On Arguments Against Singing Psalms

I am convinced that we, as the church of God, should sing the Psalms in corporate worship. In this blog, I will not build a case for an exclusive Psalmody position, but do some interacting with the two main arguments I’ve heard against it over the years.

First, I have been told by very well meaning Presbyterian elders that when we sing the Psalms we are singing about a generic Christ (who happens to be Jesus), but not Jesus himself. While I do not really see the reasoning here, those I spoke to had much zeal to sing the name of Jesus, and did not think the Psalms were a place they could do so.

I am not persuaded by such reasoning, because the Psalms are a rich source of information on the Messiah, and the Messiah is Jesus. Indeed, we look to the many Messianic Psalms (2, 8, 16, 22, 40, 41, 45, 68, 69, 78, 97, 102, 110, 118) to see much about our Lord in the book of Psalms. Further, the Psalms are full of the titles of Christ: Messiah, Anointed One, Son of God. Lastly, Matthew 1:21 says “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” So even the name Jesus refers to his saving work, and the Psalms are filled with references to the salvation that we have in Christ.

The second thing that I’ve often heard is that God doesn’t care how we worship him, but only cares about the inclinations of our hearts. In my baptist days, this was a powerful argument. I was always told that the only thing God cares about is sincerity. In the touchy-feely society in which we live, it was a relief to know that as long as I meant it, then God was satisfied with me. Ugh… that kind of thinking has greatly hindered evangelicalism. This immediately makes me thankful for the regulative principle.

So, does God care how we worship him? Well, if we take Scripture seriously, he absolutely does. In Exodus 32 we see that the children of Israel wanted to spice up their worship by adding a golden calf to their liturgy. They were not using this idol to worship foreign gods, but the Lord, “…who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” (v. 4). How did God repay these men who just wanted to make worship a little more interesting? First he had the faithful kill those who worshiped the idol (v. 27), then he sent a plague (v. 35).

Then, if you look at Leviticus 10:1 you will see, “Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, which he had not commanded them.” Nothing overly malicious here, they just decided to change things up a little. What did God think about their sincerity? In verse 2, “And fire came out from before the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.” God killed them for a little unauthorized fire? But, what about the intentions of their hearts?

Now again, this post is not to argue for the exclusive Psalmody position, but just to address two of the most common arguments I’ve heard against it. Certainly, Christ, his titles, and his saving work are all through the Psalms. And God isn’t nearly so interested in our sincerity as we may have been led to believe.

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Reflecting on Ryrie

My freshman year of college at the Word of Life Bible Institute I had Charles Ryrie as my eschatology professor. At the time I didn’t know much about him, but I had owned his systematic theology for about a year at the time. I was told that he was a major heavyweight in evangelicalism, and that it was a huge opportunity to take a course with him.

The thing that struck me when I saw him was that he looked a lot like the Emperor from Star Wars. He sat mostly still while he taught, which was a bit distracting, but I took copious notes, as I was told he was a world class scholar. At WOLBI while I was there we were constantly told that only Papists and liberals rejected dispensationalism, so needless to say, this was an important class.

That week Dr. Ryrie also gave an unusual devotion in my dorm; rather than preparing anything, he just sat down and told us that we could ask him anything we wanted about the Bible and he would answer us. I wish I had been a Presbyterian at the time, because my questions would have been much better.

At one point during that week I asked Dr. Ryrie the same question that I asked each guest lecturer we had that year, “If you could be any sandwich, which sandwich would you be?” Dr. Ryrie was the only professor that refused to answer the question, as he had no time to posit on alternate realities. He did tell me that he would rephrase the questions to one that he would answer, being which sandwich he liked best. His answer? Ham.

Though I have spent much time in research refuting his hermeneutics and eschatology, the week I had an Eschatology course with Dr. Ryrie was enjoyable. He was a pleasant man, and I have no doubt that he is in heaven now. Of course, that being said, in the last day or so his theology has no doubt changed tremendously, and he is now a solid, covenantal theologian.

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Proclaiming Truth and Accepting Falsehood

Amongst friends and occasionally frenemies, I am regularly charged with being a crusty, old Presbyterian. I may be crusty, but at 31 I don’t think I’m very old. Such accusations generally come from the fact that I actually believe that the Westminster Confession of Faith accurately lays out what the Bible teaches us, including that the Pope is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God (WFC 25.6). Our confessional documents, in theory at least, are what binds us together as Presbyterians, because we hold that the Confession rightly interprets Scripture.

