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The Hermeneutical Foundation for Presuppositional Apologetics and it’s Implication Concerning Dispensationalism
Posted in apologetics methodology, Calvinism, christian apologetics, Christianity, Cornelius Van Til, dispensationalism, hermeneutics, historical grammatical hermeneutics, Presuppositional Apologetics, presuppositionalism, Reformed, Theology, Van Til on March 27, 2014 | 24 Comments »
As Christians, one’s ultimate authority should be the Bible (2 Timothy 3:16, etc). Its authority should be over every area of our lives. If we truly believe the Word, we would live our lives in light of it’s truth; namely it should be interpreting our experience, prescribing to us what to do and not to do, along with the Word providing the provisions of God’s truths that motivate one to obedience (Note: John Frame’s Perspectivalism is helpful here, with his triade of the situational, normative and existential). That’s a round-about way of saying that knowing Scriptural truths should lead us to apply God’s Word. Heed the word of James 1:22 (NASB):
But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”
If we could illustrate this truth:
But one must remember that one can also misapply God’s Word. That can happen in two ways: (1) One can misinterpret the truths from the Bible, (2) or one can misinterpret one’s situation and apply the wrong Biblical remedy, even though the principles themselves are true and from God’s Word. Two quick examples: With (1), you have a cultist who thinks the Bible teaches salvation by works which bring with it an array of negative effects (damnation in eternity, and present experience of unresolved guilt, condemnation from one’s conscience, etc). An example of (2) is when you have someone who knows that the Bible teaches marriage fidelity between a man and a woman; but then this individual is calling a particular girl he likes to be faithful to him–even though they are not in a relationship and she doesn’t want to be with him. He just merely thinks he’s married already.
The fact that we can misapply God’s Word by misinterpreting what it says should sober us and make us desire to be more conscious of how we interpret the Bible. In fact, interpretation of God’s Word has logical priority over it’s application, because one cannot apply God’s Word if one does not understand or know it. In order to get the proper interpretation, we want to apply good and sound principles of interpretations to the Word. The study of the principles, method and other presuppositions involved in interpretation is called hermeneutics.
We illustrate it like this:
To reach the goal of applying the Bible to one’s life, the journey of interpretation travels over a hermeneutical “bridge.” I think the bridge is quite an appropriate analogy since it is foundational for interpretation. Furthermore, a good hermeneutic will rise above and not crumble into the sea of meaninglessness, subjectivism, etc.
If one wants to be more nuance, we might add that the content of one’s interpretation of the Bible is what we call doctrine. Think of God’s attributes, the Trinity, Incarnation, etc. For the purpose of this essay, we will call bodies of doctrines ” theology.” The content of our theology will impact our lives, but we want to make sure they are coming from God’s Word. Our illustration is thus modified:
Theology can be quite broad. For instance, we have the following traditional divisions in theology:
- Bibliology (Doctrines pertaining to the Word of G0d)
- Theology Proper (Doctrines pertaining to God Himself and His Works)
- Anthropology (Doctrines pertaining to man)
- Hamartiology (Doctrines pertaining to sin)
- Christology (Doctrines pertaining to Christ)
- Soteriology (Doctrines pertaining to Salvation)
- Pneumatology (Doctrines pertaining to the Holy Spirit)
- Ecclesiology(Doctrines pertaining to the church)
- Eschatology (Doctrines pertaining to Last things)
More could be added, to include:
- Israelology (Doctrines pertaining to the ethnic group of Israel)
- Apologetics (Doctrines pertaining to the defense of the faith)
Or things concerning a “Christian philosophy:”
- Epistemology (Philosophy of knowledge)
- Metaphysics (Philosophy of reality)
- Ethics (Philosophy of moral standards)
- Aesthetics (Philosophy of beauty)
We can go on and on, but you get the idea.
As one notice above, I put apologetics under theology, because I believe apologetics ultimately is the application of God’s Word to unbelief. I also believe one’s theology will shape one’s apologetics:
The divisions in theology that will shape one’s apologetics include the following (note the sample questions):
- Theology Proper (Is God knowable or not?)
- Bibliology (Is God’s revelation of Himself clear? Is the Bible self-evidencing?)
- Anthropology (What is man and does he have dignity and meaning?)
- Hamartiology (What is the extent of man’s sinfulness and how will he interpret the evidences?)
- Soteriology (How does God bring people to a saving knowledge of Himself?)
- Pneumatology (What is the role of the Holy Spirit in apologetics?)
How Calvinistic Theology answer the above question will lead to a method called Presuppositional apologetics (those unfamiliar with Presuppositional apologetics might want to listen to Greg Bahnsen’s lectures first):
If we answer the above questions we get this:
- Is God knowable or not? Yes (Psalm 19:1-6).
- Is God’s revelation of Himself clear? Yes (Romans 1:18ff, Psalms 19).
- Is the Bible self-evidencing? Yes (Luke 16:31).
- What is man and does he have dignity and meaning? Yes, because He’s made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26 cf. James 3:9).
- What is the extent of man’s sinfulness and how will he interpret the evidences? Total depraved, who suppresses the truth (Romans 1:18ff).
- How does God bring people to a saving knowledge of Himself? Among many things, the Gospel being preached (Romans 10:14-15); ultimately, salvation is not on the basis of man’s will (John 1:12) since man doesn’t even seek God (Romans 3:10) unless God bring about through His effectual call.
- What is the role of the Holy Spirit in apologetics? Holy Spirit convicts and regenerate sinners on the occasion of the Gospel being preached (John 16:8, Titus 3:5, etc).
The above answer will definitely shape how one goes about defending the faith such as what constitute as evidences, the weight of the evidences and how does the nonbeliever handles the evidences, who should be in the “dock,” etc.
No doubt the Calvinist believes that his answer is properly drawn out from the Scriptures (see the verses with it; obviously space does not permit a lengthy exposition of the above but an older Reformed Systematic Theology text by Berkhof can be accessed here). The Calvinist will say that his correct interpretation of the Scriptures is the result of a strong hermeneutical foundational “bridge.”
