Archive for the ‘Presuppositionalism’ Category

Knoweldge of God?

June 6, 2011

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I’ve been writing on presuppositionalism lately and the knowledge of God. I’ve already made several points about moral knowledge. What about knowledge of God Himself? Is it possible for the pagan to have knowledge of God without having a salvific knowledge of God?

In a way, it seems that the presuppositionalist is in a bind. We are told on the one hand that man can have no knowledge without being able to support it in the triune God. On the other hand, we are told that all men know who God is and need to repent of their rebellion against him. Which is it that is the case? Does man know God or not?

Romans 1:18-21 is often the key text cited. However, it is a difficult one that many exegetes have wrestled with. When man is said to know God, what exactly is meant? It can’t be salvific knowledge of God here or else that would mean that those who were saved apostasized. An arminian would not have a problem with that, but one who is a Calvinist, as presuppositionalists are, would. This does not mean Calvinism or eternal security or the perseverance of the saints is false. It simply means that believing in presuppositionalism entails believing in Calvinism and believing in Calvinism means one cannot accept this interpretation.

Then if it isn’t salvific knowledge, what is it? Does it mean that everyone knows that God is triune and that He has revealed Himself in Christ? Doubtful. We would need some evidence that there were any among the pagans or even among the Jews themselves prior to Christ who were affirming the doctrine of the Trinity. Not something like the Trinity such as the Jews having the idea of multiple hypostases and plurality possibly being in God or pagans supposed having a Trinity when they have a triad instead. It would need to be the bona fide Trinity.

What does it mean then? It refers to man has a knowledge of God that is basic and can grasp His basic attributes even if imperfectly. That this knowledge is not necessarily salvific is a far cry from saying that it is false. One can read much of Aristotle’s work in the Metaphysics on God and see much that is true from a Christian perspective. Some of it is false, but not all. How did Aristotle get there? He reasoned from the things that were seen.

Are we to say Aristotle had lucky guesses or did He have knowledge of God? I believe the latter. How is that possible however? How could you have knowledge of God without knowledge that God is triune? It is because that knoweldge of God is knowledge of being. We can know something about existent things without knowing how we know them.

Again, this is not denying that the existence of God I think is necessary for there to be an explanation for such things, but it is saying that one does not need to have knowledge of the existence of God in order to say one knows these things. At this point, the question can be asked “Well which God does provide that basis if not the triune God?” Let us look at that tomorrow night.

Moral and Levitical Laws

June 2, 2011

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. We’ve been looking at Presuppositionalism lately and pointing out how it is possible to have knowledge of truth without having direct awareness of the God of the Bible. Of course, I do not deny that that God exists, but I do deny that one has to have epistemological knowledge of Him to have knowledge, a.k.a. justified true beliefs. An atheist reader who I respect responded to what I said yesterday and was asking about laws like what we find in Leviticus.  The Ten Commandments are for us some, but how do we know what is and isn’t?

Good question.

Right off, I’m pleased that the question is being asked rather than the usual canard that’s thrown out of “Well the Bible says homosexual activity is an abomination, but it also says the same thing about eating shellfish.”

To begin with, both of the injunctions against homosexuality in Leviticus are to be found in chapters 18 and 20. I’m not going to go through the whole list, but I want to call attention to how each of those chapters ends.

First, Leviticus 18:24-28.

24 “‘Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. 25 Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. 26 But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the foreigners residing among you must not do any of these detestable things, 27 for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. 28 And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.

And now, we move on to Leviticus 20:22-24.

22 “‘Keep all my decrees and laws and follow them, so that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. 23You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. 24 But I said to you, “You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations.

Notice something in each of these passages? In each one, God tells the people that the inhabitants of the land are being cast out because of committing these acts. In the Bible, you do not see God punishing other nations for failing to keep the ceremonial Law of Israel. Note also the distinctions that are made for Israel such as dietary are later shown to be no longer in effect in the New Testament, such as in Mark 7. Does that mean these were wasteful and pointless laws? Not at all. They were established to keep in the mind of the Israelites purity.

