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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Sunday, February 26, 2012

CSI Apologetics

csiAdditional Thoughts on The Use of Evidence in Apologetic Methodology.

Recently, I wrote up a brief outline summarizing in bullet-point fashion the key components distinguishing presuppositionalism from evidentialistic apologetic methodology.

One of my points highlighted what I believe to be two foundational distinctions between the methodologies. That being, evidentialism believes in the self-authenticating nature of tangible evidence and proofs for the Christian faith, and men, though fallen in sin, retain in some fashion the ability to rationally evaluate the truthfulness of that evidence and make reasonable conclusions about spiritual matters.

To illustrate my point, I cited from the purpose statement of the campus apologetic para-church ministry, Ratio Christi. It says,

It is our belief, however, that the Scriptures testify to the fact that man, though corrupted by sin, is still made in the image of God and has been given reasoning faculties that can be used to gain important, though limited, data from nature about reality and theology.

A few days after I posted that article, I had a commenter stop by who is a campus director for a Ratio Christi chapter in N.C. He took friendly issue with my citing from that section of the purpose statement and offered some challenges to my overall thesis I presented.

Some of those challenges include,

- Ratio Christi utilizes the classic apologetic method, not merely "evidentialism."
- Both classic apologists and evidentialists would never say an unbeliever can be "reasoned" to the faith.
- Presuppositionalism tends towards fideism, because it begs the question on the trustworthiness of Scripture as an unique, holy book.
- The Holy Spirit can use evidence to clear away intellectual obstacles and thus give a person a reason to believe in Christ.

I thought his comments offered up some excellent challenges to my apologetic theology and they are worth a response on the front page of the blog rather than left unseen on the bottom shelf of an old post. Though he provides some good challenges, I still think those challenges demonstrate what I believe to be the inadequacy of his apologetic methodology. In order to spare the reader from having to slosh through a ten page paper, I'll break up my response into two, possibly three, posts.

By way of introduction, I will say that I am not opposed to utilizing evidence based arguments when I engage unbelievers with the Gospel. While I heartily agree that any so-called "evidence" for the existence of God or the integrity of Scripture is open to interpretation by the presuppositions the unbeliever brings to bear upon that "evidence," a discussion involving evidence can be used to reveal the folly of those presuppositions and the faulty, inconsistent worldview from where they originate.

A good example of what I mean can be found in the debate James White had with atheist Dan Barker back in 2009. During his presentation, Dr. White played a video of an animation showing the F1 ATPase structure in the mitochondria. He did not present this video as "neutral facts" that can be used to reason with an unbeliever about the reality of God's existence. He presented it as a fact that is incompatible with Dan Barker's materialistic atheist worldview. In short, the presentation of this video exposes the folly of the atheistic interpretation of the world.

Additionally, just so as to be clear, I don't depend upon evidence to be the persuading element in an evangelical encounter. Nor do I further believe the Holy Spirit "uses" evidence to clear intellectual obstacles as my commenter suggested in one of his comments. That is because a sinner's refusal to believe has nothing to do with his intellect being cleared, but has everything to do with his heart. He has a moral problem, not an intellect problem.

Let me draw our attention back to what I believe is the profoundest disagreement between our two methodologies, and that has to do with the nature of man. My commenter insists that no classic apologist he knows believes men can be “reasoned to faith apart from the Spirit.” Perhaps they may say this, but they don't teach it or practice it. Let me explain:

If one were to survey the writings, books, seminar lectures, and radio monologues of the various proponents of so-called “classic apologetics,” they frequently appeal to men being “reasoned with,” or having “free-will to choose God,” or they even speak of some innate ability in man to “make a choice for God.”

Moreover, their presentations are often times inconsistent with their apologetic methodology. On one hand, when they teach about the doctrine of man, they will say he's in rebellion against God and can do nothing good, yet on the other, when they engage the unbeliever, they seem to believe those exact same sinners, when presented with evidence for the Christian faith, can be convinced of it.

Take for example the apologetic ministry (aptly named) Please Convince Me that supposedly applies the perspective of a cold case detective to the Christian worldview. The very title of the ministry, “Please Convince Me” insists unbelievers can be convinced of evidence. In fact, when I have heard Jim Warner (Wallis), the founder of the Please Convince Me ministry speak, his main approach is treating the truth claims of Christianity as if they are on trial in a court room and he is the lead detective presenting the evidence to the jury. Even his bio tells us he takes an “evidentialist” approach to truth when he applies it to the Christian faith.

However, under their doctrinal section on the website, the article on the doctrine of man presents what I would consider an okay, biblical understanding of who man is in his fallen nature, even stating that men are so fallen they don't even understand spiritual things. I would agree.

