“How Do We Know What We Know?” (Biblical Epistemology, Pt. 1)

Biblically speaking, what are apologetics? How should a true follower of the Lord Jesus Christ define such a term? The word apologetics is derived from the Greek word ἀπολογία (apologia), and it simply means defense, answer, or reply.[1] Of what are biblical apologetics a defense? In short, the Christian faith. Two paradigms in particular chiefly characterize Christian apologetics: Evidentialism and Presuppositionalism. That being said, evidential apologetics undoubtedly constitute the more widespread, more widely-received, and more widely-employed of the two schools of thought. The evidentialist method seeks to prove God’s existence via natural revelation (Rom. 1:20) and human reason. In my limited experience, those evidential apologists, who hold to an Arminian soteriology, also strive in vain to demonstrate the divine origin, veracity, and coherence of God’s Word to unbelievers using human reason. Apart from the sovereign regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, no human being will ever believe, let alone truly understand, the Scriptures. In contrast to the evidential apologist, the consistent[2] presuppositionalist asserts that natural human reason can neither prove the existence of God nor the divine origin, inerrancy, and infallibility of His Word.[3] Hence, the presuppositional apologist presupposes these profound truths outright. The conclusion of this blog series is that a sound biblical epistemology not only has significant implications for Protestant apologetics in general but also overwhelmingly validates the presuppositional apologetic method.

 

 The Structure of this Blog Series

This series, therefore, will attempt to detail the essential tenets of a sound biblical epistemology and present a sound, biblical defense of the presuppositional apologetic method. The initial two sections of this series will respectively feature a description of the three most important questions of human existence and the principium of biblical Christianity – that is, the fundamental presupposition of the Christian faith. The third and principal section of this series is structured around twelve arguments will form the indispensable framework of a sound biblical epistemology: (1) the Triune God must be self-explanatory; (2) the Bible is the wholly infallible, wholly inerrant, wholly sufficient, and wholly authoritative Word of God; (3) the Triune God created all things; (4) the Triune God is the Omniscient, Absolute Sovereign, who works all things according to His Will; (5) all things wholly depend upon the Triune God for their entire existence; (6) Man’s knowledge wholly depends upon the revelation of the Triune God; (7) Man desperately corrupted himself in the Fall of Adam; (8) fallen Man is wholly unable to truly believe or understand divine revelation in and of himself; (9) the Holy Spirit must regenerate fallen human beings in order for them to truly believe or understand divine revelation; (10) saving faith precedes true knowledge; (11) the Triune God’s election of particular individuals to salvation and not others, inevitably results in two classes of people: believers and unbelievers; and (12) the unbeliever worships the created order, while the believer worships Christ the Creator. The final section will highlight six significant implications of a sound biblical epistemology for Protestant apologetics.

 

Notes:

[1] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, ed. Frederick William Danker, trans. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich [BAGD], 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 117.

[2] The adjectival modifier “consistent” is applied to presuppositionalist in this statement for a distinct purpose. Although Cornelius Van Til championed the presuppositional apologetic method, he himself was a notably inconsistent presuppositionalist. A critique of Van Til’s writings and apologetic paradigm is beyond the scope of this essay. However, since this paper does address the presuppositional apologetic method, a few comments concerning Van Til’s methodology are in order. Unbeknownst to many of his enthusiasts, Van Til endorsed the evidential proofs for God’s existence. Thus, Van Til is at best an inconsistent presuppositionalist. John Robbins writes, “Surprising as it may be to these critics and to some admirers of Van Til, Van Til does not reject the proofs for the existence of God, and he says so repeatedly in his books. This fact removes him from the presuppositionalist camp.” John W. Robbins, Cornelius Van Til: The Man and the Myth (Jefferson, MD: Trinity Foundation, 1986), 13. See also John W. Robbins, “Cornelius Van Til,” Trinity Review 50 (May/June 1986): 4. What’s more, elsewhere in his writings, Van Til rejects the use of those same evidentialist proofs. As a result, these mutually exclusive positions evince that Van Til’s apologetic distinctly manifests at certain points a form of irrationalism. Furthermore, whenever Van Til arrived at a conclusion which was on all accounts irrational or contradictory, he stated that his conclusion was evidence of paradox within God’s Word. See W. Gary Crampton, “Why I Am Not a Van Tilian,” Trinity Review 103 (September 1993): 1. See also Robbins, “Cornelius Van Til,” 2. In this article, Robbins declares: “In contrast to this Biblical ideal of clarity…, Van Til’s prose is frequently unintelligible. This very unintelligibility is transformed by Van Til’s perfervid disciples into a sign of great intelligence and profundity.” See Robbins, Van Til: Man and Myth, viii. In this work, Robbins states: “In all these areas [i.e. “the style of his writing to his doctrines of God and the Bible”], it will be seen that he fails to meet scriptural standards for Christian teachers, and in at least two cases, he makes such serious errors that heresy is the only appropriate word to describe his lifelong teaching about God and the Bible.” See also Robbins, “Cornelius Van Til,” 1. What are Van Til’s “serious errors” to which Robbins refers? First, Crampton highlights that Van Til espoused an erroneous view of the Trinity: “We speak of God as a person; yet we speak also of three persons in the Godhead.” According to Van Til, God is one Person, yet also three Persons. This is a far cry from the biblical doctrine of the Trinity: One God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity neither dividing the Divine Essence nor confounding the Divine Persons – namely, that Yahweh is One Being who eternally subsists as Three Persons. Crampton also mentions certain theologians who, being influenced by Van Til’s writings, have replicated the same error in one form or another: John Frame, Gary North, David Chilton, and James Jordan. Robbins writes: “Van Til has significantly changed the doctrine of the Trinity, departing from both Scripture and the historic creeds of the church. He has offered one of his radically new doctrinal formulations, the doctrine of the Unity-Trinity.” Elsewhere, Robbins calls Van Til’s Trinitarian error a “unitarian heresy.” Robbins, Van Til: Man and Myth, 18, 21. Second, Crampton notes that Van Til for all practical purposes denied the clarity of Scripture (e.g. Prov. 1:4; Deut. 27:2-8; Hab. 2:2), since he taught that “the Bible is full of logical paradoxes, apparent contradictions, or antimonies.” Third, Crampton writes that Van Til believed that human knowledge was analogical and thus paradoxical. In other words, man’s knowledge (even redeemed man’s knowledge) differs from that of God not only in terms of quantity or degree but also in terms of quality. Crampton states, “Man could not, to use Van Til’s own phrase, ‘think God’s thought after him,’ unless God’s knowledge and the knowledge possible to man coincide at some point” – a coincidence which Van Til denies. W. Gary Crampton, “Why I Am Not a Van Tilian,” Trinity Review 103 (September 1993): 2-4. See also See W. Gary Crampton, “Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of his Thought,” Trinity Review 137 (July 1996): 2,4. Robbins effectively summarizes his concerns with Van Til’s theology: “Professor Van Til, widely revered by his students, simply does not measure up to the myth that has been fabricated about him. As an historian of philosophy and theology, he has made serious blunders. As a stylist, his prose tends to be abstruse. He is not a true presuppositionalist, for he insists that the existence of God can be proven, although he never stated the proof. He has rejected the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, holding that God is both three persons who are ‘interchangeably exhaustive’ and one person. He writes about logic in a pious, disparaging tone, and his rejection of logic leads him to irrationalism and heresy. He asserts that all the teaching of the Bible is apparently contradictory, paradoxical, and that it is impious to try to solve the paradoxes.” Robbins, Van Til: Man and Myth, 36.

