Wednesday, June 23, 2010

By the Mouth of Two Witnesses - Presuppositional vs. Evidential Apologetics

Describing her experience in Dr. Caner's Theology 201 class, Klo22 writes that they learned:
In addition, there are two approaches to apologetics. The first is evidential which represents the concept that Jesus died for the whole world. This is what I believe. The other approach is presuppositionalism which exemplifies the concept that Jesus died only for the elect.
(source)

Apparently describing the same class, faith_to_move writes:
We also discussed the various approaches to apologetics. I do not agree with the presuppositional view. This approach is often known as the Limited Atonement approach. Believes that Christ only died for the elect, and that only the elect can understand the evidence. They must first agree on certain presuppositions before the Gospel can be effectively presented.

I would definitely agree more closely with the evidential view: which would be commonly defined as a General Atonement approach. Basically, the evidential view says that Christ died for the world (John 3:16, right) and that each living soul has a God-shaped hole that can only be filled by God. Therefore, each person is created in the image of God (imago Dei) and can be shown using evidence that a personal God loves them.
(source)

These are not accurate representations of the presuppositional and evidential approaches. The evidential approach attempts to argue that the "majority of the evidence favors my view," (William Lane Craig and many atheists argue this way) whereas the presuppositional approach attempts to show the superiority of the presuppositions associated with Christianity as contrasted with those of opposing views (Greg Bahnsen famously argued this way).

Neither approach has anything directly to do with the atonement or the scope of the atonement. While presuppositional apologetics is dominated by Reformed apologists, there are also Reformed apologists who apply an evidentialist approach, or other approaches, such as the so-called "classical" approach.

The only way to tie presuppositional apologetics to the atonement is to note that the doctrine of the Limited Atonement is the only doctrine that does not lead to self-contradiction. However, I trust that Dr. Caner is not willing to concede that point.

In fact, I did not initially believe that Dr. Caner had really made claims like the ones indicated in the quotations above, because I have seen the entry in The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, a book that Dr. Caner co-edited. That entry (see here and scroll forward to the sub-section on evidential apologetics) would not lead one to the views expressed above, whether or not that entry is itself totally accurate, and that entry is attributed to Ergun Caner himself.

So, I don't know what to say. I understand that the book I've linked to above is also a textbook for the course. If so, may I encourage folks taking the course to read the textbook rather than relying on the lecture?

-TurretinFan

32 comments:

Andrew Suttles said...

Having grown up in rabid-anti-calvinism Fundamentalist churches, this 'approach' does not surprise me.

Given that the Apostle Paul stated the following in 1 Cor 2:14, I'm surprised that anyone could possibly disagree with the prepositional approach, at least in theory -

"But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."

By the way, what does a God-shaped void look like? Made in the image of God is Biblical terminology - this is not.

Strong Tower said...

Wouldn't you like to know what grade she got in the class?

Anonymous said...

Please quit taking the thoughts and blogs of Liberty students and putting them on your blog. Your grotesque display of Calvinistic Christianity is nauseating.

Turretinfan said...

Anonymous:

Thanks for your valuable contribution to my comment box. Please make it your last.

-TurretinFan

Turretinfan said...

By valuable, of course, I mean that it illustrates what is coming out of Liberty even better than the quotations in post itself could.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it possible this girl doesn't have a clue what she is talking about and misrepresented what Caner said?

Sure would be nice though when they replace Caner if they would get someone who is at least fair to the Reformed view!

We can always dream.......

Turretinfan said...

Keep in mind that two students reported approximately the same mistaken view. Anything is possible, but it looks like an unclear definition was given.

I would not have mentioned it, if it were just one girl saying it.

Anonymous said...

You are right...I didn't read carefully enough and didn't realize it was two different people.

Godismyjudge said...

Hi TF,

Interesting post. I had not heard any presuppositionalist directly linking their views to Calvinism, but on the other hand, when I first looked into presuppositionalism, I recall thinking that perhaps it is linked to Calvinism. (Not that someone couldn't come up with a non-Calvinistic version of presuppositionalism.)

But I think faith_to_move is right that per presuppositionalism, only the elect will be able to have the right presuppositions and understand the evidence. Along the same lines, it's fair to require the impossible of unbelievers (i.e. to hold to Christian presuppositions when morally they cannot hold to such views and also by definition of unbelievers they do not hold such presuppositions).

God be with you,
Dan

Turretinfan said...

Dear Dan,

That's really not what presuppositionalism refers to (unless somehow you and I are talking past one another). You may find the "Dividing Line" program that Dr. White just now recorded to be helpful in getting at least his view of what is involved in presuppositional apologetics.

