That would be me!
[INTRO]: I posted about this a few weeks ago in January. It’s an email “interview” I did for “SlimJim” over at the Domain of Truth blog. He had contacted me before Christmas and asked if I would be willing to be interviewed about me being Calvinistic in my theology and presuppostional with my apologetic methodology, and yet adhering to Dispensational oriented theology. I was delighted for the opportunity and so over the course of a few days, I crafted my responses that he worked up into a post. The original post can be read HERE.
It was kind of my first official interview of these sorts and I hope more come. I love talking and writing on theological subjects.
At any rate, I wanted to archive my review under my collected articles page, so I am taking the liberty to post it here as well. Honestly, if you haven’t dropped by the Domain of Truth website, the fellows there have put together a vast group of links that provide some excellent resources on a number of apologetic themes and subjects, so folks ought to go there and poke around.
1.) Describe to us your ministry with Grace To You, the church, etc.
I’ve been given the privilege of overseeing the volunteer ministry of Grace to You. Every month we offer a free resource to our supporters and when they respond, it is my job to pull together the material they requested and prepare it to be mailed. We have about 125 volunteers who come twice a week, spread out between Tuesdays and Thursday. They are mostly retired members of Grace Church who wanted to spend their new found free time serving the Lord.
Additionally, they allow me to preach at them during our lunch break, so that keeps me in the Word and my sermon prep. skills sharpened. Typically, I do a 20-30 minute devotional style message. A lot of those sermons/lectures have been recorded and are available for free download at http://www.fredsbibletalk.com, a website a friend put together for me. It also hosts a lot of my articles and essays on various subjects.
At Grace, my wife and I are involved with Doulos, a fellowship group aimed at young singles and married folks.
2.) How did you first become a Presuppositionalist?
I became a presuppositionalist in an unusual, round-about fashion. God saved me the last week of my freshman year of college, so going into the summer as a new believer was really exciting for me. I read the NT through for the first time ever, I was introduced to solid writers like A.W. Pink and John MacArthur – in fact, I was introduced to John’s preaching ministry via cassette tape by a former member of Grace Church who was then living in my college town in Arkansas.
When I returned to college in the fall for my sophomore year, I was “on fire” for the Lord to say the least. I thought I could personally take on all challengers to my faith. I was ready to scuffle with Mormons, the JWs, and any other pseudo-Christian cult and I was cocky enough to think I had the ability to convince them of their error and covert them to Christ.
But God has his ways of sanctifying us. I became friends with a woman who was a hard-core atheist. She was a non-traditional student, maybe 10 years older than most of her classmates, married and with a kid, and had returned to school to finish up her degree. She was also the first real atheist I had ever encountered. She was a lot like many of the on-line atheists today, skeptical about everything.
As we talked, I would challenge her atheism with various Christian “evidences” I had picked up in my reading or at my college youth group. Somehow I came across a copy of Josh McDowell’s classic book, “Evidence that Demands a Verdict.” I loaned it to her thinking she would be unable to refute his material. She gave it back in a week. She told me she had read the first three chapters or so and just couldn’t believe it. She then offered up her spin on why McDowell was wrong and all the mistakes he made.
The time I knew this woman really shook me. I didn’t have a “crisis of faith” or anything like that where I doubted Christianity or thought I had been lied to or what-not which is often reported these days among many apostate young people leaving church. It was more like God helped me realize that bringing people to Christ is more than having the right arguments or the most compelling evidences.
Also, as I matured in my own personal faith and I became convinced of the doctrines of Grace, or Calvinism, I began to see that man’s problem is not intellectual, but moral. He is blinded in his sin and is suppressing what truth he has in unrighteousness as Romans 1:18ff tells us. I began to fit together the “presuppositional” pieces, as it were, because I started to understand that we engage worldviews, not just specific lines of evidence.
When I came to The Master Seminary, I was formally introduced to presuppositionalism, along with the other various kinds of apologetic theologies and that is when the light came on for me. What I was learning about presuppositional apologetics was what I was already formulating in my heart and now I had some anchors I could use to shore up my thinking.