What is the Calvinist’s foundation that led him to arrive at his answer in interpreting Psalm 19, Romans 1, Luke 16:31, Titus 3:5, etc? It’s the historical-grammatical approach:
He interprets the passages in it’s original context, with consideration of the function and meaning of words while aware of the literary forms of what’s he’s reading. He looks at the verses and is careful to draw out grammatical and syntactical insight from the Bible. To that I say praise the Lord!
Recognizing how foundational hermeneutics is should definitely make us give it some attention in one’s own theological approach and also when we dialogue with others; and an important litmus test of a good hermeneutic is consistency.
When the subject of Dispsensational theology comes up, the majority of Calvinists reject it (there are of course a subset that are Dispensationalists). An example of this rejection happened in a recent discussion I had with a particular individual:
Dispensationalism is built upon two foundations or presuppositions. (Ryrie et. al.) Number one is that we must absolutely make the distinction between Israel and the church. We must not confuse those two. The second foundation or presupposition is that we must take a literal interpretation of the Scriptures, especially Old Testament prophesies. So, from that foundation, it is asserted in dispensationalism that God has two peoples, his earthly people – the Israelites, and his heavenly people – the Church.
From that, it is taught that in the OT, God primarily dealt with his earthly people, gave them his law, promised to give them the land of Canaan forever etc. So, when it comes to reading the books of the major and minor prophets, and the prophesies concerning the regathering of Israel into the land, the rebuilding of the temple, the sending of a Davidic king to physically reign on earth etc., they expect all that to be fulfilled literally.
This individual also added: “Reformed theology on the other hand, sees the history of salvation completely differently.”
To reject Dispensationalism because of it’s literal, historical and grammatical hermeneutics as a Calvinists seems problematic:
- If Dispensational theology is the product of interpreting the Bible via a literal reading of the Scriptures, then IT IS what the Bible teaches.
- Calvinism is arrived at from a literal hermenutic. So is Dispensationalism. If I may give the analogy, both Calvinism and Dispensationalism are like two trucks of God’s truth crossing the hermeneutical bridge of historical and grammatical approach:
If you want to “blow up” the bridge, you also blow up the very bridge that Calvinism is traveling on. If you don’t attack the bridge, Calvinism comes out from the Bible–with Dispensationalism right behind it.
3. I realize that one might object to my second point, that the interpretation is not as literal for the Old Testament prophetic books, etc. However, there are prophecies in the Old Testament that are taken literally in predicting the fulfillment of the Messiah. I would say that the same historical-grammatical hermeneutic that Christian apologists used to demonstrate that the Old Testament points towards Christ is also the same hermeneutic which reveal certain promises to Israel in the Prophetic genre:
Sometimes these Messianic prophecies and promises to Israel are closely interwined in the text. The same historical grammatical approach in the Messianic passage also yield the promises of God to Israel. Again, for the Calvinist who reject Dispensationalism it’s a case of inconsistency: Will one accept these literal Messianic prophecies while rejecting the embedded promises to Israel as being literal?
I can only provide a sketch at this time but Lord willing I would like in the future to explore more Messianic prophecies and how some are sitting right next to additional promises God made towards Israel. These are promises to Israel that God hasn’t fulfilled yet–and suggests eschatological significance. I have looked briefly in Zechariah 12:10 in the past as one example and again, I hope to explore more of Christ in the Old Testament–while also discovering promises to Israel in the context as well.
I know many who read this are cautious about the subject of Dispensationalism; like you, I’m rather weary of the sensationalism of Pop Dispensationalism (think of Left Behind Series, Chick Tracks, the guy who read the headlines to interpret the Bible, those who have End Times as a hobby horse but have no love for other truths in Scripture , etc). But it seems that as we look at the hermeneutical foundation for Presuppositional Apologetics, it does have implication concerning Dispensationalism. Specifically: the very hermeneutic that leads one to interpret the Bible and become a Presuppositionalists is also the very hermeneutic that gives us from the Bible Dispensational truths.
Posted in apologetics interview, apologetics methodology, Brian Rickett, Calvinism, christian apologetics, Christianity, Cornelius Van Til, dispensationalism, John Frame, Perspectivalism, Presuppositional Apologetics, presuppositionalism, Reformed, Theology, Van Til, tagged Brian Rickett on March 26, 2014 | 16 Comments »
Note: We appreciate Brian Rickett taking the time to contribute to this interview in light of his busy schedule with ministries as a Professor and a Pastor. It is my prayer that God will allow him a full recovery after his accident that led to a broken neck. Mr. Rickett also maintain a blog that you might want to bookmark. –SLIMJIM
1.) Describe your current ministry to the Lord and your educational background.
Current Ministry. I’ve always considered myself to be a minister who tries to seize every legitimate opportunity to serve the Lord, not exclusively any one thing, but just a minister, generally speaking. This has at times included pastoring, church planting, and academic work, often simultaneously.
Since my M.Div. days, though, I have been a classroom instructor specializing in biblical languages. My testimony about this can be found here. I began with the Logos Bible Institute of Grace Community Church, then added The Master’s Seminary, and then College. I taught on an adjunct basis from 1998-2008, for a combined 10 years, the last 5 of which was in a full time staff position for the biblical counseling department at TMC. During that 10 year period, I was blessed to be able to teach the Bible in five languages in a variety of settings, as well as in each of the divisions in a typical theological curriculum.
Most relevant to this interview, I considered my emphasis to be the application of original language exegesis to theological systems/methods, particularly apologetic and counseling methodology. During my time at TMC/TMS, I was able to teach both apologetics and counseling, and integrated these into a single MABC course—BC509: Apologetics and Biblical Counseling.
Those familiar Van Tillian thought will know that nouthetic counseling is essentially Van Til’s model applied to the ministry of discipleship. Even more, though, one of his fundamental contributions was to urge a consistent application of reformed theology to every area of thought, life, and ministry. The guys who started/currently oversee the Biblical Counseling department at TMC did their terminal degrees at Westminster and understand this. This was part of the reason John Street hired me to work in his counseling department back in ’04.