What about abominations?

The word can refer to an abomination in two ways. One is in a ritual sense and one is in an ethical sense. Consider how it would be wrong to throw dirt onto your neighbor’s carpet. It would also be wrong to murder his wife there and spill her blood on the carpet, but when we say both of those are wrong, we do not mean they are wrong in the same sense.

How is it known which is which? The context is the key. Moral laws are generally upheld throughout the Bible as a whole. Ceremonial and civil are not. For instance, with ceremonial laws, God Himself states that He does not desire sacrifice but rather pure hearts. Why have sacrifices then? To point to Christ and to show that there is a price for sin. See also judgments on other nations.

The Law of Israel was given for Israel and Gentiles were never to be under it. The Natural Law of morality however is for everyone and everyone is accountable to it. Of course, those with Scripture are more accountable as they should definitely know better with explicit commands from God, but sadly, we often do not.

I hope this clears up any difficulties.


Were The Ten Commandments New?

June 1, 2011

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I’ve been looking lately at presuppositionalism and today, I’d like to look at the moral knowledge that we have that is found in the Old Testament. This is a mistake that atheists frequently make as well when they go to the Ten Commandments. What I’d like to discuss is if the Ten Commandments were really something new.

The Ten Commandments are often seen as the moral principles that Christians are to follow. Now to an extent, we are, but the Ten Commandments were never given to Gentiles. We are to follow the commandments not because we suddenly transform into the Jewish people, as if we have to keep Levitical Law as well, but because the Ten Commandments also correspond with Natural Law by and large. The one we could ask about the most would be the Sabbath command, but even then we can say that we ought to honor time.

Atheists will often point to claims such as the Law of Hammurabi containing such precepts as well and it being much more detailed. Ricky Geravis in an article he wrote claimed to be being a good Christian since he could claim that he was following the Ten Commandments, as if the definition of a Christian is one who follows the Ten Commandments.

What has this to do with the presuppositional approach? It is about moral knowledge. To see the problem with the atheist view on this, all we need to do is just consider something for a moment that should be painstakingly obvious. When God told the Israelites a command such as “Do not murder,” do we really think they heard that word from Moses and said “What?! We’re not supposed to be doing that?! Dang! Guess we’d better stop!”

Of course not. So what is the purpose if the Ten Commandments were nothing new? Why would God tell His people to do that which they already knew to do?

Question: When is it that a woman is told to love and cherish someone for the rest of her life?

Answer: A wedding.

Now the point here is that when a wedding takes place and a woman is given this charge by the minister, does the woman really think “Wait. I’m supposed to do that?!” I had no idea!”

No. Nor does a man think differently when he’s given a similar charge. They both state it however as a public proclamation of what they already have established for one another. It is no longer something kept between just the two of them. It is a promise that they have made and have now made in the eyes of God and man.

In essence, the Ten Commandments are God doing that to Israel. The fullness of what it meant to be God’s people would come later, but God is asking His people if they will be His bride and the obeying of them is saying “I do.” There is nothing new in them. They are instead the step taken to establish the covenant between God and Israel as a nation. He has bought them out of slavery and now He desires to make them His own.

This would also mean that this is part of moral knowledge. Even without having a thorough understanding, it was to be known that murder was wrong. They did not need to believe in the triune God to know that. Of course, the triune God is the basis for morality, but saying the triune God is the ontological basis for morality is different from saying one must have epistemological knowledge of the triune God in order to know that murder is wrong. I agree that one needs a basis, but I do not see any reason that God must be specifically Christian nor do I think such has been given.

For the atheist, to treat the Ten Commandments as new moral commands and think that following them establishes one as a Christian is simply false. In reality, on the externals, a lot of us do well at the Ten Commandments. We can have problems sometimes with things like lying, honoring parents, or coveting. For Christians, we can make idols in our hearts and fail to love God as we ought, but for the horizontal level, most of us today do fairly well.

