this is a short, introductory critique, but this is not a short, introductory subject he is addressing with such brevity. Why is it the case that “universal logical laws” are “inescapable for assessing and critiquing worldviews”? We aren’t told. This seems to be an unargued assertion. It also seems to be begging the question in his favor, does it not? There is the further unargued assertion that Scripture presupposes these logical laws. How does Dr. Copan know this? We are not told, and no argument is offered in support of this statement. It is further asserted that there are “criteria beyond Scripture”. Verses are cited, but not exegeted. Hardly the sort of citation an adherent of Sola Scriptura is wont to support. Further, I find it ironic that Scripture is being cited to support the assertion of appeals “beyond Scripture”. Is Dr. Copan under the impression 1) That Scripture is beyond Scripture or 2) That the period of enscripturation is identical to the period antecedent to the period of enscripturation? 1) is given as a humorous statement, to point out that this seems to be circular, superficially. You need Scripture to tell you what is supposedly “beyond Scripture”, it seems 😉 2) however, is more pointed. Is it Dr. Copan’s intention to undermine the argument from apostolic authority? This seems to be an unintended consequence of his position. If Scripture needs “outside help” to show itself to be true, this militates against the confessional position of the people he is arguing against, for one – cf. LBCF/WCF I. Is this not begging the question in favor of his own position? For another, what does he then do with the unique ministry of the apostles as the writers of that Scripture? In this way is it shown that the Reformed doctrine of Sola Scriptura is consistently monergistic, just as its soteriology is monergistic. This is the key that many people seem to miss. All of Reformed theology is monergistic – not just its soteriology.

Second, Christians share common ground with unbelievers, who are likewise made in God’s image, which is not erased by the fall. Someone has said, “A person who believes in total depravity can’t be all that bad!” Yet in some Reformed circles, the doctrine of total depravity seems to leave no trace of the imago Dei. The Scriptures affirm otherwise (Gen. 9:6), and God can and does speak to unbelievers through reason, beauty, moral failure, and the existence of evil. As a cloud of apologetical witnesses can testify, God has used philosophical arguments for his existence, scientific supports for the universe’s beginning (Big Bang) and its fine-tuning, and historical evidences for the resurrection of Jesus to assist people in embracing Christ—just as God uses preaching of the gospel (Romans 1:16) or the loving character of a Christian community (John 13:35). These are all part of the holistic witness to the reality of God and the gospel, all of which the Spirit of God can use to lead unbelievers to embracing the Christ.

I’ll confess. This is the one that really got my goat. If Dr. Copan had read Van Til, I don’t think it would be remotely possible to write this about presuppositionalism. It would be an absurdity to him. As it stands, I’m forced to believe that he has no idea what van Til said about the imago Dei, at very least. It is unmistakeably clear – in Van Til, and in Bahnsen, that the image of God is the point of contact – is the common ground – between believers and unbelievers. In fact, how he managed to miss this in Frame also puzzles me. Van Til takes directly from Calvin’s first chapter of the Institutes, and explicitly states that the image of God is the point of contact. “It is assured of a point of contact in the fact that every man is made in the image of God and has impressed upon him the law of God. In that fact alone he may rest secure with respect to the point of contact problem. For that fact makes men always accessible to God. That fact assures us that every man, to be a man at all, must already be in contact with the truth. He is so much in contact with the truth that much of his energy is spent in the vain attempt to hide this fact from himself. … Only by thus finding the point of contact in man’s sense of deity that lies underneath his own conception of self-consciousness as ultimate can we both be true to Scripture and effective in reasoning with the natural man.”[2] In the response to the section to follow, the puzzling insistence by other schools for putting words in our mouth will be addressed further. The typical Arminian misrepresentation of Total Depravity is also unfortunate, although not unexpected. Theology matters – and theology determines apologetic methodology, as James White is wont to say.

Third, some (not all) presuppostionalists seem inconsistent about natural theology. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga describes the attitude of Reformed theologians toward theistic arguments as ranging from “indifference, through suspicion and hostility, to outright accusations of blasphemy.”