When we moved to Arkansas in 2008 to plant the church where I now pastor, we naturally incorporated the best of what I had learned and taught into our church’s ministry philosophy. In that sense, our whole philosophy of ministry is a Van Tillian model applied to a Bible Church, i.e. non-Presbyterian ecclesiology. Here’s a sample of how we typically present it:
Our philosophy of ministry is three pronged.
1. Preaching/Teaching. Key to the health of any church is biblically faithful preaching and teaching. God takes the preaching and teaching of His Word extremely seriously (James 3:1). So, a key distinctive of The Bible Church of Beebe is a very high view of those tasks (Ezra 7:10; 2 Tim 2:15). Specifically, our pulpit and teaching ministries strive to be characterized by passionate, word by word and verse by verse expositional preaching/teaching that bring biblical principles to bear on the life of the believer. Typically, we gather three times a week. On Sunday mornings I preach from the NT. On Sunday evenings I preach from the OT or address some or another issue. On Wednesday nights I typically teach theology, counseling, or apologetics. Currently, though, our Wednesday evening services are suspended due to a car accident in which I broke my neck. We hope to recommence Wednesday evening services this summer.
2. Shepherding the Flock. As the most basic function of shepherding, discipling believers is fundamental to our ministry. Discipleship means to train believers to faithfully follow Christ. We work hard at this. Further, our shepherding model includes biblical counseling, which we also describe as intensive discipleship. Biblical counseling means that we endeavor to assist believers in honoring Christ through specific challenges. Finally, we endeavor to equip the saints “to do the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). So, one of our distinctives is that we are committed to Christ-centered discipleship, an important component of which is biblical counseling (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:1-3).
3. Evangelism/Apologetics. We are committed to faithfully obeying the many commands of Scripture to engage in evangelism and apologetics (Matt 28:18-20; 2 Cor 10:3-5; 2 Pet 3:15; Acts 17:23-31). In evangelism, we endeavor to proclaim the Gospel to unbelievers with a message and method that honors Christ (2 Tim. 4:5). In apologetics/irenics, we actively endeavor to defend the system of Christian truth, and to respond biblically to the many challenges that come against biblical Christianity (Titus 1:9; 2 Tim 4:3-5). So, we are committed to evangelizing the lost and to providing a reasoned defense of the system of Christian truth. We boldly proclaim that Christianity is not a blind faith, but that it is the only internally coherent and rationally viable worldview.
The academic year following the church’s organization, I returned to the classroom teaching biblical language and other courses for the Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary. BMATS was founded in the 1950s, has about 175 students on its two campuses, in Jacksonville, Tex. and Conway, Ark. The Ark. campus is about 25 miles from our church. We planted the church relatively close to the seminary to give students an opportunity to study our ministry model, while reaching an area without a similar church.
Currently, I am both the Pastor-teacher of The Bible Church of Beebe as well as Professor of Biblical Studies for BMATS—amazingly, by God’s grace I get to teach all of my favorite subjects in both the church and classroom. Beginning June 1st, however, I will add an administrative role. At that time I will become Administrator of BMATS, Arkansas. There will be some other exciting developments at our campus that may be of interest to your readers. You’ll want to check up with the seminary in early June to see what’s happening.
As Administrator/Director of BMATS, Ark, I hope to continue refining our curriculum, and training students in the tasks of expository preaching, biblical counseling, and presuppositional apologetics based on solid exegesis. Already we have brought in a biblical counseling professor (John Street) from The Master’s College on an adjunct basis to teach Introduction to Biblical Counseling. There are other things as well, but check back in June.
Educational Background: I did a BS in Bible (1996, Central Baptist College, Conway, Ark.), M.Div. (2000, The Master’s Seminary), Th.M. in OT (2003, TMS), and did Th.D. work in OT (2004-07) for a time until a debilitating eye condition forced me to become inactive. However, in connection to improvements with my eyes, increasing cultural challenges, and my new administrative role at BMATS, I’ve begun the new D.Min. program in Christian Worldview and Cultural Engagement at SWBTS. I know what you’re thinking—yes, they knew who I was when they accepted me.
Going forward, I expect to devote a strong percentage of my energies to issues related to worldview and cultural engagement and in preparing Christian leaders to do the same. I invite readers interested in getting this sort of diverse, cutting edge training to shoot me an email. I would be glad to talk about how BMATS can give them a robust set of ministry tools they can use in their chosen ministry environments.
2.) How did you became a Presuppositionalist?
I became a presuppositionalist at TMS during my M.Div. days. I am attracted to multi-perspectival thinking in the vein of Poythress (cf. Symphonic Theology)—considering the details of things from various perspectives, systematizing the details into a whole, developing a method, and then evaluating and practically testing the method. Presuppositionalism was/is attractive to me for this reason. Even more, though, I have found it to be the most biblically faithful model, as well as the most powerful method for apologetic interchange. When I employ Van Til’s “indirect method,” I have the sense that not only am I’m honoring the Lord intellectually, but I’m engaging in a palpable act of worship.
3.) What is a typical objection to Presuppositionalism that you hear?
The objections I encounter have changed with a change in ministry venue. Before, criticisms were based largely on misconceptions and superficial analysis. The charge of fideism often came up, which I addressed in Chapter 2 of my Th.M. thesis on ‘04. One interesting challenge that sometimes comes up is related to differences between Frame and Bahnsen. I understand these, but am not disturbed by them.
Another common criticism is that it’s too philosophical. Admittedly, often it is, but it doesn’t have to be. The justification for the system gets philosophical real fast, particularly as proponents seek to justify the method theoretically in contrast to other approaches. Practically, though, there is little reason for this. People in your church can learn to use presuppositional apologetics without having to ever hear about the more philosophical stuff. Quite frankly, most of us enjoy talking about the philosophical, theological, and nuanced aspects of such things and so we overdo it and turn people off in the process. This is particularly true in connection to another often valid criticism—when enthusiasts go about charging non-proponents with heresy or making other overly aggressive assertions.
Right now, we have a college student in our church who is benefitting from training in presuppositional apologetics. This semester he is sitting under a hostile professor in his philosophy course at the state university down the road. Our student’s ability to interact with the professor’s thinking is impressive, and we’ve rarely exposed him to all of the philosophical stuff.
