Ken Ham vs. the SES Apologetic

I wanted to spend a few moments interacting with this article over at the Southern Evangelical Seminary blog,

Does Ken Ham’s Defense Biblical Authority Lead to Biblical Skepticism?

It’s an article written by my past internet foil, Adam Tucker. He has provided us with a helpful treatise expaining the methodology behind how SES teaches apologetic engagement. He excellently contrasts a classical/Thomist approach to apologetics from a presuppositional/Bible-based one that I believe lends us insight for sharpening our apologetic focus.

Bear with me, this is gonna be a long one

A Little Background

Now the first thing one is probably wondering about is what exactly does Ken Ham have to do with all of this. Well, since about 2012, folks over at Southern Evangelical Seminary have expressed dismay at Ken Ham’s presentations defending biblical creationism. The first real vocal critic was SES professor, Richard Howe, who wrote an emotional critique of a talk he heard Ken Ham give at a church in his area. I wrote a response to Howe’s article that can be read HERE.

His critique eventually grew into a written journal dialogue between him and Jason Lisle who now operates the Bible Science Institute. A discussion on creation was also held at the 2013 SES apologetic conference between Howe, Lisle, and Scott Oliphant, and eventually a discussion between Howe and Ham at the 2017 SES apologetic conference.

The main complaint against Ham is the manner he goes about defending the historicity of Genesis and his young earth views. If you hear his talks or read the literature of Answers in Genesis, the creation ministry founded by Ham, his talking points remain consistent. In sum:

We must begin with Scripture as our starting point for understanding origins. Any attempt with revising the straightforward interpretation of the creation week from Genesis with the constructs of Darwinian evolution or deep time ideas is reading man’s interpretations of the world onto Scripture. Men, according to Scripture, are fallen and their interpretations are fallible. Thus, we allow the revelation of Scripture to inform and shape our interpretation of the world and the history of it’s origins, and we should never allow man’s fallible interpretations of the world apart from Scripture shape our reading of Genesis.

Adam insists Ham’s apologetic “starting point” ultimately spirals into skepticism. After he lays out some of Ham’s main arguments from his written articles, fundraising letters, and various talks, Adam summarizes his apologetic methodology,

I think the reader is intelligent enough to recognize the pattern of thought here. It seems Mr. Ham’s position is that because of our fallen state, introducing outside ideas, or man’s word, into the mix of our interpretation of God’s Word ultimately undermines biblical authority. The problem is that there are at least two reasons why this position actually leads to biblical skepticism instead.

He the goes on to explain what he means by skepticism by framing his critique around those two reasons he mentions. Let me outline each one in turn.

First, he says Ham has a “knowledge problem.” By that he means when Ham uses such descriptions as “worldview,” “worldview neutral,” “autonomous human reasoning” or says everyone has the same evidence and that evidence must be interpreted based on a belief system, he is essentially contradicting himself. He is in fact bringing human reasoning to bear upon the Bible, Ken Ham’s reasoning. That’s because none of those concepts, worldviews, autonomous reasoning, etc., are directly talked about in Scripture.

Additionally, if it is universally true that all evidence is interpreted according to one’s specific worldview as Ham insists, then that fact is true across the entire spectrum of human worldviews making that fact “worldview neutral.” That in turn makes his position false. Laws of logic, Adam, goes on to note, are the same across ALL worldviews. They don’t differ from one culture to the next, and that again falsifies Ham’s position. He also asks how Ham knows the Bible is the starting point and not the Quran or the Book of Mormon. He has to make that determination from outside the Bible, so his starting point begins elsewhere, not from Scripture.

He goes on to write that the Bible is a part of the very reality that Ham claims one cannot know apart from Scripture. That view creates a glaring inconsistency, because as Adam asks, “If all of my thinking is skewed by my “fallen” and “fallible” worldview, how can I in principle “let God speak to me to the best of my ability to not try to impose my ideas on Scripture”?”  In other words, a person has to properly understand a specific part of our reality, the BIble, before having a starting point for properly understanding any other part of reality. That, Adam insists, is “a contradiction and rules out the possibility of properly understanding anything!”

Secondly, Ham has an interpretation problem. While it is true that Ken Ham employs the grammatical-historical hermeneutic for interpreting the Bible, his problem is that the Bible nowhere teaches that interpretive method. Ham is using the right hermeneutic, but he came to the use of that hermeneutic apart from Scripture. In other words, he is again starting with “man’s ideas” to read the Bible, not the Bible itself. Additionally, the Bible Ken Ham uses is translated into English from Hebrew and Greek. How does he know the language scholars translated it correctly? In fact, in his talks, he often appeals to what Hebrew scholars say about the Hebrew in Genesis 1 to defend his hermeneutic. Is he not trusting in man’s words?

Moreover, why exactly is Ken Ham’s interpretation the correct one? Adam points out that he says in his talks that anyone can read the Genesis account and plainly see that it speaks of creation happening in six days. But if that is true, why are there so many different interpretations of not only Genesis, but other biblical doctrines like those who deny the deity of Christ or affirm open theism? Those various groups are claiming they are plainly reading the Bible to draw their conclusions. With all those different interpretations, why is Ham’s the right one? Especially if everyone is fallen, as he says, and cannot trust their human senses to know things about the history of the physical world.

What can we say about Adam’s critique?

First, there is a huge failure with understanding what Ken Ham is saying. The most significant problem with Adam’s article is he fails to actually engage with what it is Ham is saying. He is providing a biblical defense of young earth creationism. When he says “we don’t bring man’s autonomous reasoning to Scripture” or take “man’s words and add them to Scripture,” he is NOT saying there is nothing of value outside of Scripture human beings can learn that helps us understand the Bible. Rather, his point is that Genesis chapter one clearly states that God created the known universe, the earth, and all life contained with in it in six days. The reason Ham’s says that is because the Bible says that. The language of the text is unambiguous. Hence, if we, as Christians believe the Scripture is our ultimate authority, we believe what it says regarding origins. We allow it to direct our understanding of origin history and how we evaluate the scientific evidence.

What Ham is arguing against are those individuals, especially Christians, who are influenced by Darwinian deep-time views of earth’s origin history (earth came into existence 4 billion years ago after a big bang event several billions years before that) that allow those views to reread the creation narrative of Genesis. Instead of Genesis revealing God creating everything over the course of six days and then resting on the seventh day, our understanding of a week, Sunday through Saturday, those individuals influenced by deep-time insist that Genesis must be reinterpreted. The creation week is something of a theological tract explaining God’s purpose of redemption, or a polemic against ANE mythology, or whatever, rather than an historical narrative providing real, historical information about the origin of the earth. Ken Ham is essentially upholding article 12 (XII) of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy which reads,

We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

 

We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

He is also affirming what is written in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics under article 19 (XIX) and article 22 (XXII) that denies the teaching of creation in Genesis can be overthrown by “scientific hypothesis,” which is another way of saying “Man’s autonomous reasoning.”

Second, he misunderstands Bahnsen’s distinction between the knowledge of sinners and the saved. Adam cites two quotes on logic from Greg Bahnsen’s posthumous work, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended for the purpose of demonstrating that Ham creates a false dichotomy between what fallen men know and what the Christian knows. He implies that Ham, following Van Til, Bahnsen, and other presuppositional apologists, is saying fallen men cannot truly know reality with their senses. Adam asks, “Why can man not trust his senses to reveal truths about the creation timeline?” The answer, according to Ham and Bahnsen, is that the minds of men are fallen and the conclusions they draw with their knowledge cannot be trusted.

Consider the fuller context of what Bahnsen wrote,

Even though the Christian and the non-Christian have the facts of the objective world in common, they have radically divergent interpretations of them. For the Christian all facts are pre-interpreted by God, created by God, and revelatory of God; they must be handled in such a way that glory is brought to God. But the non-Christian views these facts as meaningfully interpreted only by his own mind, as uncreated and free from God’s control, as ambiguous and contingent; he uses them to bring glory to man. Hence the Christian and non-Christian have different interpretative schemes.

Even when the believer and unbeliever share the same rules of logical inference, they nevertheless can be said to have different “logics.” For the believer and unbeliever differ as to the use, significance, ground, and authority of these rules; basically one subordinates logic to God while the other does not. [emphasis mine]

If one reads the entire section from his book, Bahnsen is demonstrating that all men without exception evaluate any factual evidence according to a set of preconditions concerning how they view the world. The scientific materialist for example, will never consider the possibility of the supernatural, because in his mind, the supernatural doesn’t exist. The idea of a miraculously created world, or even a resurrected man, is dismissed out of hand as fantasy and not worthy of serious thought. Whereas the Christian believes the supernatural does exist, because God has provided revelation telling us it does, so he accepts the historicity of a miraculously created earth and the resurrection of Jesus as really happening.

So neither Bahnsen, nor Ham, is saying fallen men can never learn things about reality using their senses. Fallen men do live in God’s created world and they bear the image and likeness of God, which means all men are designed to learn things using their senses. Rather, the conclusions they draw from their learning is often skewed, or mistaken, and many times untrustworthy, especially when it comes to so-called evidence regarding origins, mankind, and history. The fallen man, with the use of all his senses, will only default to a Darwinian model and deep time when it comes to evaluating any such evidence, because he is convinced his senses is telling him the truth about it. The believer, on the other hand, while using his senses to gain knowledge, submits that knowledge to what he knows is absolutely true regarding God’s revelation contained in Scripture. That’s why Ham says we start with Scripture.

Third, he has a deficient anthropology. A number of times throughout his article, Adam chides Ken Ham for his distinguishing between the thinking of “fallen” men, those men who are unregenerate, and the thinking of men who are regenerated. The general consensus among classic, Thomist apologists, what is advocated and practiced at SES, is that even though man is fallen into sin, his fallenness is merely moral and has no direct influence on his rational faculties. In other words, fallen men are in bondage to sinful desires and are morally corrupt, but their mental abilities that gather information with their human senses can draw accurate and honest conclusions about that evidence.

But is such a dichotomy within human nature biblical? As Christians, we should gather our understanding about humanity from the very One who created us and has left us a lengthy record documenting mankind’s interactions with both his Creator and each other. When we evaluate Scripture, the Bible doesn’t paint for us a picture of men who are bifurcated into a morally corrupted person, but has a mind freed from the taint of sin allowing him to make sound judgments about the evidence they gather with their senses. Certainly, men are created in the image of God. He has created them with their sense organs to interact with the world. However, that doesn’t mean their minds are freed from sin.

