Monthly Archives: July 2008

Introduction to Presuppositionalism

Here is a paper that I wrote for Dr. Stephen Wellum’s course on apologetics last winter. It was an outstanding class – if you’re reading this and have the opportunity to take a course with Dr. Wellum, either at Southern or TBS – do it!
The apostle Paul was quite unlike the modern tourist when he wandered the streets of Athens in Acts 17. As he absorbed the bustle of the polis, the magnificent sights of Mount Olympus or the Parthenon did not captivate him. Instead of standing awestruck at the surrounding culture, Paul was “greatly upset” because he saw that the city was “full of idols” (Acts 17:16). Athens was a place of tremendous learning. It was home to a number of schools of philosophy such as Epicureanism and Stoicism (Acts 17:18).[1] It was also a city of religion. Pagan spirituality flourished in the melting pot of religious pluralism. In the diversity of philosophical and religious thought, Paul witnessed what could easily be called “pre-modern post-modernism,” to coin a phrase.
There is great affinity between the west of the twenty-first century and the Athens of Paul’s experience. Gone are the days of Christendom, where most European and North American countries were generally Christian.
[2] In the post-modern west, religion is becoming just as diverse as it was in Greco-Roman society. In a city like Toronto Sikh temples stand as tall as Christian churches and Islamic mosques. One could as easily take a university course on Wicca or atheist philosophy as they could on Reformation history.
How does Christianity fair in light of this multiplicity of philosophical and religious thought? In what way can Christianity answer the challenges posed by post-modernism and religious pluralism? As a worldview that makes an exclusive truth claim in the gospel of Jesus Christ, is there a method of commending and defending the faith in the midst of a relativistic culture?
There is a need for an apologetic method that not only dismantles unbelieving thought in all of its forms, but also offers Christianity as the only worldview that gives meaning to the world.
[3] The following essay will present the presuppositional method of apologetics as that which soundly defeats non-Christian faith while offering a meaningful alternative.
This essay will first answer the question, “What is apologetics?” It will provide a basic definition of the term and trace the various schools of apologetic thought. Secondly, it will examine the role that Cornelius Van Til played in the development of the presuppositional method. Finally, a brief survey of presuppositionalism as an apologetic strategy will be put forward, highlighting key distinctives that mark it as a unique and biblical method.

Defining Apologetics
Certain misconceptions about “apologetics” are had when one first hears the word used. Its root is “apology,” which in contemporary parlance means for a person to say that they are sorry for something they said or did. In a technical sense, the word apology takes on a different meaning.
When using apology in reference to the Christian faith its basic meaning is defensive. The word apology comes from the Greek apologia that can literally be translated as “a speech of defense, the act of making a defense.”

[4] This is the word used in 1 Peter 3:15, the classicus locus of Christian apologetics. In this verse Peter admonishes his readers, “But in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence (apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Apologetics is therefore “the discipline that teaches Christians how to give a reason for their hope.”[5] Or, more comprehensively, it is the “vindication of the Christian philosophy of life against various forms of the non-Christian philosophy of life.”[6]
John M. Frame explains that there are three aspects to apologetics. First, apologetics is proof; it presents a rational basis for the Christian faith and proves it be true (cf. John 14:11). Second, apologetics is defense; it answers the challenges of unbelief (cf. Phil. 1:7). Third, apologetics is offense; it attacks the foolishness of unbelief (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16).[7] In addition to this tripartite understanding of apologetics William Edgar adds that commending the faith is just as important as defending it.[8] Therefore the command to evangelise is integral to apologetics. “Evangelism and apologetics are seamlessly linked and together function under the rubric of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).”[9]
There has been a need for apologetics since the inception of the church.[10] 1 Peter 3:15 makes the point clear as does a cursory reading of Paul’s missionary journeys in the book of Acts (see Acts 17:16-34). Apologetics played a major role in patristic history where examples can be drawn from a myriad of sources.[11] For instance, the letters of Ignatius of Antioch argued against docetic understandings of Christ;[12] Irenaeus of Lyons wrote Against Heresies listing and critiquing a wide variety of Gnostic teaching;[13] Justin Martyr dialogued with Trypho arguing for the veracity of the incarnation against Jewish presuppositions;[14] and Augustine of Hippo wrote a definitive work against paganism in the massive City of God.[15]
Once Christianity became the dominant worldview in the west, apologetics took a less prominent role. The major apologetic example from the medieval church is Thomas Aquinas who utilised Aristotelianism in his writings against Islamic philosophy.[16] It was not until the Renaissance that the apologetic task assumed a more prominent role. One thinks, for instance, of the Protestant Reformers in their debates against Roman Catholicism and in their interactions with various heretical views such as Socinianism and Unitarianism. But even so, most apologetic interface took place within a general (Christian) theistic perspective. Only after the Enlightenment did the need to defend theism generally and Christianity in particular arise.[17] With the birth of continental rationalism and British empiricism came direct attacks on Christianity as a system from outside of the faith. Well known examples can be seen in the writings of Baruch Spinoza and David Hume whose teaching severely undermined the Christian religion.[18]
In the history of Christian thought three broad schools of apologetics have arisen to answer Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment challenges.[19] They are, in no particular order, evidentialism, classical apologetics and presuppositionalism.[20]
The first school, evidentialism, is a perspective based upon an empirical epistemology. This scientifically oriented school appropriates a posteriori arguments for Christianity in a piecemeal fashion that include proofs for the resurrection, the reliability of the biblical documents and the possibility of miracles. Apologists in the evidentialist camp include Thomas Reid, Bishop Butler, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, Gary Habermas and John W. Montgomery.
The second school is commonly known as classical apologetics and is based upon a rationalist epistemology and natural theology.
[21] It is a philosophical apologetic that uses a priori arguments from causality and design as well as the ontological argument. Apologists from a classical standpoint include Thomas Aquinas, B.B. Warfield, William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, William Dembski, R. C. Sproul and John Gerstner.[22]
The third school is known as presuppositionalism and is based upon a revelational epistemology and Reformed argument for the veracity of the Christian worldview. It presents Christian theology as a unit, with the Scripture as its presupposed starting point. Using the bible as their authority, presuppositionalists argue for the existence of God transcendentally. Such apologists in the presuppositionalist camp include Cornelius Van Til (its principal expositor), Greg L. Bahnsen, John M. Frame, Joe Boot and K. Scott Oliphint. Others often categorized as presuppositional are Gordon H. Clark, Edward J. Carnell and Francis Schaeffer, although their use of the term presupposition differs from that of the others.