In our current environment, no one really questions presuppositionalism, because few people here really take apologetics seriously. Our biggest challenge is anti-intellectualism generally. In California, there was a clearer distinction between believers and unbelievers. Here, most churches are seeker sensitive, tend towards mysticism, or are just dead. Discussions over apologetic methodology just don’t come, it just isn’t where people are.
To expand the “overly aggressive” idea mentioned above, I remember years ago when a friend of mine who is a Professor of Philosophy and Apologetics introduced me to his wife. As I recall, he is thomistic in his approach. When we met, she was genuinely surprised to learn that I was a presuppositionalist, friendly, and didn’t intend on attacking or making trouble for her husband. Apparently, she had been very hurt by something like that in the past and held all presuppositionalists in suspicion. The point is that one of the criticisms of presuppositionalism that has concerned me most is this one.
4.) Some people believe that Dispensationalism and Presuppositional apologetics are incompatible. Do you believe this is so? Why or why not?
What does John Frame think? I’ll side with him on this issue. To me, this sounds like the debate over who’s the most reformed, where the guy who thinks he is the most reformed wins. What is the minimum set of criteria required to be a presuppositionalist? If I employ a methodology where I seek to expose the internal tensions inherent within the unbeliever’s world and life view, and then to show the unbeliever how his irrationality is immoral due to his failure to acknowledge and submit to the Christian God in his thinking and living, do I qualify? What if I successfully expose the rational/irrational dialectic in my friend’s thinking and then present the gospel as the only means via which he may ever hope to have his irrationality/immorality resolved, do I qualify as presuppositionalist? Here’s what I teach in my classes. See if this makes sense:
The presuppositionalist argues that: a. the espoused presuppositions of the unbeliever (his articulated worldview) cannot account for reality as we know it, and b. reality is as our experience and knowledge demonstrates it to be because it has its ultimate basis in the Christian God, without whom nothing—including reason itself, can be accounted for. Furthermore, c. at heart the unbeliever knows this to be so, but sins against better knowledge by suppressing the truth about God in his unrighteousness (though evidence for God is abundant—existing within him and without, screaming at him from every existing fact with the result that he is culpable for his disbelief and without excuse). Finally, d. as explained in Scripture, the unbeliever’s irrationality is fundamentally immoral and must be confronted with the gospel.
So, following Bahnsen, here’s what we do methodologically:
Step 1: Identify the opponent’s crucial presuppositions. Do this by asking key worldview questions. Then, once you have done the necessary data collecting, proceed to step 2. Step 2: Criticize the autonomous attitude that arises from a failure to honor the Creator-creature distinction. That is, call the unbeliever to account for his attempt to operate out from under the authority of God and in accord with his own reasoning. Step 3: Expose the internal and destructive philosophical tensions that attend autonomy. That is, perform an internal critique (transcendental critique) of his worldview. Demonstrate to him how his worldview is unable to provide the necessary preconditions for the intelligible interpretation of reality, i.e. expose the rational—irrational dialectic in his thinking. Be sure to demonstrate to him how his professed world and life views contradict his ultimate presuppositions and render rationality impossible. Step 4: Set forth the only viable alternative. Expound the Christian position by providing him with the biblical answer to the tensions you have uncovered in his worldview and specifically show him how Christian-theism provides the fundamental preconditions for the intelligible interpretation of reality.
A simplified way to express this would be: 1.) Identify what the unbeliever believes or thinks; 2.) rebuke your friend for his failure to submit to God; 3) Show your friend how his espoused worldview is contrived and makes no sense based on what he has said; 4.) Present the Gospel as the solution to his folly and call him to repent.
Perhaps the critic of dispensational presuppositionalism has some specific objections he needs to have clarified. I suspect these will be person variable, but part of the problem may result from a misconception that this means a rejection of covenantalism in the sense employed by Oliphint in Covenantal Apologetics. Honestly, I haven’t heard what I thought was a credible charge of incompatibility.
By the way, the first time I taught a seminary presuppositional apologetics course, it was at The Master’s Seminary in ’04. The opportunity came up quickly and I needed some help preparing. So, I emailed John Frame, who was one of my thesis readers, for help. He emailed me his personal teaching notes and gave me access to many of his own files. The result: he aided and abetted me—a dispensationalist teaching presuppositionalism at a dispensationalist seminary. Now who wins?
Note: John Frame is so humble, he doesn’t remember helping me, so whenever I remind him, it’s as though he’s hearing it for the first time. Admittedly, though, he has more important things to do than to think about me.
5.) What prompted you to write your thesis on Psalm 19 and Presuppositonal apologetics?
I gave an extended rationale for this in the first chapter of the thesis. In part, it was related to: 1.) the debate over which apologetic method was most consistent with biblical theology, and 2.) the lack of exegetical work that had been done to validate presuppositionalism. Those familiar with Van Til will remember this was an issue he admitted.
6.) Any resources on apologetics, worldview or theology that you recommend?
Read everything by Frame and Poythress. Read James Sire’s The Universe Next Door. Familiarize yourself with the complete works of Francis Schaeffer including valid criticism’s of his work. Don’t forget Bavinck’s Creation Theology. Get a good feel for the best of what has come from the reformed epistemology movement. A good little free book for Kindle that serves as an introduction to Greek Philosophy is John Marshall’s A Short History of Greek Philosophy. It’s dated, in a good way, free, and imminently readable. Familiarize yourself generally with logic and logical fallacies. You can find this sort of thing for free on the internet, but try to make sure you are reading a credible source.
Everybody by now has read Rosaria Butterfield’s book, Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert, but in case you haven’t, you should do so. By the way, she agreed to address my apologetics class at some point. We’re doing some different things with our seminary schedule, so we’ve made it a bit tough on her, but hopefully we can get to this.
7.) You have taught Biblical Hebrew, among other subjects. Do you see any relationship between Presuppositional apologetics and academic work in the Old Testament?
Absolutely, yes. My Th.M. thesis provides a presuppositional critique in Chapter 3 of many OT scholars & publications related to Psalm 19. There, I tried to show that their presuppositions have so predisposed them to modern, critical views of the text they may justifiably be accused of incompetence in their work.