I’m not so naive as to think that the Confession doesn’t need some interpreting of its own, nor am I declaring that a brother is anticonfessional if he disagrees with me on certain points. However, I am suggesting that as conservative Presbyterians we should be more careful about the theological company that we keep. Just because a Christian could agree to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, or five points concerning monergistic soteriology, doesn’t mean he has anything relevant or remotely interesting to say.

Working at a large evangelical institution, I generally encounter people that want a risen Christ, but leave every other aspect of Christian theology as negotiable. This is the problem in a nutshell. The solution, you ask? As a broad Christian community, we have to stop trying to break our faith down to its lowest common denominator, because Christianity is not a lowest common denominator kind of religion. Apologetically, we cannot simply contend for the resurrection of Christ and neglect the other aspects of Christian theology (as some are in the habit of doing), because Christianity stands or falls as a whole. This being the case, we should take better care in defending and contending for our doctrinal distinctives.

As a group, we don’t have much trouble critiquing the views of other Presbyterians, but we seem to be a bit gun-shy concerning those outside of our tradition. If we have no trouble contending for a theologically consistent Presbyterian world, why then are we (I speak generally) so quick to throw our arms around evangelicals of various stripes without a word of caution concerning their serious theological deficiencies? Are we trying to “love them” into Presbyterianism? It seems to me that such a mentality does not bring them closer to our distinctives, but us closer to theirs.

I do want to contend that one doesn’t have to be hateful or mean to have a polemical discussion. I work with a couple of baptist seminary students that I would consider friends, and we often discuss our theological differences. While I am unflinching in my contention for confessional Presbyterian doctrine, and unwilling to grant the validity of some points of their doctrine, we get along well, and seem to genuinely like and respect each other. If we can do this on a small scale, why can’t it be done on a larger scale?

So, my question is, how much error is it okay to accept, and even promote? How much leaven is too little to be concerned about? Does Scripture really lay out what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man, or is it vague and mysterious, leaving us at a point where men may hold conflicting views and yet neither is wrong?

I would contend that Scripture teaches us clearly all what we are to believe concerning God, and that deviation from what Scripture teaches is sin, even with the best of intentions. This does not mean that we should quickly jettison all the works of Piper or Grudem that we own, but that we should not recommend such men without a serious word of caution. On a grand scale, our own leaders should be able to critique popular evangelical figures without the greater Calvinistic evangelical population losing their collective mind. Of course, for such a thing to happen, the leaders of the confessional Reformed and Presbyterian world would have to see the need to address such errors, and be willing to do so.

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Concerning The Doctrine of Predestination

It seems that every time I blog I start out with something along the lines of, “Well, it’s been a while…”, and this time is no exception. Much has happened in the last several months: I have finished all but one of my courses from PRTS, I sent out applications from Tampa to Washington state, I was only offered one position, which I accepted. So, against all odds, I have moved back to Lynchburg to take a position as an Academic Advisor at Liberty University. The move was chaotic; I had to come down alone, while Katie was busy selling the house. I spent two months away from my family, and it was very difficult. Then there was the trouble getting a mortgage down here. In the end, we were able to get a house, and there is no way we could have made the transition without the help of many people, and the sovereignty of a good God.

Now to the meat of this post. To date, I have not posted about predestination on this blog. No reason why, I just haven’t got around to it. Below is a question that was on my comprehensive final exam at PRTS, and the answers that I gave. Enjoy.

Define the doctrine of predestination. How does the doctrine of predestination relate to (1) the doctrine of man’s free will in relation to salvation, (2) the offer of grace to all men in gospel preaching, and (3) zeal for and success in evangelism?