Keep in mind however that Christ took these to a whole new level and on that new level, we tend to not do so well. That is the reality and in that case, we need the power of Christ in us in order to improve on those. However, even if from this point on in your life you lived them perfectly, it would not merit you salvation as you’d still have your past sins to atone for.

If the Commandments are seen instead as a marriage covenant, we see more of what is going on and we realize that following the teaching of God for Israel was a way of honoring their side of the covenant. Of course, we also know that they didn’t do too well, but let us remember the warning of Paul and not take pride for if the natural branches were cut off, we could be as well. For the Christian, we are to exhort one another to righteousness. Let’s keep doing such.

Truth of God in Genesis

May 28, 2011

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I’m going to be continuing our look at the presuppositional approach tonight by going to the beginning, that is, the book of Genesis. Can we find that the writer did affirm truth outside of an explicit knowledge of God or not?

To begin with, let’s start with some moral truths. The only command we know of given to Adam and Eve is to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Other than that, they are given quite free reign. The question has often been asked how it is that they would know that they ought to obey God. However, the Genesis account indicates a unique relationship between Adam and God in that God walked in the garden and Adam was not too surprised to see Him, only ashamed that he was naked before God, and that God brought the animals to Adam to see what he would name them. It is likely that Adam did understand where he came from as a creation of God to some extent, though this does not make him a master theologian.

His children meanwhile are knowledgeable of sin somehow and what they ought do and ought not do. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long before murder enters into the picture. Note in the passage as well that Cain fears justice from other people. We can spend so much time answering the question of Cain’s wife that we miss the concept of justice.

The preaching of Noah is much much later. However, we are only told of Noah’s preaching and no miracles. The world is to understand that they are doing wrong. This is an important point in that without the aid of Scripture which did not exist at the time, people were to know moral truths. This is something I plan to look at in much more detail when we get to Exodus.

There is similar activity taking place with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. God tells Abraham that the outcry against the towns is great. Why did judgment come to these towns? Because they ought to have known better. They would root this knowledge in the power of reason. Now there is no denial that God’s existence explains the ontological source of the moral truths, but how one knows the moral truths is different. One can know moral truths without holding to a theistic worldview.

Whether an atheist is being consistent or not is a different question, though it is an important one. However, that one cannot explain necessarily how they know certain truths does not mean that those truths cannot still count as knowledge. Few people overall are philosophers who will ever sit down and examine truth this way. Ask the average person on the street when he was born and he’ll tell you. Ask him how he knows and he could point to testimony of parents and/or birth certificates. Ask him how he knows those are reliable and he’ll give something else. At one point, unless he just walks off out of irritation he’ll say “I just know!”

There are some who start philosophy in a position of denial saying they don’t know anything. This seems problematic at the start for how can we say that we know that we don’t know anything? How could such a claim be backed unless one had an argument and one thought that that argument was valid. Of course. some philosophers have still used a similar method. Descartes decided to start with only believing whatever could not be doubted at all. Descartes’s claim of “I think, therefore I am” has been called into question. Why should the fact that he thinks lead to his ontological existence?

Descartes had started with a method. Why not start with a truth instead? We look at what we know and then ask “How is it that I know this thing that I know?” This was the method of the medievals and I believe it’s the method most of us would use. It doesn’t mean we accept all things blindly. We can question ourselves on some knowledge claims and should, but there are things that we do just know.

Why is this important? Because in Genesis, judgment is assumed to be understood to be deserved. Even if one does not know the God who is doing the judging, one is to know that they are doing something wrong and they are living in violation of a moral law. For theism, Abraham was called out and it is unlikely he had such a theistic knowledge that he was able to speak about the Trinity at that point.

Why bring this up? For the ancients, knowledge was possible. This was even without at times having access to direct revelation of God, such as Scripture, since it did not exist. One could appeal to reason in this case, and there is nothing wrong with that! God created reason and meant it to be a mechanism for finding truth. The problem is not reason but reasoners. Of course, I agree with the presuppositionalists in saying the problem of man is moral largely, but that does not mean I agree with the way they get to the truth.