Presuppositionalism: A Beginning
Many schools of thought have a founder and presuppositionalism is no different. In the history of western philosophy the commencement of various philosophical schools can be credited to the work of one or two industrious thinkers. For instance, René Descartes is generally credited with founding Continental rationalism and John Locke with British empiricism. In the discipline of Christian apologetics the thinker generally recognized as “founding” presuppositionalism is the Dutch-American theologian Cornelius Van Til.

Cornelius Van Til was born in Grootegast, Holland on May 3, 1895 as the sixth of eight children. His father was a dairy farmer and young Cornelius wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and do the same. As a boy Cornelius (or “Kees” as he was nicknamed) was reared in the Christian faith, memorizing the Heidelberg Catechism.
In the spring of 1905 his family sailed from Holland to America, where they settled in Highland, Indiana. From a young age Cornelius showed strong intellectual abilities and in 1914 he went to Calvin Preparatory School and College, the educational institution of the Christian Reformed Church. One of his interests was the study of philosophy.
In 1921 he enrolled at Calvin Theological Seminary where he studied the works of such Dutch theologians as Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck. He was also quick to learn Greek, Hebrew and Latin.
Van Til transferred to Princeton Theological Seminary in 1922; the primary reason for this was so that he could study at both the seminary and the university. There he earned his Master of Theology and in 1927 a PhD specializing in idealist philosophy.
During Van Til’s years in school, the broader church was in turmoil over modernist theology that subjected the Bible to the scalpel of historical criticism. As a result, doctrines such as the virgin birth and deity of Christ, the resurrection and the literal fall of man into sin were denied.
[24] Such teachings resulted in various denominational and institutional splits. One such split occurred under the leadership of J. Gresham Machen, who left the Presbyterian Church (USA) to form the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He and a group of men also left their teaching positions at Princeton Seminary and formed Westminster Theological Seminary.[25] Van Til initially went to Spring Lake, Michigan to pastor a rural community church, but after much prodding from men like Machen and John Murray he agreed to teach apologetics at Westminster. There he remained until his death on April 17, 1987.
Van Til was heavily influenced in his thinking by the writings of Kuyper and Bavinck as well as B.B. Warfield, Geerhardus Vos and for a time Herman Dooyeweerd. It has been rightly said that Van Til took the best of Kuyper and Warfield and blended them into a profoundly Reformed apologetic.
The Van Til corpus consists mainly of published course syllabi, though his major scholarly contribution is undoubtedly The Defense of the Faith where he outlines the basic principles for apologetics.[27]

Presuppositionalism: Some Basic Tenets
What makes Van Tillian presuppositionalism distinct from the other apologetic schools? If presuppositionalism seeks to make proper sense of the evidence for Christian theism, is it not just a form of evidentialism? If it reasons a priori from God’s existence, is it not another form of rationalist classical apologetics? The following will outline four basic tenets that explain why the presuppositional method it is not the same as the others. This list does not pretend to be exhaustive, but will hopefully provide an adequate basis for understanding what one writer has called “kung-fu” apologetics.
[28] The four basic tenets are: 1) the antithesis; 2) point of contact; 3) ultimate commitment; and, 4) transcendental argument.[29] The fourth point constitutes Van Til’s most unique contribution to discussions of apologetic methodology. Therefore, the transcendental argument for the existence of God will merit greater attention than the other distinctives herein discussed.

In 1 Corinthians 2:14 the apostle Paul makes a distinction between the natural person and the spiritual person. In his discussion of the natural person, the descriptive term that he uses is psychikos a Greek word that means “an unspiritual person, one who merely functions bodily, without being touched by the Spirit of God.”