The Scripture, especially the NT, frequently speaks of the bondage that traps the mind of men so that they corrupt any use their natural senses may provide them. Man is said to have a “depraved mind” (Romans 1:28), a mind imprisoned by “law of sin” (Romans 7:23), a mind “set on the flesh” (Romans 8:6,7), minds that are satanically blinded (2 Corinthians 4:4), minds that indulged the desires of the flesh (Ephesians 2:3), and minds hostile to God that engage in evil deeds (Colossians 1:21). Additionally, Paul describes spiritual warfare as destroying speculations and those lofty things raised up against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4,5). In other words, areas of the mind that are fed by our senses.

Further, salvation brings renewal of mind (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23, Colossians 3:10). That means a fallen man, while he may have a general understanding of reality with his senses, is most certainly deceived, and operates in a state of hostility toward God causing his five senses to serve his fundamental rebellion against God. Sinners need regeneration in order to accurately interact with God’s world so that his sense carry him to the correct conclusions about reality. For if our minds were untainted by sin, then there would be no need for the call to “renew our minds.”

Fourth, the relegation of Scripture to a secondary importance. A truly frustrating area with Adam’s article was the dismissive approach to the use of Scripture as the primary means in apologetic engagement. This has been a sticking point when I have exchanged responses with him on apologetic matters in the past. One thing that can be said about Ken Ham is that he consistently appeals to the authority of Scripture when he reasons with unbelievers and defends the faith. He doesn’t try to prove the reliability of Scripture first, but just presents it as truth whether or not the person believes it or not. Though I am sure Adam, and others who utilize the SES apologetic, maintain a high view of Scripture, the tone presented in his article leaves the reader wondering if that is really the case.

For instance, one reason he states as to why we can never start with God’s Word is because there are so many various interpretations of the Bible. Why is Ken Ham so certain HIS interpretation is the right one? Adam points out how open theist heretics like Greg Boyd read the Bible but see passages that talk about God changing His mind and so conclude that God doesn’t know the future. And other cultic groups read passages that speak of God having eyes, or arms, and even wings and conclude God is made up of physical parts. Even passages that tell of the “four corners of the earth” imply the earth is square or flat. So because of all those confusing views on Scripture, no one can genuinely start with the Bible because we don’t know which view is the right one.

That sort of petty reasoning, however, generates as much skepticism as Adam accuses Ken Ham of causing. He is essentially saying that understanding the Bible is a big toss up because there are so many possible interpretations no one person can really say he has the correct view. Why even bother using the Bible to begin with if it has such potential for confusion.

Again, no one is saying we can’t use teachers or learn from the expertise of the translators of biblical languages. However, when God gave the Scriptures, He did so with the intent of being understood. He made Revelation clear. Of course there are metaphors, types, analogy, and all the other areas of grammar all human language utilizes found in the Bible. Moreover, a consistent and careful study of Scripture, empowered by an unction from the Holy Spirit, is definitely necessary to cut the meaning of Scripture straight (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

However, the fact that God made man in his image and in his likeness means He created man to communicate not only with Him, but with each other. Human language, logic, grammar, and the rules of hermeneutics (interpreting written material secular or religious) was hardwired into humanity at man’s creation, and that ability exists in all people today. It had to be or men couldn’t even begin to communicate with each other, reason with each other, understand even how to make sense of what it is their senses sense.

How Exactly Do Men Know Stuff?

What is missing in Adam’s critique is what we do know about reality. That being, lost, fallen men, even though many of them may be smart and leading experts in various fields of study, are by nature cut off from their Creator because they are born in sin. That is what Scripture proclaims AND it is what we see played out in everyday society. Their fallenness has a debilitating effect upon their rational faculties, particularly when they draw conclusion about the reality they are exploring.

Take for instance genetic researchers discovering that  humans share Neanderthal DNA. The fallen man, using his autonomous reasoning and starting with his anti-supernatural worldview, boldly shouts that this is proof men share common evolutionary traits with Neanderthals. Evolutionary theory is proven. Biologos and other theistic evolutionary “ministries,” insist the evidence is overwhelming and Christians must reinterpret the Bible so as to take this evidence into consideration. Christians run the risk of creating stumbling blocks before unbelievers if they don’t, even if it means overturning preciously held traditions like inerrancy and biblical creationism in 6 days like Answers in Genesis teaches. The Christian, on the other hand, like Ken Ham, allows what Scripture says about creation to inform his reasoning. He takes the same evidence and draws the conclusion that rather than Neanderthals being some lost evolutionary link in humanity’s past, insist that evidence only proves Neanderthals were humans. [By the way, I wrote an article for Creation Ministries addressing the very issue how such compromise is a disaster for apologetic ministries – SEE HERE].

Fallen men draw those conclusions about various areas of reality apart from God’s Revelation, apart from the power of the Gospel to set men’s minds to think rightly. And while people, both saved and fallen, may derive benefit from their work due in part to a shared general grace everyone experiences from one degree to another because they live in God’s world, that work is often times mistaken and directs us in the wrong way to think about the reality. As Christians, we do want to think correctly about reality, but that only comes in it’s purest form from a mind set free from sin, who filters what he gathers with his senses through the starting point of God’s Word and our ultimate authority.

Knowing Stuff

gijoe

I wanted to offer some comments on an article over at Frank Turek’s Cross Examined website,

An Open Question to Presuppositionalists

There have already been some solid responses since it has been posted. James White gave his thoughts during his October 4th, 2016 Dividing Line podcast and Steve Hays posted one of his withering beat down blog articlesI imagine there may be other rebuttals forthcoming.

The author presents a lot things I’d love to touch on, but with my purposes here, I wanted to focus in upon some specific comments he makes regarding methodology, particularly how we know what we know as presuppositionalists. I believe he provides some important thoughts to ponder.

I consider myself a presuppositionalist in my apologetic methodology, though I wouldn’t necessarily be a pure and clean Van Tillian drawn from the veins of covenant theology. I think Van Til did much to set apologetic methodology aright, especially wresting apologetics from the hands of Roman Catholics and Arminians, and anchoring it in a historical, apostolic, and biblical approach. I know for myself, presuppositionalism caused my evangelistic efforts engaging unbelief to leap light years beyond the canned soul-winning presentations I was taught in my Baptist churches growing up.

I have written quite a bit on the topic of apologetics over the years (articles are cataloged HERE for folk’s convenience). Though the bulk of those articles are critical of classic apologetics, I do have my criticisms of the current expressions of presuppositionalism as it is presented online and in social media contexts. Mainly, I am concerned that presuppositional practitioners complicate the terminology and methods to the point no one knows what it is the person is talking about. That presents a real problem. When someone like myself wishes to teach others to think presuppositionally regarding apologetics, I want to make sure folks are not confused as to what it is I am telling them.

I think because presuppositionalists can speak in cryptic terms, the author of the article interacts with what really amounts to a strawman version of presuppositionalism, and that makes it difficult to respond to his phantom. However, I believe his article is none the less useful, because those misconceptions he presents are founded upon what could possibly be an inadequate definition given to him by presuppositionalists. If he received bad information from folks, we cannot fault him when he attempts to offer a rebuttal with bad arguments.

Here is where we can seize the opportunity to sharpen our apologetics. There are two misconceptions he notes in his article I think are important to consider and correct. That in turn will help presuppositionalists to articulate clearly their theology.

The first one concerns what he falsely believes presuppositionalists teach regarding human reasoning. He writes,

… It is my understanding that according to the Calvinistic interpretation of Scripture, human reasoning is so totally depraved that any effort to understand or believe the Gospel is futile. Unless and until the Holy Spirit regenerates the reprobate mind, a person will continue to suppress the truth regardless of how well it is articulated or argued for.

That is not at all what Calvinism believes about total depravity. Total depravity doesn’t mean utter depravity, in that human beings are as wicked as they could be and totter on the brink of savagery and descending into a Lord of the Flies existence (even though that is a real possibility). The idea of total depravity is that sin effects the whole person, the entirety of his being. Every aspect of who a person is, is tainted by sin.

That would certainly include man’s reasoning ability. In fact, Ephesians 4:18 states that men’s minds have a darkened understanding. In other words, their reasoning abilities are clouded, or are the opposite of illumination.

So how does that play out in their ability to reason? Presuppositionalists are not saying men have no ability to reason, nor that they can never understand the Gospel message. What they are saying is that the sinner’s so-called reasoning is at its core hostile to the faith, and will more than likely just lead him to make even more excuses why he should continue rejecting Christ. Thus, a sinners reasoning will never save him, and thus he cannot be reasoned to saving faith.

The author seems to conflate the idea of reasoning with the idea of believing or making a commitment that is efficacious for an unbeliever’s salvation. Certainly a sinner can understand the content of the Gospel. I have personally spoken with a number of hostile unbelievers about the proofs of the Resurrection, the claims of Jesus, and argued passionately for the existence of God. Those unbelievers clearly understood what I was saying, a few acknowledging I made a good case. However, they reasoned in themselves that I was an idiot and rejected my compelling presentations none the less.

While I personally am willing to entertain the unbeliever’s demand for “proof” or answers to his or her hard questions about the Bible, some in my presuppositional circles are not. They are of the conviction that doing so is putting God on trial and conceding to the unbeliever’s rebellion against God.

I, on the other hand, recognize what the Bible tells me about an unbeliever: his reasoning is darkened, and unless God regenerates his heart, he will only remain in that darkness. That doesn’t mean, however, that I never speak with him about the Gospel, answer his pointed questions, or present so-called evidence when asked for it. A lot of the time, the presentation of evidence merely shuts the mouth of the scoffer and exposes his intellectual folly.

carlSure. Whatever, Carl

Secondly is the author’s understanding regarding how it is that we know the interpretation of Scripture. In an imaginary conversation he makes up between a classical apologist and a presuppositional apologist, he states the following,

“In other words, you can REASON from the text. The words of Scripture clearly do not interpret themselves. If that were the case we wouldn’t be having this discussion. You and I disagree about what the implications of Scripture are and therefore you have to attempt to demonstrate that your view is true by engaging in reasoning. Didn’t you say that our reasoning capabilities are fallen and that we should never place human reasoning above God’s Divine Revelation?”

Here is where the author touches upon one of the cornerstone, foundational differences between classicists and presuppositionalists. That being, what is it exactly that informs our understanding of Scripture?

Now a person may ask, “How exactly is that foundational?” It has to do with with ultimate authorities that shape our ability to know. Anyone who gets into a discussion about epistemology and Scriptural authority with a classical apologist will eventually reach the place where the classicist will insist that no one can really know what the Bible is saying or interpret it correctly WITHOUT first having a philosophical grid in place through which we filter our reading of Scripture.