Concerning the eternal decree of God, I do not think I can add anything to what the Westminster Divines wrote in chapter III of the Westminster Confession of Faith, and I think it is perhaps the best concise definition of the doctrine of predestination available. I will not quote the whole of WCF chapter III, but as I understand the question to be directly relating to predestining men to salvation, I will quote what the Confession says about that topic. The doctrine of predestination is therefore defined as follows:

God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (WCF III. I)

Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions; yet hath he not decreed any thing because he foresaw it as future, as that which would come to pass, upon such conditions. (WFC III.II)

By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death. (WCF III.III)

These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished. (WCF III.IV)

Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his free grace and love alone, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace. (WCF III.V)

As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore they who are elected being fallen in Adam are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only. (WCF III.VI)

Now, concerning the doctrine of man’s free will in relation to salvation, there must be brief consideration of what is actually meant by free will. As Sproul notes, there is no such thing as neutrality at any point in life, and all decisions have to come from the strongest inclinations that we have in a given moment (RC Sproul, Chosen By God, 52-57). So really, it is a question concerning the desires of the natural man. The apostle Paul tells us that the natural man suppresses truth in unrighteousness. Mankind knows the truth about God, because God has revealed it to all men clearly since the beginning of time, but in their wickedness, men suppress that truth and worship the creation rather than the creator. Because of this, God gave them over to their desires, and they grew in their iniquity with all manner of wickedness (Romans 1:18-32).

If indeed we make all of our decisions in life based on our strongest proclivities, then we are in fact free in our actions. Therefore, “At every point we are free and self-determined.” (Sproul, Chosen By God, 59) However, what the natural man will freely choose is the factor that must be considered. If a man is going to make a decision he must first have the desire to make said decision. So, if a man desires to honor God with his actions, he must get that desire from somewhere. However, as we understand Romans 1, we must come to the conclusion that that natural man will never choose to honor God or trust Christ, but is busy suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Therefore, the desire of any man to choose Christ must come from outside of himself, and if God doesn’t give the desire to choose Christ to the natural man he will never desire to do so on his own. The natural man will always reject the gospel because he has no desire to believe it or to trust Christ. Only a change of mind and a new desire will cause a man to believe the gospel and come to Christ. This desire can only occur when God gives the natural man a new desire to come to Christ.

Both the offer of grace to all men in gospel preaching, and zeal for and success in evangelism are related. Preaching the gospel to all men is a biblical directive from Jesus himself (Mark 16:15), which alone should suffice as a good reason to preach to all men. We are commanded to preach to all men because without preaching how will anyone hear the gospel (Rom. 10:13-15)? We do not know who the elect are; we cannot tell simply by looking if a man will be in glory forever or the flames of hell; God doesn’t give us that knowledge. Therefore we bring the good news about salvation in Christ to all men, so that the elect will be saved.

Further, if we believe that God foreordained the end (salvation), we should also believe that he foreordained the means (preaching). Trusting Christ for the salvation of the lost will only increase the confidence of the evangelist, because he knows that he is not responsible for the salvation of others, but is merely a herald, preaching the good news about salvation to everyone he encounters. He need not be worried about being entertaining or funny in his presentation, but need only focus on the work of Christ for sinners. This should certainly only increase a man’s zeal for evangelism because he is trusting God for the increase, not himself.

Even as we pray for our lost friends and neighbors, the doctrine of predestination will only hearten those prayers. The Arminian praying for the salvation of the lost is a happy inconsistency, because prayer for the salvation of the unbeliever only has meaning when it is God who elects man to eternal life in Christ. The will of God will never be thwarted by the will of man, because God is the sovereign king of the universe who has ordained whatsoever comes to pass, and man is a creature under the control of God.

Lastly, the doctrine of predestination alleviates our fears and makes our witness valuable. We are often weak in our faith and in our evangelism. We are often afraid when speaking to people about Christ. But while our presentations may sometimes be awkward and embarrassing, we know that it is God who will bless our efforts. We can see this in Scripture where the apostle Paul was afraid in Corinth. Acts 18:9-10 says “And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.”

The doctrine of predestination is not only biblical, but it is a doctrine that motivates us to evangelism. It helps us to know that we will be successful, and that God is the one who changes the inclinations of the hearts of our audiences. Excitement and hunger to preach to the lost are by-products of this doctrine, and should not ever detract from passionate evangelical engagement.

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Van Tillian Presuppositionalism and Evidence Part the Third

If you’ve been keeping up with the blog, it is finally time to address evidence as used by the presuppositional apologist. Recently I’ve seen several blogs by people ranging from atheist to evangelical that attack the presuppositional method. In all cases, these folks have no idea what they’re trying to critique. In fairness, I think that presuppositionalism is often misunderstood by many professional theologians; as great as RC Sproul is, having read his critique of Van Til, I do not think he understands our apologetic, so it’s not altogether shocking that amateurs don’t comprehend our position.