3.) Knowing that you work with Grace To You, do you know what is John MacArthur’s perspective on apologetics?
Those who know John know he shuns the idea of labels. Primarily because labels will often come with baggage. For instance, John probably would hesitate calling himself a “Calvinist,” but I know he holds to Calvinism because he has preached messages on the Doctrines of Grace. He would point out that the title “Calvinism” comes with superfluous baggage like infant baptism and Covenant Theology that only gets in the way of any meaningful discussion about what the Bible tells us regarding God’s grace and election, so he just avoids the label.
That said, John would certainly consider himself a presuppositoinalist, because the methodology reflects solid exegesis and theology. He hasn’t, at least to my knowledge, preached specifically on the subject of presuppositionalism, but he does model the methodology in his preaching and various media interviews when he is asked to give his opinion concerning some cultural issue.
For example, after 9/11 throughout the 2000s, John appeared occasionally as a panelist on Larry King’s old CNN show. (You can watch some of those interviews at GTY’s website HERE, ) From what I understand, there were a few guys on King’s immediate personal staff who were Christians and loved John. So when the opportunity came about back in the fall of 2001 to address “Where was God on September 11th” those guys suggested asking John to be a panelist. John agreed, and he was on King’s show with some liberal Muslim guy, a Catholic priest, a Jewish guy, Deep-pockets Chopra, and Kid Rock (I’m just kidding about the Kid Rock part. LK always had oddball choices for these kinds of discussions). Anyhow, during that show, John consistently brought his convictions back to the Word of God. He challenged the other men who claimed to speak for God yet misquoted the Bible and flat out spoke lies.
In all of those interviews, John consistently brought everyone back to the true foundation of our living Sovereign Creator and His written Word. Surprisingly, Larry King liked John for it and got to where it was he who wanted John to come back for these kind of “philosophical” programs. That was because he knew what he would say and realized John was the real deal, not some smarmy, wishy-washy celebrity preacher who bounces around hard and difficult issues because he wants to please a broad audience. Deep-pockets Chopra hated John for his rock solid convictions and where as John would chat with the other guys at the table during commercial breaks, Chopra refused to speak with him, because John was a narrow-minded Bible thumper.
4.) Some see Presuppositional apologetics as being the apologetics method of Covenantal theology only. Do you think Presuppositional apologetics is compatible with Calvinistic Dispensationalism, and if so, explain.
Before I answer, it may be helpful to provide other readers with a bit of background to your question. There is a group of on-line bloggers who are attempting to rename presuppositional apologetics as “covenant” apologetics. They get this from K. Scott Oliphint who is the professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. He has argued that presuppositionalism is too broad a description for the overall apologetic system and so there is a need to change the terminology for the purpose of bringing our apologetics into line with fundamentals of Reformed theology.
He has a book called “Covenant Apologetics” that explains in more detail for his redefinition, but in short, he builds his case for the name change upon the 7th chapter of the Westminister Confession that goes into describing God’s covenants with men, particularly the “covenant of works.” The covenant of works, argues Oliphint, establishes a relationship between God and all men, and the obligations of obedience do not cease even after man fell. So, when we engage unbelievers with “apologetics” we are confronting the fact they are covenant breakers who need to come into a right covenant relationship with God through what Jesus Christ did on the cross to reconcile covenant breakers with their Covenant Creator.
As much as I have benefited from Dr. Oliphint’s other material in the past, I think his novel redefinition is problematic. Primarily because he has to “presupposes” that Covenant Theology truly reflects biblical Christianity and systematic theology. Even more problematic is the whole notion of all men being “covenant breakers” and building his premise upon the concept of a “covenant of works.” That is because the idea of a “covenant of works” is contrived, being read into the Scripture. I realize reformed guys point to Genesis 1 and 2 when God commanded Adam not to eat from the tree in the garden, but there is no covenant language noted in God’s command there. That is especially clear in light of certain passages where covenant language is used, like in Genesis 9 with Noah and Genesis 12, 15, 17 with Abraham and his descendants. Thus, any attempts to sharpen our apologetic theology must be done along biblical grounds utilizing clear, biblical terminology.
