Here are some links rounded up from the internet for those interested in Presuppositional apologetics! They are from April 15th-21st, 2014.
Archive for the ‘Reformed’ Category
Justin Taylor, the Vice President of Editorial at Crossway has put up a series of videos covering each day of the last week of Jesus and if you haven’t seen it yet you are missing out! These videos are part of the promotional for a book on The Final Days of Jesus.
1.) Describe your present ministry. (NOTE: I know you answered this already, added if you want to expand upon it)
I am an active member at Berean Baptist Church in Pickerington, OH. We are a small church so we all wear a lot of hats. I frequently teach Sunday school for all ages and give devotions or preach at special events. My church and church leaders are very supportive of my evangelism where I street preach and hand out tracts.
I assist Andrew Rappaport with the Spreading the Fire events for Striving for Eternity. I have spoken for him and I am the emcee for all 2014 events. I am also a part of Tony Miano’s Pulpit and Streets SermonAudio page where my teachings are posted.
That is the extent of “my ministry” as it often termed. But I would also consider the few hours a week I spend personally discipling Christian men 1 on 1 and my time spent with wife and 4 children to be ministry as well. I have a full time job which pays the bills, so I’m not as active as some of the “other guys.” (All of whom I love and respect!)
My blog is michaelcoughlin.net. I appreciate you checking it out.
2.) How did you come to embrace Presuppositional apologetics?
I learned the term ‘presuppositional apologetics’ from reading Answers In Genesis publication “Answers.” But to be honest, it seems when I was converted I simply embraced what most people think of as a new movement called ‘presup.’ The way I see, good, bible-believing Christians have been doing effective ‘presup’ since the beginning of time. The fact that we need a special name for it is more a testimony to how far from defending our faith biblically and rationally we have come as a Christian culture. I do suppose it is good that there is a sort of “reformation” going on where more people are learning what it means and I’m not opposed to labeling things if it helps people catch on.
3.) Some people think Calvinism is incompatible with Evangelism, what is your take on this?
As an unashamed 5 point Calvinist who evangelizes more than most Christians I know I obviously find this laughable to an extent. But I recognize the argument. The belief that God can and will save only his elect in and of itself ought to be a deterrent to evangelism. But when we look at the whole counsel of God and see that God has ordained salvation by grace through faith through the hearing of His Word, through the foolishness of preaching, then we get the whole picture. We see that Calvinism is not a deterrent to evangelism, but it is evangelism’s only hope for any success in seeing converts made.
God “can” persist my life if I do not eat at all. Yet we know that God has designed things such that we must eat to fuel our bodies or we would die. We would never ‘test’ God in this way. I believe that it is biblical to say that in the same sense God has designed things such that He will save whom He wills through people hearing or reading the gospel and believing – which makes evangelism required in the Calvinist worldview.
4.) How do you incorporate Presuppositional apologetics with evangelism?
I try to be careful to keep 1 Corinthians 2:14 at the forefront of my mind. I don’t shy away from what some people would call evidential arguments if only for the sake of entertaining the listener slightly. I’d also talk about NFL football with someone for a few minutes during an evangelism encounter. But ultimately, my belief is that ‘even if someone were to return from the dead, they still would not believe if they will not heed God’s Word.’ So my goal is to faithfully preach what the Bible actually says about man, God, Christ and the gospel command and leave the conversion up to God. I don’t try to convert men to presuppositionalists when I’m giving them the gospel any more than I try to convert them to Christ. I simply lay out the Truth of scripture. I’ve seen too many people practicing presup who seem more intent on winning the argument than the soul. May God forbid that ever be me.
I try to help people who are willing and honest to see the logical fallacies of their own arguments and how those inconsistencies are rooted in their presuppositions. I am not opposed to asking a nonbeliever to consider that my worldview makes sense, ‘assuming the Bible is my foundation.’ I’ve had a few people vehemently opposed to my preaching about hell or against homosexuality who have agreed with me that ‘assuming I really believe the Bible,’ my preaching was the most loving act I could do toward them.