The one thing I constantly see from the aforementioned bloggers is something like this: “Presuppositionalists believe that to prove the existence of God, you simply have to presuppose that he exists, it cannot work because one can presuppose that any god exists and be consistent. Therefore, presuppositionalism is a horrible method of apologetics.” Of course, this is a laughable definition. One thing such a statement shows is that the person saying it has never read Van Til or any reputable presuppositional apologist. Another thing such a statement shows is that the person saying it has a basic understanding of the definition of the word “presuppose” and naturally assumes that he or she can connect the dots and have a full understanding of presuppositionalism. In such a case, I’ll happily give you an “A” for effort… but I’ll give you an “F” for research, and you’ll fail the class.

Before jumping into the rest of my research, I want to take a minute to address the last part of the claim above; that is, that one can presuppose any god and be consistent. No presuppositionalist would ever claim to believe such a thing. We hold that one can only have a consistent world and life view when he trusts the Triune God of Scripture. Therefore, only a Christian can have a rational epistemology. The presuppositional apologist wants to push an unbeliever to acknowledge that he cannot be epistemologically consistent; that is, that he has no basis for his world and life view apart from the Triune God of Scripture. No person holding to any non-Christian religion can ever be consistent, whether he believes in no God or a million gods. The only consistent man is the Christian man.

This established, let’s get back to the use of evidence in presuppositionalism.

From the start, the presuppositional apologetic is vastly different from the previously discussed methods. As has been shown, the non-presuppositional apologists separate theology from apologetics; this is why Licona so quickly abandons Scripture in his apologetic encounters, and why Craig is content to argue for a first cause that may or may not be a god, which in turn may or may not be the Triune God of Scripture. The consistent biblical (presuppositional) apologist, however, cannot and will not separate what God has revealed about himself in Scripture from his apologetic methodology.

Notaro has noted:

“And as soon as we begin to elaborate upon God’s nature, we enter into a discussion of other Christian doctrines—not only the doctrine of God, but also the doctrines of man, Christ, salvation, the church, the last things, indeed all the foci of systematic theology.”[1]

Thus, there are no such things as minimal facts, unmoved movers, or bare theism. If one is going to defend the God of the Bible, he must defend the doctrines contained therein. One cannot defend the parts without defending the whole. Van Til puts it plainly, “Apologetics is the vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against the various forms of non-Christian philosophy of life.”[2] This being the case, presuppositionalism as an apologetic approach understands apologetics as pertaining more to the philosophy of Christian theism, while evidences pertain more to the historical aspect of Christianity. There is no separation between the two, and it comes down to a question of emphasis. That being said, the consistent apologist understands evidence to be “a sub-division of apologetics”[3] that requires a theological foundation.

Presuppositionalists in general, and Van Til in particular are often maligned for being anti-evidence, but this is not the case. Van Til has noted, “I do not reject ‘the theistic proofs’ but merely insist on formulating them in such a way as not to compromise the doctrines of Scripture.”[4] Thus, the presuppositionalist does indeed incorporate evidence into his apologetic method, but the question at hand is how he does so.

Unlike the classical and evidential methods, the presuppositionalist does not grant the unbeliever the ability to correctly reason or interpret evidence. This is because the natural man knows the truth, yet suppresses it in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18-19). If this is the case, then it is impossible to find common ground with an unregenerate man. The reformed understanding of total depravity is here affirmed in that natural men plainly knows what can be known about God because he has shown it to them. However, they strive to resist and suppress what has been so clearly revealed.

If rational reasoning is an impossibility, what then is the point of contact with the unbeliever? Since man is created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), truth is not completely destroyed. The natural man does indeed possess some true knowledge, but he does so with borrowed capitol. Thus, the Christian apologist must show the inconsistency of the world and life view of the natural man, and use his borrowed capitol as building blocks toward destruction of his sinful worldview, and an acceptance of Christian presuppositions. There has to be a collision with the world and life view of the natural man, or there will be no true point of contact with his own true knowledge of God; this is why the ideas of common ground is incompatible with Christian theism.

