Tuesday, July 6, 2010

James White on Presuppositionalism

James White recently argued for presuppositional apologetics and against evidential apologetics. (link) He starts out with an analysis of Colossians 1:16-18, and Colossians 2:2-9, which focus on the Lordship of Christ. James White points out that the gospel is a radical claim, which unbelievers reject.

What caught my attention was James White's denial that unbelievers can have 'true knowledge' and his objection to the approach of starting from common ground between believers and unbelievers to show the reasonableness of believing in the God of the Bible and other Christian doctrines.

Presuppostionalism, as I understand it, has two distinct schools of thought; the Gordon Clark camp and the Cornelius Van Til camp. Clarinan presuppositionalism is not my cup of tea, but it's fairly innocuous. My main complaint against Clark's presuppositionalism is that he presupposes the truth of sola scripture, whereas I think the evidence for the truth of scripture and problems of other sources (Pope's, Councils, the Koran...) is very strong. While everyone has some presuppositions, I generally try to minimize what I presuppose and if something can be demonstrated, there's no need to presuppose it. On the other hand, Van Til's version of presuppositionalism is marked with antinomy and skepticism.

While James White didn't declare himself to be in either Gordon Clark's or Van Til's camp, and generally didn't get into much detail about presuppositionalism, but his denial that unbelievers can have 'true knowledge' and his objection to common ground between believers and unbelievers seems to show more influence from Van Til than Clark, since Van Til famously denied the same things.

25 comments:

A.M. Mallett said...

Dan, it is my opinion that presuppositional apologetics is the leaven that fuels the advancement of Calvinism's carnal flavor. It's premise is founded on the ability to dissuade the merits of other belief systems rather than relying on the scriptural evidences of God's power and truth. The LORD did not instruct us to go out and argue against the merits and beliefs of other systems. He tells us instead “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isa 55:11 AV). He tells us again “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” (1Co 1:18-21 AV)
I do not believe presuppositionalism has any ground in scripture.

RazorsKiss said...

Response forthcoming at http://choosinghats.com

Godismyjudge said...

Trav,

Good point. There does seem to be a link between presuppositionalism and Calvinism. Not saying someone couldn't come up with a non-Calvinist version of presuppoitionalism, but the forms I have heard do seem to have strings leading to Calvinism.

God be with you,
Dan

Godismyjudge said...

I look foreward to hearing your thoughts RazorsKiss.

God be with you,
Dan

steve said...

A.M. Mallett said...
Dan, it is my opinion that presuppositional apologetics is the leaven that fuels the advancement of Calvinism's carnal flavor. It's premise is founded on the ability to dissuade the merits of other belief systems rather than relying on the scriptural evidences of God's power and truth. The LORD did not instruct us to go out and argue against the merits and beliefs of other systems.

*************************

I see. And does the use of philosophical arguments by non-Calvinist apologists like Moreland and Craig bespeak their carnality as well?

James Anderson said...

For correctives to the misrepresentations of Van Til in the post above, please see:

http://www.vantil.info/articles/vtfem.html

A.M. Mallett said...

Steve mused:
I see. And does the use of philosophical arguments by non-Calvinist apologists like Moreland and Craig bespeak their carnality as well?

Considering a reply ...

The issue at hand, for those not paying attention, is the tension between presuppositional apologetics and argumentation based on the evidences of scripture. Philosophical arguments may or may not be presuppositional by design. One does not assume the other.

steve said...

is the Kalam cosmological argument based on Scripture?

A.M. Mallett said...

Steve asks:
is the Kalam cosmological argument based on Scripture?

I reply:
I think Steve is still hung up on equating philosophy with presuppositions. The theological philosophy of the cosmological argument is evidenced by scripture. Were it contrary to scripture it would be theologically dismissed. However, there is one aspect of the kalam philosophy that fails an examination of scripture, that is the postulate that all that exists must have had a beginning. Scripturally, we cannot demonstrate that and such an idea actually works against the eternal nature of God (itself a mystery)
(point of clarification: I do not define the contrast of evidential theology with presuppositional apologetics as that of pitting the witnessed events and miracles of scripture against philosophical arguments. Instead I contrast presuppositions with the evidence of the whole body of scripture including it's testimony regarding it's power as I noted in my first post on this article.)

A.M. Mallett said...

To add to that comment, I would also suggest that if the first assumption fails, that all things have a beginning, it makes for a less than sufficient argument unless of course God Himself is arbitrarily excluded. That is probably Craig's overlooked weakness. While he can support everything else with scripture, he cannot satisfy a beginning with God Himself.

steve said...

Mallett has a problem following his own argument. So I guess we'll have to walk him through his own argument. He raised the following objection to presuppositionalism:

"Dan, it is my opinion that presuppositional apologetics is the leaven that fuels the advancement of Calvinism's carnal flavor. It's premise is founded on the ability to dissuade the merits of other belief systems rather than relying on the scriptural evidences of God's power and truth. The LORD did not instruct us to go out and argue against the merits and beliefs of other systems."

His objection is that presuppositionalism allegedly relies on extrascriptural reasoning rather than Scriptural lines of evidence. And he also tars Calvinism with that allegation.

I then introduced an obvious counterexample: non-Calvinist apologists like Craig and Moreland frequently resort to extrascriptural (i.e. philosophical) reasoning. The Kalam cosmological argument is one example.

Do you finally get it, Mr. Mallett?

So do you also think the apologetic methods of Craig and Moreland (to cite two prominent non-Calvinist apologists) betray a "carnal flavor"?

Godismyjudge said...