5.) Tell us more about Spread the Fire.
Spreading the Fire is an umbrella title for 3 conferences held each year to equip saints to evangelize. Striving for Eternity is the organization which puts on the events, and I’m happy to assist. Three things make these FREE conferences unique, and, I think, better.
The first is that it is not only an evangelism conference. We provide teaching to equip saints to grow as Christian men or women, not only as evangelists. In fact, this year’s conference theme for 2 of the events is “Family.” The second thing which I believe causes us to stand out is that we have a conference, and then we actually take people out to the street to actually evangelize and we stand by them side by side to help. Finally, and most importantly, we try to partner with local churches and we instruct our attendees of the requirement that they become accountable to a local church as a follower of Christ. Visit OhioFire.org for more info about all 3 conferences.
6.) What would be your encouragement to a young man who desire to be involved in open air outreach? Any resources?
Yes. Start with your local church and pastor. Read the following articles: http://michaelcoughlin.net/blog/index.php/2013/02/caution-young-street-preacher/and http://www.crossencounters.us/2014/04/approaching-your-pastor-about-evangelism.html. Assuming your local church is supportive, contact us at http://pulpitandstreets.com/pas/index.php/get-in-touch/ and we will figure out how we can be of service to you.
Ultimately, evangelism and open air outreach are not new things. All a man needs is authentic conversion, love for Christ, a desire for holiness and an earnest wish to see the lost get found to start telling people of the greatest display of love ever in the cross of Christ and glorious hope in his resurrection.
It turns out that The Master’s Seminary, where John MacArthur presides over, has also done their annual Faculty Lecture Series also on the topic of “Strange Fire.”
Here are the videos!
Note: We kick off our Saturday Series on Jonah! But before I go verse by verse in my studies, I typically like beginning any study of a Book of the Bible with what they call Introductory discussion (Purpose of the Book, authorship, date, themes, general observation of the Book as a whole). These are my rough notes.
Introductory question: When I say “Jonah” what do you guys think about?
Establish the need: What is and why cover the Book of Jonah?
Purpose of covering Jonah: See that even though Jonah is a small book in the Bible, it covers important themes for us living out our Christian lives today.
1.) Jonah is a small book
- Part of the Minor prophets in the Old Testament.
- Minor prophets were often called “The Twelve”
- “The Twelve” was so small that it usually fit in one scroll.
- Four short chapters.
- The book is divided into forty eight sentences, 688 words.
- Make up only one percent of the whole Bible.
2.) Purpose of the book of Jonah: God’s mercy upon us, and upon others, so that we can live a life out telling others about God.
- Other smaller themes: God is Sovereign.
- Other smaller themes: God is not only about the Jews—even in the Old Testament
- Other smaller themes: God as Savior.
2 Kings 14:27 is the key to knowing the time of this book.
It is embedded in 2 Kings 14:23-27,
23 In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel became king in Samaria, and reigned forty-one years. 24 He did evil in the sight of the Lord; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel sin. 25 He restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the Lord, the God of Israel, which He spoke [i]through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath-hepher. 26 For the Lord saw the affliction of Israel, which was very bitter; for there was neither bond nor free, nor was there any helper for Israel. 27 The Lord did not say that He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, but He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash.
Historical note: God’s people were split now into two kingdom, the northern kingdom of Israel and southern king of Judah.
During this time the reign was of Jeroboam II of Israel, who reigned from 793 to 753 B.C. (Kohlenberger, 16).
Jeroboam II was militarily stronger than some of the previous kings according to verse 25.
Assyria was just a rising world power and Nineveh was a great world city (Limburg, 22).