Typically, these presuppositionalists (e.g., Bahnsen) avoid traditional cosmological (causal), teleological (design), and moral arguments, but they enthusiastically endorse the transcendental argument for God (TAG)—the argument to show that God as the inevitable ground for all rational thought. This strikes me as a distinction without a difference: why couldn’t God use TAG just as he uses other natural theological arguments? Furthermore, why the Christian God and not the God of the Qur’an as the ground for rational thought?

Let’s be frank for a minute. Is it natural theology that we have a problem with, or is it the use (or misuse) of it that we have a problem with? Van Til, again, has a response, would Dr. Copan only read it. Again, it is theological in nature, and only a few pages prior to the last. “In paradise Adam knew that as a creature of God it was natural and proper that he should keep the covenant that God had made with him. In this way it appears that man’s proper self-consciousness depended, even in paradise, upon his being in contact with both supernatural and natural revelation. God’s natural revelation was within man as well as about him. Man’s very constitution as a rational and moral being is itself revelational of man as the ethically responsible reactor to revelation. … Mad had originally not merely a capacity for receiving the truth; he was in actual possession of the truth. The world of truth was not found in some realm far distant from him; it was right before him. That which spoke to his senses no less than that which spoke to his intellect was the voice of God. Even when he closed his eyes upon the external world, his internal sense would manifest God to him in his own constitution. The matter of his experience was in no sense in need of a mere form with which he might organize the raw material. On the contrary, the matter of his experience was lit up through and through. Yet it was lit up for him by the voluntary activity of God whose counsel made things to be what they are. Man could not be aware of himself without being aware of the objects about him and without also being aware of his responsibility to manage himself and all things for the glory of God.”[3]

While he tries to make this a “softer blow” – it doesn’t particularly work. In historic Reformed theology, it is the case that we affirm that all men know God. Our confessions affirm it, and our systematics surely do so as well. Since all men know God, this goes hand in hand with knowing His creation as such – His creation. This is the basis for our contention that probabilistic argumentation is wrong, and yes, blasphemous. If this offends someone, well, the truth sometimes offends. I’ve said it before. God is not honored by saying He *probably* exists when he Himself tells us in Scripture that all men know He exists, and who and what He is. It’s not that we are arguing that God is the *inevitable* grounds for rational thought – we’re saying that rational thought apart from those grounds is *impossible*. It’s not an inductive argument, nor is it a deductive argument. It’s an “argument by presupposition”, or a transcendental argument – which deals with the preconditions of intelligibility. We’re saying *nothing makes sense* unless you start with God – and further, that *everyone does*, because they all know God, even though they attempt to suppress it, even to themselves. Yet, that very knowledge is the point of contact we are striving to use. As both Van Til and Bahnsen said, if Dr. Copan would read further in their published work, there is a place for the traditional arguments – but not formulated probabilistically. The place for those arguments is within the greater transcendental argument, which pits entire worldviews one against the other, as systems. Hinc illae lacrimae! That is the issue, not the putative problems he (and Plantinga) think we have with the traditional arguments. Lastly, you can’t use Islam because Islam cannot provide the preconditions for intelligibility, nor can Allah be said to be known by every man, among other problems. Another question we’ve answered here, at length, and he is welcome to correspond with us further if he’d like to see the answer in full.

Fourth, it is important to distinguish between the confident ground of our knowledge of God and the highly probable public case for the Christian faith. The witness of the Spirit—not a host of intellectual arguments—is what ultimately gives us confident knowledge that we belong to God (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:6-7; 1 Jn. 2:20), yet this does not exclude the Spirit’s using highly probable or plausible public evidences for God’s existence or for the resurrection of Jesus. Knowledge in one area does not exclude knowledge in another. Having warrant for belief is not the same as showing my belief is warranted.