Yet in spite of that clear statement about the nature of man, the apologetics advocated and practiced by the ministry team, contradicts what is stated in that article concerning the doctrine of man. How can a fallen sinner unable to understand spiritual things be convinced the evidence proves the truthfulness of the Christian truth claims? Would he not be a biased jury member to begin with?

My commenter says the Holy Spirit can use evidence to remove obstacles out of the way for sinners to believe. The reason the Holy Spirit does this, some would say, is so that the sinner can make a choice one way or another to believe or reject Christ. In the work of salvation, this is the Holy Spirit's use of common grace working with the general revelation of nature and conscience to compel a sinner to believe. Bruce Demarest, in his book on general revelation, describes it like this,

The crippling effects of sin in the human mind are overcome in part by a general illumination of the Logos (John 1:4, 9). God wills that man, the pinnacle of His creation, should use his reason to secure truth, including elementary truths about himself. Equipped with an intuitional knowledge of God, including the light of conscience, and enabled by common grace, man by rational reflection on the data of the natural and historical order draws inferences about God's character and operations [Demarest, 233].

So in other words, at least in the way I understand it, the “illuminating” Logos is equivalent to the “Holy Spirit using evidence to remove obstacles” and is one way He overcomes the crippling effects of sin in the human mind so as to draw men to Himself. The only problem I have with this classic, Wesleyan-Arminian view of the Spirit’s work of “prevenient” grace is that it isn't biblical.

When I discussed the subject of man's sin nature with my commenter, I had stated that the Bible tells us men are in need of having a divine work of regeneration happen to them first before they can savingly believe the Gospel. He responded by asking me a question, “how do I know the Bible says man needs to be regenerated?” I wasn't sure if he was asking that question because he sincerely didn't know what the Bible taught on the subject, or if it was his way of pointing out that my ability to understand what the Bible says about man, sin, and the Gospel proves I have the ability to understand the Gospel savingly apart from regeneration.

Whatever the case, he provides us with a starting point that allows me to briefly outline what I think the Bible teaches on man and his reason.

I agree with my commenter up to a point. I would be foolish to say men are so corrupted by sin that they are unable to rationally function in society, or in the case of his question, unable to understand what the Bible says about the sinfulness of men.

Of course I believe all men think “logically” (depending upon how they understand “logic”), communicate rationally with each other, react to instances of right and wrong, and have a sense of the divine, or what would be understood as a transcendent authority outside themselves. This would be what theologians understand as the “image of God” in man. God created men to be rational, logical, moral beings.

But when Adam fell into sin, sin not only separated man from God, but it also marred his ability to think rationally, logically, and morally. In the NT, the apostles often write about how man's ability is marred in these areas. See for example Paul's description of sinners in Romans 1:18 ff., 3:10-18, 8:6-8 and Ephesians 2:1-4, 4:17-19. It is what is termed “total depravity” because sin impacts the totality of the human being both his physical and spiritual dimensions.

I think my commenter would agree with my basic premise regarding man. Where we differ, or at least the area of disagreement between myself and what I see with the host of classic apologists with whom the majority of evangelicals in America are familiar, is with how they understand man's ability to know God and submit to Him as their Lord.

First, I believe the Bible is clear that sinful men know there is a God. That goes back to them being created in His image. Paul tells us this in Romans 1-3. Even though they may dispute God's existence like a number of the well-known atheists who publicly revile God and religion, they still live their lives as though He exists. They are outraged by acts of immorality (they always complain about God being a “moral” monster), they certainly insist upon being “logical” (faith and religion being “illogical”), and they appeal to a transcendent “authority” outside themselves (“Evolution is the driving force behind all reality”). In other words, they live life according to their divine image.

Second, I would agree with what my commenter implies with his question: That sinful men can understand biblical truth. I have encountered many unbelievers who know what the Bible says about the Resurrection, the atonement, and the basic Gospel message. In fact, I have met many who could articulate the Christian faith better than most Christians. Think Bart Ehrman. It is absolutely certain they know the “truth,” and in point of fact, they don't need to be convinced of it at all by any evidence. Even the devils believe God, writes James, and they have the sense to tremble before Him (James 2:19).

The issue really isn't unbelievers in need of being convinced of the truth claims of Christianity. The real issue is the implication those truth claims present to unbelievers. Let that last sentence soak in a moment (hence the reason I put it in italics, bold font, and colored it blue).