We shall continue tomorrow.

The Average Canaanite

May 23, 2011

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I’m going to take the time now to return to my look at presuppositionalism. Mainly, the claim that one has to affirm the God of Christianity if they are going to be able to coherently affirm anything at all. To do that, I’d like to take a look at your typical Joe Canaanite in the ancient world around the time of Abraham.

This is a man who does not have a Bible yet at all. After all, Moses has not been born so he has no way of reading the book of Genesis, or any other book, save maybe Job. He does not have a personal prophet to him although one could say that in a limited sense, he has the traditions of his fathers that have passed down. However, he has no way of archaeologically confirming a flood or that even YHWH was the one who revealed himself to Noah.

What is it that he is to be told? He is to be told that he knows the truth of the God of Scripture and that he is denying it. Now I do agree that Romans 1 makes a strong case that one is aware of God by looking at creation. In many polytheistic cultures even if not all, there is belief in one high god who is supreme over all the little gods.

The problem is that Joe Canaanite cannot point to a Scripture that he is denying and he certainly can’t make statements like “God is triune” at this point. This is important since the presuppositional approach makes a constant appeal to the self-attesting triune God of Scripture. The same is also said of Christ, but what is it that this person can know of Christ really?

Now the question I have to ask is “Does Joe Canaanite know anything?” I see no reason to think otherwise. I think he can know who his parents are, where he lives, what his name is, what he had for breakfast, how to hunt wild animals, the names of the pagan deities that he worships, etc. All of these are knowledge claims that can be held by him.

Now does that mean that God is unrelated to knowledge? Not at all. If there was no God, there would be no knowledge. It is agreed by Christians that God’s ontological existence is necessary to explain reality, but having knowledge of God is what is disputed. Does one have to know God as a Trinity who revealed Himself in Christ in order to have knowledge? This would be a much more difficult claim to defend.

Joe Canaanite presents a problem. How could he have knowledge of the Trinity and Christ at the time he lives? Does he have some knowledge of God available to him? Yes he does. This is only a basic rudimentary knowledge however and likely it’s to be filled with errors. Your average Canaanite would not have the philosophical acumen to reason like Aristotle. (For that matter, your average and even above-average modern doesn’t either!)

Does Joe Canaanite still need to repent? Yes. Why? Because he has the moral law that he can have knowledge that he’s violated. The moral law consists of truths that we simply can’t not know. If you need an argument to convince you that murder is wrong for instance, it is quite likely you need more than an argument. You need a good therapist and I need to do the best I can to avoid you.

What about his salvation? I cannot answer definitively on that except to say that the judge of all the Earth will do right. For the time being, I can say that I have no reason to think Joe Canaanite can make no claims to knowledge and that he can have zero knowledge of God. How this happens will be worked out in future blogs.

Can We Study God Without Scripture?

May 10, 2011

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I’ve been looking at the topic of presuppositionalism lately and tonight, I’d like to look more at the topic of natural theology in this area and see if we can truly study God without special revelation.

Theology is the study of God. God can be studied either through special revelation or general revelation. Suppose you have a new neighbor move in. How can you know this person? You could know them by studying humanity in general and that would give you some information about the person, or you could get to know them simply by ringing the doorbell and letting them tell you about themselves.

Can we know God by only the first way? To an extent. You will get some true beliefs if you do natural theology right, but your certainty of them can be lacking and it will not be as efficient as God revealing Himself. However, let us not be too quick to throw out natural theology as useless.

The way we study God in natural theology involves what is called metaphysics. Now metaphysics is one of those terms that’s often tossed around in philosophical circles, but it is not really defined. However, if you use it, you can get the impression of being an intellectual and sound really cool while just using the term as a catch-all.