This, my friends, is where the question is begged most viciously. Certainty is found only in the revelation of God. Assuming that there is a “lesser” persuasion is the entire point of our dispute, and here it is, merely asserted, yet again. It is NOT important “to distinguish between the confident ground of our knowledge of God and the highly probable case for the Christian faith.” There, I’ve made the same argument Dr. Copan made for you, just reversed. Do you feel convinced? Stating the same thing different ways, as he does to follow, is still not an argument. It’s just an assertion. He is correct that the witness of the Spirit is what gives us “confident knowledge” – Reformed believers call this “certainty” – but that’s not a popular term in most philosophical circles. We are, however, told in Scripture that we may know for certain. We know for certain that what God tells us is true – because He is the only possible grounds for certainty *at all*. Luke tells us that we may know for certain, in Luke 1:4 – using ἀσφάλεια – rendered as “the exact truth”. Peter, in Acts 2:36, says that all Israel knew “for certain” – same word – that Jesus was both Lord and Christ. Christ is the truth. His word is truth. Is it uncertain, or is it “sure” – ἀσφαλής – the Word of hope that God, who cannot lie, gave us, as it says in Hebrews 6:19? It does not do to offer a probable hope, or a probable god, or a probable history, or a probable case for any of the above. It does not even do to offer a highly probable case for any of the above. What isn’t mentioned, further, is how we are supposed to determine these so-called probabilities. Whose rules do we use, and what goes into formulating them? I’m sure Dr. Copan goes into this elsewhere, but he sure doesn’t address them here. Even if he did, I’d have issues with the inherent subjectivity of the entire process. I would submit to you that while offering a critique on each one of these points, he has given you a much shallower theological position, and holds to a much shallower theological position than the one we self-consciously and openly claim to be arguing from.

We, unlike the traditional apologist, lay our cards on the table and call the unbeliever’s bluff. In turn, I’d like to call Dr. Copan’s bluff. If you’re going to make critiques, kindly ensure that you accurately depict the position you are critiquing – and don’t engage in the same practices that you claim your opponents are engaging in while doing so. It’s not the work of a professional philosopher, or worthy of the head of a major philosophical society. It’s the work of someone with “an axe to grind”, as Van Til was fond of saying. If this response is considered overly harsh, please understand that I consider Dr. Copan’s attempted critique to be overly harsh; primarily because it is overly simplistic, theologically shallow, and generally inaccurate. It is neither gracious nor good scholarship to so badly misrepresent a position on a major theological resource such as TGC. Please consider this response to be a rebuke, and an encouragement to revisit the published work of the men that are cited. I won’t be the only person to respond to this article. I’m sure Westminster will have a response forthcoming, given the contributions from multiple faculty members to TGC.

  1. [1]Whipps, Joshua, Exposition of Romans 1:16-2:16 – The Knowledge of God, In Antithesis: A Reformed Apologetics Journal, Vol. 1, Num. 1
  2. [2]CVT, Defense of the Faith (4th Ed.), 117
  3. [3]CVT, Defense of the Faith (4th Ed.), 114

Why Ignorance Isn't Bliss

Found some humdingers asserted by a young man on a friend’s wall recently, that while not really needing a response due to their falsity, are at least helpful to address.

The initial status update states:

People often say, “Trust in yourself, believe in yourself.” Well, God says I’m a fool. Would you trust a fool? I wouldn’t…

The unbelieving young man’s response is to say this:

Would you trust someone who belittles you and says things that are simply falsehoods?

Note a couple things. First, the complete and utter lack of argumentation offered for the assertions. Second, the use of “simply”, as if there isn’t a need for proof to be offered. Why on earth does he imagine that there is no argumentation necessary for a boldfaced denial of the initial statements he is responding to? At very least, I’d hope he would realize that he should have one. Unfortunately, I don’t suspect this to be the case.

My response, due to the incredible unargued assertion, is to ask:

What is “belittling” about the truth?

He responds:

You have lived your own life. Not god. No one else has. Only you. You can choose to follow a religious calling. But at the end of the day the only one who got you to where you are is you. The creator may put things in your path but when all is said and done you must act upon it. Therefore we are not foolish or anything. We simply are presented with life. we must chose how to do it right. You must trust yourself for god to be able to do anything. And any god that considers you a fool, a sheep, or any number of things, is not worthy of my love. It’s a falsehood that we are foolish. There are stupid people, but only foolish mistakes. Not foolish people. Does a mistake make one foolish?