Now, some may be asking, “But isn’t it true men are obligated to obey God, their Creator?” Why of course; but not because of some covenant of works. Our obligation has to do with the fact we are God’s creatures and what He, our sovereign, has demanded from us in return. All men are obligated to worship and glorify Him in righteousness. But of course, no man desires to obey God because all men are sinners. The Gospel is the message of good news that God has dealt with sin and made a way for men to obey God and be in a relationship with Him on account of Jesus Christ.
As one who understands that God’s purposes in Redemption unfold through a series of eras, or Dispensations throughout Scripture, that are defined through various covenants that build upon themselves culminating in the New Covenant, I am entirely aware of God’s Sovereignty over all the earth as well as Christ’s Lordship. I am also fully aware that humanity is in rebellion against God’s authority as sovereign. It is that truth of God’s Sovereignty all men know and suppress in unrighteousness that I use as a weapon when engaging in the warfare against the strongholds men have created with their arguments and exalted philosophy lifted up against their Creator (2 Cor.10:1-5).
5.) What would you caution and exhort to a young man interested in apologetics?
I think the primary thing I would remind folks is that our goal with apologetics is not to merely win arguments, but to win souls. I see a lot of young guys, bloggers in particular, in both classic evidentialist camps, as well as presuppositional camps, approach apologetics as a means to shut-up atheists and other skeptics.
Granted, there are times when such individuals need to have their mouths stopped, but we must not lose our true focus, and that is presenting the Gospel of salvation to a lost and dying world. When we argue with cranks on the internet, we need to remember they are human souls. I can be equally guilty with forgetting that objective, so it is a mind-set I always wish to cultivate.
6.) Would there be any other Dispensationalists who are Presuppositional that you recommend us to interview in the future?
I’d recommend Dan Phillips of Team Pyro fame as well as pastor of Copperfield Bible Church in Houston, TX. Also Don Green who is currently the pastor of Truth Community Fellowship Church. Michael Vlach of TMS is a prof who teaches both Dispensationalism and Apologetics at Master’s. I understand Dr. Jonathan Sarfati of Creation Ministries is a presuppositionalist with Dispensational leanings.
And since you originally asked me to supply any other questions that may be useful, I’ll throw out one extra,
7) What are some good introductory resources to the subject of presuppositional apologetics?
I’m glad you asked! There are a number of good works available, but right now, the best book anyone can get that will provide a tremendous overview of apologetic theology is Clifford McManis’s Biblical Apologetics: Advancing and Defending the Gospel of Christ. I reviewed the book HERE if anyone is interested. Cliff’s book has been getting panned among a few Reformed reviewers because they are annoyed he is a non-Covenant Reformed, Dispensational oriented Calvinist. They also don’t care for his occasional criticisms of Van Til and Bahnsen. It is almost like those two are untouchable and any mention of them must be an uncritical reverence. If folks can ignore those reviews and get the book anyways, they will have a work that I believe will provide them with a solid theological foundation in apologetics. If you start with any book, I’d start with it.
I would also suggest Greg Bahnsen’s collection of articles under the title Always Ready. It too is a solid read and one that will serve a student well.
A third one I would recommend is John Byl’s “The Divine Challenge.” It isn’t so much a “how to” apologetic book as it is an overview of worldviews. He evaluates how the top three worldviews competing in the world line-up with telling us the truth to reality, particularly with how they explain mind, math, matter, and meaning. It is a great philosophical read and it’s lay friendly as well. That is always welcome in my book.
Lastly, both Bahnsen’s and John Frame’s biographies and analyses of Van Til. Both men were students of Van Til and both men evaluate his work from a slightly different perspective. Bahnsen’s analysis is supposed to be the closest one that fairly represents Van Til’s life work, and Frame’s as I understand it, deviates from what Van Til truly taught, but I benefited from both of them greatly.
Then, seeing that I have this opportunity to plug my own work. Not that I am a big shot like Bahnsen, Van Til, and even Oliphint, but I have written on various facets of apologetic methodology and theology. You can find past articles HERE.