Flow of the Book
- Called and runaway (1:1-3)
- Ship at sea (1:4-16)
- Inside the great fish (1:17-2:10)
- Jonah given assignment once more (3:1-3a)
- Jonah at Nineveh (3:3b-10)
- Jonah’s prayer in Nineveh (4:1-3)
- Jonah’s conversation with God outside the city (4:4-11)
Assorted notes and observation
Exodus 34:6-7 as the foundation for Jonah and Nahum (Kohlenberger, 12).
Jonah 4:2 mentions about God as compassionate, merciful, slow to anger, filled with love…we expect it of God towards the Jews but here it’s for Gentiles!
NT reference to Jonah in Matthew 12:39-41, 16:4, Luke 11:29-32 and OT reference in 2 Kings 14:25.
Only prophetic book that is primarily a story of a prophet (Limburg, 21). The mention of God’s actual word is short (3:4b) and there is a prayer that makes the bulk of Jonah 3, but the rest is about the prophet’s story (Limburg, 21).
Only prophet to have gone to a foreign land and preach to them (Limburg, 22).
Use of questions is profound in Jonah: 14 of them, and often the way of bringing Jonah to the scene by means of questions in Jonah 1:6, 8, 11; 4:4, 9, 11 (Limburg, 25).
First part of the book, all questions (seven of them) are directed towards Jonah.
Second part is Jonah to God (Jonah 2:4)
Then rhetorical question in Jonah 3:9
Jonah’s angry question towards God (Jonah 4:2)
Yahweh’s three questions back in Jonah 4:4, 9, 11.
Lots of dialogues
UP AND DOWN
UP: Jonah commanded to: “Arise” (v.3a) Same verb as below.
UP: Jonah: “Rose up” (v.3a) Same verb as above.
Down: Jonah “went down to Joppa” (v.3b)
Down: Jonah “went down into” the hold of the ship (v.3b)
Down: The LORD hurl a big wind (v.4)
Down: Sailors hurl cargoes into the sea (v.5)
Down: Jonah slept down in the hold of the ship (v.5)
Down: Jonah suggest they hurl him into the sea (v.12)
Down: They do hurl Jonah into the sea (v.15)
- Root “gdl” for “big” is seen 14 times with city (1:2), wind, storm (1:4), fear (1:10), storm (1:12), fear (1:16), fish (1:17), city (3:2), city (3:3), biggest (3:5), king’s “big ones” (3:7), anger (4:1), gladness (4:6), city (4:11).
- Hurl, by the Lord of a big wind (1:4), sailors hurl cargoes into the sea (1:5), Jonah suggest they hurl him into the sea (1:12), they do hurl him (1:15).
- “Go down” to Joppa (1:3), down into the ship (1:3), into the hold (1:5), down to the bottom of mountains (2:6).
Amazing increase of details to dramatize the storm in chapters 1 (1:4, 11, 13).
When wind calmed down in 1:16, details get shorter and shorter in the following three clauses (Limburg, 27).
Ship “thought” about breaking (1:4)
Sea raging (1:15)
Sea and dry land (1:9)
Day and night (1:17)
Jonah is a prophet, but in the beginning is being asked more questions of him than he is preaching (Limburg, 25).
- Yahweh sends a wet wind upon the sea (1:4), then sends a warm wind against Jonah (4:8).
- Uses at first a big fish (1:17) but also a tiny worm to teach a lesion (4:6-7).
Posted in Christianity, Reformed, Theology, Calvinism, James Anderson, Sovereignty, Greenvile Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Joseph Pipa, providence, Joel Beeke, Derek Thomas, Benjamin Shaw on April 7, 2014 | 4 Comments »
Been meaning to post this online earlier but haven’t had the chance until now.
Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary had their annual Spring Conference on the topic of Providence and the MP3 audios to the Conference are now available online:
Posted in Book Review, Christianity, Church, church discipline, ecclesiology, Pastor, Pastoral Ministry, Reformed, Sanctification, Stephen Davey, Theology, tagged Church Discipline on April 6, 2014 | 2 Comments »
It is a small book on the controversial topic of church discipline. The strength of this book is that it is clear, direct and Biblical. Both Pastors and church members will benefit from reading it. The author begins with startling statistics of the large percentage of Pastors and church leaders who confess of neglecting the practice of church discipline. As the rest of the book demonstrates, the Bible is not vague on church discipline, which is described and prescribed in the Bible. I appreciate how early in the book the author stated the main objective of church discipline is restoration and not punishment. I also appreciate how the book deals with the major objection against church discipline, with the charge that we are not to judge others. The apologist within me is quick to point out the self-defeating nature of such an objection, but the author takes the more pastoral route in his response by showing from Scriptural data of when it is right and proper to judge, and when it is not right to judge. Again, this is very helpful. While some of the book’s interaction with the Biblical author can be gain from other books that touches on church discipline (typically within volumes on ecclesiology), I found this book to be uniquely helpful with its discussion on the parameter of sins that leads to church discipline, what the biblical evidence of repentance looks like and the need for forgiveness in the restoration process. For those who are unfamiliar with what the Bible has to say about church discipline, this should be the first stop.
Posted in Christianity, Reformed, Theology, Presuppositional Apologetics, Book Review, Bible, Van Til, presuppositionalism, Cornelius Van Til, Vern Poythress, historical adam, tagged Adam on April 4, 2014 | 9 Comments »
Vern Poythress is quite the Renaissance man; or more appropriately I should say he’s quite the Reformation man. With degrees in Mathematics from Cal Tech and Harvard balanced with a theological degree in apologetics from Westminster and also New Testament studies at Oxford, Poythress over the years have shown himself to be quite a capable scholar when it comes to discussion of various disciplines from the Christian Worldview. When I learned that the editors for the “Christian Answers to Hard Questions” series has selected Poythress to write in defense of the historicity of Adam, I was quite delighted. The debate on the historicity of Adam has been a source of contention the last few years in Evangelical circles and survey of the literature reveal that it involves the discipline of biology, Old Testament studies and Ancient Near East studies. Given the inter-disciplinary nature of the debate, Poythress’ ability to navigate through inter-relationship of disciplines would be helpful (for an introduction to Poythress’ view on the relationship of disciplines, see his book Symphonic Theology).
Like other works in the Christian Answers to Hard Questions series, this is a short book. The short length forces its contributors to be concise. Poythress did a masterful job of engaging the reader. I enjoyed and learned the most from his evaluation of the claim that man and Chimpanzees share 99% of the same DNA. He spends a considerable length addressing this issue. Poythress’ footnotes demonstrate that he is informed and up to date with the latest peer review articles on genetic studies and I appreciate the caliber of his sources behind his effort to debunk the claim that Chimpanzees and man are 99% alike genetically. It turns out that the data has been manipulated and some of the genetic materials that are not similar between man and Chimps have been eliminated from the percentage count. I also appreciated the discussion of what one’s interpretative grid of the percentage means. One sees here how Cornelius Van Til and Thomas Kuhn influenced Poythress on the importance of one’s philosophy of science that plays a role of how one understands the evidences.
I did not disagree with the conclusion or the arguments presented in the book. However, the book could be improved in two ways. First, it would have helped to let his readers know what his conclusion is in the beginning of the book rather than the end. Secondly, I think Poythress shouldn’t have begun the book with a lengthy discussion about the genetics similarities between man and chimps. Towards the end of the book Poythress noted that the discussion of the historicity of Adam takes place in various disciplines—theology, biology and Biblical studies. I think it would have been helpful to put this in the beginning of the book as preparation for the genetics discussion. Overall the book is more theological rather than exegetical but I wouldn’t dismiss it for being so since it paves the way for the Biblical data to speak on the question of the historicity of Adam. In fact, I would recommend those who want to start understanding the debate to begin with this book first, followed by Zondervan’s recent Four Views on the Historicity of Adam.