Amazingly, he considers this response sufficient. I think not. First, what reason are we given to consider “living your own life” to be relevant? Second, how are we supposed to connect “therefore”, prior to “we are not foolish or anything” with either “the only one who got you to where you are is you” or “you must act upon it”? What is the “therefore” there for? We aren’t told. Third, we are told that we are “simply” presented with life – we must (choose) how to do it right. Presumably, it seems, also choose what right is? If I recall, that is what Adam and Eve’s initial sin amounts to. Why this is supposedly an objection to the Christian position, we are not told. Fourth, we are told that we *must* trust ourselves in order for god to do anything. A strange sort of “god” that he has in mind, by any accounting. Even more puzzling, however, is that we are told “any” god that considers us a fool, a sheep (or any number of things – does that include ‘a person”, incidentally? I mean, we wouldn’t want to offend this interestingly capricious fiction, now would we?) is – catch this – not worthy of his love. Well, now that we’ve established that humanity gets to decide what is worthy or not, thus turning the concept of “god” utterly on its head, we see what the real issue is, don’t we? He goes further in his redefinition of… well, everything he encounters. It is (why, we aren’t told) falsehood that we are foolish. Really? Says who? There are stupid people (granted), but only foolish mistakes. Forget that he’s directly contradicting the Scriptural witness – it’s just the way he says. Because he says so. At least, we aren’t given any other reason, as far as I can tell. There not any foolish people. Are we told why? he asks, finally, “Does a mistake make one foolish?” Who on earth said that, and why on earth would someone ask such a silly question? It puzzles me.

I responded to him in a comment, but since nothing he said was in any way (even remotely) related to what I said, I’m not going to bother repeating my comment here.

His next reply was as follows – and here’s where it starts going off the rails badly.

Your god is not my Shepard.

Given that there’s no such thing as a “Shepard”, I’d hope not. But more seriously, if he had actually read the Bible cover to cover, like he claims later, he’d know that he is a goat, not a sheep, hence “shepherd” hardly applies to him in any case. Does he think it does? It seems like it.

I am a pagan and I am proud of it.

Pagan comes from the word “paganus” in Latin – it means “rustic”, or “country-dweller”, ironically. It later became a pejorative, but is hardly descriptive of what he is, in either case. Technically, he is someone who acts μωραίνω – foolishly. First, because he is, in fact, ignorant – and proud of his ignorance. Secondly, because he denies what he knows – and Scripture calls that man a fool.

The christian god needs constant unwavering devotion or he will cast you into a lake of fire for all eternity.

Not exactly. He wants moral perfection in all regards, including, and most importantly towards Himself – which is the devotion that is due Him.

Some loving father in heaven if you ask me…

Were you under the impression that He loves you the same as He loves His people? I don’t believe that, and Christianity doesn’t teach that. Deformations of Christianity teach that, but they are heresies of various degrees. Hence, it goes to show that our putative scholar might want to re-examine the level of his Scriptural knowledge.

The only one capable of living your life is you.

While gratifyingly bumper-sticker worthy, and perhaps even worthy of an Ayn Rand cameo, what does this have to do with anything? We aren’t told.

Why trust that to a deity that will throw you into the pit without hesitation?

I’m sorry, aren’t you mixing pronouns? God doesn’t throw his children into the pit at all, let alone without hesitation. You’re the one who needs to worry about that. Nobody expects you to trust Him, after all. You’re a self-professed unbeliever, and self-professedly rebellious towards God, and believe that you determine 1) What is right and wrong 2) Whether God is right or wrong. Remind me again why I should believe I’m under the same condemnation as you are, when the Bible teaches otherwise?

You wouldn’t trust a fool, and I would not trust a lord that will cast me to the devil for questioning.

First, no I wouldn’t. You are right. So why should I trust you? Secondly, where on EARTH do you get the idea that the devil has anything to do with questioning, or of the administration of the lake of fire, as seems to be your implication? Do you get your Christian doctrines from Looney Tunes, or the Bible? If it’s the former, you could say that the devil “reigns” in Hell, but not from the Bible. Hell is where Satan is cast along with every other sinner, per the Bible.

As to god giving you your life and determining every point, that would be contrary to all forms of freewill…

No, just ones that define “freedom” like a toddler does. Where they get to do “whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want.” No, the Bible quite clearly states that there is no such thing, nor should there be, in a world with a sovereign Creator. Why this objection is supposed to impress anyone, I haven’t the foggiest. Were you under the impression that “free will” in the sense that most unbelievers affirm was an orthodox Christian doctrine?

