An Interview with a Calvinistic, Dispensational, Presuppositionalist

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.

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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 ChurchMichael 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.

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10 thoughts on “An Interview with a Calvinistic, Dispensational, Presuppositionalist

  1. Great interview! My favorite part was question 5. Shows your heart.
    Makes me wish that we had a church where I live that was like Grace. Smack dab in Southern Baptist Seminary territory and it is hard to find a church that believes in the sovreignty of God in salvation and a pre-mill, pre-trib eschatology. Can you believe it?
    Anyway, thanks for all you do and looking forward to your study on Ezekiel’s temple. At least I know it won’t be a spiritualized one.

  2. Fred, thanks for sharing your testimony on using presuppositional apologetics. I wonder if you can share your thoughts on the following comments which I see are some hot button issues on the Calvinistic teams. Thanks.

    1. I have seen most Reformed teachers are progressive Creationists and some are even into theistic evolution. Curiously they would argue that the specifics of creation is not really important as AIG and co asserts, but rather the theology behind it. They have no problem integrating anti-six day creationism with presuppositional apologetics. What’s your take on this?

    2. From 1 many such Reformed teachers don’t like to talk [faith] about God’s creation at all when they talk about faith. Often they shroud their discussions with theoretical theological or philosophical points when discussing knowledge on God. What role do you see nature plays in God’s grand scheme of things? Can we learn anything about God through creation? Does creation matter to God theologically speaking?

    3. Another thing I have observed close up in the Calvinist team is yes, believers in this team give nods to total deprivation and unconditional election, but somehow almost all false teachings under the sun in non-Calvinistic evangelical circles can find supporters in the “home team” using sophistry as justification. For example, church marketing/seeker sensitive – “God’s common grace manifested in all humanity as His truth, so yes we can do it”, 2. social gospel – “cultural mandate”, 3. ecumenism – “they affirm trinity too”, 4. we will make others believe – “we are the instrument of salvation of others”, 5. Don’t fight for evil lest they become repelled to the gospel – “people aren’t saved by socially righteous stance, so work on their salvation first and forget gay rights thing”

  3. Hey Joel,
    Thanks for the comment. You write,

    1. I have seen most Reformed teachers are progressive Creationists and some are even into theistic evolution. Curiously they would argue that the specifics of creation is not really important as AIG and co asserts, but rather the theology behind it. They have no problem integrating anti-six day creationism with presuppositional apologetics. What’s your take on this?

    I am not sure I would say “most” Reformed teachers are progressive creationists and theistic evolutionist. Certainly there are some, the more notable being BB Warfield, Bruce Walke, and Tim Keller. However, there are others who are not and would be biblical young earth creationists, like Gary Demar and his guys as well as John Byl. Additionally, what Reformed heritage are you talking about? Orthodox Presbyterians? PCA? Reformed Baptists? Furthermore, are they strict presuppositionalists, or some hybrid combination that entails a lot of classic apologetic methodology?

    On the other hand, while I certainly recognize there are many Reformed folks who reject biblical creationism for a more “theological” variety willing to accommodate deep time views of Earth’s history, I have noticed just as many evidentialists who do the same thing when it comes to dismissing the importance of what Genesis says. That is especially true among the popular apologetic proponents who are on the radio and have training ministries.

    Ultimately it comes down to the hermeneutics one employs to study the Bible. As you point out, the Reformed folks tend to emphasize the “theology” of Genesis while overlooking the significant details of the text by either ignoring them as unimportant or spiritualizing them into irrelevance. This is due in part to their “Redemptive” hermeneutic they bring to the Bible that re-reads everything in light of the “Christ event” or whatever.

    I think they are wildly inconsistent, because when it comes to defending the doctrines of Grace and election against the Dave Hunts of Christendom or the SBC witch hunters who want to purge out the Calvinists, those Reformed guys are all into exegesis and how the details of the text are important. When it comes to Genesis 1 and 2, that attitude goes out the window. Moreover, their own creeds affirm a 6-days view of Genesis and creation. The framers of those creeds were certainly Reformed, would we not all agree? Were they mistaken? Will those modern Reformed creedalists ignore that point?

    continuing,
    What role do you see nature plays in God’s grand scheme of things? Can we learn anything about God through creation? Does creation matter to God theologically speaking?