This goes back to the epistemological fact that there is no neutrality in the world. All facts exist as facts because the Triune God of Scripture declared them to be so. This is ground that the apologist cannot give up in encounters with unbelievers. Any discussion of any fact is in effect a theological discussion, as facts could only exist in a world that has been created by the Triune God of Scripture. The Christian can start an apologetic discussion with any fact, and never have to retreat; factual statements are simply manifestations of a Christian world and life view.

Now it should be noted that a full expression of Christian theism is not always possible in our apologetic encounters, but the presuppositional apologist must use every fact to express the truth of the Triune God of Scripture. The presuppositionalist uses all facts to expose the inconsistency of the unregenerate, and the reality that only with Christian presuppositions can men have a consistent world and life view. Thus, the presuppositionalist can argue for the resurrection of Christ, or for the teleological argument, but he cannot do so on so-called “common ground”, as it does not exist. These arguments only have meaning when Christian presuppositions are in place, along with complete dedication to all of the doctrines revealed in Scripture. The apologist cannot give up epistemological ground in the debate. There is no neutrality, facts only exist because God created them, and unbelievers only acknowledge them as facts because they are made in the image of God, and inconsistently apply his standards to their lives.

Conclusion

Both the classical and evidential apologists make man the final judge of God. They ask man to look at evidence that God is who he says he is, and tells him to make a decision. In this way, both schools put the cart before the horse, so to speak. Both believe that the natural man may indeed correctly interpret the world around him; his epistemology remains unencumbered, and he may reason rationally without interference. Scripture, however, does not give the natural man the same benefit. While natural revelation is abundant, clear, and revealed to men by God, the apostle Paul tells us that the natural man suppresses the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18-19). He does so at every turn, denying the obvious truth he is confronted with all around him.

The presuppositionalist uses the tools that are available to him in his apologetic encounters; these include theistic proofs, as well as archeological evidence, and facts of history. However, the presuppositionalist realizes that these evidences for God are often ignored by unbelievers because they spend their lives suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. This is why presuppositionalists focus on the underlying philosophy of the unbeliever. All facts in the universe are evidence of the Triune God of Scripture; as such, they are all fair game in apologetic encounters. However, because of the suppression of truth by unbelievers, the presuppositionalist has the goal of changing the worldview of the unbeliever by attacking sinful presuppositions, and forcibly removing the blinders from his eyes.

[1] Thom Notaro, Van Til and the Use of Evidence, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1980), 22-23.

[2] Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics, (Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2003), 17.

[3] Notaro, 26-27.

[4] Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1967), 197.

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Van Tillian Presuppositionalism and Evidence Continued

Welcome back to part two. This post will examine and critique the evidentialist school of Christian apologetics. I first came upon evidentialism my first year at Liberty. At the time, it was refreshing to me, as the apologetics teacher I had at WOLBI was a presuppositionalist of some stripe, but either he didn’t teach the course very well, or he was horribly inconsistent himself; maybe both. In any case, it left me with a bad taste in my mouth for presuppositionalism, and I was ready to find an apologetic branch that valued evidence. As LU has been the home base of Gary Habermas for decades now, his brand of apologetic methodology appealed to me. I never had a class with Dr. Habermas, as he had moved to research professor before I got to Lynchburg, but he certainly influenced the apologetic faculty that I encountered at LU. I took several apologetics classes as an undergraduate, and I’ll mention right off the bat that the professors always said that as evidentialists, if the evidence started to point away from the God of Scripture they would have to be intellectually honest philosophers and abandon their faith. This troubled me at the time, despite my appreciation for most everything else they said in class. If you read this entire post you will see that I ask questions about this very point, but while I know what my professors said in class, I’ve also never seen it in print. That said, let’s get started.

While less philosophical than the classical apologists, the evidential school of apologetics still must employ an unbiblical epistemology. That is to say that they believe that the natural man can indeed correctly interpret evidence as it is laid out for him. Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, and Lee Strobel are popular figures in the evidential school, with Habermas as the foremost thinker.

