Friday, July 16, 2010

RazorsKiss on Presuppostional Apologetics

RazorsKiss at Choosinghats was kind enough to respond to my post on James White and Presuppostionalism. While I will respond to his other points as well, my main concern was to respond to his use of certain passages of scripture.

As to the denial that unbelievers can have “true knowledge” – this is merely Biblical. Pro 1:7 – “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; Fools despise wisdom and instruction.” – If you don’t have the beginning, how can you have the result?

The fear of the Lord is a reverant holy fear which involves hating sin as well as worshiping and reverencing God. The fear of the LORD is to hate evil (Proverbs 8:13). To fear God you must know who God is and what He requires of you. You must also realize that you are a sinner falling short of His holy standards. You cannot fear a God you do not know, so at least some knowledge of God comes before the knowledge that results from the fear of the Lord. That's why it's a mistake to view the fear of the Lord as an a priori belief in God, so this passage is not teaching presuppostionalism.

From this it should be obvious that knowledge in Proverbs 1:7 should not be taken in a general sense such as any and all knowledge; otherwise the passage would be contradicting itself. Rather, the passage is talking about knowing in some relative sense and in context it's taking about knowing the right thing to do or "wisdom" as can be seen by the contrast to fools who despise wisdom and instruction (or discipline). They are likewise described as those who rejected wisdom's call and will not find wisdom "because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD, they would have none of my [Wisdom's] counsel and despised my every rebuke. (1:28-30) Again in 9:10 we are told "the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." Clearly he is relating this knowledge to practical knowledge or wisdom. To generalize this statement to say unbelievers don't have true knowledge is wrong, since you end up with a fear of the unknown rather than a fear of the Lord.

Pro 2:6 – “For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding.” – Do unbelievers have true wisdom? From whence do they hear it?

Here's the inbound and outbound context of Proverbs 2:6:

1 My son, if you receive my words,And treasure my commands within you, 2 So that you incline your ear to wisdom, And apply your heart to understanding;... 5 Then you will understand the fear of the LORD, And find the knowledge of God. 6 For the LORD gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding; 7 He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk uprightly; 8 He guards the paths of justice, And preserves the way of His saints.

The "for" in verse 6 indicates that we are being told the grounds of the preceding assurance. If you incline your ear to wisdom, you will find the knowledge of God, for the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. How do we know we will get wisdom if we listen to Solomon? Because God will give us the wisdom He has stored up. Again, we can see that the reference to knowledge should be understood as practical knowledge or wisdom, not all knowledge generally.

Isa 47:10 – “”You felt secure in your wickedness and said, ‘No one sees me,’ Your wisdom and your knowledge, they have deluded you; For you have said in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.’” Can “I think, therefore I am” be harmonized with this?

This is a judgement oracle against the Babylonians; God was about to overthrow and punish Babylon through Cyrus and the Persians. Here's the inbound context:

5 “ Sit in silence, and go into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans; For you shall no longer be called The Lady of Kingdoms. 6 I was angry with My people; I have profaned My inheritance, And given them into your hand. You showed them no mercy; On the elderly you laid your yoke very heavily. 7 And you said, ‘I shall be a lady forever,’ So that you did not take these things to heart, Nor remember the latter end of them. 8 “ Therefore hear this now, you who are given to pleasures, Who dwell securely, Who say in your heart, ‘I am, and there is no one else besides me; I shall not sit as a widow, Nor shall I know the loss of children’; 9 But these two things shall come to you In a moment, in one day: The loss of children, and widowhood. They shall come upon you in their fullness Because of the multitude of your sorceries, For the great abundance of your enchantments. 10 “ For you have trusted in your wickedness; You have said, ‘No one sees me’; Your wisdom and your knowledge have warped you; And you have said in your heart, ‘ I am, and there is no one else besides me.’

Babylon was feeling secure despite their sins of showing no mercy to Israel, laying a heavy yoke on the elderly, pride and sorcery. They did not fear punishment; their confidence was in the strength of their empire. They told themselves the didn't have a rival and could not be overpowered. They said in their hearts, ‘ I am, and there is no one else besides me.’ But they were wrong; God was going to raise up Cyrus to punish and destroy them.

This passage isn't about Descartes' "I think therefore I am". The Babylonians were saying they don't have a rival and cannot be defeated in battle, not that they exist.


Phil. 1:9 – “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” “Real knowledge” is ‘epignosis’ – a precise, correct knowledge. What does that imply? There there is a false knowledge, correct?

This argument is based on the word 'real' but 'real' (or its equivalent) doesn't appear the KJV, NKJV, ESV, NIV, and NET bible translations. Only the NASB adds 'real' based on the word epignosis. Epignosis seems to place special emphasis on relational and experiential knowledge and familiarity in comparison to gnosis. But to argue based on epignosis that gnosis is false is wrong, since the difference between epignosis and gnosis is one of emphasis rather than truth vs. falsehood. As an example, often the word in Greek for Christ's knowledge is gnosis. Shall we say His knowledge was false?

