Internet gadfly, Jacob Brunton, believes presuppositional apologetics is maddening idiocy and any sound-minded believer who thinks presuppositionally and utilizes the methodology is a fool. He has taken to both Facebook and Twitter to rail against presuppers like myself.
Before we begin with a response to his missives, let’s remind ourselves of the main presup distinctives.
– Presuppositionalism desires to reform apologetic methodology. An apologetic approach that honors the sovereignty of God in salvation and the self-attesting nature of Scripture. It also focuses in upon the antithesis between believing and unbelieving thinking and philosophical worldviews. It then structures the Christian engagement with unbelievers according to a biblical framework. Classicists, like Jacob, will say they hold to the sovereignty of God in salvation, but they typically reject the self-attesting nature of Scripture and operate from the notion that proofs and evidence can be self-authenticating, as well as reasonably considered by unbelievers.
– The Christian begins his defense of the faith by setting apart Christ as Lord (1 Peter 3:15). He is the ultimate authority over our reasoning, argumentation, and confrontation with the unbelieving world.
– The Christian also acknowledges the fact of fundamental presuppositions. What would be considered elementary, unquestioned assumptions and axioms, govern the thinking, opinions, personal beliefs, and the ultimate heart commitments of every person.
– John Frame notes in his book analyzing Van Til’s theology, that man’s ultimate heart commitment, “plays an important role in our knowledge. It determines our ultimate criteria of truth and falsity, right and wrong. As long as we consistently maintain our ultimate commitment, we cannot accept anything as true or right that conflicts with that commitment.” [Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, 136].
Robert Reymond writes in his systematic theology that the word “presupposition” can be used both objectively and subjectively. When used objectively, “it refers to the actual transcendental foundation of universal meaning and intelligibility, namely, the triune God.” When the word is used subjectively, “it refers to a person’s most basic, personal heart commitment, this commitment having (1) the greatest authority in one’s thinking, being the least negotiable belief in one’s network of beliefs, and (2) the highest immunity to revision.” [New Systematic Theology, 145]
– With all of that in mind, a Christian’s apologetic and evangelistic encounter involves challenging an unbeliever’s ultimate heart commitments and presuppositions with the truth of Scripture. There is a trust in the work of the Holy Spirit to enlighten the mind of the unbeliever so that he will recognize his sinful rebellion against God, relinquish his commitments/presuppositions that stand in defiance of his creator, and bring his every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
Presuppositionalists don’t tend to bother with trying to “prove” the truth claims of Christianity or the existence of God with various philosophical arguments and evidences. It’s not that they won’t engage in philosophical arguments or utilize evidence, for they certainly will. They just recognize what the Scriptures tell us about the nature of mankind: that men have an innate knowledge of God (see Romans 1:18ff) and they are merely suppressing that knowledge, excusing it away. The issue is not that the unbeliever has a lack of compelling evidence or never heard persuasive philosophical arguments. It’s that unbelievers refuse to believe any evidence or philosophical arguments that contradict those non-negotiable heart commitments, and according to Scripture, those heart commitments are at enmity with God and hate anything to do with God. Until those heart commitments are overcome and defeated supernaturally, no presentation of any evidence reasonably presented will convince an unbeliever of the truth claims of Christianity.
The Thomist/classicist like Jacob don’t agree with that assessment of fallen men. The way presuppositionalists engage with unbelievers is considered inconsistent, confusing, irrational, and a whole lot of other similar descriptors. Hence his objection which I will now turn.
He lays out a summation of his complaint in a seven part tweet thread. Let me consider them in turn.
Here is the objection to the self-sufficiency of Scripture. The classicist insists that Christians can never use Scripture to prove the claims of Scripture, because that’s circular reasoning or some such nonsense. God doesn’t seem to agree with that notion, however. Scripture is a source of knowledge, because God declares it to be a source of knowledge. The entirety of Psalm 119, for example, is a declaration of Scripture being a source of knowledge. Just do a search of the word “truth” in Scripture and note how is is synonymous with Scripture itself.
Well, what about stuff the Bible never speaks to? Like what exactly? Rarely are genuine examples provided. How about Neanderthals? The Bible doesn’t say a word about Neanderthals. Okay, I’d agree. But I do know that Scripture tells us Adam and Eve were the first living humans on earth, that they did not evolve from some common ancestor between modern humans and Neanderthals, and it is denies the fundamental theology of sin and man when we try to speculate how we can harmonize modern day secular paleoanthropological interpretations of Neanderthals with the Bible like the majority of classicist apologetic ministries attempt to do. See Reasons to Believe, for instance.