[30] The spiritual person, on the other hand, is described as pneumatikos meaning that he or she “possesses the divine pneuma…this enables the person to penetrate the divine mysteries.”[31] The relationship between the two is like that of black and white; they are in antithesis to one another.
The word antithesis comes from the combination of two Greek words anti, “against”
[32] and tithemi “to put or place in a particular location.”[33] The root of tithemi is thes and is where we get the word “thesis” from. Bob and Maxine Moore explain, “The antithesis of something is its opposite, reverse, negation, or antipode.”[34] Explaining the theological significance of antithesis, Gary DeMar, summarising Greg Bahnsen, says, “As Christians we must recognize the fundamental disagreement between biblical thought and all forms of unbelief at the foundational level of our theory of knowing and knowledge.”[35] Frame explains that the antithesis between believer and unbeliever is “the most conspicuous feature of Van Til’s position.”[36]
The notion of antithesis is clearly biblical, as seen in the 1 Corinthians 2:14 passage noted above. Paul could ask in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 what relation does righteousness have with lawlessness, or light with darkness? Paul here likely builds on the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 9:40 where he said that whoever is not for him is against him. And of course the antithesis can be traced all the way back to the garden of Eden after the fall where God said to Satan in Genesis 3:15 that he would put enmity between he and the woman, between his offspring and hers.
In the patristic period the antithesis between believing and unbelieving thought is apparent. Take for instance Tertullian’s famous question in chapter seven of The Prescriptions against the Heretics, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens, the Church with the Academy, the Christian with the heretic?”
[37] Likewise Augustine pits Christianity against paganism by distinguishing the city of God from the city of man in The City of God Against the Pagans.[38]
Yet the one theologian who most influenced Van Til’s teaching on the antithesis was the Dutch statesman Abraham Kuyper. James E. McGoldrick explains Kuyper’s view of the antithesis,
At a time when modernists were promoting a theology of synthesis, Kuyper emphasized the antithesis that posits an impassable gap between God and Satan, between Christ and Anti-Christ, a conflict of cosmic dimensions, and he called Christians to wage a struggle against all compromises of truth in every area of life and learning. He summoned them to become part of a counter-offensive against all forms of falsehood and in so doing to confront evil with the gospel of divine mercy and grace, which Christ bestows on all who leave the kingdom of Satan and enter the diametrically opposed kingdom of God.

Following in the footsteps of Kuyper, and Machen whose contrast between Christianity and liberalism was also influential,
[40] Van Til made the antithesis one of the hallmarks of his apologetic.
For Van Til, the fundamental difference between the believer and the unbeliever is ethical. The unbeliever, having not experienced the saving grace of God in the gospel, is dead in trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1). Because of this, certain epistemological consequences result. In the words of the apostle Paul unbelievers have become “futile” in their thoughts and their “senseless hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). This is so because they suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18b) and exchange the truth of God for a lie (Rom. 1:25). Sin’s negative impact on the mind is what theologians call the “noetic effects of sin.” Van Til explains, “When we say that sin is ethical we do not mean, however, that sin involved only the will of man and not also his intellect. Sin involved every aspect of man’s personality. All of man’s reactions in every relation in which God had set him were ethical and not merely intellectual; the intellect itself is ethical.”
[41] The results of the noetic effects of sin are “that man tried to interpret everything with which he came into contact without reference to God.”[42]
The Christian, on the other hand, has been set free from the bonds of sin and has a new way of viewing the world. He or she has been “clothed with the new man” and is “being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created it” (Col. 3:10). Thus, being renewed in their minds (Romans 12:2), the Christian can rightly interpret the world that God made. The indwelling of the Spirit and freedom from sin allows the Christian to “think God’s thoughts after him.” The knowledge that the believer has of God has an ethical impact. Bahnsen explains, “As man’s knowledge of God’s increases, his sense of distance does not diminish, but actually increases. He stands in even greater awe and wonder at God’s mind. He is humbled even more than when he began to learn of Him.”[43]
Therefore, according to Van Til, only a presuppositional method recognizes the issues at stake and offers a truly powerful defense of offense for the Christian faith. “In the all-out war between the Christian and the natural man as he appears in modern garb it is only the atomic energy of a truly Reformed methodology that will explode the last Festung.”[44]

Point of Contact
Many who fail to understand Van Til’s teaching on the antithesis often charge him with teaching that there is no point of contact between the believer and the unbeliever. Because of this supposed lack of common ground, the misconception is that presuppositionalism offers no rational argumentation and advises the apologist only to preach the gospel without remonstration. But Van Til does see a point of contact and therefore does believe that a rational interchange can occur between the believer and unbeliever.
The classical and evidential schools of apologetics place point of contact in natural theology. It is their contention that Van Til was misguided in his appropriation of natural theology saying, “All denials of these assumptions are forced and temporary.”
[45] What they fail to recognize is that for Van Til, natural theology must always be conditioned by the greater context of theology. According to Jeffrey K. Jue, “This context would identify the function of and relation between natural theology and supernatural theology in the pre- and post-fall environment.”[46]
Because the unbeliever’s problem is ethical, which in turn has a negative epistemological result; he or she is at odds with the truth of biblical revelation. However, the apologist does have recourse to appeal to the unbeliever on a metaphysical level. The common ground between the Christian and non-Christian is ontological.[47] This not only makes sense existentially, but also is profoundly biblical.
Experientially, the non-Christian lives in God’s world and is confronted daily with general revelation. God’s revelation is clear whether an unbeliever observes creation from the farthest galaxy to the smallest cell. The apostle Paul makes this point in Romans 1:20 when he says that God’s invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – are “clearly seen” in the created order.
Alongside revelation in the external world, the unbeliever internally has an experience of God – in conscience. Immediate knowledge of God, since conception, renders the unbeliever without excuse.
[48] This knowledge is a result of the unbeliever bearing the image of God and the implanted sensus deitatis.[49] Paul says in Romans 1:21 that unbelievers “know God” but do not glorify him. Therefore every apologetic appeal is to something already known by the unbeliever. In effect, the apologist is reminding the unbeliever of something known from birth. If by God’s grace that knowledge is brought to remembrance, then conversion occurs. However, if the unbeliever continues in hardness of heart, the apologist has still accomplished his or her task of showing the unbeliever that deep down inside, they truly know God. This only furthers unbelievers’ responsibility to believe.

