Tag Archives: apologetics

Jesus is Yahweh

At Crux yesterday I met a guy who was interested in researching the Trinity and Jesus’ divinity. He has been meeting with some Jehovah’s Witnesses and has found some of their arguments to be thoughtful and possibly even biblical. Of course, Jehovah’s Witnesses deny the doctrine of the Trinity and the deity of our Lord Jesus.
I emailed him this morning with the hopes of getting together. I included in my email some verses that ascribe to Jesus titles/attributes that are ascribed to Yahweh in the Old Testament. These are culled from Murray Harris’ awesome book Jesus As God (Baker, 1998).
I AM (the covenant name of God)
Exodus 3:14 (see Isaiah 43:11) – John 8:58.
Salvation and Yahweh
Joel 2:32 – Romans 10:9-13
Yahweh Described
Ezekiel 43:2 – Revelation 1:13-16
There are plenty more, but I thought that these were helpful.
I also directed his attention to the use of Isaiah 6 when applied to Jesus and the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, namely John 12:41 and Acts 28:25.
My prayer is that my friend would come to see Christ as the eternal God whom true Christians everywhere have worshipped since the beginning of the church!
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Historical Reliability of the Bible Resources

I had the pleasure of speaking on the historical reliablity of the bible to the students at the Grace Centre for Urban Mission tonight. As usual, I was verbose and went longer than I should have – it’s a curse, I swear! None-the-less I really enjoyed myself. The questions that students had were great and I hope that I gave them some good reasons to believe that our bible is historically reliable.
Some of the questions that they had dealt with the Dead Sea Scrolls and the relationship to the Masoretic Text of the Old Testament. Sadly, I wasn’t as well versed on this issue and could only take them so far. So I thought, in case any of the students checked out my blog, that I would post some links:
Probably the place to start online research into the Dead Sea Scrolls is the Orion Center the Study of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Here you find everything you need to know. This is their introductory article to the Scrolls that should be read first.
A collection of the Dead Sea Scrolls texts is here if you want to delve more into key manuscripts.
A summary of the Hebrew bible is given at the Evangelical Textual Criticism blog based upon G. Norton’s book, this is very useful.
In fact, any discussion of textual criticism (which we talked about tonight) really needs to have some reference to ETCblog. Check them out here.
Another good site regarding textual criticism is the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts run by Dan Wallace. I mentioned this to one of the students after the lecture.
A couple of good books on the subject of text criticism, Gnostic gospels, etc. Are:
Reinventing Jesus by Dan Wallace, Ed Komoszewski and James Sawyer (review). Sadly their website is no longer up.
The Missing Gospels by Darrell Bock. Introductory but not basic.
Judas and the Gospel of Jesus by N.T. Wright (review). Witty and informative – a great read.
As more resources come to mind, I’ll post them here. I hope they’re of use!

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William Lane Craig vs. Quintin Smith

Campus for Christ is co-hosting a series of debates between theologian/philosopher William Lane Craig and three atheists at he various Toronto university campuses (U of T, Ryerson, York). The series is called “Does God Exist?
Ryerson is hosting their debate on Wednesday January 28, 2009 at 6pm. I’ll be there, will you???

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Apologetics Lecture at Ryerson

Tonight I am speaking on presuppositional apologetics at Ryerson University’s Campus for Christ. I know I’ve posted this before, but here is a paper that I wrote for Stephen Wellum’s apologetics class — it is an introduction to presuppositionalism and forms the backbone of my lecture.

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Campus for Christ – Ryerson

Campus for Christ in Toronto is planning a series of three debates between William Lane Craig and three atheists (including Quentin Smith) at three different universities: York, Ryerson and U of T. As a lead up to the debates C4C are hosting a series of lectures dealing with apologetic issues like the existence of God, how to defend the faith and the nature of worldviews.
My co-church planter John Bell and I are both speaking at the Ryerson Campus for Christ. This Wednesday (Jan. 14 at 5pm in the Oakham Lounge) John is addressing the issue of worldviews. Next Wednesday I will be speaking on presuppositional apologetics. If you’re interested, check them out!

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Alister McGrath on Richard Dawkins

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Collision Trailer: Hitchens/Wilson Debate

Here is the next trailer for the Christopher Hitchens vs. Douglas Wilson debate. It is called Collision:

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Wilson and Hitchens Debate at Westminster Seminary

Popular atheist Christopher Hitchens and pastor/theologian Douglas Wilson debated in a number of venues a month or so ago. One such venue was Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. Here is some footage:

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Michael Horton – Christless Christianity

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James White on the Reliability of the New Testament Text

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Wilson vs. Hitchens on Video

You have to love our technological age. Back in the day when Fr. Coplestone debated Bertrand Russell on the BBC, the only people who got to see it had to be in attendance. In our day, with the advancements of media, we can witness a like event. Famed atheist Christopher Hitchens and pastor/satirist Doug Wilson have debated in a number of venues this past week. And we can already see footage of what is sure to be an awesome documentary (it’s done by Darren Doane, who did a lot of punk/hardcore videos that I used to love) of the whole thing.
Check it out:

Hitchens/Wilson sneak peak from LEVEL4 on Vimeo.

PatrolTV: Christopher Hitchens & Douglas Wilson from Patrol Magazine on Vimeo.

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National Post and Is Christianity Good for the World?

Many thanks to Clint Humfrey for linking to the National Post‘s debate between Christopher Hitchens and Doug Wilson found in their recent book Is Christianity Good for the World?
You can check out Wilson’s piece here. This is awesome that one of Canada’s major newspapers has picked up on this. I’m thrilled.

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Ad – Is Christianity Good for the World?

