Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Christian Apologetics – Sin and Free Will

Christian Apologetics Van Til Van Til uses a term here that is explicitly descriptive rather than using the more nebulous term “free will”. He uses it in the section The Fall of Man on page 42. In this section, he investigates the substance of the fall. In other words, he addresses the question: in what manner was man disobedient to God at the moment of the fall? His answer:

“Man made for himself a false idea of knowledge, the ideal of absolute inderivative comprehension. This he could never have done if he had continued to recognize that he was a creature. It is totally inconsistent with the idea of creatureliness that man should strive for comprehensive knowledge; if it could be attained, it would wipe God out of existence; man would then be God. And, as we shall see later, because man sought this unattainable ideal, he brought upon himself no end of woe.”

The term I mentioned above as found in this quote is “absolute inderivative comprehension.” For will is founded on knowledge. Will is only free where knowledge is complete. The footnotes provided by editor William Edgar on this term reads thus:

“In Van Til’s terminology, ‘comprehensive knowledge’ means exhaustive knowledge. ‘Absolute’ and ‘inderivative’ mean autonomous, without recognition of creaturely dependence upon the Creator”

The way that I have quickly described it in debating Reformed theology is that there is nothing we know outside of God’s created order. God, being the Creator, has knowledge outside his created order. The word “inderivative” here means that knowledge that is outside of the created order. This is knowledge that is required for us to make decisions autonomously. As it is, even the knowledge we have is not exhaustive of everything IN the created order. While we can claim to make somewhat informed decisions, we cannot claim fully informed decisions.

Talk like this could lead to a huge debate where those Christian brothers and sisters who hold to a non-reformed theology would think that I’m questioning their salvation for believing that they have free will over God’s sovereignty. I assure you that’s not the case. There is a difference between the academic proposition of libertarian free will and the functional rebellion of exerting what doesn’t exist. In other words, many who believe that they can make decisions using knowledge God didn’t give them aren’t necessarily practicing it to their spiritual death by doing so. Rather, the unconscious illusion of libertarian free will results in the sin of conscious desires that counter God’s clear commands. This in turn results in behavioral disobedience. But one can easily consciously hold the illusion of libertarian free will to be true and yet be submissive to God in intentional practice.

So then, the sin of the fall being the illusion of libertarian free will, or “absolute inderivative comprehension”, foremost establishes presuppositional error. This is why Presuppositional Apologetics is historically aligned with Reformed Theology.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Christian Apologetics - The Presuppositional Nature of Evangelism

In my understanding of presuppositional apologetics so far, one of the lynchpin tactics is to challenge the presuppositions of the non-Christian and demonstrate first that they are borrowed from Christian presuppositions and second that without Christian presuppositions their conclusions cannot stand.

This applies particularly well to morality and Van Til discusses it briefly in the section on ethics. From page 37:

“There is no alternative to the Christian view of the will of God as ultimate but the idea of man’s moral consciousness itself as being ultimate… It is therefore the business of Christian apologetics to challenge the non-Christian view of morality and to show that unless the will of God be taken as ultimate, there is no meaning to moral distinctions.”

On a fundamental level, this is what happens in true evangelism. The non-Christian will always detect that he is internally conflicted with regard to his own state of morality. There will be some agreement that some “natural law” exists from which to derive moral judgments. However, it is a matter of submitting to the truth that any morality so held as true has been transgressed by the one holding it true. The conflict comes from self-justification for such transgressions. Why self-justify if man is his own moral arbiter?

So the evangelist presents the gospel as our need for salvation in the justification of Christ on the cross. Only the gospel of grace so places morality ultimately on the nature of God’s will. True submission to this truth and trust in God’s grace requires the recognition of God as the natural creator and arbiter of morality.

Therefore, evangelism is the highest practice of presuppositional apologetics and such draws its strength directly from the gospel of grace.