I want to add - this blog is really about the issue that it appears Dr. Caner is misinforming his students - I'm not trying to take on a couple of young women who I suppose don't have even the least interest in debate on the subject.

-TurretinFan

Andrew Suttles said...

> '...only the elect will be able to have the right presuppositions...'

According to Scripture, only the regenerate can receive spiritual truth. (John 3:3, 1 Cor 2:14, etc).

Godismyjudge said...

Hi TF,

I didn't see the DL you referred to on aomin.org – but perhaps you are using your inside knowledge of what’s upcoming. I hope (mostly for your sake) that James White keeps the discussion of presuppositionalism at the popular level and doesn’t get into the underlying details (i.e. scepticism and antinomy) like Frame or Van Til. I doubt Frame would shy away from the statements I made about presuppositionalism – he basically said what I am saying.

God be with you,
Dan

Godismyjudge said...

Hi Andrew,

According to Scripture, only the regenerate can receive spiritual truth. (John 3:3, 1 Cor 2:14, etc).

That's not exactly what those passages say. On the one hand, the natural man cannot know the things of the Spirit of God but on the other hand, non-elect men and angels do have some knowledge of spiritual truth (2 Peter 2:20, James 2:19). This fact would seem to be a problem if you think only through regeneration can people know spiritual truth - and your gloss on John 3:3 & 1 Cor 2:14 seems to assume just that. But there is another option: pre-salvific grace enables unregenerate people and fallen angels to know some spiritual truth.

To me, reason is sufficent to demonstrate the truth and bring men to historic faith, but not saving faith. Historic faith includes knowledge and assent, but not trust. Saving faith (knowledge, assent and trust) requires something more (peri-regenerational if not regenerational grace).

God be with you,
Dan

Turretinfan said...

"I didn't see the DL you referred to on aomin.org – but perhaps you are using your inside knowledge of what’s upcoming."

(Here's a link.)

I won't speculate on whether Frame would err or not.

ChaferDTS said...

"On the one hand, the natural man cannot know the things of the Spirit of God but on the other hand, non-elect men and angels do have some knowledge of spiritual truth (2 Peter 2:20, James 2:19). "

That may have a mental assent to it but they won't receive it unless they are empowered by God to do so by means of effectual call whereby they are enabled to come to faith in Christ. Apart from this special working of God no one would ever come to faith in Jesus at all. Your quote of 2 Pet. 2:20 and James 2:19 refers to a dead intelletual orthodoxy which is of no use since they don't have a true living faith in Christ. Their works in both passages proved they never had such saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

"But there is another option: pre-salvific grace enables unregenerate people and fallen angels to know some spiritual truth."

If you mean the Arminian concept of a prevenient grace given equally to each and every individual to believe and may do so by an act of their will I would disagree. The only way for a person to receieve " saving knowledge" is by what is termed efficacious grace whereby which the elect alone are thereby empowered to have faith in Jesus. Pior to this unregenerate man supress God either by embracing a false gospel or surpress the existance of God in their hearts by deny His existance.

ChaferDTS said...

I found Dr.James White's program yesterday very intresting. And I personally saw the reasoning he was making in the method of our defense of the Christian faith and it's relationship to one's theology. While I am not too familiar with the present day debate between presuppositional vs Evidential apologetics , I will look around The Master's Seminary web site and see if there are any good articles which deals with this subject more indepth. This is one of the few areas I have not looked at carefully for a full consideration. And I now see the importance of it. I personally find it horrible that some Christian apologist present Jesus as a mere possibility out of many others. It is as if the certainity of Jesus Christ is out of the picture.

Godismyjudge said...

TF,

Thanks for the link.

God be with you,
Dan

Godismyjudge said...

ChaferDTS,

2 Pet. 2:20 and James 2:19 refers to a dead intelletual orthodoxy which is of no use since they don't have a true living faith in Christ.

Sure, sure. But they sill have some spiritual knowledge, which was my point. I am not really here to debate if we call that grace common grace or previenient grace. In this case it's not relivant.

God be with you,
Dan

ChaferDTS said...

"Sure, sure. But they sill have some spiritual knowledge, which was my point."

What is being said is in their fallen natural state they will reject it in their own power. Example one may know Scripture teaches the Trinity and justification by faith and yet in their own power not place trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Godismyjudge said...

I agree. But this point moves against presuppositional appologetics; since the unsaved can know Spritual truth.

God be with you,
Dan

Turretinfan said...