That would make you no more than a puppet. A toy to be discarded at the earliest convenience.

A common claim, but with no argument provided – leaving us with yet another unargued assertion. Seemingly no knowledge of the mountains of material written on the subject, either. Just as an assignment – what did Luther claim was the hinge on which the entire Reformation turned? What was the debate between Augustine and Pelagius about? Inquiring minds want to know.

You call me rebellious? I am. I respect and worship the creator, but I do not follow blindly

Yes, you are. No, you neither respect or worship Him, because you refuse to accept Him as He is, and try to usurp His throne at every point. You don’t follow at all, let alone blindly.

After this… interesting… exposition of Christian doctrine, I replied again, as follows:

1) You seem to be under several misapprehensions about basic Christian doctrine. 2) You return to your misapprehensions at every point, thus causing a disconnect with the reality of this position on each and every point. 3) Since this is the case, you are objecting to a straw man – which, although it burns quite merrily, does no damage to the actual position you seek to address.

His reply was this:

Alright tell me specifically, where I am wrong. I’m that obnoxious type of pagan that has read the bible cover to cover. I don’t really object to the ideas or the doctrines. What I have a problem with is people who post a status like this or who try to make converts of all of us. They are so unlike their great teacher. I also would like to address the fact that by worshiping god you are infact guilty of the same thing that he cast lucifer into the pit for. He loved god too much to obey him in his orders to the angels to worship man. If he cast his most beautiful angel in heaven in the lake of fire for insisting upon worshiping him, why wouldn’t he to you.

For someone who has read the Bible “cover to cover”, he didn’t seem to have grasped much of it, if he makes such major errors. It is also hard to imagine that he doesn’t “really object to the ideas or the doctrines” when that seems to have been the entirety of his putative objections thus far. Of course, they are objections to doctrines that only exist in his imagination, for the most part, but it still doesn’t make much sense to say this. What else would you be objecting to, anyway?

I also find it rather amazing that his next sense is an objection to the doctrine of… the Gospel. You know, trying to convert people? By telling them what the Bible says? I mean, it’s sort of hard not to laugh when you see someone contradict themselves so blatantly. Especially when you follow that with the assertion that… this is “unlike their great teacher”. If I didn’t have reason to believe this was serious, I’d be having a good laugh. As it stands, I’m just wondering where he “learned” Christian doctrine from. That’s… not even remotely accurate. Not to mention the fact that he doesn’t say why this is the case. Again.

The next bit is truly weird. He claims to have read the Bible cover to cover.. but then claims that God 1) Has already cast Satan into the pit (He hasn’t) 2) Did so for NOT worshiping MAN (This is.. so unbelievably wrong that it makes my head hurt.) 3) Insists that Satan was cast into Hell for… worshiping God, rather than for trying to… usurp God’s place as the one worshiped, as the Bible says. What Bible did he read? I’m really wondering, now. It’s just crazy. But, of course, what do we know about Christianity? We’re only Christians who study the doctrine and theology of our own Scripture. What could we possibly know?

Truly amazing, the things you read on facebook.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alan Kurshner, contributor to Allahu Akbar and Omega Ministries, (and contributor to Triablogue – how does that work, again, if you’re a fellow terrorist sympathizer, and contributor to the group accusing the other of being terrorist sympathizers?) endorses Triablogue review of Roger Olson’s book. I don’t know if I can trust Triablogue, now, after these dealings with terrorist dupes.

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

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

1. Christ is Head of (the) Mormon Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven Reasons Why Mormons are Christian?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next

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

On Speaking to Brick Walls

Paul Baird responded. He still doesn’t get it. (Surprise, suprise.)

I wonder when they are going to learn that it takes an argument to respond to an argument?

Paul asks “Where’s the beef?” – Which, of course, leads me immediately to ask “Would you know it if you saw it?” He addresses nothing whatsoever that I said. Nothing at all. Further, if he wants to know why I turned the comments off, he can look at out site rules to find out.

