10:24 PM

One-Two Punch: Presuppositional Apologetics = Awesome

i am taking the exam for my one-week apologetics january class tomorrow afternoon i hope. i figured that writing the promised post on the presuppositional approach to apologetics would help me distill the essentials of what we learned, prepare me to write about it tomorrow, and fulfill that promise.

rather than spend a great deal of time explaining why other methods and philosophies of apologetics are insufficient at best, i will be jumping straight into an explanation of the presuppositional system itself. this is due to two factors: 1) i am not wanting this post to be longer than methuselah's beard, and 2) this is the most important stuff for the test tomorrow. i will be happy to field questions or explain further in future posts.

cornelius van til is, from a formal standpoint, the father of presuppositionalism (though i agree with a number of other reformed folks in thinking that the methodology has been around for ages and was used by everyone from moses to paul in writing the Scriptures). so hats off to dr. van til, who i liked a lot way before i learned all this stuff. now i can't wait to meet him.

as best i can tell, presuppositional apologetics is rooted in the idea that a worldview can't break the law of non-contradiction and still be valid. therefore, in order for us to claim Scripture as our final authority, we have to base our deepest level argument on.... Scripture! van til is innovative in that he realizes that circular arguments are necessary for absolute authorities. suppose i were to say to frank, "how do you know that the Bible is true?" and he were to respond, "well, lauren, there's all this manuscript evidence for the authenticity of the books we have now..." and go on to reference everything from the testimony of eyewitnesses to the number of manuscripts we have of homer. in saying all this, frank is making good sense. however, if that truly, fundamentally is the reason that frank believes the Bible to be true, then frank's highest authority is not the Bible; it is the evidence. circular reasoning is essential for ultimate authority arguments to be at all consistent and coherent.

and so we come to the transcendental argument, which is a beautiful thing imho. my professor, the excellent michael j. kruger, is pretty much obsessed with triangles and lines. especially triangles. so imagine with me a triangle. each corner is labeled (lucky us!): (a) evidence, (b) experience, and (c) ultimate authority. these three comprise a person's worldview. the one-two punch works this way: there are two triangles - one of them representing our worldview, the other representing our friend's. here we have an offensive and a defensive approach - first we go after their worldview, showing the inconsistencies in each of the three areas - evidence, experience, and ultimate authority. then, having demonstrated the insufficiency of their explanation of the world, we present positive arguments for our position in those same three areas.

[this is not at all to suggest that testimony about what God has done in your life or evidential argumentation are bad; in fact, their use is encouraged. but unless your worldview is sitting on the firm foundation of Scripture, the integrity of your position is compromised.]

one of my favorite things about all this is the way that it accounts for all sorts of pagans being right or doing good things. this is what we like to call "borrowed capital" - these pagans are thinking christianly, at least in this area right now. it's not surprising, really, particularly given the knowledge-suppression described in romans 1. dr. kruger had a very helpful illustration of this: say you are in a friend's backyard pool playing volleyball with your pals. then all of the sudden, after a play, the ball disappears. everyone is looking around at everyone else, wondering who has it. midge has stolen it and is now trying to sit on it and maintain decent balance. she isn't doing a very good job, and pretty soon the ball springs up to the surface of the water. midge has been supressing the ball under her, but she can't keep it up for long. similarly, non-Christian hearts and minds seek to supress the knowledge of God, but they can't do it consistently. it sneaks out, in their belief in the laws of logic, in their kindness to an elderly stranger at the supermarket, in their desire to care for their children well. this is the volleyball springing up, the knowledge of God manifesting in their lives. in such matters, whatever they may be, men and women are presupposing God, even if it is wayyyyyyyyyyy down deep in their logic and they aren't aware of it. no non-Christian worldview can account for any such behaviors.

the goal of all of this is twofold - to call people to repentance and new life, and to silence those who persist in rebellion against God. this is not at all to be a vendetta, and ripping people apart is the antithesis of what we are called to. but it is not compassionate to leave a sleeping neighbor in a burning house. to show the dangers and the way out of them to freedom in Christ is all kindness.

7 comments:

Aron said...

Agreed: Van Til is mighty. His bio by John Muether was hard to put down, as was his Defense of the Faith, which I found eminently more readable than people seem to imply. Fare thee well on your exam.

Aron said...

Oh, I also posted about Van Til's apologetic yesterday: Being, Knowledge, and Ethics - thoughts welcome!

Anonymous said...

I don't believe Scripture is meant to be our final authority. You are not just equating Scripture with revelation, but you are replacing God with Scripture. Scripture is a witness to the God of Jesus Christ. It is not our final authority. It is not the same as God or a replacement for God, who is our final authority. To claim so would be heretical and out of keeping with Calvin and the Reformed tradition.

Aron said...

@"Anonymous" (if I may): The Word of God carries the same authority of its divine author. Though its authority is derived from God, it is nevertheless 'final,' and can be properly labeled as such - much like a letter from the President, carrying his seal, carries his authority. Scripture is not merely a witness, and that is certainly not the view of Calvin "and the Reformers." How, pray tell, is the being and will of God to be known sufficiently, clearly, and authoritatively outside of Scripture? Barth has it wrong, friend. Plain wrong. 2 Tim 3:16.

Lauren said...

Dear Anonymous, I am so glad you posted this because it brings up an extremely important point that I neglected to expound upon in my original post.

While I entirely agree that Scripture does not equal God, nor does it replace Him, I must object that that means it ought not to be our final authority. The reason is that it is the inspired, inerrant Word of God - it comes directly from Him, and it accurately reflects what He wants us to know. I'm not saying that Scripture is our "final" or "ultimate" authority INSTEAD of God, but rather that it is one of the ways - and the most reliable one - that He chooses to govern us. To obey and live by it is to obey Him and live the way He wants.

Tim Wooley said...

@Lauren On what grounds do you suppose that the Bible is the inerrrant word of God? You are a student of apologetics, therefore your evidence must be rational and supported rationally.

For a pagan to operate on a moral principle is not to "borrow capital". It is to operate on a principle of natural law that existed before the New Testament, the Bible, or even Jesus Christ. Christians did not create the capital of doing good things, therefore it is not theirs to be borrowed from.

Lauren said...

Tim - thanks for commenting. I didn't forget about you, I promise. I think I will dedicate a new post to addressing your questions. :)

Thanks for your patience. It's been a crazy week for me - writer's block has been the bane of my endeavors.