NOTE: This book was provided to me free by P&R Publishing and Net Galley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.
In *light* of April Fools, I thought I put up this *light* post.
Do you know your Reformed apologist? Can you guess the name of each apologists represented by pictures?
Enjoy this game of Picture Charades! If you need extra help for some, click on the thumbnail to enlarge the picture.
(Answers will be posted in the comments a few hours from now)
1.) Random fact: Born in May 3, 1895.
2.) Random Fact: Taught at a non-Christian university.
3.) Random fact: Bicycle rider.
4.) Random fact: Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
5.) Random Fact: Former host of a radio show.
6.) Random fact: Undergraduate studies at West Texas State University.
7.) Random fact: Dad lived in Indonesia before.
8.) Random fact: Incredible blogger.
How many did you guessed? Let us know!
Not Pictured because it was too difficult: Greg Bahnsen, Vern Poythress.
In July 2012, the popular Presuppositional Apologetics’ blog “Choosing Hats” had a post titled “The Transcendental Argument Against Dispensationalism: What is Dispensationalism?” It was written by one of their contributors who goes by the handle “Ben W.” The post was supposed to be the first of a series critiquing Dispensationalism. The opening paragraph made it clear that Ben was “not planning to make a historical argument against Dispensationalism.” Instead, Ben stated in the last sentence: “As this series continues, we will explore further the developments which Progressive Dispensationalism has made to these tenets and discuss whether or not a consistent application of these hermeneutical principles can allow us to interpret scripture intelligibly and consistently.” The angle sounds interesting but unfortunately the series was discontinued before any Transcendental argument against Dispensationalism (hereafter TAAD) materialized. What makes the idea of TAAD interesting is that Presuppositionalism is big with the Transcendental argument for the existence of God (TAG) and to see another Transcendental argument successfully refute another “ism” further boost Presuppositional apologetics and also advance the thesis advocated by some that Presuppositionalism and Dispensationalism are incompatible. For those interested, I have written on the topic of hermeneutics, Dispensationalism and Presuppositionalism here but reached an opposite conclusion.
The best argument I’ve seen against Dispensationalism by Presuppositionalists that mimic the Transcendental Argument is offered by those within the Christian Reconstructionist camp. There are some Christians I know who have an instant knee-jerk reaction to anything Christian Reconstructionism, which is also known as Theonomy, due to a lot of misrepresentations out there (all Theonomists reject salvation by grace alone, they want the Church to persecute non-Christians, etc). I must say that I have benefited from many Theonomists and what they have to say (see our blog’s tag on the category on Theonomy). I believe non-Theonomists can benefit from reading Christian Reconstructionists, even if they disagree with them, but that’s another subject for another time. Here in this post I want to limit the scope to the Theonomists’ “Transcendental” argument against Dispensationalism and whether its argument has any weight.
Christian Reconstructionists are Postmillennial in their eschatology and are critical of Amillennialism and Premillennialism. In 1990 Gary North published a book titled Millennialism and Social Theory. The inside book flap says “In Millennialism and Social Theory, Dr. Gary North, co-founder of this movement, examines why both pre-millennialism and amillennialism have never developed independent social theories, and why the spokesmen of both positions appeal to the prevailing ethics of contemporary humanism as the only possible way to run society.” Inside on page 95 North writes
“If there is no cultural alternative to humanism available in history, then the one reasonable Christian response is to pray for either the Rapture (dispensationalism) or the end of history (amillennialism). (Historic premillennialists and post-tribulational dispensationalists believe that the millennium will come only after Christians have gone through Armageddon and the Great Tribulation. I have no idea what they pray for.)