As previously noted, the evidential apologist uses a one-step approach in apologetics, arguing directly for the God of Scripture, unlike the two-step approach of the classical apologist.[1] The focus of the evidential method is to use the “Minimal Facts” approach, which focuses on the historicity of certain historical facts about Christianity, including (but not limited to) the crucifixion and death of Christ, and that the disciples believed they encountered a physically raised Christ. In order for something to be considered a minimal fact Habermas lists two prerequisites:

“Each event had to be established by more than adequate scholarly evidence, and usually by several critically-ascertained, independent lines of argumentation. Additionally, the vast majority of contemporary scholars in relevant fields had to acknowledge the historicity of the occurrence.”[2]

Despite the strength of the one-step approach, the limitations of the evidential method should be fairly obvious; facts will only be argued for if they are agreed upon by a significant number of scholars in the historical field. Habermas went on to note work done by Licona concerning the nature of the scholars represented:

“These scholars span a very wide range of theological and philosophical convictions and include atheists, agnostics, Jews and Christians who make their abode at both ends of the theological spectrum and everywhere in between. We therefore have the heterogeneity we desire in a consensus, and this gives us confidence that our horizons will not lead us completely astray (p. 280).”[3]

Of course, there is no mention of what should happen if the scholarly consensus changes and will no longer concede these evidences. At such a point would the Christian then be obligated to relinquish his faith in the face of the overwhelming doubt of the scholarly academic community? In such a case would all evidence be null and void, and religion based exclusively on faith apart from evidence? In the present the answer to these questions remains unclear. Certainly, if the evidential approach were consistently practiced, then it would seem to follow that if the scholarly consensus changes, the faith of the evidential apologist would change along with it.

Further, while the vast majority of evidential apologists will likely hold to the inerrancy of Scripture, they quickly abandon it while doing apologetic work. As Licona has noted, “Rather, we simply must approach the New Testament as we would any other book in antiquity.”[4] So the footing of the evidential approach is on shaky ground, as the word of God is not foundational for the apologetic. If Scripture can so easily be laid aside, then one must wonder what importance the crucifixion and apparent resurrection of Christ has at all. Without the testimony of Scripture we cannot know for sure that Jesus was God incarnate, and so the whole ordeal could just be a random historical event with no meaning.

Lastly, the idea of a “Minimal Facts” approach is impossible. The Christian faith cannot be dissected into minimal truths, because if we concede one point of Scriptural truth, what reason do we have to not concede the rest? Apparently for the evidentialist, the reason not to concede all Christian truth is scholarly consensus; but as noted above, this is not a valid reason. Christianity is not a minimal religion; it must be taken as a whole, or abandoned as a whole.

Join me next time for part three, and possibly the conclusion.

[1] Gary Habermas, Steven B. Cowen, General ed. Five Views on Apologetics, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 92.

[2] Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity,” Southeastern Theological Review 3/1 (Summer 2012): 16.

[3] Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus…” 21.

[4] Gary Habermas, Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004), 45.

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Van Tillian Presuppositionalism and Evidence

This past semester I took Apologetics with Dr. Tony Curto at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. I have to say that this course was the best I have taken in seminary, with Ethics being a close second. Dr. Curto taught us from a Van Tillian Presuppositional perspective, and he did so much more consistently than other alleged presuppositionalists that you may come across today. At this point, I won’t go into all of the inconsistencies of other presuppositionalists, but I will say that one popular Idahoan apologist focuses far too much on rhetoric, and how to incorporate one-liners into his apologetic presentations, when he should be focusing on the epistemological inconsistencies of his opponents. But I digress…

To begin, I will note that I am a hard-line Bahnsen disciple. That is to say that I find Wilson, Frame, White, and others to be too inconsistent for my taste, and as a presuppositionalist, my focus in on consistency. Certainly these men are a step above the classical and evidential apologists, but they leave much to be desired. Further, I’m happy to admit that as a presuppositional apologist I do in fact use circular reasoning, but I will add that all reasoning is circular, insofar as if one contends that he is a rationalist, he grounds all of his reasoning in reason, and if one is an empiricist, he will certainly ground his reasoning in experience. So yes, my friend, my reasoning is circular, but so is yours, no matter what philosophy you may hold to.