Apologetics makes use of philosophy as a tool built on logic, employing it to engage in the critical evaluation and scrutiny of truth claims. In this way, it is appropriately suited to engage in critical analysis of various theories, including but not limited to literary theories/linguistic approaches to the text, as well as the methods and conclusions of such approaches.
Let’s consider some of Tremper Longman’s work for example. In His argument against Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes in his commentary, he commits several basic errors.
One that comes to mind combines a grammatical error with a procedural problem. Working off of the NIV, rather than the Hebrew text, He cites Ecc. 1:12 as an argument against Solomonic authorship. It states, “I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem” (NIV). He then argues that the verse identifies a time when Solomon had been alive but not king, basically concluding that since this doesn’t fit with what we know of Solomon it wasn’t really him.
This is a scandalous assertion. Longman seems not to know that, 1.) Hebrew uses the perfect conjugation to express either simple past or past perfect verbal ideas. Thus, “I was king” or “I have been king” are equally valid translations that any student of basic Hebrew would know—seriously. 2.) A consultation of other translations should have at least tempered his argument. 3.) In actuality, the statement seems merely to place Qoheleth’s attitude within its historical setting. This deficiency on the part of Longman suggests either incompetence in the language, or some unargued philosophical bias that prevents honest assessment here. But there’s more.
Citing 1:16, he argues, “It would be strange to hear Solomon state:I said to myself, ‘Behold, I have magnified and increased wisdom more than all who were over Jerusalem before me; and my mind has observed a wealth of wisdom and knowledge.’” Why is this strange—because there was only one king before Solomon? However, the chronicler in 1 Chronicles 29:25 uses this exact language to make the same case. He says, “The LORD highly exalted Solomon in the sight of all Israel, and bestowed on him royal majesty which had not been on any king before him in Israel” (1Ch 29:25 [emphasis mine]). Longman seems to arrive at his conclusion without adequate scholarly reflection on the wording. Is the phrase an idiom, figure of speech, a common way of taking into consideration powerful men including but not limited to the reigning monarch? These would be the normal sorts of questions to ask. These are not addressed though. When combined with other textual arguments, one can only conclude that Longman simply didn’t read/think carefully about this. So, failure at this juncture also looks suspicious. But there’s more.
Longman argues that Qoheleth is a pseudonym for the one assuming the Solomonic persona, or if applied to Solomon, a “nick-name.” He writes:
“One must ask what is gained or what possible reason could Solomon have had for adopting a name other than his own in this book? Is he hiding his identity from someone? If so, for what possible reason? Does the nickname add anything to the message of the book? After all, the connection to Solomon is tenuous, and no one has argued that the name contributes to the meaning of the book. It is much more likely that the nickname Qohelet was adopted by the actual writer to associate himself with Solomon, while retaining his distance from the actual person” (p. 4).
Apparently, Longman is unaware that Hebrew nouns typically come from verbs, so that the title Qoheleth is most likely derived from some activity for which he was noted. Since the verb is qahal, the title Qoheleth is connected with some assembling activity, perhaps the assembling of people or proverbs, etc.
Finally, at least for this interview, it is notable that Longman begins his arguments against Solomonic authorship seemingly by committing the “snob approach” variety of the argumentum ad poplum fallacy. He states, “Attentive readers of the Bible have felt uneasy about the simple identification of Qohelet with Solomon for a long time” (p. 4). And, “Even in the light of strong internal and external testimony to the contrary, a small, but vocal group of evangelical scholars still advocate this [Solomonic authorship] view” (p. 3). He then props this up with poor arguments including the ones above.
Notice how he is arguing that anyone who fails to recognize the truth of his assertion is not an intellectual (“attentive”), and it would be in the best interest of the reader to listen to himself. There are additional points in this particular case to argue, but this is not the place for that. I would just say that Longman’s argumentation against Solomonic authorship is scurrilous. To answer the question, is apologetics helpful for biblical studies generally and OT specifically, again, yes. Perhaps if more biblical scholars were trained in apologetics, a lot of the stuff that passes for biblical scholarship would never gain a legitimate hearing. Instead, junk scholarship is published and passed off as cutting edge and respectable.
Posted in Apologetics, apologetics methodology, apologetics tactics, christian apologetics, Christianity, Lyndon Unger, Presuppositional Apologetics, presuppositionalism, Reformed, tagged apologetics tactics, Unger move on March 25, 2014 | 33 Comments »
Introduction and an Illustration
Before I develop the point of my post on apologetics’ tactics, let me begin with a physical illustration (pun intended). Before I was a Pastor I’ve spent some time around men who are incredible warriors and fighters (although I’m not really a physical fighter myself ). The US Marines have a saying: “One mind, one weapon.” You will be amazed at how good fighters put quite a bit of thought into their training and actual fighting–and one man I know described it excitedly as a game of chest in light of your opponent’s intelligence and ability. Serious fighters realize that training someone to be a skillful fighter is more than memorization of a few move–it involves the whole mind, a mind that wisely know which moves to employ at any given situation; and at times, the wisdom of not doing anything. Although I stress the mind, that is not to say that learning tactical moves are not important–in fact a lethal warrior mind that learn some new moves will find a way to incorporate it into the way they think and become a part of who they are in terms of practically deal with an opponent. And sometimes the simple move goes a long way.
My favorite move from the Marines is rather simple; it’s called the Iron bar take down.
One might laugh at how it’s doesn’t even look like a Ninja move. You simply grab the guy’s wrist with one hand while using the other hand to grab their upper arm so you can force them to the ground. I have spent some time thinking about this move. Since I’m a much smaller guy I like to throw my whole hip when I execute the movement in a spiraling descending direction to get the momentum from my body as additional force. The key is to do it quickly. Like I said, it’s not a move you’ll see in the movies because it doesn’t look Ninja-cool. But it has helped me in the Marines and later as security for Hollywood’s red carpet events (Hollywood has its shares of weirdos). Again, sometimes the simple move goes a long way.
I believe the same is true with apologetics’ tactics.