Remember, the Bible tells us their hearts are willfully in rebellion against God's authority. Like Paul writes in Romans 8:7, “the carnal mind is at enmity against God.” It is a picture of warfare; men stand in treasonous opposition to God's authority and willing reject it. Their opposition to God's authority has nothing to do with intellectual obstacles in need of being removed or having a reasonable answer supplied to their objections. It is in fallen man's nature to hate God's authority governing his life, and that innate rebellion can only be over come by God's regenerating power. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 12:3, “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”

Just as the Thessalonians turned from their idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thess. 1:9), unbelievers have to relinquish their sinful autonomy and submit themselves to Christ's Lordship. They are in essence exchanging a worldview of foolishness (Psalm 14:1) for one grounded in wisdom that can only be found in the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7, 9:10). That kind of profound, life altering change can only come from the hand of God. It’s a divine miracle. True conversion, then, is God's victory over the sinful heart of a man at war with Him.

Now it may be my Ratio Christi commenter agrees with what I say here. Certainly those "classic apologists" who are Calvinistic in their theology would. But there is a significant disconnect between theology and practice. Because the means they employ to engage the unbeliever with the truth claims of Christ do not take into consideration those Scripturally revealed insights regarding man's nature. They also tend to shun the use of the Bible in apologetic encounters and put God on trial, as it were, so that the sinner can judge Him worthy of his loyalty. I find this approach not only problematic, but offensive. That's what I'll take up in my next post on this subject.

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22 Comments:

Blogger Adam said...

Mr. Butler, thank you for taking the time to write a blog post about this issue based on our exchange. I appreciate that, and I appreciate your kind words. Please note, that again I offer the following thoughts in humility and I appreciate your desire to share Christ with a lost and dying world in a God-honoring way. Also, I hope to refrain from this becoming a debate about five-point Calvinism as I think the problems with the presuppositional approach you've outlined are more fundamental than a theological discussion. As such, I will also try to refrain from debating and belaboring interpretations of specific Scripture passages regarding man's total depravity, as again, I think the problems are more fundamental or foundational than our understanding of any particular passage of Scripture.

Regarding the charge of you question begging or leaning towards fideism, I just want to be clear on the context of that. In our pervious discussion about your other blog post I said: "It is true that classical apologists think a case needs to be made to show that the Bible, as opposed to some other 'holy' book, is in fact the word of God. Otherwise, it seems one would either beg the question or simply resort to fideism, neither of which are biblical."

You responded and then I responded with: "You said my claim of possible fideism was a red herring and you responded with, 'Fideism implies a blind faith, but our faith is set upon God's revelation.' But isn't this the very thing in question? How do you know the Bible is in fact God's revelation?"

To me, this is the crux of the matter. You've offered several passages of reference throughout this blog post and have offered many theological thoughts based on your understanding of the biblical teaching about total depravity. But the question still remains, How do you know the Bible is in fact God's revelation?

12:06 PM, February 27, 2012  
Blogger Adam said...

Part 2:
In our previous discussion, you said: "Evidence has to be interpreted, would you agree or disagree?
I think you give too much credence to the authority of evidence and it's ability to clear the way."

In this most recent post, you add to that line of thinking the following: "While I heartily agree that any so-called 'evidence' for the existence of God or the integrity of Scripture is open to interpretation by the presuppositions the unbeliever brings to bear upon that 'evidence,' a discussion involving evidence can be used to reveal the folly of those presuppositions and the faulty, inconsistent worldview from where they originate."

I think this hits on something very important to consider. Yes, evidence must be interpreted, and certainly someone's interpretation could be wrong. But you almost seem to imply here that evidence is unreliable simply because it must be interpreted and there is no objective interpretation. Perhaps that is not what you mean, but that seems to be the implication. This understanding of what you are saying is further illustrated when you said: "He did not present this video as 'neutral facts' that can be used to reason with an unbeliever about the reality of God's existence."

Yet, you do say that a discussion of the evidence can be used to reveal the folly of someone's presuppositions. This statement, of course, would be agreed with by all classical apologists. However, this fact seems to undermine your very position. For it is only because there is an objective and unchanging, or neutral, foundation upon which all thought is based can discussion of ideas and changing of one's opinion really take place. The classical apologist does not argue that the evidence being discussed is necessarily neutral in and of itself. However, we all share the same reality and have the ability to observe and function within that reality, and we all share the same unchanging neutral foundations of our thinking. So while conclusions cannot necessarily be deduced from these foundations, all assertions and conclusions can be reduced to these foundations. In other words, it's because the law of non-contradiction, for example, is a function of reality and a foundational principle of thought that you are able to discuss evidence with anyone and show them the folly of their incorrect understanding of reality.

You seem to admit as much when you said: "I agree with my commenter up to a point. I would be foolish to say men are so corrupted by sin that they are unable to rationally function in society, or in the case of his question, unable to understand what the Bible says about the sinfulness of men. Of course I believe all men think “logically” (depending upon how they understand “logic”), communicate rationally with each other, react to instances of right and wrong, and have a sense of the divine, or what would be understood as a transcendent authority outside themselves.  This would be what theologians understand as the “image of God” in man.  God created men to be rational, logical, moral beings."