Not to mention Col 2, which Dr. White discussed, in detail. If all treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ – how does an unbeliever find them? Note also this verse – Col 3:10. “and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” – also uses epignosis. Remember who Paul is writing to. Gnostics, who claim to possess a secret knowledge. What is Paul’s response? ALL knowledge is *Christ’s.*

Sure, Christ is the source and all knowledge must be revealed by Christ. But He reveals some things through creation to all men and others through re-creation to believers alone.

Note also this verse: I Timothy 6:20 – “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” There is a true and false knowledge.

This verse looks like a direct shot those who advocate contradiction and use empty discourses. Just because some people hold to contradictions and call it knowledge does not mean everyone does.

So, when unbelievers “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” are they knowing correctly? Are they not suppressing “true knowledge” – in favor of “knowledge so-called”?

This argument is based in Romans 1:18 which states: 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness

Romans 1:18 is explained in detail by Romans 1:19-28.

The wrath of God is revealed from heaven by: God giving them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves (24) and gave them up to vile passions. (26) and gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting (28).

Here's the description of the truth they suppressed: what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse (19-20).

And here's an explanation of their unrighteousness: because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts (21),and exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator (25)

The knowledge they had of God was real, real enough to change their lives, if they would allow it to. But they were unthankful for God's revelation and refused to glorify, worship and serve God.

It's a mistake to call this false knowledge. It's not like we should be thankful for false knowledge or worship and serve a false god.

Honestly? There’s a very simple answer to this. The only common ground you have is God’s ground. The image of God in you both. “What partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?” “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” We are to act, and *think* differently from the world. If your philosophy is indistinguishable from the world, and doesn’t have at it’s heart the Scriptures of the Triune God… you’re in trouble. Big trouble.

We don’t make the Gospel “more palatable” to sinners – it’s *supposed* to be offense and foolishness to unbelievers. So is our apologetic – because we are defending *the Gospel*. It should be offensive to them, strike at the heart of their unlawful thinking, undercut the fortresses they erect against the knowledge of God, and tear them down – how? “in the word of truth, in the power of God; by the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left.”

God makes *foolish* the wisdom of the world. His word is His voice, speaking to men – and we are to speak it boldly on His behalf. We have *no other message*, folks. If you don’t argue FROM Scripture, FROM the God who IS there, you gave up the field to start with – and you did NOT, having done all, stand. If you pretend that we’re all neutral, and we just have to present the right evidence to convince them… you’ve already failed. Unbelievers *are not reasonable*. They *suppress* the truth in unrighteousness. They have become futile in their speculations.

Since this is so, and since they *do not think as a Christian does*, they WILL reject any evidence they deem to be unsuitable – by their OWN standard. We have a different standard, and we must argue by HIS standard, not ours.

There is no neutral ground. The picture in Eph. 6 is of a soldier holding the line *he was assigned to hold*. You do NOT advance to no-man’s land and parlay. You hold the line. You don’t advance without orders, and you don’t retreat. Advancing to “common ground” is simply to isolate yourself, and invite defeat in detail. When you are in line, you are covered by the shield of the man to your right, and cover the man to your left. You *stand*. “Common ground” is only defection or an invitation to surround you.


One of the problems I see with the 'evidential apologetics will simply bounce of unbelievers' response here, is that the same is true of presuppostional apologetics. It's not as if presuppostional apologetics regenerates sinners - and yet you seem to be holding evidential apologetics responsible for failing to convert sinners.

Well, here’s the deal. The author doesn’t seem to understand the nature of Clarkian “presuppositionalism”, nor it’s actual differences from Van Tillian. Allow me to quote from a book I’ve quoted a good bit from recently.

“With all due respect for these three men, (inserted: Clark, Schaeffer, Carnell) their sincerity, Christian commitment, and hard work, we must press on to see why their apologetical systems are not fully satisfactory. Although many fine points of presuppositional character can be found scattered throughout their writings, we regretfully note that their positions as a whole are inconsistent with these points. This inconsistency might might make it appear that criticisms offered below could be rebutted by retreating to the better parts of the writer under scrutiny; however, after trying to harmonize the conflicting assertions and to read them in a sympathetic spirit, I am simply unable to reconcile the major differences or eliminate the tension among them.”
~Dr. Greg Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, Part 2, Introduction, pg 135


That's just an opinion quote without supporting evidence or argumentation.