For instance, Richard Howe, at Southern Evangelical Seminary, says that he presents a three-fold formula that builds a cumulative case for the Christian faith. He begins with philosophy that defines our “reality,” that moves him to demonstrating general theism, and then eventually the viability of Christianity. The authority of Scripture in defining Christianity is essentially the caboose in his apologetic train. When I have interacted with graduates of SES, my most notable foil being Adam Tucker (folks can find my articles addressing our exchanges HERE), that is the exact same model they all employ.

The same basic approach is utilized when interpreting Scripture. For the classicist, the proper interpretation of Scripture cannot be determined by just reading the Bible. A system of hermeneutics must be established first before anyone can read the Bible properly. So, for the classicist, it is naive, and a bit dishonest, for the presuppositionalist to say he starts his apologetics with Scripture. The presuppositionalist has smuggled in an outside authority, that being his system of hermeneutics, which is the true ultimate starting point, not the Bible. That system is ultimately determined by philosophy that interprets reality. Again, see this article I wrote responding to this very argument made by Richard Howe against presuppositionalism.

The presuppositionalist, however, understands that God desires to communicate with mankind and has thus created man with the ability to communicate not only with Himself, but also other men. In other words, the hermeneutics needed to read and understand Scripture is hardwired in men.

Think about it: people don’t need to learn a separate, philosophical grid first before they can read cook books, or instructions for changing engine oil, or The Lord of the Rings trilogy. As long as they have the basics of reading, a person can instantaneously determine if what it is he is reading is history, or poetry, or a story, or even a recipe to make a pie. The same is with Bible. A Christian doesn’t need to have memorized Aristotle’s philosophy for reality to understand Scripture, especially the Gospel. It is how God made man to communicate.

Presuppositionalists need to recognize the importance of clarifying these two truths. If they are concise in explaining what is meant by the totality of human depravity and its impact upon man’s basic reasoning, along with how it is we know about God and what it means when we say Scripture is our starting point, they will be making great strides in helping Christians understand how to defend the faith in a biblical fashion.

Thomistic Irony

learningtoflyI wanted to offer some comments on this post,

Aquinas or Van Til? Testimony of a campus minister

It was written in response to a talk that Scott Oliphint gave at the ReformedCon 2016 conference called Reformed or Romanist? Dr. Oliphint reviewed and critiqued a book entitled Evangelical Exodus, a collection of testimonies by former students and faculty from Southern Evangelical Seminary who had apostasized to the Roman Catholic Church. As Dr. Oliphint points out in his lecture, according to their testimony, those individuals went to Roman due in part to their exposure to Thomas Aquinas’s philosophy.

Thomism is the backbone philosophy behind Roman Catholicism and classic apologetics, and because it is the philosophical methodology taught at SES, Dr. Oliphint’s talk obviously ruffled some feathers. The author of this article took umbrage with Dr. Oliphint’s lecture, and so he in turn attempts to alleviate his criticisms by explaining why classical Thomism is more robust an apologetic methodology than presuppositionalism. However, in doing so, he offers up some head scratching irony, at least in my opinion.

He begins by telling us how he held to presuppositionalism for nearly 15 years after having read Van Til who he says gave him the certainty he longed for; but then he moved to classical apologetics.

Those remarks makes me wonder about his overall theology. Presuppositionalism is derived from a Calvinistic soteriology. In other words, when the presuppositionalist engages the lost person with the Gospel, the revelation of Scripture informs him of specific anthropological descriptions of the person with whom he is speaking. The Bible tells us that all men are separated from God and blinded in their sins. Hence, what is needed in the conversation is a proclamation of the Gospel message that will bring that person to a saving knowledge of Christ.  For the presuppositionalist, answering apologetic objections is a secondary matter in the overall encounter with a lost person.

I can only assume he still maintains a biblical understanding of man’s sin nature and the noetic effects of the fall, but I find that hard to believe given that he writes, “The classical method, however, is rooted in realism and the reliability of sense-perception, and is therefore the better path.” and “Rather, because sense-perception is reliable, I can have common ground with unbelievers, and show them the evidence for Christianity in a robust, yet simple way.”

Like all classicists, he naively places a lot of faith in the “sense-perception” of unbelievers. If he held to presuppositionalism for 15 years, I would think he understood what Van Til taught about unbelievers and the so-called reliability of their “sense-perception.” While it is true that they may perceive things with their senses, that doesn’t mean their perception is reliable. God intends for mankind to perceive reality according to the manner in which He created it. Scripture declares, however, that unbelievers suppress that truth in unrighteousness. Put another way, they intentionally deny or explain away the reliability of their perception, because they hate God and want nothing to do with Him.

I was also curious about his comparison of Van Til’s apologetics to that of Immanuel Kant’s philosophy. He writes,

…presuppositionalism was my meat and potatoes for nearly a decade and a half, ever since reading Cornelius Van Til. Van Til gave me the certainty I longed for. That is, Hume’s radical skepticism was solved by the Kantian notion of transcendentals, but with a different spin: it is the Triune God and Holy Scripture which are the necessary preconditions of knowledge.

He then goes on to conclude why Thomism is a better apologetic method by stating,

I can demonstrate important truths, like the existence of God i.e. Aquinas’ 5 Ways, and the historical reliability of Scripture without resorting to lengthy discussions about Hume’s problem of induction, Kantian transcendentalism and resultant idealism, and the supposed epistemological certainty that presuppositionalism attempts to offer (a form of realism, it seems, based upon presupposing the ontological Trinity and the Bible as the Word of God). 

Now it is important to distinguish what Kant meant by the word “transcendentals,” because it is not the same thing Van Til meant.

I would encourage folks to pick up John Frame’s massive work, A History of Western Philosophy and Theology, so as to get firm overview of the development of general philosophy and all the accompanying terms, as well as how philosophy interacts with biblical theology. Frame has an extended discussion on Kant’s philosophical worldview that is insightful.

Without getting bogged down in a lot of the philosophical gobbledygook, Kant’s predecessors, like David Hume, believed philosophy was essentially an exploration of discovery: a person started at one philosophical landmark and followed a trail to the next.  The starting point was self-evident axioms (rationalism) or sense experience (empiricism). The method was to follow the axioms or the sense data wherever they seemed to lead the person, [See Frame, 254].

Considering what I have learned from the classic apologists I have interacted with for a while now, that is exactly how they describe their apologetic methodology. They affirm what they call “first principles” or “self-evident” truths regarding reality, and then using Aristotelian philosophy and the five proofs of Thomism, build a cumulative case for the existence of God and the reliability of the Christian faith.

Coming back to Immanuel Kant, he believed that our most basic knowledge comes about not by the world’s impressing it on the mind (following the “self-evident” landmarks and building a case), but by the mind’s imposing various concepts on the raw data given to it by the world, [see Frame, 256]. Put simply, for Kant, in order to understand the nature of reality, a person must examine the reasoning process that governs the nature of experience. Philosophical knowledge begins with men who already know because they are men with minds, and how it is they interpret the world with that knowledge.

Van Til, on the other hand, speaks of transcendentals and the need to confront the reasoning process that men employ when interpreting the world, but he is building his apologetic approach from the revelation of Scripture.

The Bible provides us with specific descriptions of fallen man’s nature and reasoning abilities, which, according to the Bible, is hostile to God, Romans 8:7. They want nothing to do with their creator. So what may be considered “self-evident” truths for the classical apologist is not at all “self-evident” for a hostile person in spiritual rebellion against his creator. His reasoning will bring an entirely different set of interpretations to those so-called “self-evident” truths and he will draw entirely different conclusions about them.

Van Til recognized the spiritual dimension to man’s fallen reasoning and his interaction within the world where God, his Creator, has placed him. Because man, according to Scripture, hates God, he will not reason about that world in the way God expects him to do. Van Til zeroes in upon that inconsistent disconnect between the way the fallen man wrongly reasons about the world in which he lives and challenges him with the Gospel. Man’s reasoning problem is his spiritual separation from his Creator. When Christ saves a person, that individual is now clothed, as it were, and in his right mind, Mark 5:15.

Having stated all of that, those points were not the most glaring examples of irony. Keep in mind that this post was written as a brief rebuttal to a talk Scott Oliphint gave in which he suggested that Thomistic philosophy was turning a number of SES graduates into Roman Catholics.

In his effort to respond to Oliphint, the author highlights a book he says is recommended by SES faculty entitled The Last Superstition: A Refutation of New Atheism, by a guy named Edward Feser. The book allegedly demonstrates the intellectual ability Thomism has in trouncing the foggy thinking of new atheism, because Thomism, based upon Aristotle’s four causes, explains reality much better than what Kantian transcendentalism can.

The irony: Feser is a Roman Catholic!

I hope we can appreciate the humor here, because it is as obvious as the pope’s funny hat.

funnyhatIn fact, if you go to Feser’s Wiki page, it tells how he was an atheist for about a decade before his reading of Aristotle — and get this, THOMAS AQUINAS — led him back to the Catholic Church.  A book written by a Roman Catholic, explaining how he read Thomas Aquinas’s apologetic philosophy that led him back to the arms of Rome, is recommend by the faculty of SES for the students to read. Hello?

In a podcast put out by the folks at SES, it was suggested that it may be a good thing to shore up their teaching on the Reformers by exposing the students to them in class. That, I would agree, would be a fabulous idea. The problem, however, is that I can never see that happening as long as Norman Geisler is alive; I don’t believe he would allow it if he has any say in the matter.

However, if that does happen, may I suggest that the administrators at SES secure some solid lecturers on the subject and require all the student body to hear from them, rather than assigning an associate professor to teach a few elective classes on a general overview of the Reformation. There are a number of excellent teachers the students would benefit from immensely, like Stephen Nichols at Ligonier Ministries, or Sinclair Ferguson, or Carl Trueman, or even, *gasp,* James White, who I know would be absolutely elated to come and teach. Pulling together classes like that would go a long way in inoculating the kids from the bitter waters of the Tiber.

Classic Apologists and Their Facepalm Misuse of Scripture

facepalmI wanted to offer some comments on a recent radio/podcast discussion between Sye Ten Bruggencate, who maintains the Proof That God Exists website, and apologist Eric Hernandez of Eric Hernandez Ministries. They were together on the Sin Boldly Podcast discussing apologetic methodology. Sye took the presuppositional position, Eric the classicist approach. Listen to the discussion HERE so as to get up to speed.

The podcast was an hour or so, and the two sides were able to articulate their positions clearly. I have always appreciated Sye’s work, and while I may have minor, disagreeing quibbles with his overall presentation, he does a fantastic job outlining what I believe to be the biblical way a Christian should defend the faith.