Again, that's not an accurate picture of presuppositionalism. I'm not sure where you're getting your ideas of what presuppositionalism involves.

Godismyjudge said...

TF,

"The natural man cannot will to do God's will. He cannot even know what the good is.

It will be quite impossible to find a com­mon area of knowledge between believers and unbelievers unless there is agreement between them as to the nature of man himself. But there is no such agreement.

But without the light of Christianity it is as little possible for man to have the correct view about himself and the world as it is to have the true view about God."

Frame's quotations of Van Til.

http://www.frame-poythress.org/frame_articles/1993VanTil.html

God be with you,
Dan

Turretinfan said...

May I suggest you find the discussion of presuppositional apologetics in the portion of the article that defines it:

What does Van Til propose to put in the place of the traditional method? Some­times he suggests a "presuppositional" form of the traditional method: (1) formu­late proofs for the existence of God in which the theistic presuppositions regard­ing "cause," "purpose," and "being" are set forth explicitly;42 and then (2) present his­torical arguments using the biblical crite­ria for historical possibility, probability, and truth.43

or here:

More often, Van Til suggests an indirect method in which the believer accepts the unbeliever's position for argument's sake in order to show that no intelligible thought is possible on the presuppositions of un­belief. He proves that thesis by showing that the only genuine alternatives to Chris­tianity are (1) systems of logic which seek to unify reality, but cannot account for everything in the real world; and (2) the view that attributes everything to pure chance, which destroys the possibility of any unity or rational explanation. Van Til observes that unbelief necessarily drives people in one of these two directions, or to an unstable compromise between them. By contrast, the unique doctrine of the Trinity (God and therefore the world are equally one and many) keeps Christians from the dilemma of having to choose (1) or (2).

(link)

Godismyjudge said...

TF,

Sure, but the part of the article I quoted is an aspect of presuppositional apologetics as well. Even if what you are quoting is the 'core' and what I am quoting is more like the foundational materials, it's still quite relevant. Look at the way Andrew defended presuppositionalism. It's not like he stuck to just the part you quoted.

Besides, the connection between saying an unbelievers presuppositions are unintelligible and the idea that unbelievers cannot know spiritual truth is quite close. Van Til rejected the classic formulation of the Trinity (one God in three persons) in favor of one person and three persons – a formal contradiction irresolvable by human reason. Only by embracing this contradiction can Christians avoid the unintelligibility of the unbelievers presuppositions (as you quoted: By contrast, the unique doctrine of the Trinity (God and therefore the world are equally one and many) keeps Christians from the dilemma of having to choose (1) or (2).) So there you have it – unbelievers cannot know truth because no one can. Take your pick; Christian contradiction or non-Christian contradiction. While you are at it, why not just presuppose you are right?

God be with you,
Dan

Turretinfan said...

"Sure, but the part of the article I quoted is an aspect of presuppositional apologetics as well."

I encourage you to check the context of the portions you quoted.

-TurretinFan

Godismyjudge said...

Done.

God be with you,
Dan

Turretinfan said...

Good.

The sentence immediately preceding them was this: "But he [Van Til] goes on to characterize unbelievers in various ways which are neither adequate to the biblical data nor consistent with one another."

Agreed?

-TurreitnFan

Turretinfan said...

And then the following paragraph is this:

This is a frequent theme in Van Til. If it were really true, it would seem that there can be no communication between believer and unbeliever, no common ground for apologetic discussion, and it would be im­possible to maintain the apostle Paul's con­viction that the unbeliever still knows God in some sense. Elsewhere, however, Van Til vehemently rejects the apparent meaning of these statements: "[I have] never denied that the unbeliever has true knowledge," he says with some sense of frustration.

Agreed?

Godismyjudge said...

Yes, Van Til contradicted himself on this and many other points. So does Frame. That's part of my point - if you throw out reason, the only move left is to assume you are right without reason.

God be with you,
Dan

Turretinfan said...

I don't begrudge you the right to allege that the views of Van Til and/or Frame are self-contradictory.

I was just encouraging you to use (for your definition of what it means to us the presuppositional approach) the portion of the article that defines the presuppositional approach rather than the part that alleges a self-contradiction by one member of the set of presuppositional apologists.

-TurretinFan

Godismyjudge said...

Dear TF,

Frame called Van Til inconsistent. But whatever... Isn't Van Til the grand-daddy of presuppositionalism?

God be with you,
Dan

Turretinfan said...

"Frame called Van Til inconsistent."

Yes, he did.

"But whatever... Isn't Van Til the grand-daddy of presuppositionalism?"

People say that.

-TurretinFan