And I bet you thought that all this Christian philosophy and apologetical musing was merely academic.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

Christian Apologetics - Logic of God

I was glad to read this from Van Til (page 33):

“Romanism assumes that God and man stand in exactly the same sort of relation to the law of contradiction. To think and know truly, it is assumed, both must think in accordance with that law as an abstract from the nature of either. …Hence man’s dealings in the realm of truth are not ultimately with God but with an abstraction that stands above God, with Truth as such.”

He goes into detail with regards to the implications of this for various theological, apologetical and philosophical thinking. I’ve written about this before.

In short, God’s logic is not altogether other than our own capacity for reason. However, his logic is transcendently foundational to our capacity to reason. To sum up what I’ve written, we temporal creatures require the law of contradiction (aka bivalent logic) to reason. That is, we need conceptual contrast to perceive, apprehend and cognitively process an idea. God, however, being eternal, has the law of identity as central to his nature. That means that there can be nothing eternal against which to compare God.

This is why existentialism and its philosophical kin are not viable philosophical systems and why we must move from the error of projecting bivalent logic onto our understanding of God’s knowledge. We must approach an understanding of God’s nature using bivalent logic because that’s the tool that God gave us to use, but God himself is beyond that logic in his sovereign thinking. And as simple as this truth seems, it appears that most people miss it altogether. It’s nice to see that Van Til recognizes it and handles it appropriately.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Christian Apologetics - Revelation in the Trinity

In the first chapter of Christian Apologetics, Van Til outlines the basics of Christian theological studies from a Reformed perspective. Being Reformed soteriologically, I agree with him. As such I agree with his orthodox understanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. The only reason I mention this is to discuss an item or two that Van Til doesn’t discuss.

One item is a hermeneutical issue. I wrote an article on this recently where I pointed out the flaw in a principle of hermeneutics used by many preachers. That is that the more something is mentioned, the more important it is. Well, since the doctrine of the Trinity is never explicitly mentioned, then by this principle we must conclude that the doctrine of the Trinity must not be very important. Either that or the hermeneutic principle is flawed.

The fact that the doctrine is integral to the nature of God and foundational in the biblical authors’ thinking, albeit not explicitly handled as a whole, indicates that this is a substantial doctrine, with regard to the revelation of God in particular. That is to say that a fundamental aspect of the deity of Christ is the visible representation of God. The primary work of the Holy Spirit is the life-giving revelation of Truth.

In this, the doctrine of the Trinity is important to apologetical thinking. No matter what method we use or purpose we have for the defense of our faith, we must consider the person of Christ and his work among us as the centermost evidence and the Holy Spirit and his work in us as the centermost presupposition, both bearing the vision of the Father and the fulfillment of his will.

Oh that I could leave off right there with that jewel of an observation. However, I have one more:

The thing that bothers me most about the doctrine of the Trinity, which isn’t that big of a deal, is the lack of analogy in the created world. Every aspect of creation bears some analogy to the nature of God in one way or another. This is the only part of God’s nature that apparently lacks a true analogy in what we know of the universe. The closest one I can think of is in quantum mechanics where extreme temporal displacement gives emitted subatomic entities both the nature of a particle as well as the nature of a wave. Both natures contain the same substance and are manifest in a single temporal frame of reference either nature at any given moment. Well, there are only two natures here that I know of.

Yet this isn’t a perfect analogy as such. So there goes my theory that every aspect of God is represented analogously in creation. How much more of God is there that we know nothing of? I can’t wait to find out!

But inasmuch as the analogies of God as evidence of his hand are infused in every aspect of creation, so we are given a wealth of evidence to present alongside any otherwise good presuppositional line of argumentation.

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Sunday, October 11, 2009

Christian Apologetics – The Existence of God

I discussed briefly in my first article the existence of God. Van Til put forth in his discussion of Systematic Theology that Theology seeks to answer two fundamental questions. First, does God exist? And second, what sort of God is he?

Now it would seem that Van Til is following the existentialist trap here. However he goes on to state that we must first know what sort of God he is before we can meaningfully discuss whether he exists or not. This is a great statement and is an indication to the purposeful approach Van Til presents here.