I was not familiar with Eric, but he came across as a nice fellow. He is well spoken and seems to have a growing ministry. His presentation, on the other hand, aggravated me to the point of wanting to pull out my hair. I guess that should’ve been anticipated, because he brought together all the talking points I’ve come to love and expect from classic apologists. The copious appeals to human philosophy, the intentional avoidance of biblical theology, and the grating misuse of Scripture.

It is that grating misuse of Scripture I wish to address with this post.

Now if I may begin with a bit of broad-brushing.

I believe there is reason for this misuse of Scripture. It has been my observation that classic apologists have an extremely low view of the Bible, especially at the front end of the apologetic encounter. Because they insist that the trustworthiness and viability of the Bible must first be established in the mind of the unbeliever with the use of external evidence BEFORE it can appealed to as an authority, they have a bad tendency of intentionally avoiding it.

When philosophical constructs and logic-chopping arguments are the focus with first engaging the unbeliever, Scripture invariably plays a secondary role. That regrettably causes bad exegetical habits to form, and the mishandling of Scripture springs forth from there.

Again, that is a broad-brush accusation. I obviously haven’t talked with every single individual who considers himself a classic apologist. I will readily admit there may be many classical apologists who handle the Scriptures quite well. That, however, has not been my experience; and I have discussed apologetic methodology with a number of them over the years on social media and in other venues.

Listen to the Sye and Eric exchange. Pretty much every passage Eric mentioned that he believes supports his classical approach was taken out of context. Just a cursory reading of the passage reveals that the verse has nothing at all to do with apologetics or how we are to engage unbelief. I wrote down the main ones that were repeated a number of times and I wanted to briefly address four of them.

elijah

1 Kings 18. I have heard classic apologists appeal frequently to the story of Elijah defeating the false prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. They insist that when the unbelievers asked for evidence of God, God certainly gave it in the form of fire falling from heaven and consuming a sacrifice.

However, if we read carefully the account, Elijah confronts Ahab in 1 Kings 18:17. He rebukes him for leading Israel astray into idolatry. Elijah tells Ahab to gather all Israel (the covenant people of Israel who already believe in God) and the 400 prophets of Baal that Jezebel supported. They gather at Mt. Carmel and there God puts His character on display, not to prove Himself to unbelievers, but to show Himself to Israel, especially Ahab. The showdown was meant as a judgment against Jezebel’s false prophets and a call to Israel for covenant faithfulness. It had nothing to do with proving God’s existence with evidence.

Isaiah 1:18. Isaiah’s words, “come now, and let us reason together,” are often quoted as a formula for engaging unbelievers reasonably. The idea being that God wants Christians to use their “reasoning,” and the “us” reasoning together is understood as believers and unbelievers meeting together to discuss the truth claims of Christianity in a reasonable fashion.

That is not at all what Isaiah is saying – well, what God is saying through His prophet. Rather, Isaiah’s opening chapter is a rebuke of the sins that Israel has accumulated, highlighted from 1:1-17. God, speaking through Isaiah, calls His people to repentance. He will wash their scarlet sins as white as snow, 1:18. The point Isaiah is making when he writes, “come let us reason together,” is that if Israel turns from their sins, comes back to covenant obedience, God will bless them. His words have nothing to do with apologetic methodology with unbelievers.

Acts 17. Classic apologists are adamant that Paul’s message to the Athenian intelligentsia on Mar’s Hill models clearly the classical method of doing apologetics. Eric was no exception, citing the incident a few times in his discussion with Sye.

One of the reasons they believe Paul modeled classical apologetics has to do with his citation of two pagan Greek poets, Epimendes and Aratus. While those two men were speaking about pagan deities with their poems, Paul appeals to them as evidence for the true and living God that he proclaimed. In other words, Paul did not appeal to Scripture, nor start with the Bible, when he was talking with the Athenians. He used the poems of pagan poets.

We only have his summary message recorded for us, so we cannot be entirely certain what use of Scripture Paul made. He had already been in the Synagogue a while speaking with the Jews and other worshipers who attended. He obviously had gained attention with his preaching because the philosophers were interested in what he had to say.

Paul, seizing upon the fact that Athens was a city given completely over to the pursuit of false religion, idols, and every philosophical whimsy, took the opportunity to preach on Mar’s Hill what the Athenians already knew to be true: that they know the true and living God, but they have substituted their idols and false religions for worship of Him.

Paul quotes two of their poets, not for the purpose of appealing to external evidence in order to build his case, but rather to expose the folly of their philosophical worldview. He in essence is telling them, “look, you know the true God, even your poets did, but you all worship idols instead.” He goes on to explain to them how they will be judged for their sin and calls them to come to Christ. One will note that he doesn’t attempt to prove to them the Resurrection of Jesus, but just proclaims it to them, 17:31. If anything, Paul’s sermon on Mar’s Hill is exegetical application of Paul’s words out of Romans 1.

1 Corinthians 15. First Corinthians 15 is considered one of the more important chapters of the NT, because Paul makes a case for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Every classical apologist appeals to the chapter as proof that Paul utilized external evidences to prove the historical reality of the Resurrection, particularly the use of eye-witness testimony.

But 1 Corinthians 15 is a passage that is misunderstood by many Christians regardless of their apologetic methodological persuasions. It is mistakenly believed that Paul is trying to prove the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ to unbelievers in the Corinthian church. He is not.

Rather, he is correcting the Corinthian’s erroneous idea that Christians do not experience a physical resurrection. Verse 12 states, “Now, if Christ is preached, that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you (the Corinthian church) say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” The Corinthians believed in Christ’s resurrection; where they struggled was believing that a bodily resurrection happens for Christians.

The entire chapter is Paul’s apologetic for proving that because of Christ’s bodily resurrection, a resurrection the Corinthians accepted as really happening, all Christians will also experience a bodily resurrection. The chapter has to be read with that main focus in view.

There are probably others I may have missed, but those are the key passages I often hear brought up in discussions on the proper methodology for doing apologetics. While I believe it is vitally important that we anchor our methodology in the teaching of Scripture, our goal should be to do so not only exegetically, but also contextually. Misappropriating the Bible only undermines the entire apologetic enterprise.

BTWN Hangout: “I used to be an atheist”

pasta1I recently had the privilege of participating in a Bible Thumping Wingnut Google hangout. There were a variety of topics, but our overarching theme was the knowledge men have of God, apologetic methodology, my recent articles on that topic, and atheism. Larry Herzog gave his testimony about how God saved him from atheism.

We spent the last 30 minutes of the time going Mystery Science Theater on an atheist talk by The Thinking Atheist.

“I used to be an atheist” [You tube version] 

Sinners and Their Knowledge of God – A Rejoinder

adamandevePrepare yourselves. This is a long, withering, geeky post. Pack a sammich.

I recently participated in a podcast discussion on the topic of apologetic methodology with Adam Tucker, the director of evangelism and missions at Southern Evangelical Seminary. The discussion was meant to highlight the key differences between classic Thomistic apologetics and presuppositionalism.

During our two hour conversation, we had a spirited exchange on the subject of man’s knowledge of God. Referencing the 24 theses of Catholic philosophy, Adam affirms the Thomist perspective that argues man’s knowledge of God is mediate, meaning mankind must learn about God through our sense perception. Thus, the goal of a Christian apologist is to build an accumulative case for the existence of God with the use of various perceptible lines of evidence that start with effect and leads back toward an ultimate cause, that of course being God.

I, however, believe man’s knowledge of God is immediate, meaning that because mankind is God’s special creation, the knowledge of God as sovereign creator is imprinted upon the hearts of all men, as it were. Human beings bear God’s image, and because we are the image bearers of God, we do not need to have God proven to us; we know intuitively that He exists. If that was not the case, men could not be held accountable for their rebellion against Him.The goal of the Christian apologist in this instance is to confront man’s active rebellion against God that they know is real, with the totality of the Christian worldview and the Gospel, and call them to repentance.

Now, I attempted to point out during our discussion that my position is derived from holy Scripture, most specifically Paul’s argument in Romans 1:18ff, particularly verse 19 which states, that which is known about God is evident within them. Meaning, that man’s knowledge of God is written on his conscience or upon his heart.

I posted a follow up blog article that marked out the differences between the mediate and immediate views of man’s knowledge of God and that explained why Paul in Romans affirms an immediate view of God’s knowledge — What Romans 1 tells us about man’s knowledge of God.

Adam has since responded with a rebuttal to my article posted over at the SES blog, Romans 1 and Man’s Knowledge of God: A Response to Fred Butler (that’d be me!)

He is insistent that my take on Romans 1 was eisegetical. In other words, I’m reading my conclusions about the immediate knowledge of God into the text of Romans. Really? In the spirit of online debate, I wanted to offer a rejoinder and prove to everyone why Adam is dead wrong.

But before I get to the heart of the article, let me set the stage with his opening remarks, he writes,

First, it is interesting that the post begins with a poisoning the well/begging the question fallacy as Fred classifies his brand of presuppositional apologetics (as opposed to my classical apologetics) as “what [he] like[s] to call biblical apologetics.” … Merely labeling one’s position as the “biblical” position from the outset is not an argument, and as our two hour dialog demonstrated, we both consider our differing views as the “biblical” view (in the sense that it is in line with what Scripture reveals about man’s knowledge of God).

Rather than subliminally manipulating my readers to think Adam’s classic apologetics are unbiblical, my primary reason I call my form of presuppositionalism, “biblical apologetics,” has to do with the foundation upon which we build our methodologies. It really has nothing to do with well poisoning.

dilbertAdam, by his own admission during our conversation, stated that he begins with philosophy in order to build his accumulative case for the Christian faith. When he provided his definition of classic apologetics in his opening remarks, he even cited Richard Howe’s methodological formula that begins with philosophy defining “reality,” moves to proving general theism, and then the viability of Christianity.

His basic position is what I have always encountered with every classic apologist I have interacted with. Rather than having the Bible and biblical Christianity as the engine driving apologetics, philosophy (of the Thomist/Aristotelian stripe) is the foundational starting point; the key presupposition, as it were. From there, a case for general, vanilla-style theism is made, and Christianity and Scripture is the caboose, coming along at the end.

When distinguishing my position as “biblical apologetics,” I am merely pointing to the approach I take when engaging in apologetics. I am not fixated upon what Aristotle has written. Nor do I care what his confused surrogates in Christendom past who assign greater importance to his work than is warranted have stated concerning the role philosophy should take with shaping our theology.

