Confessional Eschatology and Civics

I’m fairly disinterested in the political debates as a rule – and probably just as disinterested in the majority of eschatological debate, as well. However, due to recent circumstances I’m not going to get into, I thought it fitting to outline my position on these two subjects for future reference. Firstly, I want to make it absolutely clear that I consider theonomy and the requisite postmillenial eschatology to be contra-confessional. Secondly, I want to make it absolutely clear that I consider these positions to be an abuse of as well as a hindrance to a truly Covenantal apologetic.

Confessionally, it must be mentioned that the LBCF consistently and frequently mentions the “end of the world” – and treats all things related to the church; her work as well as her offices – as continuing until that time. As such, it must be granted that there is absolutely no provision for a “golden age” kingdom in or of this world prior to the end of it. Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, and the kingdom in which and for which we labor is identical to it. Since this is the case, we labor here as aliens and strangers, with the understanding and expectation that all things in this world will pass away. The same cannot be said for the kingdom of heaven, as this will never pass away. This kingdom, however, is not of this world, does not consist of anything we build or fashion, nor is it anything to which the so-called “dominion mandate” applies. Definitionally, the “dominion mandate” belongs to Christ, as the second Adam – and the kingdom mandate belongs to us, as the members and sum of that kingdom. Ours is not to take dominion over the earth, but to build the kingdom of heaven. Aliens and strangers are not mandated to build an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly one. We could go into more detail should it become necessary, but this will suffice for the purposes I have for this post.

It must also be mentioned that the confession clearly states that the civil, or judicial law is abrogated, along with the ceremonial law. The typical theonomist response is to use the “general equity” clause in the WCF; the LBCF’s parallel clause is much more specific, and impossible to mistake. It clearly states that the judicial laws only have a general equity of moral use, and expired together with the state of that people. Any attempt to go beyond this general moral equity is, however, covered by the next section of the confession, which prescribes our Christian liberty, within proper bounds. Another common response is to split the law into two groups, and not three; this is also explicitly denied by both confessions. They clearly state that there is a tripartite division in the law. Therefore, if you claim to be a confessionalist, you cannot subscribe to the theonomic view. It is prohibited by those same confessions. There is plenty more to say about this subject if it becomes necessary, but I believe this will be sufficient for my purposes.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that the antithesis between autonomy and theonomy is being rejected, by taking this position. It must be clearly understood that what is meant by “theonomy” is somewhat different in these instances. In the case of the presuppositional method advanced by Van Til, what is in reference with “theonomy” is the same as that which is referenced by WCF/LBCF XIX, and which I address in my exposition of Romans 1-2. This is not identical to the schema of “theonomy” advanced by other, primarily Reconstructionist proponents, as outlined above. Van Til, obviously, was not a theonomist in the Reconstructionist sense, nor was he post-millenial. Thus, it can be seen that repudiating these positions on a confessional basis is neither a critique of Van Til, nor a repudiation of his apologetic. In fact, it is far from either! It is an affirmation of his emphasis on a Biblically consistent, systematic, confessional apologetic.

I consider both postmillenialism and theonomy to be foreign to the fabric of confessionally Reformed Baptist theology, and foreign to the framework of the Covenantal apologetic found therein.

For further reading, I suggest the following:

Frame: Penultimate Thoughts on Theonomy
Duncan: The Mosaic Covenant
Duncan: The Westminster Confession of Faith: A Theonomic Document?
Gordon: Critique of Theonomy: A Taxonomy
Waldron: Theonomy, A Reformed Baptist Assessment
Gaffin: Theonomy and Eschatology: Some Reflections On Postmillennialism

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

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

1. Christ is Head of (the) Mormon Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next

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

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
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