The question of authority is one of the most controversial aspects of Van Til’s thought. Christian and non-Christian alike have been critical of the presuppositionalist view that Scripture is the primary authority to be appealed to by the apologist in his or her task of defending the faith.
According to both the non-presuppositionalist Christian and the unbeliever, to assume the authority of the bible at the outset of an apologetic engagement is to involve oneself in the fallacy of circular reasoning. It is argued that Scripture is one of the key issues under scrutiny and that it first needs to be proven that it is the authoritative word of God before it can be appealed to.
What both the evidentialist and the non-Christian are failing to recognize is that when it comes to issues of ultimate authority, everyone has an unproved starting point that is self-referential and taken to be self-attesting. “Every philosophy must use its own standards in proving its conclusions; otherwise, it is simply inconsistent.”

[50] Bahnsen adds, “The Christian apologist simply recognizes that the ultimate truth – that which is more pervasive, fundamental, and necessary – is such that it cannot be argued independently of the preconditions inherent in it.”[51] The real issue comes down to justifying one’s starting point. Can the non-Christian substantiate their autonomous reason as a legitimate and rational epistemic foundation? To do so, he or she must first assume reason before it can be proven to be a justifiable authority. This is what Van Til called a “vicious circle.” He could also say,
To admit one’s own presuppositions and to point out the presuppositions of others is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning. The starting-point, method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another.

Frame distinguishes between “narrowly circular” and “broadly circular” arguments. When arguing for the truthfulness of the biblical worldview the apologist does not resort to saying, “The Bible is true; therefore the Bible is true.” This is a “narrowly circular” argument and while it is accurate, there is more to the issue. The bible assumes its own authority (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16), but it also demonstrates that authority transcendentally because of the impossibility of the contrary. This is a “broadly circular” argument. It is the demonstration of the bible’s truth claims by appeal to evidence.
[53] For the world to make sense, the bible must be true. If it is not true, then nothing can be known. The bible provides the necessary preconditions for intelligibility in the world. While biblical revelation is the epistemic authority for the believer, it is also authoritative for the unbeliever who regularly borrows from the biblical worldview to make sense of things.
If God’s revelation is the source of all meaning, then it is necessary for it to be presupposed even to make sense of the discussion between the Christian and non-Christian over epistemic authority. In Psalm 36:9 the Psalmist declares, “In your light do we see light.” This is true for the believer and the non-believer. Van Til says, “Scripture presents itself as being the only light in terms of which the truth about facts and their relations can be discovered.”
[54] Greg Bahnsen said,
God’s revelation is more than the best foundation for Christian reasoning; it is the only philosophically sound foundation for any reasoning whatsoever. Therefore, although the world in its own wisdom sees the word of Christ as foolishness, ‘The foolishness of God is wiser than men’ (1 Cor. 1:18, 25). Christians need not sit in an isolated philosophical tower, reduced to simply despising the philosophical systems of non-Christians. No, by taking every thought captive to Christ, we are enabled to cast down reasoning that is exalted against the knowledge of God (cf. 2 Cor. 10:5). We must challenge the unbeliever to give a cogent and credible account of how he knows anything whatsoever, given his espoused presuppositions about reality, truth and man (his ‘worldview’).

Transcendental Argument
Van Til once wrote, “At the outset it ought to be clearly observed that very system of thought necessarily has a certain method of its own.”

[56] For Van Til, the only cogent method of apologetics, from the Christian perspective, is the transcendental method.[57] The most significant contribution that Van Til made to apologetics, what has been called a contribution of Copernican dimensions,[58] is the “transcendental argument” for the existence of God (TAG). The following will seek to explain TAG as an apologetic method.
Transcendental arguments are not unknown in the history of philosophy and have been used from the early Greeks to Immanuel Kant. Van Til, however, took the idea and placed it within a specifically Christian worldview applying it to the question of God’s existence. A transcendental argument asks the question, “What are the preconditions necessary for the intelligibility of reality?” This argument is an “indirect argument” that while not appealing to explicit evidences or arguments from natural theology, does seek to prove that such arguments only make sense within a Christian framework of interpretation.
Don Collett notes two ways in which the transcendental method safeguards important theological concerns. First, the transcendental method “safeguards the doctrine of God’s transcendence.”
[59] It does so by taking seriously God’s absolute character of being when positing an argument for Christianity. Traditional methods of apologetics, that assume principles of deduction or induction, make the existence of God “logically derivative” rather than “logically primitive.”[60] Because the transcendental method starts with God as the necessary precondition for intelligibility, his “logically primitive” and “absolute” character is preserved.[61]
Second, the transcendental method “alone does justice to the clarity of the objective evidence for God’s existence.”[62] Because the existence of God makes argumentation possible, his existence is necessary; it cannot be falsified. By starting with premises in the world, the evidential schools allow for the possibility of God’s non-existence. In the transcendental method, however, the argument from predication rules out such a possibility. The argument from predication is based upon the premise “that predication requires for its possibility the necessary truth of God’s existence…precluding any future possibility of using argument to falsify God’s existence.”[63]
Van Til taught a two-fold method of apologetic strategy that is well expressed in Proverbs 26:4-5, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you yourself also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own estimation.” Verse 4 argues against the idea of neutrality, explaining that if one permitted the unbeliever their most basic premises the apologetic task is lost. Verse 5 in turn requires the apologist to assume the unbeliever’s worldview, “for the sake of argument” in order to perform an “internal critique” or reductio ad absurdam, to demonstrate its irrationality. This, in essence, encapsulates the transcendental method, from the Van Til perspective.[64]
In syllogistic form a transcendental argument looks like this:
Premise 1: For X to be the case, Y would have to be the case, because Y is a precondition of X.
Premise 2: X is the case.
Conclusion: Y is the case.