Premillennialists and amillennialists share a commitment to a coming cosmic discontinuity as the Church’s great hope in history: deliverance from on high (and in the case of premillennial dispensationalism, deliverance to on high). Again, citing Norman Geisler: ‘Hence they do not view their present social involvement as directly related to the emergence of the future kingdom of God. In this respect amillenarians are more like premillennarians and have thereby often escaped some of the extremes of postmillennialism.’ This affirmation of a coming cosmic discontinuity cuts the ground from under the Christian who would seek to discover a uniquely biblical social theory. It also undercuts the incentive for social action. Social action becomes a holding action at best and a kamikaze action at worst.”
The result? According to North, “The result is predictable: the absence of Christian social theory” (Page 95).
Here we see an argument where North argues that Christian must have a distinctively Christian social theory (as opposed to that of humanistic and godless social theory); I imagine most Christians who desire to be Biblical would agree. North argues that amillennialism and premillennialism is a defeater for Christian foundation for Christian social theory because its pessimistic philosophy of history would undermine any social endeavor by the Christian. As the rest of Gary North’s book argues, Postmillennialism’s philosophy of history is optimistic and is a great foundation for Christian social theory. We see here the argument is Transcendental in form and hence I think it’s helpful to see it as TAAD.
To simplify the above, think of the following illustration from the Titanic.
Let’s say you know the ship will sink. As Theonomists love to quote from Vernon McGee, “Do you polish brass on a sinking ship?” If you knew that the ship is going to sink at any moment, it seems that polishing brass is relatively unimportant or for that matter anything that doesn’t contribute to survival such as playing music! This illustration originated with McGee but it has been recycled by Theonomists against McGee’s own Dispensationalism ever since Gary North employed it on page 100 of his 1993 book Rapture Fever. This illustration and argument is really an “internal critique” of Dispensationalism since it attempts to adopt the view of Dispensationalism to show how it is internally problematic. Again, internal critique is an important Presuppositional apologetics’ motif.
While it’s a powerful and vivid illustration I think it’s an inadequate illustration and argument: In the scenario of the sinking ship, it does not account for the reality of spiritual warfare that will always be the context of constructing any Christian social theory against the prevailing false and unbiblical social theory of the World. I imagine a better illustration is the following:
There is a big war between the forces of darkness and the forces of light. You are a warrior in the forces of light. You know that the eventual outcome would be victory of the side of Light. However, the outcome of individual battles is not something you know. Your immediate group of men are surrounded and it seems that as the battle rages on, your sector has all the factors stacked up against you. Surrounded and having several grounds lost to the enemy, the enemies proposes you surrender and surrender means you must now switch allegiance and fight against the very forces of light. The other option is futile resistance and you will be anhiliated. You want to please your King no matter the personal cost. What will you do?
Again, I believe this is a better illustration because it captures the ethical and spiritual warfare dimension of the Christian. This is also a better illustration because all Christians know that victory is in the Lord and there is a sense of optimism that even Dispensationalists hold on to with the Lord’s victory. However, where Premillennialists are not as optimistic is the more nearer aspect of End Times events which this illustration captures. Futhermore, the illustration seems to be more fitting because it stresses the issue is one of faithfulness rather than the pursuit of meaningless activity.
Seen from this angle, one can be dispensational and not have one’s eschatology undermine the meaningfulness of studying and applying a distinctively Christian social theory. To mix Kuypers’ and Van Til’s illustrations, every square inch is own by God, even those squandered by rebellious renters who do not show respect for the Lord who owns it. If every sphere belongs to the Lord, we as Christians must be faithful to the Lord in every sphere we are involved with. It comes down to an issue of being faithful to God despite the opposition and personal costs. Even if the situation seems very pessimistic, one should continue to be faithful to God in every sphere one is involved in. We know compromising does not mean peace, but rather that we have now switch sides and at the very least we are enabling the enemy to advance, if not even more, actively fighting God’s Side.
As any good Marine knows, surrender is not an option. Sometimes it means we lose the battle but we’re not going to be unfaithful to the One who is ALWAYS FAITHFUL.
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.