Let’s go ahead and explain metaphysics then. Metaphysics is the study of being as being. Physics is the study of material being in motion. Angelology is the study of angelic being. Zoology is the study of animal being. Botany is the study of plant being. You get the idea of where this is going.

Metaphysics has that contrast because while the other sciences study a particular type of being, this science studies being as it is. There is no doubt that a physicist could very well, and likely does know very well, more about matter in motion than the metaphysician, but the physicist likely will not know as much about that matter in motion as being. (Particularly if he’s a new atheist.)

Note that metaphysics is NOT the study of God. However, God is included in the subject of metaphysics. How? Let’s go back to your neighbor again. Studying anthropology will involve having your neighbor be a subject of that study, but your neighbor is not the particular object of that study. Anthropology does not exist to tell you about your neighbor in particular but your neighbor as a human being. Metaphysics tells you about God based on His relationship to being.

For Aquinas, God’s very essence IS being. Whatever it means to be is to be found in God and so studying being as being will give information about God. All being is true, good, and beautiful, for instance. From these, Aquinas did develop numerous doctrines of God, though of course not original with him. The main one after existence was simplicity. God’s existence IS his essence.

Note that in looking at natural theology, Aquinas does not cover concepts like the Trinity, although he believes in them. These cannot be known through natural theology. Consider for a parallel studying history. By history, you could know that Jesus was crucified on a cross even without the New Testament. You need revelation however to know that Jesus died for the sins of the world. A simple study of history apart from the revelation of God being read directly or communicated through others would not reveal that.

So can God be studied without Scripture? Yes. Will it be as good? No. Still, it is important and we must remember our reason is not antithetical or opposed to Scripture, but a tool God gave to help us understand Him and His revelation better.

Bahnsen on Aquinas

May 8, 2011

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I’d like to continue tonight examining the position of presuppositionalism. I have before me Greg Bahnsen’s book which I have read called “Van Til’s Apologetic.” In looking at natural theology, Bahnsen has a few criticisms of Aquinas, but upon looking at the criticisms, it seems that Bahnsen is not really familiar with the works of Aquinas. For one thing, not one of Aquinas’s writings is ever directly cited that I know of. That having been said, let’s look at those points to be examined.

On page 557, Bahnsen says that Aquinas and Joseph Butler, who I will not be talking about, both say a great deal about what man is and what reality is before discussing the existence of God or the truth of Christianity.


I simply ask anyone to go to the Summa Theologica. Here in order are the main sections.

Sacred Doctrine.

The One God.

The Blessed Trinity.


The Angels (Spirit).

The Six Days (Matter).

Man (Spirit and Matter).

In fact, the very first question raised about man directly is question 75.

Yes. Aquinas obviously spent a great deal on man before getting to God. Had the Summa simply been picked up and looked through, this statement would not have been made.

Much of the condemnation of natural theology is the belief that man can know God as He is by reason alone. At least, that is what we are often accused of saying. However, let’s see what Aquinas himself really says about the importance of sacred doctrine in the very first question of the Summa.

I answer that, It was necessary for man’s salvation that there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason: “The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee” (Isaiah 64:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. Even as regards those truths about God which human reason could have discovered, it was necessary that man should be taught by a divine revelation; because the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors. Whereas man’s whole salvation, which is in God, depends upon the knowledge of this truth. Therefore, in order that the salvation of men might be brought about more fitly and more surely, it was necessary that they should be taught divine truths by divine revelation. It was therefore necessary that besides philosophical science built up by reason, there should be a sacred science learned through revelation.

Note that God is seen as one who surpasses the grasp of the reason of man. Aquinas says that there are truths that exceed human reason which God Himself must have revealed if they are to be known.

Second, Aquinas does say there are truths about God that can be discovered by reason unaided by special revelation, however, these would only be found by a few, because only a few would be intellectually capable, it would be after much time, because it would take a long time to work out the doctrine, and it would contain many errors, due to the difficulty of the subject.