There is further evidence that he has considered the difference between the logical presuppositions and the epistemological or pedagogical presuppositions. In his discussion of the knowledge of God on page 26 he observes the historic debate between Lutherans and Calvinists whether "one should reason" from experience of God back to the nature of God or start with the nature of God and derive the Christian experience.

Regardless, God is eternal and we are temporal. I've written about this before. The essence of God goes far beyond merely a description of what kind of God he is. It's certainly true that we cannot discuss the existence of God without agreeing on the nature of God. However, an understanding of the nature of God can only be discussed among us in temporal terms.

In this vein, Van Til discusses whether God’s knowledge is analytical or synthetical. (These are two categories from Bloom’s Taxonomy. To analyze is to take a unified concept and break it apart into sub-categorical observations. To synthesize is to take observations as premises and conclude a unified concept.) Largely, the use of either word is merely semantic because the meaning is a matter of perspective. God is absolute and our understanding of him is not. God’s essence is absolute and absolutely unified. To understand him temporally, we must analyze God. To approach an eternal understanding of him, we must take what we know observationally and synthesize an understanding of his unified character.

Parenthetically, by the use of the term "unified concept" I don't mean to imply that God is in some way impersonal. Rather, I mean that God's eternal essence does not subsist as a multiplex of distinct items of knowledge but as a single concept that consists of the unification of all the qualities we can attribute to God. So I also use the phrase "unified character." Van Til uses the expression "a single internal act of intuition" on page 27 to indicate the same thing and spends much of his discourse on theology up to this point expounding on this. I would say that while he uses different words to say it, Van Til is explicit enough about this and we agree in general.

The philosophical lie that has permeated the thinking of fallen creation is that existence is preeminent. That is to say that the manifest analysis of God is preeminent and the synthesis of a unified understanding is subjective. To be sure, we fall short of a true understanding because our synthesis will be flawed until such a time as our knowledge is made whole. But to presuppose that the unified concept of God is not preeminent because our synthesis to know him is flawed is fallacious.

Rather, the unified concept of God is preeminent to his existence and our attempt to understand him is merely tertiary. The subsequent charge that it’s circular reasoning is therefore flawed. The primary human knowledge of God is organic in such a way as a baby knows its mother. Only as we mature do we learn more of God as the child learns more of his mother as he grows up. There may be more on this later, but I'll stop there because the text doesn't warrant a discussion of it yet.

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Friday, October 09, 2009

Christian Apologetics – Van Til’s Categorization

Intelligence is the capacity to understand and evaluate categories of information and recategorize it meaningfully. That’s my definition and I suggest it’s a more helpful definition than the one in the dictionary for thinking epistemologically. That is, we categorize information because we have a general level of intelligence as human beings.

Take M and M’s for example. You can categorize them in two groups: Plain or With Nuts. Now that might be helpful with regard to a taste preference, but perhaps you find it more helpful to categorize them by color. You can have perhaps yellow, blue, green, orange, brown and red. Well, if you need both sets of categorizations you can sort them two-dimensionally where each color would also have a Plain or With Nuts subcategory. But the Mars company has a need to create an ongoing category list that we are unfamiliar with. They categorize by lot number. This is practical from a manufacturing standpoint but most of us never think of that categorization.

I gave a system of categorization of theological thought in my first article in this series. The system of categorization I typically employ helps establish relationships of logical dependency between categories. This is useful for presuppositional thinking.

Van Til, in the first chapter under the heading “Theological Encyclopedia”, gives a different system for the categorization of theological thought. His system seems to be based on the departments in a seminary and are subsequently more pedagogical in the relationships between them. His army analogy is helpful for understanding how these different categories work together. His system may be more practical than mine for actually formulating a debate tactic and the purposes he gives seem to be limited to this area of practicality. I wonder how he will use his system in a discourse of presuppositional apologetics.

As it is, his system uses the following categories:

1. Biblical department: Old Testament
2. Biblical department: New Testament

Both of these, he observes gives “a defense as well as a positive statement of the truth.”