To work this out in terms of God’s existence the argument would look like this:
Premise 1: For there to be intelligibility in the world, God must exist because God is a precondition for intelligibility.
Premise 2: There is intelligibility in the world.
Conclusion: God exists.

What is especially devastating for the non-believer is that for he or she to even deny the existence of God, he must first be presupposed. Take for example:
A presupposes B if and only if:
a)if A is true, then B is true
b) if –A is true, then B is true.


Therefore, God’s existence (B) is the necessary precondition for both the affirmation (A) and negation (–A) of God’s existence. The existence of God is thus an inescapable concept. In Van Til’s words, “It is the firm conviction of every epistemologically self-conscious Christian that not one human being can utter a single syllable, whether in negation or affirmation, unless it were for God’s existence.’ Thus the transcendental argument seeks to discover what sort of foundations the house of human knowledge must have, in order to be what it is.”

However brief, this paper has sought to explain the nature of presuppositionalism and the basic tenets that make it a unique contribution to the discussion of apologetics. It is hoped that the method developed by Cornelius Van Til and exposited by his followers will come to dominate the playing field of apologetic methodology. It is a consistently biblical and Reformed apologetic that offers a comprehensive critique of non-Christian thought without compromising the biblical worldview.
[1] A good introduction to Greek philosophy is John M. Frame, “Greeks Bearing Gifts” in W. Andrew Hoffecker ed., Revolutions in Worldview: Understanding the Flow of Western Thought (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2007), 1-36. A more detailed examination can be found in Gordon H. Clark, Ancient Philosophy (Hobbs, New Mexico: The Trinity Foundation, 1997).
[2] For an analysis of the changes in western thought see Francis A. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live?: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1976).
[3] This is what is referred to as “negative” and “positive” apologetics Ronald H. Nash, Faith and Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1988), 14-16.
[4] Walter Bauer, F. W. Danker, W. F. Arndt and F. W. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature 3rd Edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 117. Hereafter BDAG.
[5] John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 1994), 1.
[6] Gary DeMar ed., Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen (Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision, 2007), 273.
[7] Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 2.
[8] William Edgar, Reasons of the Heart: Recovering Christian Persuasion (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 1996), 15.
[9] Ian Hugh Clary, “Apologetics: Commending and Defending” in The Evangelical Baptist (Fall 2005): 10.
[10] One would argue that apologetics has been necessary since the fall.
[11] For an excellent sample of patristic apologetics see Michael A. G. Haykin, Defence of the Truth: Contending for the Faith Yesterday and Today (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2004).
[12] Ignatius, “The Letters” in The Apostolic Fathers The Fathers of the Church Volume One: A New Translation (New York: CIMA Publishing Co., 1947), 83-130.
[13] Irenaeus, “Against Heresies” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers Volume One: The Apostolic Fathers, Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1950), 309-602.
[14] Justin Martyr, “Dialogue with Trypho” in Writings of Saint Justin Martyr The Fathers of the Church Volume Six: A New Translation (New York: CIMA Publishing Co., 1948), 139-368.
[15] Augustine, The City of God against the Pagans Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought ed., R.W. Dyson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
[16] Peter J. Leithart, “Medieval Theology and the Roots of Modernity” in W. Andrew Hoffecker ed., Revolutions in Worldview: Understanding the Flow of Western Thought (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2007), 140-177. For relevant section on Aquinas see 156-167.
[17] Gordon H. Clark, Thales to Dewey (1957; rpr. Hobbs, New Mexico: The Trinity Foundation, 1997), 301-394.
[18] Alister McGrath traces atheism from its origins in the French Revolution to the present in Alister McGrath, The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World (London: Galilee, 2006). For the relationship between the Enlightenment and Christianity see W. Andrew Hoffecker, “Enlightenments and Awakenings: The Beginning of Modern Culture Wars” in W. Andrew Hoffecker ed., Revolutions in Worldview: Understanding the Flow of Western Thought (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2007), 240-280.
[19] With globalism and religious pluralism other faiths such as Islam and Hinduism require some apologetic interaction as well. A recent example is Timothy Tennet Christianity at the Religious Roundtable.
[20] It is worth noting that the evidential and classical approaches share enough affinity in their understanding of the nature of man and his ability to reason since the fall that they could be categorised under a general evidentialist rubric with a distinction between hard and soft evidentialism.
[21] Often the “Five Proofs” of Thomas Aquinas.
[22] A basic explanation and defence of classical apologetics is R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner and Arthur Lindsley, Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1984). For a review see Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 219-243.
[23] The following biographical sketch was adapted from Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Co., 1998), 7-20; John M. Frame, Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Co., 1995), 19-37; and William White Jr., Van Til: Defender of the Faith (Nashville/New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1979).
[24] J. Gresham Machen, The Christian Faith in the Modern World (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1936).
[25] Useful lives of Machen are Stephen J. Nichols, J. Gresham Machen: A Guided Tour of his Life and Thought (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004) and Ned. B. Stonehouse, J. Gresham Machen: A Biographical Memoir (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Westminster Theological Seminary, 1978).
[26] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 596-612. For Van Til’s own view of “Amsterdam and Old Princeton” see Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing Co., 1967), 260-299.
[27] A bibliography of Van Til’s writings is available in Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 735-740.
[28] Grover Gunn, Lectures on Apologetics (Greenville, South Carolina: Southern Presbyterian Press, 1997), 41.
[29] More issues could be addressed such as the rational/irrational tension, aseity, Trinitarianism, the relation of faith and philosophy, creation, etc. Space constraints require that these be left relatively ignored.
[30] BDAG, 1100b.
[31] BDAG, 837b.
[32] Barbara Friberg, Timothy Friberg and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2000), 2262. “Originally with a local sense over against, opposite.”
[33] BDAG, 1003b.
[34] Bob Moore and Maxine Moore, NTC’s Dictionary of Latin and Greek Origins: A Comprehensive Guide to the Classical Origins of English Words (Chicago, Illinois: NTC Publishing Group, 1997), 320.
[35] Gary DeMar ed., Pushing the Antithesis: The Apologetic Methodology of Greg L. Bahnsen (Powder Springs, Georgia: American Vision, 2007), 13.
[36] John M. Frame, Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1995), 187.
[37] Tertullian, “The Prescriptions against the Heretics” in S.L. Greenslade ed., Early Latin Theology: Selections from Tertullian, Cyrpian, Ambrose and Jerome The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 36.
[38] See footnote 15 above.
[39] James E. McGoldrick, Abraham Kuyper: God’s Renaissance Man (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2000), 142.
[40] J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1923).
[41] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 46.
[42] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 47.
[43] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 231.
[44] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 105.
[45] Sproul, Gerstner and Lindsley, Classical Apologetics, 72.
[46] Jeffrey K. Jue, “Theologia Naturalis: A Reformed Tradition” in K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Lipton eds., Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2007), 169.
[47] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 90-95.
[48] See Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology In Defense of Biblical Christianity Volume V (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1976), 195.
[49] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 90.
[50] John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God: An Introduction (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 1994), 10.
[51] Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (Nacogdoches, Texas: Covenant Media Foundation, 2000), 75.
[52] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 101. Emphasis his.
[53] Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 14. Other external evidences can also be appealed to such as the reliability of the biblical text, the early dates of the manuscripts, etc. Frame says, “‘Circularity…can be as broad as the whole universe; for every fact witnesses to the truth of God.” See also Bahnsen, Always Ready, 75.
[54] Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 108.
[55] Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic, 5.
[56] Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology (Nutley, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1977), 4-5.
[57] Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 10-13.
[58] John M. Frame, “The Problem of Theological Paradox” in Gary North ed., Foundations of Christian Scholarship: Essays in the Van Til Perspective (Vallecito, California: Ross House Books, 1979), 295.
[59] Don Collett, “Van Til and Transcendental Argument” in K. Scott Oliphint and Lane G. Lipton eds., Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2007), .260.
[60] Collett, “Van Til and Transcendental Argument,” 260.
[61] Collett, “Van Til and Transcendental Argument,” 261.
[62] Collett, “Van Til and Transcendental Argument,” 262.
[63] Collett, “Van Til and Transcendental Argument,” 262.
[64] Collett, “Van Til and Transcendental Argument,” 262-263. See also Bahnsen, Always Ready, 61.
[65] Adapted from Stephen Wellum’s class-notes for Apologetics 323 January 2008.
[66] Adapted from Collett, “Van Til and Transcendental Argument,” 269.
[67] Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology, 11.