Third, the reason these were revealed was that it was necessary for our salvation. Note that Aquinas says that if all you have is reason, you will not reach salvation. This is a far cry from the way that traditionalism is usually presented as having a low view of Scripture.

On page 629, Bahnsen tells us that if Aquinas wants to say he knows God exists, he is obligated to tell us everything about God. Why? Note that Aquinas does say there are several aspects of the nature of God that can be known. However, there are several that cannot be known.

Bahnsen tells us on the same page that if Thomas the theologian hears that God created the universe out of nothing and tells this to Thomas the philosopher, that the philosopher will say that this cannot be known.

Bahnsen is not treating Aquinas fairly here again. Let’s see what Aquinas says in Question 46 of the Prima Pars of the Summa in the second article.

On the contrary, The articles of faith cannot be proved demonstratively, because faith is of things “that appear not” (Hebrews 11:1). But that God is the Creator of the world: hence that the world began, is an article of faith; for we say, “I believe in one God,” etc. And again, Gregory says (Hom. i in Ezech.), that Moses prophesied of the past, saying, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth”: in which words the newness of the world is stated. Therefore the newness of the world is known only by revelation; and therefore it cannot be proved demonstratively.

Note here what Aquinas says. Aquinas does not say that the truth that God created the world cannot be known. He says it cannot be proven by demonstration. There is nothing wrong with such a statement. Consider what he says right after that:

I answer that, By faith alone do we hold, and by no demonstration can it be proved, that the world did not always exist, as was said above of the mystery of the Trinity (32, 1). The reason of this is that the newness of the world cannot be demonstrated on the part of the world itself. For the principle of demonstration is the essence of a thing. Now everything according to its species is abstracted from “here” and “now”; whence it is said that universals are everywhere and always. Hence it cannot be demonstrated that man, or heaven, or a stone were not always. Likewise neither can it be demonstrated on the part of the efficient cause, which acts by will. For the will of God cannot be investigated by reason, except as regards those things which God must will of necessity; and what He wills about creatures is not among these, as was said above (Question 19, Article 3). But the divine will can be manifested by revelation, on which faith rests. Hence that the world began to exist is an object of faith, but not of demonstration or science. And it is useful to consider this, lest anyone, presuming to demonstrate what is of faith, should bring forward reasons that are not cogent, so as to give occasion to unbelievers to laugh, thinking that on such grounds we believe things that are of faith.

The very first sentence is of utmost importance. He states that the knowledge that the world was created cannot be known by reason alone much like the Trinity. Philosophy cannot prove that Christianity is true. If you disagree, use nothing but reason alone and prove that God is triune and that he sent his Son to die for our sins and that the Son rose on the third day.

At the end, Aquinas also says the reason that we do know that this happened is because of revelation. Aquinas does not downplay Scripture at all. He sees it as essential to having a more than just cognitive knowledge of God. It is essential to having a salvific knowledge of God.

Now what does that mean for philosophy. Is it totally useless? Far from it. Philosophy is the handmaiden to the knowledge of God. Philosophy cannot prove the Trinity or Christianity, but once we have had those truths revealed, they can be defended by philosophy. So, Thomas AS a theologian can know that God created the world, but Thomas AS a philosopher would say, “Using reason alone, I cannot demonstrate that God created the world.” Precisely.

You would think that for those who are making a deal about man supposedly following autonomous human reason that they would want to embrace such a position. It is one that admits that man by reason alone cannot reach to a saving knowledge of God. This is not the view usually presented and when listening to them or reading them, I urge the reader to consider checking on the people that they criticize in the traditionalist camp.

Now it could be Aquinas is wrong in all that he said. However, what is important tonight is that Bahnsen is wrong in what he says about Aquinas.

Presuppositionalism and Natural Theology

May 5, 2011

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I’ve been doing some reading lately on the topic of presuppositionalism and seeing the kinds of arguments that are used by presuppositionalists. Much of the discussion centers around natural theology and before going on, I’d like to have a good blog on what exactly natural theology is.