Those who frequent Veritas Domain might be familiar with Lyndon Unger. Mr. Unger is a Calvinistic Dispensational Presuppositionalist. He blogs on WordPress under the name MennoKnight and is a regular contributor at The Cripple Gate. John MacArthur has also mentioned his research. Before he became (in)famous(?), Lyndon once shared with me a good and simple apologetics tactic. I’ll call it the “Unger Move.” Again, it’s not a complicated karate chop but remember, sometimes the simple move goes a long way.
The Unger Move
Those engage in apologetics for any length of time will inevitably run into those who says, “There are too many evidence for _______,” or “There are too many reasons against _____________.” Typically conversations with such individuals also include them throwing out objections after objections against Christianity. They might go on so long with their ranting, you are not given time for a rebuttal–or if you do disarm one objection, they go ahead to offer another objection followed by another, etc.
As Calvinists, we must acknowledge the Biblical truth that nonbelievers will suppress the truth and will keep on doing so, since Romans 1:18-19 states:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth [l]in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident[m]within them; for God made it evident to them.
Yet we must also acknowledge that God wants us to refute error as 2 Corinthians 10:5 exhort:
We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,
While also realizing that if someone were to ever convert and be saved, the Gospel needs to be shared in the apologetic dialogue.
How does one deal with such a conversation and be faithful to all three of these Biblical truths?
- Set the Ground rule
- Tell the individual since there are too many reasons/objections they are giving, ask that they limit their presentation to their TOP reason/objection/argument.
- Explain the rationale: Best use of time.
- Explain the rationale: Present their best one, because if their top argument “works,” they have already establish their perspective is rational. Other argument, if there is merit to them, will confirm it.
- Explain the rationale: Present their best one, because if their top argument fail, then the other arguments/objection/reason by their own admission presents a weaker case. If the best reason presented is unconvincing, the lesser reasons will be even less convincing.
- Tell the individual that after their TOP reason is given, you should share whether or not there is merit to their case.
- Explain the rationale: Fairness of both individuals speak in the conversation.
- Explain the rationale: Just because someone says an argument is reasonable doesn’t mean it is; we need to scrutinize it.
- Tell the individual since there are too many reasons/objections they are giving, ask that they limit their presentation to their TOP reason/objection/argument.
- Let the individual share their TOP argument.
- Listen carefully.
- Rationale: For true understanding of the other person’s view so as to love them and not misrepresent them.
- Refute it.
- Bring Presuppositional apologetics to bear.
- Rationale: Don’t get lost in trails with the particular details (they do have it’s place), but remember the bigger picture of worldview analysis.
- Present the Gospel
- Be Biblical in the Gospel presentation.
- Rationale: Only the Gospel will save sinners and soften harden hearts.
Posted in Apologetics, apologetics methodology, Calvinism, christian apologetics, Christianity, Cornelius Van Til, dispensationalism, John Whitcomb, Kevin Zuber, Presuppositional Apologetics, presuppositionalism, Reformed, S. Lewis Johnson, Theology, Van Til, tagged Kevin Zuber on March 24, 2014 | 21 Comments »
We want to thank Dr. Kevin D. Zuber from his busy schedule of the pastoral ministry and being a professor to take part in this interview!
1.) Describe your current ministry to the Lord and your educational background.
I graduated from Grace College, Winona Lake, IN (BA 1977) and Grace Theological Seminary (MDiv 1981; ThM 1985) and from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (PhD 1996). I’ve been a pastor for over 25 years (Indiana, Iowa, Arizona, Illinois). Currently, I’m Professor of Theology at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, IL and Pastor of Grace Bible Church Northwest in Schaumburg, IL and I’m also an Adjunct Professor with Asia Biblical Theological Seminary, Chang Mai, Thailand. At Moody, my full time job, I teach Systematic Theology classes and electives, some Bible classes (Romans, Life of Christ), and some classes in philosophy. The church where I serve is small and we meet only on Sunday mornings in a rented facility—it’s mostly just me preaching (expository) for an hour, with some prayer time, and q & a once a month (www.gracebiblechurchnorthwest.com — don’t expect much, our website rather minimal – don’t everybody go there at once!). ABTS is an extension of Cornerstone University (Grand Rapids) and I teach one class a year in various SE Asian countries (e.g. Theological Issues in Asian Ministry).
At Moody I teach an elective class called, simply enough, Presuppositional Apologetics. More on that later.
2.) How did you became a Presuppositionalist?
Backing up a bit, I became a believer after high school. The girl I dated on and off in those years was a Christian and I wasn’t; so after high school she broke it off. That led to me reading the New Testament a couple of times through (I understood none of it!). On a later occasion I had a chance to see that girl again and she took the opportunity to share the gospel (again) and this time the Spirit worked and I became a Christian and we got married (I’m shortening the story!)
I knew nothing about the Bible or biblical theology so we headed to Grace College so I could get an advanced course in being discipled. Everything was new to me; when I took NT intro I had no idea who this fellow Paul was! I read voraciously (and out of desperation) everything anyone recommended. Someone hooked me up with the tape ministry of Believer’s Chapel in Dallas and the teaching of S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. He was expository and his tapes on Systematic Theology (ST) were foundational to all my thinking as a young believer. Later I was introduced to the writings of Francis Schaeffer and was overwhelmed. All through my college years I felt like I was playing “intellectual catch-up”; everything was new! I wanted to know how these men came to such knowledge so I read what they said to read. Dr. Johnson, in the tapes on ST said to read Berkof’s ST, Berkof’s notes referenced “Dutch Reformed” men (I had no idea what that meant at the time.) Schaeffer referenced a lot of philosophy; my college didn’t have a lot of that to offer so I tried to read stuff like Descartes and Spinoza with no net! The apologetics I was exposed to in college was evidentialist / rationalist (again, I didn’t know what that meant at the time) but Schaeffer’s writings seemed to point in another direction. Some research led me to where Schaeffer might be getting his ideas—and that led me to some badly-copied mimeograph notes from one Cornelius Van Til. I didn’t really understand much of it . . . BUT it seemed to match up better with the theology (a just “what the Bible says” type of theology) I heard preached by S. Lewis Johnson. I read “Why I Believe in God” and tried to wade through “Apologetics” and “Introduction to Systematic Theology” by Van Til. I’m not sure how much stuck.