It is this very basic ability of man to think and to experience reality that the classical apologist uses as a starting point for showing that all of reality points to God.

12:07 PM, February 27, 2012  
Blogger Adam said...

Part 3:
Just a few more quick comments. You said: "Additionally, just so as to be clear, I don't depend upon evidence to be the persuading element in an evangelical encounter. Nor do I further believe the Holy Spirit "uses" evidence to clear intellectual obstacles as my commenter suggested in one of his comments. That is because a sinner's refusal to believe has nothing to do with his intellect being cleared, but has everything to do with his heart.  He has a moral problem, not an intellect problem."

Of course man has a moral problem, but that doesn't mean in our culture that man also doesn't have an intellectual problem to overcome as well. That's the role of apologetics. Someone's refusal to believe truth and someone not knowing what that truth actually is are two different things. Apologetics addresses the latter.

You said: "Moreover, their presentations are often times inconsistent with their apologetic methodology. On one hand, when they teach about the doctrine of man, they will say he's in rebellion against God and can do nothing good, yet on the other, when they engage the unbeliever, they seem to believe those exact same sinners, when presented with evidence for the Christian faith, can be convinced of it."

Again, this seems to be confusing man's ability to be saved with man's ability to observe reality. As you admitted, we can think logically and function in realty. Having the ability to observe and think about reality in order to reason that God exists is not the same as having the ability to save oneself or reason to how to be saved.

You said: "How can a fallen sinner unable to understand spiritual things be convinced the evidence proves the truthfulness of the Christian truth claims?  Would he not be a biased jury member to begin with?"

This seems to point back to the neutral evidence thing. The short answer is that it does happen. There are plenty of atheists who were convinced Christianity is true based on the evidence. That fallen sinner is still reasoning and functioning in a reality, as you've admitted, that points to God when one learns to the think well.

You said: "So in other words, at least in the way I understand it, the “illuminating” Logos is equivalent to the “Holy Spirit using evidence to remove obstacles” and is one way He overcomes the crippling effects of sin in the human mind so as to draw men to Himself.  The only problem I have with this classic, Wesleyan-Arminian view of the Spirit’s work of “prevenient” grace  is that it isn't biblical."

Again, I think there are too many other problems with your view to get hung up on quoting Scripture back and forth. Suffice it say, however, that Jesus Himself provided evidence for people, for the disciples, for Thomas, etc. The apostles pointed to this evidence, did more miracles as further evidence, and Paul pointed to evidence as he debated, persuaded, and convinced his listeners.

12:08 PM, February 27, 2012  
Blogger Adam said...

Part 4:
You said: "But when Adam fell into sin, sin not only separated man from God, but it also marred his ability to think rationally, logically, and morally.  In the NT, the apostles often write about how man's ability is marred in these areas.  See for example Paul's description of sinners in Romans 1:18 ff., 3:10-18, 8:6-8 and Ephesians 2:1-4, 4:17-19.  It is what is termed “total depravity” because sin impacts the totality of the human being both his physical and spiritual dimensions.

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you, but this seems to contradict what you said before about it being foolish to say that man can't think logically and function in society. Moreover, the verses you list don't say anything in contradiction to what I've argued for. If anything, the Romans 1 passage specifically supports what I'm arguing for.

You said: "Even though they may dispute God's existence like a number of the well-known atheists who publicly revile God and religion, they still live their lives as though He exists.  They are outraged by acts of immorality (they always complain about God being a “moral” monster), they certainly insist upon being “logical” (faith and religion being “illogical”), and they appeal to a transcendent “authority” outside themselves (“Evolution is the driving force behind all reality”).   In other words, they live life according to their divine image."

I totally agree. Again, man has the ability to reason and observe a reality that completely points to God because he is created in God's image.

12:09 PM, February 27, 2012  
Blogger Adam said...

Last one:
You said: "I have encountered many unbelievers who know what the Bible says about the Resurrection, the atonement, and the basic Gospel message.  In fact, I have met many who could articulate the Christian faith better than most Christians.  Think Bart Ehrman.  It is absolutely certain they know the “truth,” and in point of fact, they don't need to be convinced of it at all by any evidence.  Even the devils believe God, writes James, and they have the sense to tremble before Him (James 2:19)."

First, this again seems to undermine your own position. You admit that man has the ability to read and understand language. Thus man has the ability to think logically, to know things about reality, to communicate, to know other minds exist other than his own, etc., etc. These things must be true prior to someone coming to the text of the Bible. Moreover, one must have a certain metaphysics and epistemology in place before he understand anything about the Bible as well. And it's these things the classical apologist uses to demonstrate God's existence and build a case for why one should believe the words he reads in the Bible.