    I can only go by what passages like Psalm 19 states that nature shows forth the creative attributes of God. Psalm 139 does as well, but on a personal level as the pslamnist explains God’s handwork in making a person. Looking at the sky shows that God is all powerful, sovereign, wise, and everywhere. Looking a baby or the intricacies of the human body shows the same thing as well.

    Adding to that, the display of nature is a testimony against the sinfulness of man who suppress what they know in their hearts is true about God and thus rebel against that knowledge. When we speak with unbelievers, at least for myself, I attempt to point those things out.

    Regarding your third point, are you saying you see an inconsistency among those who profess to be Calvinistic with the methodology they often use to do ministry? If that is the case, I would certainly agree.

  4. Hi Fredhe’d or your information the Reformed group I’m familiar with are evangelical Anglicans (Sydney Anglicans and UK Conservative Evangrlical Anglicans with a capital C) and Presbyterians in Australia (almost like a sister denom to Sydney Anglicans) with people such as Phillip Jensen, John Dickson, Craig Schwarz, Sandy Grant, Mark Beddeley, Jonathan Fletcher,Tim Chester, Vaughan Roberts, etc. At at here down under it doesn’t matter if you are evangelical Anglican, free Resbyterian, or Reformed, very few teachers and certainly none of the higher profile ones that get invited to give talks believe in six day creation. There are certainly young earth creationists amongst the laypeople, but it is often made clear in Q&A that six day creation is looked down upon and/or discouraged.

  5. Hi Fred, apologies that I didn’t leave a more detailed reply, was on the road myself over the past couple of days.

    I will try to respond to your reply in more detail:

    “I am not sure I would say “most” Reformed teachers are progressive creationists and theistic evolutionist. Certainly there are some, the more notable being BB Warfield, Bruce Walke, and Tim Keller. However, there are others who are not and would be biblical young earth creationists, like Gary Demar and his guys as well as John Byl. Additionally, what Reformed heritage are you talking about? Orthodox Presbyterians? PCA? Reformed Baptists? ”

    The first thing you need to realise is that Gary Demar and John Byl are hardly representative even for the confessional Reformed believers let alone the more mainstream people. For your information, of the Reformed people I interact online (and they range from UK Conservative Anglicans to your church all the way to blogger Mike Ratliff) view Demar as akin to how most fundamentalists regard David W. Cloud: a kook at the outer fringe of the “home team”. Byl is considered a lone prophet crying out in the wilderness type of guy: for example, even URCNA refuses to say that theistic evolution will not be considered.

    Of those in the middle of the confessing end of Reformed team, granted that Robert Reymond is a six day creationist. But pointedly, none of these are six day creationists: Michael Horton, R. Scott Clark, John Piper, the late John Stott, Jonathan Fletcher, Keller, Waltke as you pointed out. Branching out to the Reformed team that resembles more like mainstream evangelicalism (Sydney Anglicans, UK Conservative Evangelical Anglicans, PCA, Kevin de Young, The Gospel Coalition) The type of Reformed people you encounter at places like London Theological Seminary, Oak Hill College, Moore College (Sydney) are fairly hostile to six day creationism.

    This is the type of stuff on Genesis studies that I encounter in my corner of the “home team”. The first one is written by Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne, and the second study by Gordon Cheng. It is an issue of “you have Calvinists and you have Calvinists”:

    http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/Samples/sm_grps/ber_sample.pdf

    http://www.matthiasmedia.com.au/Samples/sm_grps/bwg_sample.pdf

    “Regarding your third point, are you saying you see an inconsistency among those who profess to be Calvinistic with the methodology they often use to do ministry?”

    A case in point is John Dickson (who is a high profile Sydney Anglican minister, therefore a fairly respected Reformed voice from Australia), said that he wouldn’t oppose same sex marriage in the public sphere social action because he first wants people saved and if the government is part of the fallen world anyway, it is not our job to oppose gay marriage in the public sphere. Is that how the Reformed team would think on the issue of gay marriage?

  6. Probably this has veered off tangent. I would have thought Michael Horton and Bruce Waltke are presuppositionalists but I could be wrong. And granted that R. Scott Clark probably isn’t. And Sydney Anglicans and UK Conservative Evangelical Anglicans do classical and evidential apologetics in the R.C. Sproul Sr way (they recommend reading Sproul and Lee Strobel when it comes to apologetics)

  7. Pingback: Articles on Apologetics and Evangelism | hipandthigh

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