3. The Apologetic deparment

Here he observes that apologetics cannot be left solely to the Apologetic department, but the Biblical departments must also give their defense because “the specific truths of Christianity must be defended once they are stated.”

4. Systematic Theology (he stops using the word “department” here for some reason)

This categorizes the rest of the departments into an “organic whole”

5. Church History

This gives us insight into how the “preaching of the Word has fared throughout the centuries.” I observe that this is one area that’s not explicitly covered in my categorization scheme. This is precisely because I hold church history pretty low in my estimation of Christian theology. It’s helpful for hermeneutical consideration as well as for understanding some arguments of challengers to the faith, but too many have gotten too much too wrong too often in the history of the Church. Well, that’s helpful for determining what not to do, but too often the temptation is to overreact into similar error. For example, overreaction to the effects of hierarchical apostasy often generates small-group legalism or unbalanced teaching like snake-handling or utter separatism, such as unchecked by ecclesiological accountability.

Do any of you have a system of categorization of theological thought?

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Schrödinger's Other Cat

I stole this photo from anth0nyc. (If you want to see some of the most interesting photography on the Internet, check out his site.)


If you know something of theoretical quantum physics - or own a cat, you'll get the humor of this.

The theory is that there's only one cat.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Christian Apologetics - The Purpose Informs the Method

I’m reading Christian Apologetics by Cornelius Van Til Edited by William Edgar, the Second Edition.

I hadn’t planned on commenting on the introduction by William Edgar, but I suppose I will. This paragraph from pages 4 and 5 caught my attention. Referring to Van Til Edgar writes:

“What he did not hold is that apologetic arguments in themselves could drive someone from skepticism to faith. Not only is our reasoning often faulty, because it is self-interested and sinful (the “noetic effects” of sin), but if God is transcendent, no argument could hope to substantiate him that does not include his authority and compelling power to begin with... For Van Til… there could never be isolated self-evident arguments or brute facts, because everything comes in a framework. That is why he calls his approach the “indirect method.” One cannot go directly to the facts, as thought they were self-evident. First one must recognize the foundation and go on from there.”

In this statement, there seems to be some indication that Van Til understood that formulating a method of apologetic argumentation required an understanding of purpose. There is a point at which human psychology must be taken into consideration when thinking epistemologically toward communicating understanding. That is to say that the absorption of information requires ideal psychological conditions, both internally and externally. The one communicating has some control over the external environment and means of communication.

There are internal factors that simply cannot be persuaded. What’s missing in this quote is mention of the fact that the Holy Spirit is the key to Christian enlightenment. No communicator of the gospel, or its defense, can control the spiritual state of a person. On some fundamental level the facts can be presented, arguments made, but it is a person’s desire for truth above self-justification that will make the message palatable, and this desire can only be given by God.

Edgar mentions “facts” here. Van Til it seems has a very specific definition of “facts” he uses. I may get into this more in the first chapter, but he essentially links “facts” with empirical discovery. I draw a bone of contention here in that people often start young in the faith as mere experientialists in that they experience God personally as well as through the normalization of fellowship with other Christians. Their faith is bolstered by teaching them the foundational things and giving them greater support for the certainty of the gospel to sustain them during times of experiential drought. This is what I observe, but this isn’t what Edgar seems to be saying Van Til holds. So I’ll be looking for what Van Til says about this in the main part of the book.

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Christian Apologetics

Apologetics is the intellectual activity of giving a defense of one's faith. Peter writes that we should be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you“. I've written before on the role of apologetics as logically foundational to understanding and applying the Bible.

Apologetics is logically foundational to the principles of hermeneutics by which we can glean truth from the scriptures and apply the Bible. So the role of apologetics is intrinsically presuppositional. But on what level?

I've also written that we do not come to faith because we first understand apologetics, but rather that God gives us spiritual life by which we see the truth experientially and come to faith. Only afterward do we delve into the true rationality of scripture.