Here is his assertion. “It seems to me that the Pagan worldview I put up stands undefeated by Joshua Whipps.”

Isn’t that special? (To quote another 80’s pop culture meme) Now, care to tell us something, anything, about how you plan on demonstrating that? It’s all very well to give us an insight into your personal phantasmagoria, but it really is helpful if you actually say something substantive, instead of giving us your opinion, sans argumentation. Did you plan on dealing with what I said, or did you even bother reading it?

“Every criticism that you’ve made and every piece of firm ground that you claim, I can make and I can claim.”

Which, of course, he states without dealing with anything I’ve argued, specifically, that says this is not the case, and cannot be the case. That, however, would require critical thinking and logical argumentation – which he apparently can’t be bothered to apply himself to.

“It’s annoying isn’t it ? Now if your god would only just turn up it would settle everything wouldn’t it ? Without that your argument is no better than mine.”

What is annoying, Paul, is speaking to a brick wall. Just once, I’d love to encounter just a smidgen of critical thinking on the subject, instead of this bloody-minded obstinacy. At this point, I really do wonder if Paul even reads these. I’m really beginning to think that he doesn’t even bother, and just throws out condescending retorts when he doesn’t have a clue as to what he is responding to. If he is reading it, it’s patently obvious that he doesn’t understand it.

Lastly – he takes a quote from me, and clearly shows he has no idea what I’m actually saying – which is what I was telling him he was doing, and is proceeding to tell me I’m wrong about. Unfortunately, all he had to do was read the context, instead of skimming it for things to respond to with one-liners. He quotes:

“If he persists in doing so, he is going to be left as the only one discussing what he is discussing.”

What was I talking about, folks? Let’s, you know, actually read the context – like people interested in reading what other people are saying do.

“Reinterpreting our statements through his personal experience has done nothing but lead him astray from where the discussion is. If he persists in doing so, he is going to be left as the only one discussing what he is discussing. This is the case, because it bears no resemblance to what we are saying, nor does it accurately reflect what we believe. If he wants to rectify his problematic interpretation of what is being said, all he need do is begin asking questions, rather than making pronouncements about what the subject is. It’s really that simple. The problem is not that we are somehow “hiding” the argument away – it’s that Paul has shown almost no effort whatsoever toward understanding what the argument is, or what it means. It is not especially difficult, were he willing to put in that effort. I hope he does, and begins to ask, rather than to tell us.”

Notice: I point out that he is reinterpreting our statements through his personal experience. What did he just do? That exact thing. It led him astray. I am saying: “Paul is talking about what someone else believes, not what I believe, and eventually we’re going to give up on his perpetual strawman machine.” Paul, apparently, thinks I’m saying: “I don’t want to talk to you anymore”, and his response is “but you keep doing it!” His interpretation of what is being said is problematic. This needs to be rectified. To do so, he needs to ask, instead of pronounce. He doesn’t understand what we’re saying, in even the simplest of matters, and we’ve definitely put in an effort to help him to understand. Instead of taking what was said, he tells us what it means. Sorry to burst his bubble – but I said what I meant. If we are to take what I actually said, and respond with what he actually said, we are left with the fact that it “suits him” to be dealing with something no one else is talking about. As in, something that no one believes, where nobody thinks like he says they do, or holds to what he is critiquing. Apparently, this is adequate, to Paul Baird.

In any case, he doesn’t show any desire to learn, and less evidence of understanding what we’re talking about. So, unless he’s willing to start learning, and converse in an adult fashion, I really don’t have anything else I can say to him. As I said, I really hope he learns something from this – but sadly, he doesn’t seem willing. If he’s interested in having a conversation, he needs to listen to, and comprehend what his conversation partner is actually saying. Thus far, he simply hasn’t shown the least inclination toward doing so.

Why Shouldn't Paul Baird Choose Hats?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adventures in Missing the Antithesis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are a significant number of newly “converted” (to presup, at least) folks that are quite zealous for the defense of the faith. This, I consider good. On the other hand, Scripture warns us against “zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge”, in Rom 10:2. This is especially important for us to consider. All too often, we have a tendency to “jump right in,” whether we are prepared to do so, or not. Zealousness leads us, with inadequate preparation, all too often to imbalance, and from or along with imbalance, to a sub-Biblical defense. Additionally, there is the problem of not knowing what it is you are to be defending! As putative apologists, we must not overestimate our own abilities, knowledge, or proficiency. This isn’t to say that I consider myself to be “perfect” – or that anyone else should, this side of glory; What I am saying is, we must be very watchful that our desire doesn’t outrun our wisdom.