Filed under apologetics, cornelius van til, graphe, greg bahnsen, presuppositionalism, tbs

The Albert Mohler Radio Program – Highlights

Southern Seminary’s president, Albert Mohler, has a radio program that discusses the latest news, cultural happenings and theological issues. Because the program doesn’t air in Toronto, I have to listen to it online – as a result my Mohler intake is a bit sporadic. I’ve listened to a number of shows that caught my eye recently and I thought I would higlight them with some shared thoughts:
Making Sense of Emergent Christianity – Russell Moore interviews Kevin De Young and Ted Kluck, authors of Why We’re Not Emergent. Actually, I haven’t listened to this yet (downloading it right now), but I’m expecting it to be good. I recently finished their book and thought that it was a very good analysis of the emergent church movement.
The Pro-Life Cause: Working for Reduction or Elimination? – Russell Moore interviews Tony Campolo and Robert George over the issue of reducing abortions vs. eliminating abortions. Campolo is a well-known leader of the Christian left, and George is an ethics professor at Princeton University. George articulated his position against merely reducing abortions clearly and with solid statistical facts and made Campolo look like an amateur who had no idea what he was talking about. Moore was the highlight though when he irked Campolo with a comparison between abortion and lynching in the South.
African-American Men and the Local Church – Al Mohler interviews Eric Redmond, an African-American pastor and leader. Redmond has a new book out entitled Where Are All The Brothers? that discusses the reasons why African-American churches are losing men in droves. He offers some good advice on how to get African-American men back into the church. Redmond, Thabiti Anyabwile, Anthony Carter and a number of other African-American theologians/pastors are leading the African-American church through a virtual renaissance. Ad fontes was the watch-cry of the sixteenth-century, and it is the watch-cry of these men today. The sources to return to are not only Scripture and church history, but the early days of the African-American church that was led by men like Lemuel Haynes and Jupiter Hammon. I am very excited to see the work that is going on for reformation in the African-American church.
Should We Be Patriots In The Pew? – Russell Moore interviews Stanley Hauerwas and Mark Dever who discuss the question of whether or not churches should be patriotic during the Independence Day weekend. I was somewhat surprised to hear Hauerwas and Dever in essential agreement – though Dever was much more balanced, nuanced and gospel-oriented. I’m not a huge fan of Hauerwas’ teaching, but I was surprised at how dogmatic and extreme his choice of language was. Although I take to heart what Dever advised, I was more sympathetic to Moore’s thoughts at the end of the program. Thankfully, this isn’t an issue in Canada and it likely won’t be a question that I’ll really have to wrestle through.
There are many more links I could post – I hope what I have thus said encourages you to want to listen to the radio program. The issues discussed are relevant to our society and church. Mohler (and Moore) do an excellent job at highlighting areas of concern with balance – though sometimes Moore can get a little angry – and with theological precision. I’m thankful that they archive past shows, they are a very useful resource for thinking through the issues that face us.