Second, saying someone knows what the Bible says and saying they "know the truth" are two different things. This, again, is the very thing in question. Why should Bart Ehrman believe the Bible is actually true? It seems evidence and learning how to the think well is what many people do in fact need. I agree, however, that often times people don't want to believe and evidence doesn't matter. But that doesn't mean one shouldn't examine and share the evidence simply because there are people who don't care.

You said: "The issue really isn't unbelievers in need of being convinced of the truth claims of Christianity.  The real issue is the implication those truth claims present to unbelievers. Let that last sentence soak in a moment (hence the reason I put it in italics, bold font, and colored it blue)."

IF Christianity is true, then ultimately I agree with you. But why should anyone believe Christianity, as opposed to some other religion, is true in the first place?

You said: "Remember, the Bible tells us their hearts are willfully in rebellion against God's authority.  Like Paul writes in Romans 8:7, “the carnal mind is at enmity against God.”  It is a picture of warfare; men stand in treasonous opposition to God's authority and willing reject it.  Their opposition to God's authority has nothing to do with intellectual obstacles in need of being removed or having a reasonable answer supplied to their objections."

Once again, there is a difference is willfully rejecting God's authority and having the ability to reason to God's existence. I don't know of any classical apologist who would disagree with that. That doesn't mean we shouldn't remove any intellectual stumbling blocks they may be relying on. We should at least do as Paul says and tear down arguments and every lofty thing that raises up against the knowledge of God and then those who willfully reject God's authority will do so while having no intellectual leg to stand on. More could be said, but as I mentioned before, I think the problems with this view are more fundamental than a theological debate.

My apologies for the lengthy post, and again, thank you for your time.

12:10 PM, February 27, 2012  
Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Out of curiousity, Fred, have you ever witnessed Pastor John MacArthur engage in apologetics-evangelism discussion with an unbeliever before?

Does Pastor MacArthur lean more towards presuppositionalism or more towards classical evidentialism in his evangelistic encounters with unbelievers? Or you haven't had a chance to witness it?

4:28 PM, February 27, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

TMS teaches presuppositionalism. One of our profs wrote his TH.D on the exegesis of various apologetic texts. It was whittled down significantly to make the book "God's Business God's Way" by George Zemek. At least that is what I recall the title being.

John, by extension, also agrees with that theology. I haven't seen him engaged in evangelism like perhaps we have seen Sye, or the Wretched Radio folks, but I have seen him engage the various cranks who would appear with him time to time when Larry King had him on his old show. I understand some of the better discussions were off camera during breaks and in the "green room," especially with Deep-pockets Chopra, who absolutely despises John.

5:26 PM, February 27, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Adam,
Thanks for the detailed comments. I'll try to have a response up later this week. As is life, we happened to fall into this discussion the exact moment a bunch of busy stuff is happening at work and home.

In the meantime, this article by Michael Kruger, who co-wrote a recent book, "The Heresy of Orthodox" may help frame my response to the challenge of fideism.

The Sufficiency of Scripture in Apologetics

8:01 PM, February 27, 2012  
Blogger Peter said...

For Adam:

You said, "How do you know..." This presupposes that man can. It presupposes that an individual is the ultimate arbiter of truth.

Man cannot know.

That's why he needs a Savior.

Man needs divine intervention.

Man must rely on God every moment. And he cannot do even that.

------------

The problem with the debate is that men who know better have not bothered to do their homework regarding presuppositionalism.

They will argue against it, but cannot even define it.

I have heard dear R. C. Sproul more than once define Van Til's presupposition as an "assumption" or "logical premise." It is neither.

Presupposition comes before either.

A presupposition is something already supposed before any proposition, axiom, postulate, or notion is assumed, before any premise to any logical argument is put forth.

----------

One presupposition behind evidentialism is that man can come to God in some way other than God directly intervening in his life.

Another is that man may or can chose God, based on any evidences or anything else.

Another is that man's mind is sufficiently untainted by the effects of sin that he can still think clearly enough to recognize the truth.

Another is that man is in any way so inclined to admit the truth before God directly intervenes in his heart.

These are presuppositions rather than assumptions because they involve the very mechanism in which truth, logic, thoughts occur.

-------------

Presuppositionalism is not fideism.

But in a word, presuppositionalism is faith.

Fideism means for the individual to state something as true because someone, or the church, tells him so.

Faith means God opening the eyes of the heart.

If evidentialism actually effected a conversion, it could only be one of the mind. An intellectual assent, such as demons have.

If God depends on evidences to exist, than he is by definition not God; the evidences are.

If God depends on man following through logical arguments to assent to God's existence, then God is not God; man is.