I begin with a comprehensive Christian theology derived from the exegesis of Scripture alone and move out from there. Any “philosophy” that may be intertwined in the discussion flows from the exegesis of biblical texts. Thus, the Bible and Christianity is the engine driving apologetics and any necessary philosophy is the caboose in my scheme.

boethius2Boethius has spun his wheel of fortune and he wants you to know
he thinks
Thomas Aquinas was a hack

Let me move along to Adam’s main presentation of his complaint against the thesis of my article.

Recall that I argued from Romans 1:19 that Paul tells us that what knowledge men have of God is evident within them. The language here, particularly the word within translated from en autois, means that knowledge is manifested or innate to all humanity, and is not acquired over time or discovered by reading effects back to causes as Adam insists. In fact, the reason why men can even utilize the concept of reading effects back to causes has to do because of that basic knowledge they have of their creator. God has created man so he can rationalize and understand His creation and be drawn to worship.

Sin, however, has marred that image of God so that men intentionally reject, and in nearly all cases, fight against the truth of what  that knowledge communicates to them regarding their creator God.

Additionally (and I didn’t draw this out in my article), the next clause of verse 19 tells us God’s revelation is clear and known. The gar, translated as for, connects the explanatory phrase, for God made it evident to them with the previous, that which is evident about God is known within them. God is the subject of the word “evident,” translated from ephanerothe. Thus, He is the one doing the revealing of Himself to them, meaning all humanity.

And then thirdly, I pointed out that as Paul develops his case about the culpability of sinners before God, he states in Romans 2:14-15 that gentiles do instinctively, or by nature, the requirements of God’s moral law. How exactly do they have knowledge about what it is God requires? Because, as Paul goes on in verse 15, that knowledge of the law is “written on their hearts.” In other words, all humanity have an immediate knowledge of God.

So with that overview in mind, I’ll work through the remainder of Adam’s article and respond to specific points he raises.

He writes,

I would argue this is a classic example of eisegesis, or reading a view into a text rather than extracting the meaning from the text.There is no reason to conclude from the English phrase “within them” that Paul is talking about innate (or preprogrammed if you will) knowledge of God.

To suggest that what I presented is eisegetical is laughable. If that is the case, that means John Calvin, indeed, pretty much all of the magisterial and Puritan Reformers, John Gill, Charles Hodge, James Boice, S. Lewis Johnson, Leon Morris, commentators William Sanday and Arthur Headlam, John Murray, and James White, just to name a few, are all employing eisegesis.

Moreover, given the review of the exegesis I just laid out, I find it difficult to understand how he could make such a claim. Honestly, as I work through his points in the remainder of his article, I have to confess that I was a bit disappointed he didn’t really interact at all with any of the key arguments I raised in regards to what Paul wrote in Romans 1:19 and 2:14,15.

As much as Fred chides those holding my view (built as it is from the thinking of Thomas Aquinas and thus from Aristotle) for adopting “pagan Greek philosophy,” Fred is espousing a view of innate knowledge that would be right at home in the writings of Plato and Enlightenment philosophy.

Good for Plato for acting upon his God-given cognizant abilities that come along with being made in the image of God. That knowledge helps him recognize the obvious. That doesn’t mean, however, that his views of Forms and Ideas supply a filter through which I read the Bible. Anymore than me believing in the Resurrection of Jesus means I’m right at home with Mithra cults.

Though the words for “evident” in this verse are related, they have slightly different meanings. The first means something’s ability to be clearly known, while the second is more active in the sense of something being made clearly known.

Two thoughts. First, the word phaneros, translated as “evident,” is the same in both instances. The difference being that the first occurrence, “that which is known about God is evident…” is nominative, whereas the second, “God made it evident to them” is aorist.

Then secondly, I am at a loss why he believes that difference helps his position. All that Paul is saying is that the reason all of mankind has knowledge of God evident within them is because God purposefully made in evident to them. If anything, the grammar here only continues to solidify the idea of an immediate knowledge of God.

But he continues,

Human knowing is a metaphysical, and thus immaterial, event that occurs “within” man as it were. How could man have knowledge “without,” that is, how could man’s knowing happen outside of the man? That would be incoherent. The question is, how is that something, God’s existence in this case, made clearly known? The context gives us a clear answer.  The very next verse tells us, “For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made” (Rom. 1:20). Paul essentially says that we can argue from effect to cause (via sensible reality) and reason to God’s “invisible attributes, eternal power, and divine nature.” There is no reference here to innate knowledge of God.

This is another mystifying comment. If we read carefully verse 20, Paul writes that those invisible attributes and eternal power are “clearly seen” and “understood.” Both seeing and understanding take place inside the person, not outside. The point Paul is making is that God is clearly on display for every person in the world, including in the outward created world, as well as directly within the creation, that being, within them. Men see God on display and understand that what they are seeing is their creator. In other words, they know there is a God.

That is why men are “without excuse,” as Paul goes on to write. They are all held accountable for what they know. There is never any point when men are without the knowledge of God. If they had no knowledge of God, they could potentially have an excuse as to why they didn’t submit to Him. Yet the Bible never offers that as a possibility.

Concluding my thoughts, let me interact with this paragraph, especially the last comment and pose three questions,

Fred jumps to Paul’s reference to natural law in Rom. 2:14-15 in a failed attempt to further his case for innate knowledge. Those verses are about man’s knowledge of natural law (or the basic moral law known via sensible reality) and have nothing to do with man’s knowledge of God’s existence being “immediate” or innate. In fact, this passage is precisely where classical apologists go to show that the natural moral law is known by all normally functioning men because it is based on what we are by nature, that is, human beings (Fred seems to agree with this much). Yet, this is another example of effect-to-cause reasoning regarding God’s existence. We can reason from the fact that this natural moral law exists based on human nature to the fact that God is the author of human nature and the creator and sustainer of all men. This passage is clearly about man’s knowledge of morality, not man’s knowledge of God.

Given what Paul writes in Romans 2:14,15, his comments here are amazing. The last sentence is especially perplexing, “This passage is clearly about man’s knowledge of morality, not man’s knowledge of God.” But the text specifically states that when the gentiles do instinctively, a word that means naturally, the things written in the law, you know, act morally, they show the law written in their hearts.

That raises three questions I have for Adam, What law is this? What does it mean that it is written on their hearts? and Who wrote it there? I would hope that his response is 1) God’s law, 2) it is innate, meaning it wasn’t acquired, because 3) God wrote it there. If that is the case, how can one conclude that Romans 2 is about man’s knowledge of morality apart from his knowledge of God? Seeing that God is the one who established absolute morality, it is impossible to be moral without an innate knowledge of God.

One final comment before wrapping this up. I get the impression, and I could be wrong, that maybe Adam is thinking I am conflating general revelation with special revelation. What Paul presents in Romans 1 and 2 is general revelation, revelation about God that is seen in nature and understood in men’s heart and expressed in the way people live in our world. That revelation only makes mankind culpable before God because he is without excuse to act upon what he knows to be true about God. To truly know God in a salvific way, there must be a special revelation that comes only from God’s Spirit working through the Scripture. We have to keep those categories distinct in our discussion.

Now, is this exchange an important one or is it just the equivalent of a group of geeks arguing whether the Enterprise is faster than the Millennium Falcon? I certainly would think both of us believe it is important. I know for myself, I recognize my apologetic methodology has direct bearing on what I know about the lost, what they are thinking, and how I expect them to react to our discussion. My objective is to have an apologetic methodology that is biblical and the most effective. That is why I want it to be driven by the Word of God, and not filtered through the pagan philosophy of Aristotelian scholastics.

The Fallacies with “The Circular Argument” Against Presuppositionalism

This will be a geeky post, sorry.

Occasionally, I like to write on topics pertaining to apologetic methodology. My primary purpose is to sharpen my personal thinking in the matters of how my exegesis and theology shape my overall approach in apologetics and evangelism. My objective has always been two-fold: I want to make sure I am defending the faith accurately as well as engaging unbelief effectively.

I approach the subject of apologetics as a presuppositionalist as opposed to one who would consider himself a classic apologist or an evidentialist. Most Christians who fancy the subject of “apologetics” operate in the matrix of classical/evidentialist apologetics. That is because the classic/evidential apologetic is the most popular and the one the average church-going red state evangelical Christian is familiar.

Proponents of the classical approach are also known to have a disdain toward presuppositionalism. Their blog articles and lectures will often times offer withering critiques of presuppositionalism, attempting to show how the approach is “illogical,” or “blind fideism,” or other such terrible descriptors. I also think it is important to offer a response to those criticisms in order to demonstrate how my apologetic theology is not only biblical, but robust.

One common objection claims that a presuppositional defense of the faith is circular. The classical proponent will claim, for example, that the presuppositionalist believes Christianity is true because the Bible tells him Christianity is true and because Christianity tells him the Bible is true, the Bible is thus true, and because the Bible is true, Christianity is true, etc., and so the circle is formed.

Consider the following illustration I copied from a pro-classic apologetic blog post:

circularIt’s supposed to picture just how illogical a presuppositional defense of Scripture truly is. A presuppositional will claim, for instance, that the Bible is infallible. When asked to prove his assertion he will respond by saying, “It’s infallible because the Bible is the Word of God.” But when asked “How do you know the Bible is the Word of God?,” he answers by saying, “Because the Bible tells us so!” When asked why he believes the Bible to begin with, he responds by saying, “Because the Bible is infallible!” And so on and so on, around and around. Underneath the picture at the blog article, the author writes, “This kind of argument is not the kind of “apologia” mentioned in scripture. God always backed Himself up with evidence.”

See what terrible thinkers presuppositionalists truly are? Shake my head. If they give that ridiculous response to their local community college social studies teacher when asked why they reject same-sex marriage, they’ll embarrass Jesus and make Aristotle cry.

Let’s evaluate that objection and offer some comments in response.

— 1. First off, I have always been troubled with the classic apologists and their avoidance of biblical authority. They seem to intentionally avoid using the Scriptures when defending the faith. The inconsistency here is jarring. Christian apologists, who are intending to make a case for the Christian faith, who in point of fact derive their faith from the Bible, ignore its authority when engaging unbelievers, claiming any appeal to Scripture’s authority in a discussion is circular. I truly don’t get that.

Now. Maybe there are some traditional classicists who would object to my concern. They are not dismissing the Bible at all, but are, as the author noted under the picture, wanting to back up their appeals to Scriptural authority with evidence. The Bible, however, is evidence, is it not? It’s an established historical document, why isn’t that fact good enough? It would be like saying we can’t appeal to the letters of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams when discussing the American Revolution without first showing evidence that the two men wrote those letters.