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Waldron and Barcellos Blogging

I didn’t realise that Sam Waldron and Richard Barcellos are blogging! Both are well known leaders amongst American Reformed Baptists. Waldron’s A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith was at my side as I took my Sunday School through the 1689. I am pleased indeed to see they’re on the web. Check them out at Illumination.


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Review: Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman by John Muether

I had the delightful opportunity read and review John Muether’s new biography of one of Christianity’s most important thinkers. Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman is fantastic. Check out my review and then buy the book!


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Codex Sinaiticus

Wow, this is a really neat website. Codex Sinaiticus is one of the oldest full manuscripts we have of the New Testament – it dates to the fourth century. It is housed in the British Library, but now the whole thing is being made available online. I have a picture of it at home, but I can barely make out the words (it’s a small picture – not a reflection of my Greek skills [which, well, ain’t great]). The website is still going through growing pains so you’ll have to keep checking it for more stuff.
[HT: Between Two Worlds]

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Interview with Stephen Yuille

The Conventicle has posted an interview that they did with Dr. Stephen Yuille who teaches here at TBS. Dr. Yuille, incidentally, was one of my dissertation readers for my master of divinity. I am about half-way done his published thesis that he wrote on the Puritan George Swinnock – hopefully I’ll get it up at Discerning Reader soon(ish).

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Thabiti on Healthy Church Members

Challies has a review of Thabiti Anyabwile’s recent book What Is A Healthy Church Member? This looks to be a very useful book to go through with a small group.

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Preaching at Grace

Here are links to the audio of two sermons that I preached yesterday at Grace Baptist Church of Essex. On the Trinity; A New Heaven and a New Earth.


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Francis Wayland – Classical Liberal?

One of the great things about studying history is seeing when a figure that you admire shares similar views on subjects other than what he is known for. Francis Wayland is one of the great American Baptists who upheld liberty of conscience when it came to religious conviction, was a supporter of the mission movement and wrote against slavery (for more on Wayland, see Dr. Haykin’s post). It therefore should come as no surprise that his political views run along the same lines. My friend Mark has a seven-point summary of Wayland’s views on private property.

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Networking for the Gospel

In the last two days John and I have met with a number of people with whom we share much in common in terms of vision, theology and general outlook, when it comes to church planting, the gospel and general ecclesiology. It has been reinforced in my thinking that the Lord is behind us in our endeavours and is supplying our needs before our very eyes.

It was a privilege to meet and spend time speaking with Dan MacDonald who pastors Grace Toronto, a PCA church plant in the downtown core. John interned at Grace and has cultivated a friendship with Dan. The advice given to us was very useful and gave us great cause to sharpen our thinking on strategy and methodology. Last night we had a conference call with Clint Humfrey who pastors Calvary Grace a church plant in downtown Calgary. Clint taught John and I Greek at TBS and has remained a very close friend, though the miles seperate us. Though young, Clint’s wisdom is beyond his years and the advice he gave was sage. We were greatly encouraged by him. This morning we met with Julian Freeman an elder at Grace Fellowship Church of Toronto a church plant of the Sovereign Grace Fellowship. Julian introduced us to the Andrew Allan, the chaplain of Regent’s Park in downtown Toronto. We met at his office and had an incredible discussion about the demographic, life and (multi)culture of this inner-city community. Andrew was a wealth of information and was deeply encouraging. Afterwards we went with Julian for lunch to discuss his thoughts on church planting and the experiences he had with Grace. It too was fantastically encouraging. In about an hour John and I will meet with Kirk Wellum, current Principal of TBS and former church planter who pastored Sovereign Grace Community Church in Sarnia. I know that Kirk will in turn have excellent advice and wisdom to share.

In all of this I think it is safe to say that John and I are being confronted with the deep responsibility we have set before us by the Lord and the doability of it. It is the Spirit of the Lord, through the Word, that will accomplish in us the purposes of God. Though we are inept, though we are weak, though we are sinners, if by God’s grace we seek his face our church planting work can only be a success. Praise the Lord for co-labourers in the gospel!

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This could be Challies’ best book review ever. Count how many times the word “stupid” appears in his review of Chris Hedge’s recent travesty, I Don’t Believe in Atheists. Brilliant.

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What is Missional?

Jonathan Leeman has a good article on the history and use of the word “missional” at the 9Marks site.