This established, I will now move to the heart of the matter. The following is taken from from my research paper for the course mentioned above, which was focused on the place of evidence in Christian apologetics. I will not be posting the paper in its entirety, but pieces of it in different posts. For preliminary purposes, a word should be given concerning the definition of evidence. Apologetic evidence used by Christian apologists can be divided into two categories, that evidence which points to the truth of the Triune God of Scripture, and theistic evidence which appeals to general theistic proofs without initially applying said evidence to the God of the Bible. In the case of the former, the apologist will argue specific evidences for the Christian God, while in the case of the latter, the apologist will first argue a generic god or creator, and then apply the initial evidence to the Triune God of Scripture. Regardless of which category the argument falls into, for my purposes, it is considered evidence. First, I will critique the classical and evidentialist schools in their uses of evidence, then I will give a biblical (presuppositional) approach to incorporating evidence in apologetic encounters. Let us begin with the classical method.

Classical apologetics is philosophical in nature, and therefore very concerned with the ability to think and reason properly. Therefore, at the heart of the classical model of apologetics is the idea of common ground. The believer and unbeliever have to find common ground on which to start a dialog concerning the proofs for the existence of God. The classical apologist believes that this notion of common ground is to be found in the created world.

Sproul and Gerstner have argued:

“From a different perspective, however, there is a common ground, namely the whole of creation. Believer and unbeliever live in the same universe. Each sees the same phenomena. The unbeliever and the believer can agree that two and two are four, and that certain principles of deduction are valid while others are invalid. Thus a kind of common ground is established.”[1]

Sproul and Gerstner believe that using the classical proofs after establishing common ground will help to correctly reconstruct natural theology for the unbeliever. This is because they believe that there are epistemological assumptions that are universally help by all men, believer and unbeliever alike. There are three universal assumptions given that are supposedly universally held, “The validity of the law of noncontradiction”, “The validity of the law of causality”, and “The basic reliability of sense perception.”[2]

William Lane Craig similarly argues a case for systematic consistency. Craig assumes that inductive and deductive reasoning are universally held truths, and that when both forms of reasoning are used to form a logically consistent case “fitting all the facts known by experience”[3], then there is a systematically consistent worldview. Craig argues for logical consistency, but acknowledges that such arguments can never lead to absolute truth, only probability.

He argues that rational certainty is an impossibility when it comes to the existence of God, but that Christians and unbelievers alike must be satisfied with plausibility when attempting to answer the question of God’s existence. Craig weakly attempts to justify this outlook by arguing two points:

“first, that we attain no more than probability with respect to almost anything we infer… without detriment to the depth of our conviction and that even our non-inferred, basic beliefs may not be held with any sort of absolute certainty… and second, that even if we can only show Christianity to be probably true, nevertheless we can on the basis of the Spirit’s witness know Christianity to be true with a deep assurance that far outstrips what the evidence in our particular situation might support…”[4]

With these convictions about the validity of the Christian faith, Craig then focuses on the classical proofs, particularly the cosmological argument. In chapter three of his book, Craig tells stories about he and his wife evangelizing young people while using the cosmological argument. He notes that in neither case did the person become a Christian, but in both cases the person that was a total atheist at the beginning of the conversation now believed in a first cause, which might be a god. For whatever reason, he considers these encounters to be successful, as if bringing one from total unbelief to belief in a generic higher power is something to be celebrated, rather than idolatry.

Whether the classical proofs for the existence of God are argued by Craig or Sproul, it must be noted that these arguments are not distinctively Christian in any way, and one cannot maintain the integrity of the argument by trying to persuade a person to go from atheism, to deism, to theism, and then to Christianity. All of the arguments used by classical apologists can be used to argue for a generic theism, but from there one has to jump to the religion of his choice with nothing substantial to bring the two together.

Turning an atheist into a theist is not, nor has it ever been the goal of Christian apologetics. While there may indeed be stages in the conversion of the lost, it is not necessary to bring a person to deism, and hope to one day bring them to theism, and then tell them about Christ. This is certainly not the model that Paul used in Athens. Classical apologists start in the wrong place; instead of starting with the revealed will of God in Scripture, they start with philosophy, building their apologetic from the “common ground” fallacy outside of Scripture.

In my next post I will examine the theory and practice of the evidentialist school regarding their use of Christian evidence.

[1] R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley, Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presupposition Apologetics, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984) 71.

[2] Sproul, Gerstner, Lindsley, Classical Apologetics, 72.

[3] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1994) 40.

[4] Craig, Reasonable Faith, 40.

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