— 2. Moving along to a second point. In case you don’t know this, pretty much everyone argues in a circle. That statement may cause my classical detractors to fall face down on a fainting couch, but I believe I’m correct with my assessment. That’s because everyone assumes (or *ahem* presupposes) the truthfulness of some unquestioned, unspoken starting point.

For instance,

logicI affirm the truthfulness of this argument, even though it is circular.

Michael Kruger, in his insightful discussion about the sufficiency of Scripture in apologetics, writes in a footnote about so-called circularity as it pertains to the meter stick,

To deny circularity when it comes to an ultimate authority is to subject oneself to an infinite regress of reasons. If a person holds to a certain view, A , then when A is challenged he appeals to reasons B and C . But, of course, B and C will certainly be challenged as to why they should be accepted, and then the person would have to offer D, E, F, and G as arguments for B and C. And the process goes on and on.

Obviously it has to stop somewhere because an infinite regress of arguments cannot demonstrate the truth of one’s conclusions. Thus, every worldview (and every argument) must have an ultimate, unquestioned, self-authenticating starting point.

Another example: imagine someone asking you whether the meter stick in your house was actually a meter long. How would you demonstrate such a thing? You could take it to your next-door neighbor and compare it to his meter stick and say, “See, it’s a meter.” However, the next question is obvious, “How do we know your neighbor’s meter stick is really a meter?” This process would go on and on infinitely unless there were an ultimate meter stick (which, if I am not mistaken, actually existed at one time and was measured by two fine lines marked on a bar of platinum-iridium alloy). It is this ultimate meter stick that defines a meter. When asked how one knows whether the ultimate meter stick is a meter, the answer is obviously circular: the ultimate meter stick is a meter because it is a meter.

This same thing is true for Scripture. The Bible does not just happen to be true (the meter stick in your house), rather it is the very criterion for truth (the ultimate meter stick) and therefore the final stopping point in intellectual justification.

Just like trusting that your meter stick is really a meter, the simple point is that everyone argues in a circle to some degree. The issue is whether or not that circle is a vicious circle, or one that is self-refuting. In the case of Scripture, I don’t believe that saying the Word of God is infallible, because it is the Word of God, is a vicious, self-refuting circular argument. The reason being has to be that God’s Word is, well, God’s Word. He is an infallible God and He spoke it, hence it is God’s infallible Word.

— 3. Picking up on the last point, the circular objection as presented in that illustration is a strawman. (The last time I checked, strawman arguments are usually considered illogical, but I digress). The Christian believes the Bible is God’s Word not because the Bible alone tells us so (though that should be enough), but because God revealed the Bible.  We know that, obviously, from the Bible itself, but Jesus also confirmed the Scriptures as God’s Word as did the prophets and apostles. Jesus, the prophets, and the apostles are historical, real life people. Jesus was in fact the very Son of God sent by the Father. I would think if He affirmed that the Word of God is the Word of God without first appealing to outside lines evidence that supposedly establish the Bible as worthy of being called the Word of God, I’d be inclined to take Him at His Word alone.

— 4. And that leads to one final fallacy with the circular objection: Never did Jesus, the prophets, or the apostles prove the Bible’s authority with their audience first. They proclaimed it as if the Bible was authoritative at the outset.

Take for instance Paul’s missionary journeys recorded in the book of Acts. At first, Paul would go to the Jews who were scattered about in the various areas where he and his friends would pass through. However, the Jews rejected the Gospel message and turned Paul away. In some cases, he was persecuted by them. Eventually, Paul turned exclusively to the gentiles, who were already inclined to hear his message of salvation. Acts 13:46ff states,

46 Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly and said, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken to you first; since you repudiate it and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles.
47 “For so the Lord has commanded us, ‘I HAVE PLACED YOU AS A LIGHT FOR THE GENTILES, THAT YOU MAY BRING SALVATION TO THE END OF THE EARTH.'”
48 When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.

Note a couple of important points. First, Paul told the Jews that he wanted to speak to them the Word of God first, but since they rejected it, he and his friends were turning to the gentiles. In other words, Paul was taking that “word of God” to the gentiles.

Now a question. How did the gentiles of Asia Minor know what Paul told them was the Word of God? Honestly? How familiar were they with the OT history of Israel? With the prophetic promises of the Messiah? The fulfillment of those prophecies in the person and work of Jesus?  Did Paul have to convince them first with lines of evidence that the Word of God was worthy of their consideration? It certainly doesn’t look that way. In fact, all that Paul had to do was preach it and they believed it.

Secondly, notice that belief in the authority of the Word of God was a spiritual matter. Verse 48 states that when the gentiles heard of Paul’s change of plans, they rejoiced and glorified the Word of the Lord, and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. In other words, their acceptance of God’s Word was not due to the presentation of compelling lines of textual evidence or historical proofs, but because they were appointed to eternal life and God’s Spirit working in their hearts to believe.

Now I can hear my objectors saying, “but Paul was giving them the Gospel, not telling them to believe the Bible!” But where exactly is the Gospel message laid out? Where is it presented? Why in the pages of Scripture.

As I close, I don’t want the reader to go away thinking that I reject the idea of presenting evidence to an unbeliever in an apologetic encounter. In fact, I can be equally critical of other presuppositionalists who turn apologetic encounters into repetitious slogans and the appeals to the laws of logic and what not. I am not opposed to providing non-biblical answers to challenging questions. When textual evidence or intelligent design style proofs come up to further along the discussion, I will certainly present that information. There is no special protocol that has been violated if a presuppositionalist uses those arguments.

What needs to be kept in mind is that I am not giving up my commitment to God’s Word as my ultimate authority. I proclaim it as established fact, even though I know the unbeliever will insist on proofs as to why he must believe it. The reason being is because it is the Word of God alone that contains the Gospel which in turn is the power of God unto salvation.

My Concerns with Popular, Christian Worldview Apologetics

I have been witnessing a growing trend among red state, evangelical churches with the rise of Christian Worldview apologetics. I often call the proponents “the neo-apologists.”  Most of those “apologists” are tied to the classical, Thomist school of apologetic methodology.

Their popularity within Christian circles is due primarily to the development of the internet, roughly 2000 to the present.  The web has allowed groups of Christian apologists to network with each other, for the purpose of disseminating information, tactics, and techniques for practicing apologetics with non-Christians.

Additionally, a number of Christian colleges have developed specialized “schools” or “programs” dealing exclusively with apologetics.  The programs can be a few weeks during the summer or more involved with 1 to 2 year degree programs aimed at providing students extensive training in the area of apologetic philosophy and instructions in the ways of cultural engagement.

On top of all of that, certain apologetic para-church “ministries” will pull together popular, well-known instructors in apologetics for weekend conferences throughout the country. The conferences will be centered around a theme addressing cultural challenges for Christians like same-sex marriage, abortion, and evolution.  The instructors provide talks designed to help pastors, youth pastors, and even lay people, to become their own apologists of sorts so they too can engage the culture with the Christian worldview.

Now. A lot of folks will ask, “Isn’t it a good thing Christians are being trained to think critically about their faith and equipped to defend Christianity in the marketplace of ideas?” Well, Yes.  I certainly agree that it can be a good thing having apologetically equipped believers engaging the world. I know a few of those ministries offer solid instruction that has benefited me personally.

Yet, in spite of those positive elements there are some areas of concern I want to address. Keep in mind I’m aiming broadly with my points. I realize there are notable exceptions that even I may be unaware. I base my concerns upon a general observation of this apologetic movement as a whole.  And… Rather than taking these concerns as mean-spirited criticisms, I hope they come across as blind-spots we can all bring into focus. Let me highlight four of them:

1) I don’t necessarily see the worldview apologists anchored in a local church.  I have to believe all of them are involved with a church in which they attend regularly and serve faithfully.  Looking over their websites and hearing their presentations, however, I don’t really encounter any emphasis placed upon a commitment to a body of believers.  Perhaps they believe church attendance is a secondary, back-seat issue that can be discussed at a later time because church isn’t immediately relevant to their apologetics.  If that is true, then I have to disagree.

If I am a youth pastor and I am told that my students will have a great opportunity to learn from a trusted Christian “apologist,” I’d kinda like to know where he attends church.  That tells me a little something about where the guy is coming from and what his doctrinal commitments may be.  Moreover, if that “apologist” convinces an unbeliever of the “reasonableness” of the Christian faith so that he believes upon Christ and becomes a Christian, where will that new convert be told to attend church? Will he be sent to a solid Bible teaching church? Where he attends church will play heavily in his growth as a new Christian. Hence,  I don’t consider that decision to be a secondary, back-seat issue.

2) They are not necessarily Scripture focused with their presentations. Another concern I have with the worldview apologists is the devaluing of Holy Scripture as the ground and pillar of our faith. Instead, their presentations are saturated in philosophical rhetoric and anthropocentric appeals to logic.

Simply put, they are supposed to be Christian apologists. The primary document for Christians is the Bible.  Why isn’t it sufficient in and off itself as the sole means to convince unbelievers of Christianity?  I just find it woefully inconsistent that a Christian apologist, whose chosen worldview is derived exclusively from the Bible, appeals to outside, non-biblical authorities in order to convince people to choose his Christian worldview which is defined exclusively from the Bible. It looks like to me such a position sets up one of those “circular arguments” classic apologists so tend to despise.

3) They invest way too much authority in novice, untested youth.  When I visited a few apologetic web portals that launched me out to a myriad of apologetic themed blogs and websites, an overwhelming number of them are maintained and operated by young, 20-something college grads.  I’m sure folks will say, “That’s awesome! All those young men and women taking on the challenges of our secular culture!”  Maybe that sounds encouraging, but I’m of a contrary opinion.

I think it lays hands upon people way too soon, particularly untested, immature youth, and sets them up as an “expert” in various fields of study.  Just because a 22 year old guy or gal attended an apologetic worldview degree program for a year and passed with flying colors doesn’t make the person an “expert” apologist.

But when I look at those websites, I see grad students hiring out their “expertise” to youth groups, Bible study fellowships, and churches, on subject like the reliability of the NT, proofs of God’s existence, and ID and evolution debates.  As a pastor, should I truly expect a 24 year old guy who did an intensive apologetic program over the summer at a Christian college to be an “expert” who will train my college students how to refute Bart Ehrman?

4) Lastly, there is an artificial “office of the apologist” that has been established.  The Bible tells us God has appointed elders to serve the local churches.  They are the pastors and teachers who shepherd and take care of the people.  God has not, however, appointed apologists to guard the flock.