When we have something we desire to do, we often run ahead, to the detriment of our preparation for doing so. Similarly, we often dismiss preparation for either pragmatic or pietistic aims, at the expense of doctrinal orthodoxy. Part of an adequate apologetic is the ability to teach. If you aren’t convinced of that, I would point you to the instances of apologetic encounters in Scripture. If you are defending the faith, there are certain preconditions for doing so. Principally, there is the precondition of knowing what you are defending. Secondarily, there is the precondition of an ability to teach what Christian doctrine is, so that it may be clear to your audience what in fact it is to be defended. Thirdly, it must be clearly said that there is the precondition of grace; and that graciousness is the product of sanctification, not of formal study. None of these aspects can be overlooked or dismissed; and they must not be dismissed, because Scripture clearly commands them of us. In fact, dismissal of these requirements is tantamount to rebellion. To overlook these requirements is a function of ignorance – but the intent of this post is to render you, the apologist, without excuse – and hence, repentant. We cannot afford ignorance in the cause of Christ.

So, let us look at what we are called to do. Those who are called to apologetic ministry must be within, and under the authority of, the local church. They cannot be “lone rangers,” and they cannot be “loose cannons”, or “independents”. If we are of those who believe, we must be within the fellowship, and be in fellowship (Acts 4:32). If we are of those who believe, we must be under the authority of elders (Acts 14:23). Apollos, we know, was a powerful advocate for the cause of Christ. Yet, he was amenable to being instructed by those who were older and wiser than himself. In addition, he was willing to be sent, and not to send himself. It was the brethren that sent him, and encouraged him – and in that fellowshipped sending, he in turn encouraged the elect, and refuted their opponents. (Acts 18)

Next, we must see that only those with adequate preparation should be engaging unbelievers. Apollos had been instructed in the way of the Lord. Paul, of course, had intensive training as a Pharisaical student – but even that did not suffice, did it? He spent 3 years being “taught of God” before he began his ministry – interestingly, roughly the same amount of time the other Apostles spent with Christ. I’m not trying to say we should all go be desert dwellers of some sort – or that we are all called to be seminarians, either. What I am saying, however, is that we cannot neglect an intensive, intentional course of study in the foundations of our faith, if we are to be apologists. This is not negotiable. In order to defend the faith, we must know what we believe, and be unshakably convinced of the truth of what we know before we are involved in ministry of this sort. Apologetics is no ministry for neophytes. The Christian life is likened to warfare, in Ephesians and elsewhere. Front-line troops are experienced, well-trained soldiers. They know precisely where they fit into the ranks, what their duties are, and have undergone systematic training in the art of war. No soldier learns his trade by osmosis. His trade is soldiery. Soldiers are trained; so must we be. This training is primarily not in the assemblage of arguments, philosophical justifications, or evidenciary studies. Those of you who are in the military; where did your training start? It started with the discipline a soldier required. Next, it moved to the care and operation of your equipment. Then, training moves to the proper movements of troops, of which you are a part.

The disciplines required of the apologist are both mental and spiritual. The primary discipline is the systematic study of the Word of God, and the doctrines therein. We must also be as fervent and constant in prayer and the confession of sin as we are fervent and constant in study. We must systematically practice the spiritual disciplines along with the mental disciplines we work to cultivate.

We must also be able to teach. In a Biblical apologetic, we are responding to the anti-Christian from, and with, Christian doctrine. As I have said for some time, it seems to be the case that the vast majority of objections stem from a fundamental ignorance of Christian doctrine. As Christians, we must admit that this is often the fault of those whom we have championed; and those champions themselves are either unable, or unwilling, to defend the Christian faith as a system of doctrine, rather than a philosophical abstraction. The defense of “a god” flies directly in the face of the Scriptural testimony. Keeping the doctrines of Christianity at “arms length” in their putative defense is nothing more than folly, if that is what we are truly defending. We cannot make an arbitrary distinction between what we believe and what we defend. We can do only damage to the doctrines we love by defending an abstraction rather than the reality. If you do not know, love, and cherish the doctrines of Scripture, you are simply fighting for yourself, not the fellowship of Christ. If what you defend is unrecognizable in comparison to the God you claim to know – it is readily apparent, and worse than useless. The knowledge of the Holy is understanding, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Do not forget it for an instant.