We include general revelation? General revelation is usually understood to be the “evidences” an unbeliever can reasonably consider. He seriously seems to be under the impression that presuppositionaists never consider general revelation. If that’s the case, it’s a terrifically ignorant claim and one of the reasons why, as we will see in a moment, presuppositionalists say people like Jacob misrepresent them.
Van Til had a robust theology of general revelation. He understood general revelation to be what the Christian apologist appeals to when talking with unbelievers. He wrote about it extensively in his works. The disagreement presuppositionalists have with classicists regarding general revelation is how it is related to the unbeliever. Presuppositionalists believe, as the Bible tells us, that general revelation is misunderstood by unbelievers and they use it to suppress their knowledge of God rather than submit to him. It does not stand alone as self-sufficient to explain God, but works in tandem with the explanatory grid of special revelation.
The fact of the matter is that classicists DO compromise the doctrine of total depravity. Well, certainly those who claim to be Calvinistic and Reformed in their soteriology. What is the extent of “total” in the mind of the classicist? How total is total? I get the impression that they compartmentalize man. Man is fallen; but his reasoning ability is left untouched or intact so that he makes rational and reasonable evaluations of evidence, proofs, arguments, etc, and forms correct conclusions.
But the Bible says that man’s mind, the organ for his reasoning capacity, is severely impacted by sin. For instance,
– Romans 8:7 states that “the mind set on the flesh (all fallen men without exception) is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so.” “Not able” has the idea of incapable.
– Second Corinthians 4:4 states “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ.”
– Ephesians 4:17, 18 states that the gentiles, who would be all the world of men not Jewish by birth, walk with futile minds and their understanding, you know, their reasoning ability, is darkened.
– Paul reminds the Colossians in 1:21 how they were once “hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds.”
– Paul warns Timothy in 6:5 of “men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth” who will stir up all sorts of strife in the church. The word for depraved can have the meaning of disabled, not working.
– Paul tells Timothy in his last letter to him, 2 Timothy 3:7,8 about the difficult times coming in the last days when men with depraved minds will oppose the truth. Not only are they morally corrupted, but they are marked as ones who are always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Just with that smattering of verses, the Bible is telling us that fallen, unregenerate men CANNOT reason rightly and Christians would be foolish to think they are capable of doing so. So we are not confusing soteriology with epistemology because the two concepts are intertwined with each other when it comes to men thinking and reasoning rightly about their lives and the world they live in. The world God created and endues with meaning.
Of course every epistemic standard is presupposed. Any so-called “epistemic standard” has to exist outside ourselves. Something greater has to be informing what it is that we know and establishing the rules that carries one to that knowledge.There is one, absolute, authoritative epistemic standard, and that is God revealed in Scripture. He is not arbitrary (I mean, God is God for crying out loud!) and it is not arbitrary, or “postmodern,” to declare that to an individual in an apologetic encounter.
Jacob likes to boast that he has these defeaters against presuppositionalism by asserting that they confuse philosophical categories and the like. His big one he will throw out is that presuppositionalists confuse metaphysics, philosophy that attempts to understand and explain being, with epistemology, philosophies that theorize about knowledge and systems of knowing. What he refuses to acknowledge is that those two philosophies are inextricably bound together. Only metaphysical beings with minds (metaphysics) can seek knowledge (epistemology). And metaphysical “first principles” must be in place in order to know them and how exactly do we know we are knowing about those first principles rightly? Honestly, this is a conundrum that has been mocking men for thousands of years. Ultimately, one has to take their understanding of those categories by faith (*cough* presuppositionally *cough*) just like Jacob is doing here.
Or virtue signalling by throwing down some fancy-smancy philosophical words to sound, like, really smart. Accusations of misrepresenting presuppositionalism will only continue if he raises these kind of sloppy objections and though he insists he has read the basic presuppositional literature, he gives no indication of actually engaging it.
Apologetics is not only a defense of the Christian faith against all the detractors, but it is meant to focus on evangelism. While Jacob may roll his eyes and accuse me of inconsistency, being postmodern, or whatnot, I will maintain my simple-mind ways of preaching the Word of God when I do apologetics. I don’t believe I have to prove it’s authenticity to anyone (and I am happy to answer questions if asked) and I am not ashamed of miracles, or telling someone I believe something by faith, or otherwise appearing foolish before a group of chortling Youtube skeptics. It is the preaching of the Word of God alone that God has promised will tear down loft thoughts raised against God and destroy the wisdom of this world.