When I moved up to Grace Seminary I took apologetics from John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and he actually assigned some (easier) writings from Van Til. That’s when I heard the term “presuppositional apologetics” and things began to “click.” I’d come across some more badly-copied mimeograph notes from one John Frame and that along, with yet more preaching (via cassette tapes) from Dr. Johnson, and John MacArthur, grounded me – that’s how I became a presuppositionalist. I started to “get” the theology, hence the worldview, of the Bible and presuppositionalism “fit” better.
3.) You have been teaching at Moody Bible Institute for over a decade now, what are some frequent challenges students might have in grasping Presuppositional apologetics?
First, it used to be that the term “presuppositional” was new to the students – now, often, the term “apologetics” is a new term as well. As with most Christians who live in “two world-views” (one in church / in private devotions [Christian Mind] and the other out there with the work-a-day world [Worldly Mind]) students have never thought about “how they think” (epistemology is another new term for them.) The “evidentialist / rationalist” way of thinking makes most sense to them because they spend most of their time / lives out there where everyone else lives. It also seems “logical” that we must try to win the unbeliever on his/her terms, with arguments that make sense to him/her. At least, that’s what they’ve been exposed to if they’ve been exposed to “apologetics” at all. “Evidence that demands a verdict!” “The Case for This,” “The Case for That” and all that—this is what they’ve heard and it makes sense to them on the “Worldly Mind” level. This is the method of “You should trust the last smartest person you’ve talked to”; and I ask the students if they recognize that—and they do. And I ask them if they know anyone who left their youth group and went to university and lost their faith—and they all know examples of that—and I explain it’s because we have taught them to “trust the last smartest person they’ve talked to”—and if that’s a pagan university prof, well, what else would we expect?
So in short, the biggest challenge has been that students don’t think Scripturally; as Harry Blamires said years ago, “There is no Christian mind.” Hence they don’t think apologetically at all. On the other hand, I’ve had students who do like apologetics but by the time they get to my class they are most often already committed to a “brainy apologetics” that tries to be that “last smartest person” (e.g. as in so-called debates between high-powered Christian apologists and hapless atheists who accept the invitation to such dog-and-pony shows.) I see my main task to get students (Christians) to think with the world-view of Scripture (I do that with good theology and exposition) and then to do apologetics with that worldview! I think this is exactly what Paul is arguing for in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2.
4.) Some people believe that Dispensationalism and Presuppositional apologetics are incompatible. Do you believe this is so? Why or why not?
Well, I think this actually relates to a more basic question and that is the relationship between dispensationalism and reformed (small “r”) theology. For reasons I can’t get into here, I don’t think someone can be a consistent presuppositionalist and an Arminian. I see dispensationalism and the “doctrines of grace” as fully compatible (Michael Vlach at The Master’s Seminary has addressed that issue along with others.) But to the point, I don’t see any place where dispensationalism and presuppositionalism intersect in a contradictory way. I think it may be the Reformed (big “R”) guys who want to preserve presuppositionalism for covenant theology who argue that but I’m not seeing it. (I think Fred Butler’s answer on this point was a good one, so I’d defer to his analysis—link to his interview here.)
5.) Seeing how you have many years of faithful ministry to the Lord, what would you caution, encourage and exhort to a young man interested in apologetics?
If I can go back to my brief testimony above—I came to my “Calvinism,” my “dispensationalism,” and my “presuppositionalism” in the most un-dramatic but (I think honest) way possible. In my college and seminary years I just listened to S. Lewis Johnson preach the Word. All through my pastoral years I’ve listened to John MacArthur preach the Word. I still can’t get enough of listening to the Word preached. I read the sermons of preachers—Calvin, Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones. I came to read the Puritans after seminary and wish I’d read them before and during those years—especially Thomas Watson. I got “into philosophy” but never as a “primary study”—it was only to try and understand theology. But my theology was driven by exposition.
I explain to my students that I don’t see apologetics, or evangelism, or preaching to a congregation, or even counseling as fundamentally different activities. I think it was John Frame who defined apologetics as “the application of Scripture to unbelief.” Well, in my mind expository preaching is the application of Scripture to the needs—spiritual, practical, ecclesiological—of a local church. Counseling is the application of Scripture to an individual—spiritual, practical, personal, matters / issues. Evangelism is the application of the gospel (The Word) to sinners. Even “personal devotions” are the application of Scripture to . . . me!
So, I’d say that a young man or woman who wants to do “apologetics” well, should master . . . or better, be mastered by Scripture. Know the Word! The worldview of Scripture needs to be so ingrained that the worldview of the world looks “odd.”
6.) Any resources on apologetics, worldview or theology that you recommend?
The textbook I use in class is Greg Bahsen’s massive volume on Van Til. We just jump in—it’s the “sink or swim” method—perhaps not the best but most students don’t drown (!). Actually, I use the links provided here at this website pretty often to supplement that text. Otherwise, the recommendations made by others in this series of interviews are the one’s I’d offer as well.
Read lots of good theology—listen to lots of good exposition—then one’s apologetics should flow naturally from that.
7.) What is the role of resurrection?
Very briefly, when I read the Book of Acts I never see anyone arguing for the veracity, historicity, reality of the Resurrection of Christ but they did argue from the Resurrection. Or, to put it better, the Resurrection was not something to “be proven” but something that “proves”—it was deployed to prove that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed, the Lord and Christ! (See the end of Peter’s Acts 2 and Paul’s Acts 17 sermons) Here I’m just following Van Til – we cannot separate the historical and theological facts about the Resurrection – if we do we may find folks willing to accept the historical fact (“So He was raised from the dead, wow, that’s weird.”) but not willing to accept the theological fact (“Raised? Maybe—but it doesn’t mean anything.”) Actually, the apologetic question or issue here is not the Resurrection but the credibility of the Bible—and on that I hold that the Bible must be self-authenticating. But that’s another question.