Logical arguments, evidentiary discussions, and the like can be enjoyable and helpful, but they cannot give faith.

Again, faith means God opening the eyes of the heart. Didn't Fred say something like that?

9:57 PM, February 27, 2012  
Blogger mike said...

While this debate may not focus on Calvinism specifically, I do think presuppositional apologogetics dovetails nicely with a Calvinistic soteriology because one is free to proclaim the truth of the gospel and leave it to God to convince and draw the hearer. I think some who take the evidential apologetics approach become almost Pelagian in their practical evangelistic methodology because, for example, they can't proclaim the words of Scripture until they "prove" to the hearer that the Bible is God's word. Like Charles Finney, they believe it is up to them to do the persuading, even if their actual theology is more Arminian than Pelagian. I think evidential apologetics is more helpful after conversion than before.

10:37 PM, February 27, 2012  
Blogger Blake said...

So, can you explain to me precisely which part of this statement you disagree with?
"It is our belief, however, that the Scriptures testify to the fact that man, though corrupted by sin, is still made in the image of God and has been given reasoning faculties that can be used to gain important, though limited, data from nature about reality and theology."

It seems to me you reject it then throughout this blog article and the previous one affirm it. Please be very specific in which exact part of that statement you reject, so I can better understand your view.

Then you say, "Let me draw our attention back to what I believe is the profoundest disagreement between our two methodologies, and that has to do with the nature of man. My commenter insists that no classic apologist he knows believes men can be “reasoned to faith apart from the Spirit.” Perhaps they may say this, but they don't teach it or practice it." Then you go on to expand.

I would like to point out first of all that you are making a very strong claim when you say people say this but don't teach or practice it. Frankly, you are not at liberty to say that unless you can offer hard evidence (i.e., quotes, examples, citations). I can think of NO apologist that says, teaches, or practices in any way that someone can be reasoned to faith. Where is this taught? It is explicitly denied by every apologist that I can think of. Now, you may say they "practice" something different and in your article you go on to cite the "Please Convince Me" website. The question you are not asking is "What?" Please Convince Me of What? They would not think that they can convince anyone to accept Christ in faith. They do believe they can convince people to accept certain facts about God, the Bible, and Jesus. And you have agreed to that much in your writings. You can't conflate two items--reason and faith--and then blame the other person of thinking they are the same. Now, you may disagree that someone can be reasoned with about anything theological, but you can't then place in someone else's mind and heart the belief that what someone is doing when they reason with an unbeliever is someone bringing them to faith. That is simply not what classical or evidential apologetics teaches or practices.

12:46 PM, February 28, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Blake, thanks for the comment
You write,
So, can you explain to me precisely which part of this statement you disagree with? ... It seems to me you reject it then throughout this blog article and the previous one affirm it. Please be very specific in which exact part of that statement you reject, so I can better understand your view.

If you go back to my first article in question, I specifically stated:
it means their reasoning cannot learn about spiritual things and biblical truth apart from a divine work of regeneration. Their unbelief and rejection of the Christian faith is not one lacking "evidence," or having it explained to them correctly, but is fundamentally a moral/spiritual problem.

Whereas with the classic apologist, who believe the Holy Spirit can work through man's reason so that he can gain important, though limited, data from nature about reality and theology to borrow from the Ration Christi statement, the Bible on the other hand clearly teaches that men are fallen so that their reasoning is cut-off from gaining any important information that will lead them savingly to Christ.

An unbeliever may agree with you about the historicity of the Resurrection or the complexity of DNA pointing to design, but that agreement is not salvific. The most recent example being Anthony Flew, who is heralded as one who "changed his mind" from being an atheist to some fuzzy deism, but Flew died in his sins. He was never converted to Christ and the last info I had about him is that he denied the God revealed in Scripture because he hated the doctrine of eternal punishment. We can say he saw the "reasonableness" of the evidence, but it failed to save him, and in point of fact, he will be judged even greater for his rejection of the truth.

You write,
I would like to point out first of all that you are making a very strong claim when you say people say this but don't teach or practice it. Frankly, you are not at liberty to say that unless you can offer hard evidence (i.e., quotes, examples, citations). I can think of NO apologist that says, teaches, or practices in any way that someone can be reasoned to faith. Where is this taught?

Blake, I don't mean to be contentious, but you do listen to the popular radio apologetic programs like "Stand to Reason," "Reasons to Believe," "Please Convince Me" right? Their entire MO is to present the truth claims of Christianity in such a way that a lost person can "reason" about them and make a decision for Christ. Take for example the Christian Apologetic Alliance blog you link in your profile. Go and count the multiple uses of "reason" "think" and "rational" you find in the titles of the various other blogs linked there. How can you tell me there are NO apologists that says someone can be reasoned to faith when it is so patently clear in the overall objective of these websites.