Now I imagine most of the worldview apologists would not consider themselves in the “office of an apologist.” They see themselves as coming along side and helping churches grapple with the cultural challenges they face by teaching them how to defend their faith. Yet in spite of their best faith efforts to keep their role as apologist distinct from biblically ordained leadership, their position as a “trained specialist” sets them apart as a unique authority in the minds of people that is in the same category as a pastor.  That may not be their intention, but it is reality in many cases.

They’re not entirely to be blamed for this. Pastors and other leadership have helped to create the identity problem by shaking off their responsibility of teaching and training the people in sound doctrine.  Rather than the pastor himself engaging in the cultural challenges his church faces with a Scriptural framework, he passes off that duty to trained apologists who he can hire for a weekend seminar.

That’s not to say specialized apologists aren’t useful for Christians to hear.  They most certainly can be.  But pastors should be the ones teaching the people how to defend the faith and it is their duty to exhort their congregations on how to think theologically about apologetics in their daily lives. They definitely need to vet the maturity and abilities of any specialized apologist who claims to speak authoritatively.

Specialized, worldview apologists can be useful, but they should not be the lone individuals everyone looks to as the ones with all the answers.  They should be an available supplement for the pastor who is teaching Christians how to engage the unbeliever with their Faith.

How Exegesis Should Shape Our Apologetics When Engaging the Lost

bibleI had an individual who utilizes classic, Thomist apologetics offer some excellent challenges of my presuppositional position.  His challenges help to distinguish between what I believe is a textually oriented apologetic methodology from the classic apologetics presented in the majority of popular books, at apologetic conferences, and on daily Christian radio programs.

He wrote,

I realize you’ll probably simply say that I’m not a TULIP believing Calvinist and so my soteriology is all wrong, etc., etc. My reply would simply be, if man is so dead that God must give each man what amounts to personal revelation in some mystical sense (since it can’t be via human reason at all) before he can understand anything about the Gospel or make any decisions about it, then what is the point of the Bible in the first place, or prophets, or Apostles, etc.? If each believer receives his own regeneration, and thus understanding of “spiritual things,” prior to being able to understand the Bible, or reason about God, or intelligently discuss the truth claims of Christianity, why would God reveal anything to any prophets or Apostles? Why would He give miracles as signs confirming His message and messengers?

His comment illustrates a couple of fundamental differences between presuppositional methodology and the classic, Thomist methodology.  First is the apologist’s understanding of fallen man’s spiritual nature, and then second, the importance of building methodology upon the exegesis of Scripture.

Beginning with the nature of man:

The dividing line in the doctrine of salvation cuts between monergism, the idea that God alone is the author and finisher of a person’s salvation; and synergism, meaning God has designed salvation in such a way that a person can freely work with God to be saved.  The majority of classic apologists, like my challenger, adhere to varieties of the second division to one degree or another.   Thus, the issue at hand pertains to what sort of ability do fallen sinners have to savingly appropriate spiritual truth.

Classic apologists tend to believe fallen men retain some level of ability to evaluate and respond positively to the truth claims of Christianity.  As I noted with the Ratio Christi purpose statement that reads,

It is our belief, however, that the Scriptures testify to the fact that man, though corrupted by sin, is still made in the image of God and has been given reasoning faculties that can be used to gain important, though limited, data from nature about reality and theology.

Because they believe fallen men still retain his reasoning facilities, the classic apologists place a heavy emphasis upon the presentation of key lines of  evidence.  So their lectures, for example, will be loaded with what they consider are persuasive arguments designed to convince unbelievers of the rationality of the Christian faith.

Now to be fair, the classic apologist would never say the sinner can be reasoned to Christ apart from the work of the Holy Spirit.  I know my challenger here has firmly stated elsewhere that the presentation of evidence is used by the Holy Spirit to clear away intellectual obstacles in the mind of the unbeliever. The evidence is a tool of sorts. The unbeliever doesn’t take the evidence and rationalize himself to salvation.

Yet, in spite of his insistence with that point, a person is left unsure exactly how it is the Holy Spirit “uses” evidence with an unbeliever without there being a supernatural work taking place in the heart of the sinner first.  In fact, with the presentation of classic apologetics I have encountered, one is left unsure what it is exactly the apologist believes about the influence of sin, the sinfulness of the sinner, and how sin impacts the mind and volition of the sinner.  Is there any noetic effects of sin upon the sinner’s reasoning abilities?  Or is it mildly touched? Or left untouched altogether?

I can only conclude by the comment above that my challenger apparently thinks sin’s impact is negligible in the hearts of sinners.  At least from what I gather, it is believed that sin hasn’t had any significant influence on the sinners reasoning abilities. He could see, for example, the “reasonableness” of the evidence presented for Christ’s Resurrection which would in turn lead him to becoming a Christian.

That brings me to our second difference: the importance of building our apologetics on the exegesis of the text.

What we do know about the impact of sin upon fallen men comes to us from Scripture.  The Bible reveals to us specific insights into the heart of mankind.  The apologist is only served well when he rightly considers those insights and integrates them with his evangelistic endeavors with the unbeliever.

It is at this point, however, where I see a critical deficiency on the part of many classic apologists.  The comment I cited is a tremendous example of what I mean.

The classic apologist is adamant that I will say he is not a “TULIP believing Calvinist” and hence “his soteriology is all wrong.”  Well, he would be right; I would say that.  But I don’t draw that conclusion because Calvinism is like my favorite flavor of ice cream and I insist everyone else must have the same love for it as I do.  Rather, I derive my Calvinism from the exegesis of Scripture, the larger body of Divine truth. As a Christian who affirms the truth of God’s revelation, it behooves me to utilize that doctrine when I engage unbelief.

The point of doctrine under consideration is the “T” in TULIP, or “total depravity.”  Put simply, total depravity means that the nature of all men and women is corrupted, perverse, and sinful throughout. In other words, the whole of man’s being has been corrupted by sin, or is “depraved,” hence the term, “total depravity.”

If we understand man’s nature is wholly and entirely impacted by sin, I would take it to mean sin influences his reasoning facilities, also.  That doesn’t mean he is going to say 2+2 = 5 or H3O is water, but when it comes to spiritual things, if sin separates the sinner from God, and as I will show in a moment, makes man hostile against God, then he is going to evaluate spiritual truth in an alternate fashion that leads him away from God. In a way that justifies and makes excuse for why he should not submit to God.

Thus, as an apologist, I am safe to believe a sinner will “reason” differently when presented “proofs” for the Christian faith and he will draw seriously errant conclusions about those “proofs” other than God exists and Jesus is who He claims to be.

Now, how am I coming to this understanding of man, his fallen reason, and how he will evaluate evidence for the Christian faith? When I consider the relevant passages of Scripture, it tells me that is how men are.

possumTake for example what my classic apologist acquaintance states above, “if man is so dead, etc…” Consider the word “dead.”

What does the Bible tell us about man being dead? Ephesians 2:1-3 tells us that men are “dead through trespasses and sins” and Colossians 2:13 affirms the same thing where it says, “who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh.” That “deadness” describes a state of being.  It is what characterizes the unbelievers.

The “deadness” is further described as directing the sinner to walk in the course of the world, living a life of disobedience, pursuing the passions of the flesh, and following the desires of the body and mind.

Now zero in on the word “mind.”  I understand the mind as being the source of man’s volition and reasoning.  However, it is described as “dead.”  Turning to Ephesians 4:17-19 we further learn that a sinner’s mind is darkened in understanding and that dark understanding leads to a life of futility, alienation from God, and uncleanness.  Titus 1:15 further says that the sinner’s mind and conscience is corrupted, and Romans 8:7, 8 says “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot…”  The word “cannot” is translated from dunamis, which has the idea of “no ability” or “unable.”

So far I see the “T” in TULIP being confirmed from just a cursory look at a few relevant texts on the nature of man.  Thus, I believe I can confidently conclude man is so “dead” in his sins that he is unable, on his own, to respond positively to any presentation for the Christian faith and believe savingly upon the Gospel.

However, God has not left fallen men on their own.  Contrasted with “deadness” in Ephesians 2 is the idea of being “made alive.”  The contrast is also seen in Colossians 2:13.  That in order to overcome man’s deadness, God almighty makes spiritually alive the sinner so he can savingly believe on the Gospel.  It’s the same concept as “being born-again,” “quickened by the Spirt,” and “regenerated.”

Left to himself, a sinner would never consider the evidence for the Christian faith in any meaningful fashion that would lead him or her to salvation.  It is only by the intervention of God that any person is brought to Christ.

Does the classic apologist believe those texts? How else am I to understand them?

When formulating my apologetic-evangelistic strategy, it seems as though it would behoove me as the evangelizing Christian to know what God says about the unbeliever I will be engaging.  That when I confront a sinner with the truth claims of Christianity, I am confronting a person whose mind is ensnared by sin and who will be hostile to any spiritual thing.

That’s not to say I would never give evidence to an unbeliever, but a lack of “evidence” isn’t his ultimate problem.  He exists in a spiritual condition that not only prevents him from seeing the truth, but makes him an enemy combatant against the truth.

The only remedy for his condition, according to Scripture, is the power of God’s regenerating Spirit coming to him through the preaching of the Gospel.

God Fearing Apologetics

evangelizing

Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men… (2 Cor. 5:11).

I‘ve been interacting a bit with a self-described classic apologist. Because my challenger advocates for the apologetic methodology the average church-goer hears on Christian radio and reads in popular level books, my key objective has been to highlight dissenting fundamentals between his methodology and mine and then offer my critique. I provide more background HERE if the reader would like to get up-to-speed.

I stated in that first post that I found the practice and application of classic apologetics in real life encounters with the unbelieving world to be both problematic and offensive. Those are rather bold words, but I am prepared to back up my claim.

Let me begin my evaluation with some introductory remarks.

First, I understand evangelism and apologetics to be one and the same as an endeavor. In other words, I do not separate “evangelism” from “apologetics” as if they are two categories. The mindset among many popular, classic “apologists” is that apologetics is clearing the way for evangelism, or what I understand my detractor to mean when he writes about the use of evidence to clear away intellectual obstacles. Once the obstacles are cleared and the terms of the evidence agreed upon by both the Christian and the unbeliever, THEN we can proceed to the process of “evangelization.”

Rather, I understand apologetics to be evangelization. In one of the key evangelizing passage of the NT, Jesus stated that we are to go into all the world and make disciples of all men (Matthew 28:19). Going into “all the world” means that we will be engaging unbelievers as a matter of course in our daily life. “All the world” entails our family and the people at our schools and work. Without fail they are going to ask you about why you believe what you believe by making comments and asking questions. When we offer our defense, we certainly want to answer their questions, but our overall goal should be focused upon sinners in need of salvation and Christ being the only means they have for their salvation.