So apologetics is presuppositional rationally. With regard to faith, I agree with Christ when he told Nicodemus that we speak what we know. I married my wife not knowing the whole apologetic of her life. I could say that I knew her and had an intimate relationship with her. However, I didn't know everything, did I? I've learned much more about what makes her tick since we've been married. I could give an account of my love for her in the early days, but it is nothing compared to the account of love that I could give for her now. Our identities are intertwined and learning more about her formative influences only establishes our relationship more firmly.

Is the account of love that I could give for my wife in the early days any less of an apologetic than the account I can give now? Hardly, for I would have no apologetic now were it not for the early days and there would be no early days were it not for that first apologetic.

Likewise with God.

I read scholars who discuss apologetics, but fail to evaluate an apologetic with regard to its formative purposes or usefulness. Therefore, I must conclude that true apologetics can't happen in an intellectual vacuum. Once they are sealed against any personal context, they cease to be apologetical.

So, I come up with a remedial understanding of apologetics which involve the Types or Methods of Apologetics and the Purposes for Apologetics, to whit:

Types or Methods of Apologetics

Types or Methods of Apologetics refer to the logical approach to doing apologetics, whether for developing a system of preliminary thought or developing a dialectical interchange for whatever purpose. These types include Classical Apologetics, Evidential Apologetics, Presuppositional Apologetics, Theological apologetics and Spiritual Apologetics.

Classical Apologetics – This involves considerations regarding the “proofs for the existence of God” that have been around now for centuries. It includes such as the cosmological, teleological and ontological arguments. This type of apologetics is very philosophical. Typically no wise debater building a case for God builds his line of argumentation solely on the basis of classical apologetics. For Christians, we must also demonstrate the veracity of Christian theology. God appealed to what we would today consider classical apologetics when he told Moses to tell the people, “I AM that I AM. Tell the people I AM sent you.”

Evidential Apologetics – Based on the classical teleological argument for God (argument from design), this takes empirical observations about the world around us and uses them logically to evaluate theological statements. This is most often used to test the veracity of the Bible and the hermeneutical principles used to understand the bible as well as to demonstrate the usefulness of theistic presuppositions in scientific analysis over and against those of naturalism. God used evidential apologetics throughout the Bible where he lists the things he's done in order to encourage people to faith.

Presuppositional Apologetics – It's invaluable to understand that the other two types of apologetics are irrelevant without holding Christian presuppositions true. In fact, no other set of philosophical presuppositions are intrinsically coherent for no other reason than they aren't true. Only the truth is ultimately coherent. Therefore, the method of presuppositional apologetics often involves demonstrating the incoherence of false presuppositions. The method of presuppositional apologetics differs in the Biblical accounts. The typical presuppositional method in the Bible is to use elements of the presupposition of the intended audience that are true to build other true presuppositions on rather than to immediately tear down their false presuppositions. John does this in the first chapter of his gospel when he appeals to the philosophical debate of his day regarding the nature of the logos of God. Paul does this when he goes to Athens in his sermon on Mars Hill. Additionally, Paul uses the same methodology when he writes to churches understanding that people in the process of sanctification do not have fully formed sets of Christian presuppositions.

Theological Apologetics – I've included the category of Theological Apologetics where people of different religions or even different schools of thought within a religion debate particular points of theology without particular mention of regard to any other type or method of apologetics. This can cause problems where debaters miss the meaning of their opponents' discourses when they fail to realize different presuppositional positions. It often produces debate that is haphazard and unfulfilling. In this case, any good fruit that is borne is done so due to the grace of God and of no particular merit to the debaters. However, there is enough fruitful debate and as such God must be glorified that he continues to work in his people to build them and to edify them despite our silly squabblings. Paul and other NT writers often engage in theological discourse, following Christ's example, where they make good reference to the Old Testament writings. There is the common presupposition that they are true.

Spiritual Apologetics – Christ often used an uncanny wisdom to address spiritual shortcomings in the people who came to him with questions. His typical discourse makes appeals to truths that we know by spiritual revelation outside of observational evidences or intellectual presuppositions. The one intended to receive wisdom may or may not be the one he addressed, but it seems he always intended to impact the observing audience. The result is to force a decision based on a known truth exposed as having been suppressed in the presuppositional complex of the individual listener.