4:44 PM, February 28, 2012  
Blogger Peter said...

Thanks, Fred, for this! God wins!

7:59 PM, February 28, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Hey Adam,
Thanks again for responding. I appreciate the sharpening. I'll try to hit the salient points to keep our discussion focused.

You write,
Also, I hope to refrain from this becoming a debate about five-point Calvinism as I think the problems with the presuppositional approach you've outlined are more fundamental than a theological discussion. As such, I will also try to refrain from debating and belaboring interpretations of specific Scripture passages regarding man's total depravity...

It isn't my intention to turn this into a discussion about "Calvinism" though I consider myself to be "Calvinistic." My interest is the text of Scripture and building my apologetic theology on its exegesis, which confirms to me a Calvinistic soteriology.

One area I would disagree with you, however, is the debating the interpretation of specific passages. You write that you want to share Christ to a lost and dying world in a God-honoring way, yet the only way we can know how to honor God is by knowing what God says about this from His Word, and our understanding of God's Word can only come from dealing with specific interpretations of Scripture. Maybe you have not thought about this, but the proper, as well as improper, interpretations of these passages significantly shape how we engage the lost with evangelism.

But the question still remains, How do you know the Bible is in fact God's revelation?

Fideism is best defined (at least in our context) as believing unquestioningly what someone tells you. Another commenter noted that definition. This has never been my position. Hopefully you took the time, or will take the time, to read over that article by Dr. Kruger I linked above. He goes into more detail on the sufficiency of Scripture in the apologetic endeavor.

At any rate, you won't like my basic response, but we know the Bible is in fact God's revelation because it says so. Notice that I didn't shift my certainty to "my experience" or "the evidence says" like a Mormon burning bosom experience. It is the Bible that is claiming this for itself as God's Word. As Paul writes, Scripture is God-breathed. It is a revelation from the true and living God and so Scripture is tied to God's character. The very fact that God has demonstrated his sovereignty, power, trustworthiness in time and space, is the grounding where we trust the infallibility and truthfulness of Scripture. This has been the historic protestant Christian position for centuries, especially since the Reformation, and what is articulated in the classic creeds both in Presbyterian and Baptist denominations. It is what is described as the self-authenticating nature of Scripture. If it makes this claim for itself, which it does, then we trust it on that basis as believers. I will also add that ultimate persuasion of the Bible's claims can only come from the regenerating work of the Spirit that affirms its truthfulness.

you write,
you almost seem to imply here that evidence is unreliable simply because it must be interpreted and there is no objective interpretation.

Evidence is evidence. It's just sitting there. It is not a matter of it being unreliable, it is just that it is impossible to evaluate it objectively, as you claim. That is because all men will evaluate it filtered through a grid of presuppositions that are operating from a particular worldview. How I understand DNA and how Richard Dawkins understands DNA cannot both be correct. Now, we may agree as to the chemical process, and all the mechanical particulars, but the conclusions we make that shapes how I understand DNA and how he does comes ultimately from our worldview.

10:13 PM, February 28, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Continued,
Adam writes,
For it is only because there is an objective and unchanging, or neutral, foundation upon which all thought is based can discussion of ideas and changing of one's opinion really take place. The classical apologist does not argue that the evidence being discussed is necessarily neutral in and of itself. However, we all share the same reality and have the ability to observe and function within that reality, and we all share the same unchanging neutral foundations of our thinking.

Before we continue, it may be helpful for you to define what you mean by "neutral" and "objective." What I understand you to mean by "neutral" is something like "what we all take for granted in human experience." But how can you deal with, say fundamentalist Hinduism that would argue "all is illusion." Their view of the evidence doesn't necessarily share how I understand reality.

continuing,
It is this very basic ability of man to think and to experience reality that the classical apologist uses as a starting point for showing that all of reality points to God.

But in your eagerness to agree with me, you left out my further elaboration of these points when I addressed what the Bible says about man's fallenness, man already knowing their Creator, and the implications of what it means to submit to God. Those factors play heavily in the way we begin our "starting points."

continuing,
Of course man has a moral problem, but that doesn't mean in our culture that man also doesn't have an intellectual problem to overcome as well.

Just a question: Do you think Bart Ehrman has an intellectual problem to overcome? Clark Pinnock? Domminic Crossan? What about Richard Dawkins? Or the host of apostate, so-called former Christians, who now rant against God? Many of them, like I stated in my article, can articulate the "evidences" better than many Christians I know.

continuing,
Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you, but this seems to contradict what you said before about it being foolish to say that man can't think logically and function in society. Moreover, the verses you list don't say anything in contradiction to what I've argued for. If anything, the Romans 1 passage specifically supports what I'm arguing for.