Second, I further understand apologetics/evangelism to be a proclamation. I am telling the lost world about the power of a sovereign God, Who in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, overcomes and changes the treasonous hearts of sinners.

Third, When I am discussing matters of “apologetics,” I begin with addressing what is revealed in Scripture concerning what it is all men know in their hearts already: that they know there is a God, they are at enmity against Him, His wrath abides upon them, and the only hope they have is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The classical apologists, however, will argue I am begging the proverbial question with that approach. In other words, I am calling people to believe upon a religious message without giving a reason for the reliability of that message first.

My challenger takes that position against my methodology. He outlined his approach by stating how he first shows the unbeliever that truth is knowable. From there he proceeds to showing that the theistic God exists and that His existence makes miracles possible. He then moves to showing how the New Testament is historically reliable, that the NT said Jesus claimed to be God, and that Jesus proved He was God by His miracles, most significantly, the Resurrection. With that background, the apologist can conclude with the unbeliever that Jesus is God, and anything He says is true. Because Jesus said the Old Testament and the promised NT is the Word of God, the Bible is therefore true and the Christian faith reliable.

That sounds “reasonable,” but the apostolic witness modeled for us in the NT never begins with building a complicated case for Christ first before engaging the lost.

For example, notice Paul’s message to the pagans in Lystra in Acts 14:8-18. Keep in mind they are pagans with no background in Judeo-Christianity, so a person would think Paul would want to “show” them the reasonableness of Christ’s truth claims first. Yet that doesn’t happen. After the people had witnessed a miracle of healing performed by Paul, the pagan crowds began worshiping him and Barnabas as Hermes and Zeus.

I am guessing it seemed perfectly “reasonable” to the Lystrians pagans that the two men were gods who had come down to them. Yet, upon hearing their “confusion,” Paul preached to them. The content of his message directed the people to what they already knew to be true: there was a living God who was their ultimate creator and He revealed Himself through acts of general providence and grace. Paul didn’t get to finish his presentation, because the people wouldn’t listen.

Paul did, however, get to finish when he addressed the Athenian academic elites in Acts 17. Again, he didn’t build a case for Christ by showing them reasonable “proofs.” He began with the same points he did with the Lystrians, but instead of being interrupted, he climaxed his preaching with the proclamation of Christ’s victory over death in His Resurrection.

There is no building a case for Christianity in either of those two episodes. He started with what he knew was true of all men, told them they were guilty before God, and the only remedy for this problem is Jesus Christ. I would think that is where all Christians would try to begin when engaging unbelievers: With an apologetic methodology that is grounded in biblical theology.

Now, my classic apologist dissenter would claim I am being unfairly misleading, because the classic apologist also has in mind the glory of God when he does apologetics. He doesn’t believe there is any inherent “power” in the evidence, or that the sinner can be reasoned to faith. The classic/evidentialist apologist believes just like me: that the Holy Spirit has to take the work of the apologist and apply it to the heart of the sinner.

Well, perhaps they say that, but I don’t see any consistently meaningful attempt to apply their words. In fact, I see what I consider to be serious obfuscations on the part of popular apologists that circumvents the role Scripture and theology plays in apologetics and evangelism. Let me draw our attention to three problem areas I see with the application of classic apologetic methodology and I’ll offer my evaluation:

1) The appeal to secular philosophy as an interpretive grid to understanding the Bible and presenting theology. When I pointed out how apologist William Lane Craig is notorious for elevating secular philosophy over biblical authority in order to understand theology, my dissenter wrote that he understood WLC’s reason for doing so: because theology and the Bible has to be interpreted. I can only conclude then, that secular philosophy – and I am talking about Greek philosophy primarily – is a necessity to interpreting the Bible.

Two things:

aristotleFirst: What possible good can we gain learning from pagans and their false views of knowledge? How exactly does their “reason,” which is self-centered and starts with man, teach biblical Christians how we should read the Bible properly and draw conclusions about theology?

The Greeks were all over the map when it came to their ideas. They wrote about demiurges, prime movers, ideas/forms, “substances,” and atomism among other things. What relevance do any of those concepts have with Christ? Honestly, the most useful thing we can learn from studying Greek philosophy is seeing the disastrous consequences of a society groping after God apart from biblical revelation. I am just flabbergasted any right-thinking Christian would believe the Greeks have anything worth teaching us regarding how we interpret the Bible and apply our faith.

Second: How does WLC, or any classic apologist who seeks to utilize Greek philosophy as an interpretative grid for theology, KNOW the philosopher and his philosophy in question is trustworthy as a guide? The only reason the classic Greeks are even considered is because the Muslim philosophers brought the works of Aristotle and Plato with them during the Islamic expansion into Europe. If Islam had been successful going into China, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

The Muslims, a false, violently anti-Christian religion, used Greek philosophy to interpret their religious faith. When they came to Western Europe, Catholics in the Middle Ages used Latin translations of Arabic translations of the Greek. From that, you have Thomas Aquinas developing his theology and classic apologists claiming it is the best way to do apologetics. Really? And that is supposed to be significant for my understanding of the Bible?

2) Classic apologists tend to accommodate theologically errant perspectives. What I have always found disheartening among the groups of popular apologists is the ease at which they willingly affirm other individual apologists who may share similar methodology, yet are divergent from each other in what I consider important areas of theological faith. The divergence can be so severe at times that it makes me wonder about their ability to discern. But I guess such apologetic ecumenism is expected if you view the Bible as a secondary component to your apologetic efforts.

CRIJournalConsider for a moment the March, 2012 edition of the Christian Research Institute journal. It’s a special issue addressing the question of origins and matters of creation and evolution.

A number of contributors write on such subjects as DNA, biology, stellar evolution, and the meaning of life. Even though the focus of the writers is directed at answering the question emblazoned on the cover, “What were the origins of life on earth?,” because so many of them hold to such radically divergent theological opinions from one another, a person is left with a fuzzy picture of what Christian theism actually says on the subject of origins. Let me point out a few examples of what I mean by noting three contributors.

William Dembski published in the past a sub-biblical theodicy that is so convoluted it makes one wonder about his overall perspective on God and evil.

Fuz Rana, apologist with Reasons to Believe, once made some disturbing remarks about ancient man when evolutionists were crowing that the genetic evidence proved modern humans and Neanderthals interbred. The ICR/AIG/Creation.com folks merely pointed out what they had been saying for years: that Neanderthals are an extinct ethnic group of human being, hence the reason for the genetic link. The Reasons To Believe ministries, on the other hand, rather than renouncing their long held position that Neanderthals were soul-less hominids, dug in their heels and had Rana issue a statement suggesting the interbreeding indicates proof of bestiality and the depravity of man. But, of course, that ignores the major problems with adopting such a view.

Kenn [sic?] Wogemuth, who is a co-contributor explaining why geology tells us the earth is billions of years old and YEC are idiots, is someone I have interacted with personally on a number of occasions. Back in 2010, when Grace to You did an extended blog series defending an historical Genesis, biblical creationism, and exposing Biologos as nothing but a writhing nest of stealth atheists, Kenn (He spelled his name “Ken” in our correspondence), would document-bomb me with papers that allegedly refuted my view. When I pressed him about his understanding of Genesis, the historicity of creation, and the flood, he never gave me a straight answer. Instead, he sent me to blog sites of questionable writers who affirmed his old earth views, but also denied other essential doctrines, along with advocating for gay marriage.

My classic apologist detractors may say those differences are insignificant, minor, or irrelevant. To borrow a slogan from the Bible Answer Man, it’s the things Christians can debate vigorously but never divide over. What I should be concerned with is the ideas put forth by the person, and not what the person personally believes about God, the Bible, and salvation.

But theology does matter. If the main goal of apologetics is providing reasons for the Christian faith and clearing away obstacles that keeps a person away from God, eventually – or at least I would think – the apologist will get a person to the “Christian faith.” I mean, I am only assuming that over time some people will be convinced by the evidence, right? They’ll give the Christian message a fair hearing and even commit themselves to the faith. Okay, now what? What are they to believe about the Bible? Where will they attend church? What the Episcopalian and Catholic “apologists” believe about the Christian faith is much different than what Baptists “apologists” may believe, or the Calvary Chapel “apologists.” Is it at this point we bring the Bible into the conversation?

That leads me to a final problem area,

3) Classic apologists diminish the Bible’s authority in their apologetic presentations. I cannot recall how many times I’ve caught myself talking back to my radio saying “It’s in the Bible, SAY IT!” when I hear a program on which a popular apologist is “defending” the Christian faith against whatever issue under discussion. It seems as though they are embarrassed of the Bible’s authority on the matter.

Take for instance “gay” marriage. I’ll be accused of generalizing with my words when I state this, but most of the arguments against “gay” marriage I hear from popular apologists are purposefully presented so as to leave the Bible out of the debate. The apologist will appeal to what has been “acceptable” in societies since the beginning of human civilization, or the importance of the male/female family unity in society, or collections of statistical data. Sometimes the apologist will boast, “See, I haven’t even used the Bible as my authority when I have argued my case.” It’s like the guy is proud of it. It’s the same thing when I hear them argue against abortion or in favor of intelligent design. Yet the very institution of marriage is a creation mandate. Jesus specifically grounds his argument for marriage in the Genesis record (Matthew 19:5-6), as did Paul (Ephesians 5). Why can’t I?

Of course, that goes back to what my classic apologist dissenter has already stated, that I am begging the question if I were to start with the Bible as my authority. But why should I have to prove the Bible independently first as a reliable depository of truth BEFORE I can appeal to the truth contained within it? Is it not truth? I thought truth was truth, no matter where it was found; yet for some reason the Bible is off limits in the conversation.

Which makes me wonder why the classic apologist engages in apologetics to begin with. If he says, “because God wants us to as Christians,” where exactly does he find that exhortation? If he says in the Bible, was that a “true” exhortation before he was persuaded of the Bibles truthfulness? Or did it become “true” AFTER he was persuaded of the Bible’s truthfulness?

When I defend the Christian faith I want to not only persuade men of my position, but I want to glorify God in the process. The Gospel is His plan and His message. He has entrusted me to present it to a lost world. It behooves me to do so articulately and faithfully, and that involves striving for consistency between the theology I affirm and the message I proclaim.

In practice, I see a disconnect between the theology classic apologists proclaim and the methods they use to present the message. That doesn’t mean I believe they are unsaved, or even have nothing of value from which I can learn. It means that inconsistency must be addressed so that God can be fully glorified.