James,

Here's a response:

http://www.arminianchronicles.com/2010/07/james-andersons-defense-of-van-til.html

God be with you,
Dan

Resequitur said...

A.M Mallett says..

"Dan, it is my opinion that presuppositional apologetics is the leaven that fuels the advancement of Calvinism's carnal flavor. It's premise is founded on the ability to dissuade the merits of other belief systems rather than relying on the scriptural evidences of God's power and truth. The LORD did not instruct us to go out and argue against the merits and beliefs of other systems."


Paul says ...
2 Corinthians 10:

3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.
4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.
5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

hmmm

A.M. Mallett said...

Steve,
What I do not understand is your continuing insistence on equating philosophy with presuppositionalism. Presuppositionalism is philosophical. Philosophy is not by default presuppositional.
Get it?

A.M. Mallett said...

Resequitur,
Verse 4 of your selection speaks for itself.

steve said...

Mallett,

Once again you can't follow your own argument. You're the one who connected presuppositionalism with philosophy by your invidious contrast between presuppositionalism and scriptural evidence. Get it?

And I notice, in the meantime, that you continue to dodge the question of whether you apply the same standard to Craig, Moreland, et al.

RazorsKiss said...

I addressed your post here. Thanks for waiting.

C.L. Bolt said...

Resequitur wrote,
“A.M Mallett says..

‘Dan, it is my opinion that presuppositional apologetics is the leaven that fuels the advancement of Calvinism's carnal flavor. It's premise is founded on the ability to dissuade the merits of other belief systems rather than relying on the scriptural evidences of God's power and truth. The LORD did not instruct us to go out and argue against the merits and beliefs of other systems.’


Paul says ...
2 Corinthians 10:

3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh.
4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.
5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,
6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.

hmmm”

A.M Mallett responded,
“Resequitur,
Verse 4 of your selection speaks for itself.”
There are at least three problems for Mallett’s response:
1. He is attempting to answer a principle of Resequitur’s suggested method of presuppositionalism (better called “covenantal apologetics”) from Scripture. But note that Mallett is now utilizing the very method he is arguing with in order to argue against it.
2. Note that Mallet is now utilizing the very specific feature of the method he is arguing with (that is, he is arguing “against the merits and beliefs of other systems;” namely Resequitur’s) in order to argue against it.
3. The verse indeed does speak for itself (especially in its context where the very next verse speaks of taking every thought captive).

A.M. Mallett said...

Mr Bolt, there is nothing in the passage that suggests one takes every thought captive through vain argumentative philosophy. Return to the passages I make mention of in my first post and tell how these refer to the philosophy of men who turn to their own devices rather than the word of God itself.

C.L. Bolt said...

"Mr Bolt, there is nothing in the passage that suggests one takes every thought captive through vain argumentative philosophy."

I did not suggest that there is. My position is not that Van Tillian presuppositional apologetics is "vain argumentative philosophy." Perhaps this is your position, but if this is the case then you are only asserting your position again in the quoted portion of your comment above which is not very helpful.

"Return to the passages I make mention of in my first post and tell how these refer to the philosophy of men who turn to their own devices rather than the word of God itself."

Unfortunately I do not have the time to follow rabbit trails in a combox right now. You did not address any of the three points I raised in my last comment with the exception of your assertion that Van Tillian presuppositionalism is "vain argumentative philosophy."

You could at least try, but then I suppose you would be falling right back into the very same thing you are condemning as has already been pointed out in my last comment.

C.L. Bolt said...

A.M. Mallett said...

"To add to that comment, I would also suggest that if the first assumption fails, that all things have a beginning, it makes for a less than sufficient argument unless of course God Himself is arbitrarily excluded. That is probably Craig's overlooked weakness."

"All things have a beginning" is not the first premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, so this is a straw man.

A.M. Mallett said...

Bolt suggest:
Unfortunately I do not have the time to follow rabbit trails in a combox right now. You did not address any of the three points I raised in my last comment with the exception of your assertion that Van Tillian presuppositionalism is "vain argumentative philosophy."

I reply:
The combox comment was my original reply to Dan. If you do not have the time, so be it.

C.L. Bolt said...

The conversation has progressed since your original "response" to Dan as evidenced by your further responses to others and me, but what I have written above is still applicable to your original response.

Since I never said that the passages you mentioned in your first post "refer to the philosophy of men who turn to their own devices rather than the word of God itself" I don't see why I would need to explain to you how they do that. ;)

It would seem that you wanted to take a swipe at Calvinism, presuppositional apologetics, and the Kalam but showed instead that you are not really very familiar with them or able to defend your assertions.

So as usual, I am told my position is incorrect and even immoral but without any explanation as to why.

C.L. Bolt said...

The conversation has progressed since your original "response" to Dan as evidenced by your further responses to others and me, but what I have written above is still applicable to your original response.

Since I never said that the passages you mentioned in your first post "refer to the philosophy of men who turn to their own devices rather than the word of God itself" I don't see why I would need to explain to you how they do that. ;)

It would seem that you wanted to take a swipe at Calvinism, presuppositional apologetics, and the Kalam but showed instead that you are not really very familiar with them or able to defend your assertions.

So as usual, I am told my position is incorrect and even immoral but without any explanation as to why.

A.M. Mallett said...

So as usual, I am told my position is incorrect and even immoral but without any explanation as to why.

Looking though the thread, I do not see any evidence you were called immoral. Perhaps you are usually considered immoral but you might consider taking that up with those who have such injury to you. On the other hand, if you have trouble with most of the body of Christ not accepting your premises and theological outlook, that should give you cause to consider if you are indeed on the wrong footing.