Theology comes from the Greek and it refers to the study of God. There are two ways usually seen that God can reveal Himself. All Christians agree in special revelation. This is revelation that is specific, propositional, and is not immediately accessible by all. The two main ones are Scripture and Christ. Of course, one could say the Old Testament prophets were also giving special revelation in their time that was written down for us.

General revelation is more tricky. There are some Christians who deny it and it’s not just presuppositionalists. Karl Barth for instance denied any knowledge of God through general revelation. General revelation is non-specific, being general, it is not propositional, but it is accessible to everyone.

The main texts for a belief in general revelation in Scripture are Psalm 19:1 and Romans 1:18-21. If any of these do teach general revelation, then we can say that Scripture affirms general revelation. Note that in saying this, the claim is not being made that general revelation is salvific.

Natural theology is the study of God based on general revelation alone. What can be known about God? Note that the object of study is the same. We are using our reason to study God and the main tools we are using are philosophical in nature. When a theologian studies God in Scripture, the subject is the same, but the means of study is different.

For instance, suppose you are studying man. You could study anatomy and get an understanding of the man’s body. You could study psychology and get an understanding of the man’s mind. You could study anthropology and get an understanding of man is in the category of human beings. All of these are studying man, but they are studying man using different means and in different ways.

Natural theology for our starting purposes could contradict Scripture hypothetically. I am not at the start assuming the truth of Scripture. However, let us keep in mind that it is important to us if natural theology does in fact agree with Scripture. The claim is that it is necessary that natural theology gives us a view of God that is like that of the one found in Scripture in that it does not contradict the God of Scripture, but it is not sufficient to establish that the God of Scripture is the true God.

So what all can be known through natural theology? What does the Bible really say about it? Is it really an important tool? These are questions that I plan to address as we continue our look at apologetic methodology and seeing if the classical approach is still valid or not.

We shall continue tomorrow.

Presuppositional Apologetics on Unbelievable

March 25, 2011

Welcome everyone to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth. I’ve finished up our study of the Watchtower booklet of “Should You Believe In The Trinity?” so now, I’m going to look at some other topics for the time being before the next big project. One topic I want to look at is the recent usage of presuppositional apologetics.

This was featured recently on Justin Brierley’s incredible program Unbelievable. The debate was between Christian Sye Tenbruggencate and atheist Paul Baird. This was round two of the debate. Now I do think round one that had been recorded last year went to Sye, but this time, I give the win to Paul and I wish now to critique some points from Sye’s presentation. Tomorrow, I could spend the blog answering an objection of Paul’s to Christianity presented on the show.

I have been in interaction with Sye and I have not been impressed by what I have seen. Sye had said on the air that other approaches to apologetics that did not presuppose God’s existence or start with Scripture were sinful. As an apologist using those other methods, I strongly disagree. I find that when the apostles dialogued in the book of Acts with unbelievers, they started with what their opponents knew and accepted as authoritative. If I am a non-Christian, I have no reason to accept Sye’s presuppositions. He needs to argue from the presuppositions of my worldview to convince me.

That having been said, I’m not ready to throw out the window what would be called the argument from reason. I do think there is something to the idea that if we find that our reason is the result of an accident, that there could be some reason to distrust it. We all seem to have this belief that our minds can interact with the world and tell us things about it and this is something fascinating worth studying.

If someone thinks they can use such an argument to demonstrate the existence of God, I say more power to them. It is not one I would use so there do not need to be any responses telling me why I should not accept the argument. I would accept a different form based on Aquinas’s fourth way, but it is not the presuppositional argument.

Looking at the debate, Paul did state to Sye that he was willing to grant theism so can Sye get him to specifically Christian theism? Much of the show was devoted to that and the hope was never delivered. Sye would say a nonsense sentence in response like “Pizza three music lamp green.” Well I’m sure at that that every Muslim out there was ready to repent and come to Jesus.