[3] See Crampton, “Why I Am Not a Van Tilian,” 1. Crampton writes: “Presuppositionalism, by definition, excludes the use of proofs for the existence of God.”

5 Comments

  1. brandonadams

    Very happy to see the references here to Robbins, Crampton, Clark, etc 🙂

    1. zmaxcey (Post author)

      Brandon, thanks for the comment. I do find the works of Robbins, Crampton, and Clark to be tremendously beneficial and edifying. I truly enjoy reading their works as well as the other contributors to the ‘Trinity Review’. 🙂 In Christ, Zach.

  2. Breton Palmer

    I understand Crampton’s definition, but I’ve consistently wondered why an eclectic or synergistic approach couldn’t be taken in apologetics? That isn’t to say we give up our presupposition that salvation is Monergistic, but allows more “tools in the apologetic belt”.

    But I guess if we’re presupposing anything then we aren’t proving, but beginning with accepting. Ugh brain melters ha!
    Thoughts??

    1. Zachary Maxcey

      Brother Breton, thanks for the question. Although I personally hold to a presuppositionalist view of apologetics, I personally know many wonderful brothers & sisters in the faith who hold to a predominantly evidentialist view of apologetics, and others who adopt an eclectic view of apologetics with both presuppositionalist and evidentialist elements. The reason why I personally adopted a predominantly presuppositionalist position is that the presuppositionalist view appears, at least in my estimation, to be the most logically consistent with a Calvinistic soteriology. That being said, this position is at times criticized for being too rigid in its application of logic – or perhaps too systematic in its approach.

      Speaking for myself, though I am predominantly a presuppositionalist, I still affirm that valid extrabiblical evidence has a place in apologetics. However, I would say that valid extrabiblical evidence only truly edifies God’s elect. I say this because both an unbeliever and a believer can look at the same evidence that supports the biblical account (for example: evidence for the Great Flood), and because they are filtering said information through differing worldviews corresponding to their own diametrically opposing natures (Gen. 3:15), they will interpret the information differently. Take for example the crucifixion with respect to the human beings who were present at the event: the Romans, unbelieving Jews, and the believers. Although all saw the sinless Son of God being crucified to secure the salvation of God’s people, only the believers would have been able to interpret the event correctly (at least in part to the extent that they understood Christ’s teaching & the teaching of the Old Testament). The Romans (except for the centurion) likely viewed Jesus as an insurrectionist, malefactor, or common criminal, while the unbelieving Jews likely viewed Christ as a blasphemer or a failed messianic leader.

      Now, in saying that valid extrabiblical evidence only truly edifies God’s elect, I would also say that valid extra biblical evidence can & should be used in apologetics, but, in my opinion, primarily as a springboard to proclaim the Gospel to unbelievers. Speaking for myself, I personally understand Hebrews 11:3 as evidence for the phrase fides praecedit intellectum (faith precedes knowledge): “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” I understand this verse to teach that it is through faith (which we receive from God) that we are able to understand that God created the universe. Through faith, we are able to interpret evidence around us for the biblical account in a much more correct manner – because we believe God and His Word. Although I personally favor a predominantly presuppositionalist perspective, the primary purpose of apologetics is to defend and proclaim the Gospel. As long as this remains the focus of Christian apologetics, at the end of the day it ultimately matters little whether one is a Christian evidentialist, Christian presuppositionalist, or a Christian with an eclectic apologetic. All three are differing ‘disputable’ approaches by which to make a defense of the Christian Gospel and faith. Thanks for the question. What are your thoughts? In Christ, Zach

  3. Breton Palmer

    That makes a lot of sense, and as you said most consistent with a Calvinistic soteriology. From reading Romans 1 and other passages, I have definitely come to agree much more with Presuppositionalism, especially as I have thought more deeply about the concept of having a worldview. As you said above, we all filter information through our worldviews (whether we know it or not) and we are either “in Adam” or “in Christ”.
    Thank you for the response!

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