Posted in Apologetics, Bill Barrick, Book Review, christian apologetics, Christianity, creationism, historical adam, Matthew M. Barrett, Philip Ryken, systematic theology, Theology, tagged William Barrick on March 19, 2014 | 16 Comments »
For the last few years the historicity of Adam has been a topic of controversy and debate within Evangelical academia. It comes at no surprise that Zondervan would come out with a book in their Counterpoint series addressing this topic. Four views are given a hearing in this book represented by Denis O. Lamoureux (Evolutionary Creation View that denies the historical Adam), John Walton (Archetypal Creation View), C. John Collins (Old Earth Creation View), and William D. Barrick (Young Earth Creation View).
Normally I’m cautious about these Four Views book either because I feel better contributors could have been selected or space limitation didn’t allow justice for the complex subject at hand. With these expectations I must say I thought the book did a better job than I expected. I’m happy to see some improvements over the years with this genre. The four scholars selected are highly qualified representative of their respective views. In previous works the format feature the chapters by each school followed by the responses by the other schools; I appreciated that this work also feature a rejoinder to the other schools’ responses, a plus in my opinion in seeing what a counter-rebuttal looks like. I also appreciated the editors’ decision to have two pastoral reflections that discussed what the implication of the discussion of the historicity of Adam means practically for the Christian (although I must say it seems Gregory Boyd’s essay ended up being more on why Christians should welcome those who deny the historical Adam as brothers and sisters in the faith even in our disagreements). The two contributors selected for this part were excellent: Both Gregory Boyd and Philip Ryken are well known for being pastor-scholars. I thought the pastoral reflection also made their contribution to the discussion of which view one should take on the historical Adam question, and these two essays must not be overlooked or dismiss because its pastoral in nature; in particular I had in mind how Ryken’s essay laid out what an historical or non-historical Adam means theologically for the Christian experience and Gospel witness.
I imagine not many will change their views from reading this book and yet I would say this book is still important and worth buying because it provide a concise summary of each perspective’s argument. Never had I read a book in Zondervan’s Counterpoint series in which the contributors footnoted their own work as much as they did in this volume but I appreciated this as helpful for those who want to do further research. One can’t really blame the contributors for footnoting themselves so much since this is a much more complicated subject than most topics in this series since there is immediate question of Adam’s existence and also the undercurrent of one’s understanding of the role of modern science/evolution in interpreting the Genesis 1-3 that formulate one’s conclusion to the Adam question. Really, this book had only one contributor (Lamoureux) who denied the historical Adam while the other three believed in a historical Adam; and yet all three who agreed on Adam didn’t arrive to their conclusion by the same method necessarily given their divergent view of the role of extra-biblical data (Modern cosmology, science, evolution, Ancient Near East studies) in interpreting Genesis 1-3.
Dr. Barrick has one of the most exegetically rich chapters in the book, and readers will appreciate his grammatical and syntactical observation brought out from Genesis 1-2. The contributor with the strongest scientific background is Lamoureux but appeared to be the most exegetically weak, where in the responses the other three contributors harped on him for his take on the Hebrew word Raqia and his misleading translation of this term as “firmament.”
NOTE: This book was provided to me free by Zondervan and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
Posted in Calvinism, christian apologetics, Christianity, Cornelius Van Til, dispensationalism, Presuppositional Apologetics, presuppositionalism, Reformed, Theology, Van Til on March 18, 2014 | 11 Comments »
In the past we have done a Marathon series on the small stream of Calvinistic Dispensationalists who are Presuppositional in their apologetics (VanTillian). This might have just been a quiet phenomenon but in God’s providence discussions as a result of Scott Oliphint’s thesis to call VanTil’ apologetics “Covenantal apologetics” has even brought some to ask if Calvinistic Dispensationalists could even be Presuppositionalists if they don’t subscribe fully to Covenant Theology.
Beginning next Monday, March 24, 2014, we will be doing a second series on Calvinistic Dispensational Presuppositionalism. Lord willing, throughout that week we will be having some written interviews, articles and resources posted. Make sure to check them out, share your thoughts and share them with others if they edify you!
The link to the “index” of the first Marathon series can be accessed here.
Posted in Amazon review, biblical worldview, Book Review, christian apologetics, Christian blogging, Christian worldview, Christianity, Reformed, Theology, tagged Christian blogging on March 13, 2014 | 15 Comments »
Nearly two months ago over at Triablogue Jason Engwer wrote a post titled “Christians Should Be Posting More At Amazon” in which Jason explains why he will be more involved in book reviewing on Amazon as a Conservative Christian. The last paragraph is worth quoting:
I’ve commented before about how Christians, political conservatives, and others with similar views need to be more active online. Amazon is another illustration of that need. It’s something I neglected for a long time. Late last year, I decided to become more active in posting reviews and comments at Amazon. I hope other Christians and others who hold similar views will do the same. I’m not just referring to posting positive comments about books we agree with. In some ways, it’s even more important that we be active in reviewing and commenting on what we disagree with.
And in the comment section I think Jason makes a good point that for those of us who blog should take into account of posting reviews on Amazon:
People are often concerned about building an audience for something like a blog or Twitter account, and most of us never get many readers in that sort of context. But Amazon provides us with a free platform that already has a large audience. And Amazon is surely used by many people in academia, politics, and other contexts where we’d want to be influential. In terms of both quantity and quality of influence, there’s a lot of potential.
Another way Christians can contribute in their influence is following certain Christian reviewers who are helpful and voting when there’s a good review you appreciate. It seems that when one posts a critical review on a controversial books you always have those who are trolling to automatically down vote another perspective.
As a result of that posts I’ve been thinking about posting our book reviews there on Amazon and want to encourage other Christians to do the same as a Christian influence upon people’s perspective of what they take in in terms of book reading.
I’m a late starter in this area and book reviews I post here will also appear on Amazon. Double the presence with the same review.
I’ll also begin the slow process of putting up older reviews I have onto Amazon as well. As of right now we have 112 reviews and I plan by mid-April to posts up 270 plus book reviews on there.
I also know that some of the readers on here have already been doing this for years now or some are just getting started. If you already have a presence on Amazon what is the link to your profile page?