The argument from reason, like any other theistic argument, cannot get you to the Christian God. They do not rule out the Christian God either. They can get you to theism. This is a criticism many of the new atheists make of theistic arguments and sadly, many strongly Calvinistic Christians do. I have heard some say they dismiss the Five Ways for instance because those don’t get you to the Christian God specifically. Aquinas would say they were never supposed to. This is not to criticize Calvinism however. Someone can be a Calvinist and agree entirely with what I’m saying.

What Sye’s charge is is that people use logic and reason without a basis for the validity of logic and reason and they need God for that. Okay. Let’s suppose I grant that. Christianity is not the only system that can justify logic and reason in that case. Judaism can. Islam can. Deism can. Some cults could make such a claim. Aristotle himself would have had a basis for his logic and reason as well.

Sye’s response would be “But you don’t need a generic god! You need the true God!” I agree in a sense. Only the true God could account for reality. However, Sye’s argument is that it is inconsistent to trust logic without a basis for it. If that’s the case, any of the theistic systems win on the question of consistency. However, while something must not be consistent to be true, it’s being consistent does not mean that it is true. I believe the Bible has no contradictions, but that does not mean that if it had no contradictions it would be ipso facto true. If the Harry Potter series has no contradictions, that does not make it historical.

There has also been the case that man cannot know anything about God apart from the revelation of Scripture. I find it interesting that it seems Romans 1:20 is a verse that is used to defend this position when in fact, I think that it argues just the opposite position. Let’s look at the verse:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

The Apostle Paul is arguing in Romans 1 that God is angry with the Gentiles for how they’ve lived. In Romans 2 however, he argues that the Jews are just as guilty. However, their condemnation is in some ways worse because they have the Scriptures and they still do not live as they ought. Thus, it is implicit in Romans 1 that these are people without the Scripture but only have general revelation.

These people are without excuse. Why? Because they do know there is a call to their lives. After all, Romans 2 makes it clear that the testimony of the law is written on their hearts. They know right and wrong as general revelation. (Another point for the new atheists to learn. You do not need the Bible to know right from wrong and the Bible is not the moral standard) Still, the gentiles are doing what is wrong.

Thus, they are without excuse. They know enough about the true God to know that he could not be contained by idols and such representations, but they do it anyway. Now does this mean this knowledge of the true God is salvific? Not necessarily. There is the question of those who’ve never heard of course and there is debate on that, but just having a right concept of God insofar as it goes is not enough to bring about salvation.

In fact, that’s what we have in other religions. Muslims and Jews both have some right beliefs about God. The arguments for natural theology can be used by the Muslims and Jews just as well as by the Christians. Of course, when it comes to special revelation, this is where they differ. Sye’s argument would say you need a being who is omnipotent, omniscient, eternal, immutable, etc. Well Jews and Muslims believe in that kind of God. “But that’s not the true God!” This is where we come to the main point.

There is not a single philosophical argument that can be used to prove Christianity. That does not mean philosophy is useless of course. Philosophy can defend the Trinity once Scripture establishes it. Philosophy can support the belief systems of Christianity. Philosophy can guide our thinking so we think rightly when studying the Scriptures. However, you cannot use just thinking and get to the point of saying “God revealed Himself in Jesus through Jesus’s death and resurrection and I need to believe on Him for eternal life.”

Philosophy can get you to God, but it will not get you to the cross. The cross and the empty tomb are events that take place in space and time and thus, they need the backing of arguments based on space and time. That is, they need history. You need to demonstrate historically that Jesus rose from the dead. Even if you could philosophically disprove other systems, it would not historically demonstrate Christianity, which is a historic faith resting on historical events.

Thus, I consider the argument as used for theism, one that is workable, but to say it works only for Christian theism, I deem it a failure in that sense. Let us not make the mistake of thinking what would not want to be thought, that with our reason alone we can reach a saving knowledge of God. We cannot. We need him to reach down to us and we need to use history to understand how he did so.