In this recent post, wherein I quote from a nearby section of the same book, we see that Clark does not, in fact, “presuppose sola scriptura” – how can he, when he doesn’t even presuppose the Word of God AS the Word of God? This is the fundamental, bedrock principle OF presuppositional apologetics. Here is another example, in case one doesn’t convince my readers. Directly following a discussion of Clark’s comments on statements from R.G. Collingwood, Bahnsen states “In all this Clark has not made the truth of Scripture an absolute and necessary presupposition, a genuine transcendental of meaningfulness for all science, history, etc. Indeed, by contrast, one could easily be led to believe that logic per se is his transcendental rather than Scripture. Instead of the attempt to be independent of God’s Word, ‘the denial of the law of non-contradiction, or even the failure to establish it as a universal truth, was the downfall of secular philosophy.’” (Quoting Clark, The Axiom of Revelation, 64) (pg 144, PA: S&D)
Clark flat out says he presupposes sola-scriptura. He views logic as the way God thinks so it's not unreasonable to say irrationalism led to the downfall of secular philosophy.




Bahnsen continues in the next section, entitled “Possibility vs. Necessity.”

“God should be taken by the Christian as the source and standard of all material, as well as logical possibility; He is the one who determines all things (even the operation of the human mind and its limits). But for Clark the possibilities of human imagination and the bare possibilities dictated by formal logic have precedence to God (at least in Clark’s writings). God too seems to be drawn into an environment of ‘possibility’ (i.e., made subject to the conditions thereof); of course, then, this must also be the case for God’s Word. Instead of demanding that Barth, for example, must recognize the subordination of all thinking to God’s Word because it is our absolute, transcendental presupposition that makes intelligibility, thinking, evaluating, and meaning possible, Clark wants Barth, in considering such a subordination, not to “bluntly rule out this possibility.”

A more skeptical view of the amount of truth obtainable by experimentation, with the help of operationalism, might bring the idea of subordinationism back again within the limits of possibility. The Scripture is a better source than experimentation is for the norms of ethics and politics; perhaps there is some way to bring physics and zoology under this authority. (Clark, Karl Barth’s Theological Method, 68)





Clark may have been referring to the sceptical view of the amount of truth obtainable by experimentation as a possibility, rather than calling God's word a possibility.

Because Clark, thus, does not take the truth of God’s Word as an absolutely essential presupposition to which all thought must (not merely possibly) be subordinated, it is not surprising that he should write, “From a logical standpoint it is equal whether one’s assumptions are philosophical or theological, Christian or not.” (Clark, Religion, Reason, and Revelation, This is not the case! Cristianity and unbelief are not on an equal footing, for unbelief has no fotting whatsoever. And even logical possibility cannot be a common background to Christian and pagan systems of thought, for Christianity alone makes logic possible. With this quote, whatever absolute character Clark’s presupposition of God’s Word may have had is completely dissolved.” (PA:S&D, 145-146)

Again, we should not suppose unbelievers are wrong about everything.



Definitive exegete? Like the Catholic church claims to be the definitive interpreter of scripture? We should not reject Clark's interpretation of Van Til based on Bahnsen's authority. Rather, we should objectively compare both Clark's and Bahnsen's claims about Van Til with Van Til's writings.

Me: whereas I think the evidence for the truth of scripture and problems of other sources (Pope’s, Councils, the Koran…) is very strong.

RK: Let me just ask a single, simple question. By what standard?

Bahnsen, as you may know, was the “heir apparent” to Van Til. He is the definitive exegete of, and successor to, Van Til. As you can see, it is the Van Tillian school that believes that Scripture Alone is presupposed. This may not be considered ideal by the author to which we are responding, but this is certainly the case. Clark, like most modern day apologists, has conceded the absolute truth of the Word of God to a “possibility” – we do not, and cannot.

This could be argued based on a common standards with Catholics and Muslims: logic, evidence and conscience.




I agree that everyone presupposes something – I would like to know what the author would define as “some”, however. I likewise minimize what I presuppose – to what God has revealed in His Word! I would also like to know how, precisely, Van Tillian presuppositionalism is “marked by antinomy and skepticism”. I would agree that we Van Tillians are highly skeptical of any “falsely called knowledge” that results from any thinking not in accordance with the Word of God. If that’s what he means, I’m happy to plead “guilty”.

I mean that Van Til advocated holding to unreconciled contradiction and also used scepticism to undermine others beliefs.

I know for a fact that Dr. White is Van Tillian in method, just so you know.

Thanks for the info. I noted Jamin Hubner posting something on Aomin.org that sounded Van Tillian.




Note that neither Van Til nor Bahnsen denied common ground *completely* – but common ground as *popularly conceived.* Our common ground is in the fact that all men are created in the image of God – and it is to that Imago Dei that we appeal, as Paul did in Acts 17. As to knowledge, remember that we don’t deny that unbelievers can have *any* knowledge – they can know the truth, but they *suppress* it, and believe, instead, a lie. However, even when you believe something that is objectively true – but for subjective reasons – you do not believe the *truth*, as it is, for the reasons you *should* believe it – and therefore do not truly know it.

This paragraph doesn't really clarify things. Is what they believe true or a lie? Does the Imago Dei provide shared beliefs or not? If unbelievers think 2+2=4, is the issue with that idea, their process of ariving at that conclusion or some distinct but related idea?

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