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Our Purpose

In June 2008 John Bell was called by the grace of God to church planting and is currently a church planting intern through the Fellowship of Evangelical Churches in the downtown Toronto core. I became instantly involved because of my love for the gospel, Toronto and the desire to help my friend and brother.

This blog was set up for John and I to be able to share thoughts, articles, audio, video, list things done for the plant, etc. As well, we will selectively allow certain of our friends or supporters to view the blog in order to track our progress (DV), update their prayer lists, or offer advice.

For anyone reading this, please pray!!!

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Pulpit Supply

I hate cheesy (yes, I put an “s” there) personal advertisements – I don’t know how marketable I am – but here’s one anyway. I am officially in the business of pulpit supply, so if you know of anyone needing to get a faithful preacher of the gospel in their church, maybe because the pastor will be on vacation, please send them my way. The Lord has blessed in this regard. On this coming Lord’s Day I have the privilege of preaching at my home away from home: Grace Baptist Church of Essex. And on the 20th I will have my first opportunity to preach at Richview Baptist for Pastor Darryl Dash. For those of you not familiar with Darryl, you really need to check out his blog Dash House. I have just updated him on my blogroll.

Here is an excellent quote from the excellent Hercules Collins, persecuted pastor of the seventeenth century:

If thou has much of God’s presence in preaching, be not overconfident that the
sermon shall do most good. And if you are in a dull frame in preaching, so long
as you preach God’s Word, do not despair of a good effect.

Hercules Collins (1646/7-1702) quoted in Michael A. G. Haykin and Steve Weaver, Devoted To the Service of the Temple: Piety, Persecution, and Ministry in the Writings of Hercules Collins Profiles in Reformed Spiritualiy (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2007), 107.


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Black Genocide

I was perusing the Reformed Blacks of America website and came across an article by Anthony Bradley called “Abortion by Race.” Here is a staggering – and shocking – statistic:

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, more than 43
percent of African-American pregnancies end in abortion. Although
African-Americans represent only 12 percent of the American population, they
account for almost 35 percent of all abortions. In Mississippi, for example,
while African-Americans represent only 37 percent of the population, they
account for 73 percent of the state’s abortions. More than 78 percent of Planned
Parenthood’s abortion centers are in or near minority communities.

There is a link in the article to a website called Black Genocide developed by Clenard Childress Jr. that provides more information about the relationship between race, abortion, Planned Parenthood, eugenics, etc. No more does the African American community face the onslaught of death by lynching – we now have legalised abortion.
Here is a quote found on the site:
“Several years ago, when 17,000 aborted babies were found in a dumpster outside a pathology laboratory in Los, Angeles, California, some 12-15,000 were observed to be black.”
–Erma Clardy Craven (deceased)Social Worker and Civil Rights Leader

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Driscoll on the City Within A City

At The Resurgence website Mark Driscoll has an excellent two part series on Leadership Lessons from the book of Nehemiah dealing with how to build a city within a city. I listened to both this morning and was greatly helped by them. In particular, in the second part he answers questions about building this city and provides some very thoughtful answers based upon his experience in planting and building Mars Hill in Seattle. Part 1 (video) and Part 2 (video). Click the link for the outline of the lecture and scroll down for the audio or video file. I’ll probably be posting a lot more from this site in days to come!

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Preaching Christ in Proverbs

When I look to the future and see myself pastoring in a church (and teaching history DV), I sometimes wonder about how I will manage to preach the whole counsel of God in my lifetime. I don’t pretend that I’ll do long, Lloyd-Jones-esque sermons on Romans, but I wonder if I’ll preach through the whole Bible in some detail. I’m sure that I’ll gravitate to the hefty (and fun!) books like Romans, Galatians, John, Genesis, Isaiah, etc. But there will be books that will offer some challenge. One such challenge is the Book of Proverbs. How does one preach Proverbs staying faithful to the redemptive-historical issues of the grander biblical storyline? In this Old Testament wisdom book there is no mention of the Messiah, so how does Christ connect? What steps can be taken to make sure that the sermons don’t become a tireless (and tiring) list of moralistic do’s and don’t’s?
One way is to get Bruce Waltke’s commentary and to read the section on Proverbs in Dillard and Longman. Another added source is the recent article at Reformation 21 called “Does Proverbs Speak of Jesus?” by Anthony Selvaggio. Here’s a hint at what the article tackles. He gives me hope!

In researching this question, I found that many Old Testament scholars
contend that Proverbs is entirely void of legitimate allusions or connections to
Jesus Christ. After all, Proverbs does not include any specific prophetic
references to the Messiah. These scholars contend that all efforts to find
Christ in Proverbs are ultimately disrespectful to the Old Testament text
because they fail to take the Old Testament at face value. While I
understand where these scholars are coming from, I can’t agree with their
interpretative perspective. I am fully convinced that there are legitimate
connections between Proverbs and Jesus and that these connections can be made
without showing disrespect to the Old Testament. In this article, I will
briefly outline what I believe are four legitimate connections between Proverbs
and Jesus.


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New Haykin Book – Extract

Here is an extract from a new book co-edited by Dr. Michael Haykin. It is a concerted effort to address David Bebbington’s “quadrilateral” and includes contributions by Ken Stewart (co-editor), Crawford Gribben, Paul Coffey, and others. This extract includes portions of Paul Helm’s chapter.
Currently the book is available in the UK and will be in North America soon(ish). It’s title is: The Emergence of Evangelicalism.


Filed under books, church history, crawford gribben, evangelicalism, michael haykin