In a recent post (scroll down) I linked to a review that I wrote of Christopher Hitchens’ and Doug Wilson’s book Is Christianity Good for the World? There is a website for the book here. Go buy a copy!

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Review: Foundations of Christian Thought

Stephen Yuille has a helpful review of Mark Cosgrove’s book Foundations of Christian Thought at his blog Deus Pro Nobis (trans. “God for us”).

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Review: Is Christianity Good for the World?

Atheist Christopher Hitchens and pastor Douglas Wilson debated the topic “Is Christianity good for the world?” on the Christianity Today Online site. Now it is in book form. I had the opportunity to read and review an advance copy. The review is here.

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John Frame Interview on the Problem of Evil

John Frame is one of my favourite theologians/apologists/philosophers. If you get the chance, listen to his lectures on apologetics and philosophy at the Reformed Theological Seminary’s iTunes site – they are really good.
Andy Naselli – guest blogging at Between Two Worlds – has posted an interview with Frame who discusses the so-called “problem of evil.” This is the basic and famous question often posed to Christians: if God is all good and all powerful, why does evil exist?

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Gary Johnson on Van Til

I am thankful to have had pointed out to me an excellent reflection piece by Gary Johnson at Green Baggins’ blog. Johnson recollects his time spent at Westminster Seminary and the influence that Cornelius Van Til had upon him. He writes this in connection with his thoughts on John R. Muether’s recent bio that I reviewed at Discerning Reader.

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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.

[23]
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.
[26]
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.

Antithesis
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.
[39]

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.

Authority
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.
[52]

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’).
[55]

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.
[65]

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.

[66]

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.”
[67]

Conclusion
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.

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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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Tertullian – What Has Jerusalem to do with Athens?

Tertullian’s question, “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens” has become a famous phrase often referred to in the history of Christian philosophy and apologetics. It sets forth an antithesis not merely between two important cities in classical thought, but between two different epistemologies. Jerusalem represents a revelational epistemology founded squarely on the Christian scriptures. Athens, on the other hand, represents unbelieving thought encapsulated in Hellenistic philosophy. Such an antithesis can be seen in the writings of the apostle Paul who contrasted righteousness and lawlessness, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, believer with unbeliever and God’s temple with idols in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16. At the end of 1 Corinthians 2 Paul also contrasts the natural man with the spiritual.
In The Prescriptions against the Heretics, Tertullian is primarily writing against heresy, specifically that of Gnostic relation. His principal targets are Valentinus and Marcion. According to Tertullian, pagan thought has corrupted both of them. Earlier in chapter seven, Tertullian catalogues the influences on their respective thought. He calls these influences “human and demonic doctrines,” “worldly wisdom” and “foolishness.” In sum, “Worldly wisdom culminates in philosophy with its rash interpretation of God’s nature and purpose. It is philosophy that supplies the heresies with their equipment.”
Platonism specifically influenced Valentinus with its aeons and forms. From this philosophical perspective, Valentinus developed a doctrine of the “human trinity.” Marcion was influenced by a number of philosophical schools including Stoicism and Epicureanism. The former influenced his view of the soul’s mortality while the latter his denial of the “restitution of the flesh.” Marcion was also influenced by Zeno’s equation of God and matter and Heraclitus’ view of fire as the ultimate metaphysical reality. In his list of other philosophical influences on both heretics Tertullian adds Aristotle’s dialectic, “the art which destroys as much as it builds, which changes its opinions like a coat, forces its conjectures, is stubborn in argument, works hard at being contentious and is a burden even to itself. For it reconsiders every point to make sure it never finishes a discussion.”
Tertullian quotes from the apostle Paul in Colossians 2:8 who admonished his readers to beware of philosophy and vein deceit that follows after the traditions of men. Paul would have been familiar with classical philosophy first hand as evinced in his confrontation with the thinkers in Athens (Acts 17). Here Paul “had come to grips with the human wisdom which attacks and perverts the truth, being itself divided up into its own swarm of heresies.”
Here then Tertullian offers his famous question: “What has Jerusalem to do with Athens, the Church with the Academy, the Christian with the heretic? Our principles come from the Porch of Solomon, who had himself taught that the Lord is to be sought in simplicity of heart.”
S.L. Greenslade, in the footnote for this quote notes the relation of the word “porch” in the Porch of Solomon to the porch of Zeno the Stoic. Tertullian is here making a further epistemological contrast, between Solomon’s wisdom and Zeno’s foolishness. This is particularly striking when one understands Tertullian’s own philosophical background having been influenced by Stoicism. Here he makes a clean break with his previous way of thinking, though scholars have noted that Stoicism creeps into his thought from time to time.
For Tertullian, the prime goal of belief is Jesus Christ, of whom there is no need to speculate because he has been revealed. The Lord is to be sought in “simplicity” rather than in the complex dialectic of the philosophers. Standing in the stream of the “faith seeking understanding” school, Tertullian says, “For we begin by believing that there is nothing else which we have to believe.”
This sets the parameters for the rest of his discussion in The Prescriptions against the Heretics. For the duration of the treatise he contrasts biblical faith with that of the heretics, showing that there is no commonality between the two. They do not have a right to the scriptures and therefore own a worldview that is inherently corrupt. He goes to great pains to show the arrogance of unbelieving thought whose attempts at interpreting the scriptures were empty and irrational. Later in the work Tertullian claims that heresy is useful because it makes manifest the elect over and against the reprobate and says, “For without Scripture there can be no heresy” (39).This antithesis is founded primarily in the Old and New Testament scriptures and worked itself out through the thinking of theologians like Tertullian and Augustine, down through Luther and Calvin, even to recent days in Kuyper and Van Til. The antithesis is fundamental and will stretch into eternity where the city of God will revel in unending bliss and the city of man will writhe in eternal agony.

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