Dr. K. Scott Oliphint expounds a little bit on the thesis of his soon to be released book on apologetics.
I will probably agree with maybe 90% or more with the thrust of Dr. Oliphint’s forthcoming book. Jeff Downs posted the table of contents and all of the topics he covers look to be interesting. I will be happy to read a fresh study on biblical apologetics.
Where I depart from Dr. Oliphint’s approach, however, is with his insistence that presuppositional apologetics needs to be rebranded as covenantal apologetics. From his previous published articles, Dr. Oliphint argues that the term “presuppositional” is too broad a description for what Reformed apologetics is all about.
In order to align apologetic methodology with the basics of Reformed Theology (insert here, “Covenant Theology”), Dr. Oliphint suggests that presuppositional apologetics be renamed “covenant” apologetics because all men in Adam are “covenant” breakers against God. He develops that idea from the 7th chapter of the Westminster Confession, specifically article 2, where the confession speaks of God making a “covenant of works” with men. So when we engage men in the apologetic enterprise, we are engaging them as “covenant” breakers, because all men are either identified with the old man, Adam, in the covenant of works, or the new man, Jesus Christ, in the new covenant.
Dr. Oliphint’s name change is popular among a number of bloggers, but overall, I think it is unnecessary and problematic.
It is unnecessary because I believe the word “presuppositionalism” is an appropriate descriptor for the methodology. When we engage unbelievers, we are engaging the presuppositions of their worldview — the foundational building blocks of those “strongholds” they have built against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:4-5). And moreover, we stand our ground on the presuppositions that we are committed, Bible-believing Christians. We don’t begin by making a probable case for the existence of God; we begin by what we know is true according to God’s word: all men know God exists and are in rebellion against Him.
That brings me to the reason why the name change is problematic: It “presupposes” the exegetical validity of the “covenant of works.” I can certainly agree that the covenant of works is a logical piece to Covenant Theology proper, however, I see no exegetical proof from the pages of Scripture that it is a legitimate covenant.
Now I have had a good many folks disagree with me and claim there is, but I have read a number of Reformed works attempting to defend it, including Robertson’s classic study on the covenants, Herman Bavnick’s section from the second volume of his Reformed Dogmatics, Robert Reymond’s discussion in his Systematic Theology, and I heard a lecture given at GPTS on the subject and none of them were compelling. In fact, I had a twitter challenger insist that Bavnick’s discussion is unassailable, but it was probably the least persuasive. Reymond’s study was the best attempt that I found, but even it left me shaking my head.
Now I will say that I certainly agree with Oliphint that there exists a Creator-creature distinctive. That distinctive exists in the hearts of all men everywhere and it is key to engaging sinners with the Gospel and apologetics. However, to call that distinctive a “covenant of works” and to insist all men are breakers of that covenant, is defending a theological component that is not exegetically derived from the text of Scripture. My desire is to hone my apologetic theology from the text, not defend a system.
I am looking forward to Dr. Oliphint’s book and I am certain it will be a worthy addition to all the apologetic literature out there addressing this topic. I want to develop my critique of a “covenant of works” in the future perhaps when I have opportunity to read through his book.