Purposes of Apologetics

So we can begin to see that there are different purposes for apologetics. Some of the purposes of apologetics are Academic, Evangelistic and Sanctifying. I could add a fourth category called “Theological”, but Theological Apologetics tends to have multiple purposes and some methodologies and typological characteristics that are unique from other types and methods, so the category properly belongs in the Types or Methods section.

Academic Purpose – The comment I often hear regarding the deeper things of scripture is, “Of what spiritual good is it really?” On the surface, the argument is pragmatic. For a God who is extravagant in his creative prowess and provision, how can we boil necessary truth down to only that which is immediately useful? It's a silly argument. The challenge is made by opponents to Christianity that Christianity rationally breaks down at a certain point. Academic apologetics is necessary to demonstrate that Christianity is indeed rational. In fact, nothing is rational outside of the Creator of reason and any reason used to dispute Christianity is using reason borrowed from the Creator himself. It is a matter of desiring God enough to want to know more about him that Christians pursue apologetics for no other reason.

Evangelistic Purpose – The fulfillment of the Great Commission consists of more than simply speaking the gospel. Christ admonishes us to make disciples. The evangelistic process starts before conversion where information regarding the gospel message is offered and some apologetic method is used. Where the one being evangelized is made alive by the Holy Spirit the truth is made certain to them and they realize their salvation in Christ. This is the role of apologetics in evangelism.

Sanctifying Purpose – Believers are often challenged with feelings of doubt. Knowing intellectually that our God is true sustains us in the times where we are challenged. God allows these times for the reason of building us up in his strength. Also, if we were to know everything about God and about our depravity, we would be undone and the message of grace would be thwarted. So as our sins are mortified our knowledge and understanding of God is increased. Each drives the other and works together to make us more holy like sinking cold air and rising hot air drive each other to generate a twister.

There are a couple of other areas I'd like to comment on briefly: The Nature of Truth and the Existence of God.

Nature of Truth

Facts are true, but facts themselves do not comprise Truth itself. Truth is absolute because God is absolute and Truth is the nature of God. Truth is the foundation for facts. While we handle facts with such as logic or reason, Truth is essentially the will of God. Therefore, for us there is no Truth without submission to God's will.

Existence of God

I've been listening to a debate from 1985 between Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen and Dr. Gordon S. Stein about the existence of God. The biggest issue I have with such a debate is that it presupposes that the existence of God is foundational to God. Remember the philosophy of existentialism, that existence precedes essence or substance? It's at least erroneous if not entirely backwards. I challenge that essence or substance precedes existence. The debate I've heard so far has been fairly well waged, but the premise of the debate falls on the same bad ground that grows such philosophical weeds as naturalism and postmodernism.

Studying Cornelius Van Til's Apologetics

I heard about this larger debate between scholars of Reformed Presuppositional Apologetics as to whether God is comprehensible to us or not. The players are Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark – and their students apparently. I was initially interested in this because of an old debate I had with a guy who insisted that the Christian faith is blind. The fact that he was a fellow church member alarmed me and I insisted that although the scripture said we walk by faith and not by sight, our faith was a matter of spiritual sight and we don't truly follow God without his revelation to us. I learned that there was more to this debate than that and have endeavored to dig deeper. So, I have a few books and this debate to listen to.

I had thought to post a summary after having read these books and perhaps a few others. However, having read the first chapter, I see much to comment on as I go along. So, perhaps this will be the start of a series. Given my track record with series, I can't promise I'll finish. But I don't have a whole lot going on right now, so it seems like a worthy endeavor.

Thus, I have produced this post summarizing my thinking on Apologetics. I have written this exclusively from my own thinking without reference to any other source (except the scripture quote) so you can see what is in my mind to begin with. This is the presuppositional ground that I start with as I read. I may change my mind on what I have written, but if you have a desire to follow this journey with me, then hang on for as long as I post about this and we'll see where this leads.

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