Saturday, February 6, 2010

Presuppositional Apologetics Not Trinitarian?!

Over at Christians in Context, there is the worst critique of presuppositional apologetics I have ever read. The writer shows that he has not read too deeply in the well of presuppositional apologetics (PA) in offering a Trinitarian critique. He actually argues that PA believes a presupposition is the ground of things not the Trinity. A basic reading of Van Til and his followers uncovers clear errors in this critique.

UPDATE: I checked back Sat. Feb. 6, at 2:00pm Eastern Time, and it looks like they took the post down.

Christians in Context is a fine blog--one you should put on your RSS feed. They are often very insightful--this is why I chose to respond--this is not some hack-eyed rant from someone trying to make a name on the internet. The folks over there are generally good and clear thinkers. It gets a bit rich though when you say things like:

"In this sense, both the theological grammar as well as orientation of a 'presuppositional apologetics' (PA) is just asinine, rubbish. It is absurd in no good sense of the term. The reasons for this are several. PA approaches the task of philosophy without any mediation. It starts by considering the latent structures within human thinking, striving to unearth a synthetic a priori which says all men everywhere rest on some sort of presuppositons, some sort of human input. It proceeds to suggest that all such presuppositions rest in some measure upon faith, which is then supposed to admit proponents of PA to say such ridiculously silly things as 'ha, my presupposition is the Bible, not reason. Gotcha!' etc. etc. What is so wrong with this approach is so obvious as to be troubling why more Christians do not immediately call it into question. Presupposition is not the ground of philosophy, nor can it be good Christian grammar to say it is. Philosophy happens for a Christian for no other reason than that God is prior and God is Trinity."

Anyone who had read Van Til and the apologetics and theology of his heirs would recognize they indeed believe that there is no ground other than God. Here's my response that I posted in the combox over there:

I am a regular subscriber to this blog who appreciates much of what is said here and the interaction with topics that goes on but this is wide of the mark by far. I know not what presuppositional apologetics you are critiquing but it is hardly the presuppositional apologetics of Van Til.

Van Til was careful to ground PA in the Trinity. Indeed, the reason for PA is because God is the ground of all being. Therefore all creatures 'live and move and have their being in him'. God was also the ground then of all knowledge. We can know nothing apart from revelation.

Presuppositionalists would agree with your statement:
"It is not reason or presupposition which determines how we think, or establish our thinking, or justify our thought. It is God's gift of love, His Gift of Himself, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, in the beginning, now and evermore, which is most determinative."

The reason being, is that Van Til was committed to the structure of Reformed thought that was developed in later Post-Refomational Reformed Orthodoxy (cf. Muller's 4 volume work on the various issues). Van Til believed in the standard Reformed discussions of principiums--where God is the ground of all being, and God is therefore the ground of all knowledge. This is why for Van Til there are no "brute facts" that are just there. Facts have there meaning based upon God. Van Til also believed in analogical reasoning. God's thoughts were archetypal, man 're-knows' these things as ektypal. In fact, you write “It is not feasible for a creaturely language to account for how God can be 'Other' than time, a mystery beyond all reckoning,”--this is why for Van Til knowledge that man has must be ektypal. God knows as the Creator, man knows as the creature. We can only reknow what God has know but we know it as Creatures. Our knowledge of God--even as Triune--is true knowledge but in revelation God has condescended to us, particularly by way of covenant (WCF 7.1) All of this is grounded in a Trinitarian thought.

Knowing this, the PA then turns to Romans 1, to explain why man, when confronted with God's revelation everywhere denies the truth. Man suppresses the truth of God in unrighteousness. Van Til would say man is like the little child sitting on her father's lap slapping him. She can only slap him because the Father indeed allows her to sit on his lap.

This is why then the PA looks at the presuppositions of a persons argument. We cannot argue from "brute facts" as if we are all objective. We either start from a regenerated standpoint or we start from a position of suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. This is the anthropological problem but in no way undercuts the Trinitarian center and origin to all things, including knowledge.

The goal of PA is not to catch someone in a trick--as if I have my own Ps and you have your own Ps. The goal is to say the Christian operates in a regenerated (but NOT infallible) state and therefore can understand God's revelation--about Himself or His creation. The unregenerate does not and is therefore suppressing the truth of God. PA seeks to uncover and get to the root of the suppression/denial dilemma that goes on in the human heart.

While Van Til did believe in the right use of evidence, the reason VT does not start with evidence is that he opposed a block house method approach. This approach does seek to operate with a justification for knowledge that stands outside of the revelation of God, which is of course based upon the ground of God Himself.

Clearly you have not carefully read Van Til or his followers if you think a presupposition is the ground of philosophy. Indeed, they believed that the triune God is the ground--and have clearly articulated so in numerous places that a basic reading of the issues would uncover (if I had my books on hand at the moment I would cite a few places). The reason that they seek to root out presupposition is because they understand the noetic effects of the fall and therefore are unwilling to appeal to the bare reason of man.

True PA does not work apart from the Triune God that Van Til ground his PA and theology in. Your critique demonstrates a basic lack of understanding of the issues that drove Van Til--and I question how aware you are of these issues since you have missed some of these things most basic to him.

For Van Til, a systematic theology does begin with God as the ground of being. However, we also understand the ground of knowing stems from the principium cognescendi externum (Scripture) and the principium cognsecendi internum (the Spirit) [cf. Muller for how this is articulated in Post-Reformational Reformed Orthodoxy]. On this, see Van Til’s Introduction to Sys. Theo. Scripture then is often a functional starting point because we can only know through revelation, whereas we acknowledge that God is an absolute starting point.

Calling PA "asinine" and "rubbish" while missing the basic Trinitarian structure Van Til had is nothing but amateur hour--you aren’t even rising to the level of straw man arguments here. Van Til believed nothing was prior to the Triune God, we know nothing apart from Him, but man in sin suppresses the truth--he developed PA accordingly.

Tim Bertolet

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Thanks for this Tim. I was wondering what happened when I click the link. :)

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