When we as apologists engage in the defense of the faith we must be able to both recognize and correct the misconceptions that are foundational to, and undergird the objections raised to that faith. When we hear an objection, we must compare it to what it is we know. We waste an enormous amount of time responding to things that we know are inapplicable, or false. We waste so much energy that could be better used in teaching these objectors what it is they need to know about the God they reject. Objections should be filtered through the matrix of sound doctrine – and responded to as they warrant, not as the unbeliever assumes. We all too often consider the unbeliever’s conception of God to be “plausible”, or “possible” – while in reality, they are objecting to a man of straw. Instead of letting this pass unchallenged, take the opportunity to correct their misapprehensions. This is helpful to your fellow believers, as well! It is quite a redemption of the time (that unbelievers waste for themselves in their ignorance) to grasp that opportunity to teach what it is they should be addressing, and to outline for your fellows (and for other unbelievers) where it is they went wrong in their approach. Granted, we know that unbelievers both applaud and prefer their ignorance – but in responding in such a way, we leave them without an excuse, don’t we?

Lastly, we are to answer with gentleness and reverence. This does not mean that we do not step up boldly to answer; it does, however, mean that we are not to savage our opponent on a personal level, or to respond in kind when we are personally attacked. This does not proscribe a righteous zealousness for the doctrines of God; it does, however, proscribe an unrighteousness zealousness for personal vengeance and returning offense when it is given. It is often the case that unbelievers act like fools. We are to answer a fool according to *their* folly – as it deserves – but NOT to become like them. This is a trap many fall into – myself included. We are to be reverent of God, and mild in our responses.

We must also see that the Lord’s slave must NOT be quarrelsome; must be able to teach; must be patient when wronged; and must gently correct those in opposition. They must not engage in foolish or ignorant speculations – they produce the quarrels warned against.(2 Tim 2) Be mindful of your limits. Be watchful of your temper. Be wise concerning where and when you engage with unbelievers. Be discerning in your responses, and teach whenever and wherever it is appropriate. Be patient when you are attacked, or offended, or wronged. Do not engage in endless quarrels; know when and where to enter, and when and where to leave a discussion.

All of this I have given above is the product of the work of God, friends, not of your own efforts. It is the work of God; sanctifying and preparing you for His own work, not your own. We are bought and paid for – we are not our own possession, but His. Whatever you think you might be, you are either His, or you are your own – and God surely knows His own. You think you’re a presuppositionalist? Let me tell you what a presuppositionalist is.

We are to be those who have a deep, abiding love for the Scriptures, and the God whose revelation they are. We are to have a healthy, humble assessment of where we are in our relationship to God, and a deep understanding of whose we are. We are to immerse ourselves in the doctrines of Scripture; We are to flee speculation, and embrace the certainty Scripture provides us. We are to teach patiently, correct patiently, and learn patiently. We are not to be self-serving, not arrogant, and always mindful of the grace which we ourselves have received. We are to understand that what we have, is ours by the grace of God, and by no other means. We are not to coddle doubt, but to destroy it by the means God has provided. We are to know, to the depths of our soul, that what we defend is that which God has given – and how we are to defend it is also given by that same grace. Does all of this humble you? Does all of this make you feel inadequate? Does it remind you that we are, indeed, bought with a price, and not our won, and must thus work to the benefit of His church? If so, you might be a presuppositionalist – but be wary, lest you fall. We are all warned, and we must heed those warnings.

I’ve mentioned before that Presup is Sola Scriptura in an apologetic context. If you study Ephesians 6, the only weapon we have is Scripture. Hence, that is the only weapon we use. All of defenses are also God-wrought, so we have nothing to fear. Fear not – and stand.

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