If you continue in my article I say specifically that it is the implications that men recoil against. Again, Bart Ehrman may be able to think "logically" about the NT documents, and even teach about it in his class, but because his reasoning is fallen, he not only twists the information about those documents, he draws conclusions about it that is designed to suppress the knowledge he has about God. In a word, he is self-deceived. As to Romans 1 and those other passages supporting your arguments, perhaps you can take the time to unpack what you mean. This would be great blog fodder at your place. =-) I mean, you being the campus director, it may be to your advantage to engage your students with what you have encountered from me and other like me.

Thus man has the ability to think logically, to know things about reality, to communicate, to know other minds exist other than his own, etc., etc. These things must be true prior to someone coming to the text of the Bible. Moreover, one must have a certain metaphysics and epistemology in place before he understand anything about the Bible as well.

How can you be certain of these things apart from divine revelation? I believe these truths about men because the Bible tells me. But you would argue that the Bible needs to be proven first as a reliable document before I could make such conclusions and hold men accountable to them.

10:17 PM, February 28, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Continued,
Why should Bart Ehrman believe the Bible is actually true? It seems evidence and learning how to the think well is what many people do in fact need.

Are you familiar with his background? He was taught at Moody, and then went to Princeton where he sat under, at the time, the preeminent NT scholar, Bruce Metzger. According to Ehrman, he believed the Bible was true UNTIL he "followed the evidence" and discovered that he had been lied to and mislead by his evangelical, Christian pastors and teachers regarding the Bible.

You write,
IF Christianity is true, then ultimately I agree with you. But why should anyone believe Christianity, as opposed to some other religion, is true in the first place?

This is the kind of questions atheists asks. Not to be unkind, but really? Just as Paul wrote in Acts 17:30, "Truly these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead." These words explain why unbeliever should believe Christianity as opposed to some other religion.

continuing,
Once again, there is a difference is willfully rejecting God's authority and having the ability to reason to God's existence. I don't know of any classical apologist who would disagree with that.

Our difference, however, is that I believe the Bible is crystal clear that men already know God exists. They don't need to be convinced of it. A number of classic apologists would disagree with that.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't remove any intellectual stumbling blocks they may be relying on....

I don't think unbelievers are relying on intellectual stumbling blocks. Like I said, it's a heart issue, not a mind issue. We can provide them with the most compelling evidence imaginable, and yet they will still find some way to explain it away. It comes down to what will be their authority to which they declare their allegiance: the fear of the Lord or the folly of sinful men.

10:19 PM, February 28, 2012  
Blogger Blake said...

Fred, thank you for your response. However, you are evading the question. Which precise part of the statement do you disagree with? Please cite the part and indicate, this is the part I disagree with. Otherwise we are just talking past each other. Then we can proceed. From your last response to me I might assume you disagree with "data...about...theology". But I don't like to assume.

Further, I am curious about your statement, "Their unbelief and rejection of the Christian faith is . . . fundamentally a moral/spiritual problem." Do you think classical apologists disagree with you on this? And if so, please give citations.

Then you say, "Whereas with the classic apologist, who believe the Holy Spirit can work through man's reason so that he can gain important, though limited, data from nature about reality and theology". First, you misquote the statement. But most importantly, what with that do you disagree with? I saw your "the Bible on the otherhand clearly says..." but you are still adding in some elements that others have not claimed. So please, again, indicate the words you disagree with and then the Bible passage that clearly teaches otherwise.

Who has said that the "historicity of the Resurrection or the complexity of DNA pointing to design" IS salvific?

Who has said they thing Anthony Flew was saved?

Then you say "Blake, I don't mean to be about the historicity of the contentious, but you do listen to the popular radio apologetic programs like "Stand to Reason," "Reasons to Believe," "Please Convince Me" right? Their entire MO is to present the truth claims of Christianity in such a way that a lost person can "reason" about them and make a decision for Christ. Take for example the Christian Apologetic Alliance blog you link in your profile. Go and count the multiple uses of "reason" "think" and "rational" you find in the titles of the various other blogs linked there. How can you tell me there are NO apologists that says someone can be reasoned to faith when it is so patently clear in the overall objective of these websites."

Fred, you are imposing your thoughts on other people. You simply can not (I should say-should not) do this. I listen and read the types of people/organizations you mention. Again, never have I heard there that someone can be reasoned to Christ. It is NOT their MO. Of course, they talk about "reason" and "think" and "rational" a lot. They believe it has value. But you are making a completely unjustified leap from there to someone saying something they haven't said. This is why I asked you to cite an example. Go to the Christian Apologetics Alliance and cite just one example please. Just one. If you can't then you are putting words in people's mouths and that is not acceptable. Where is it "patently clear in the overall objective of these websites" that someone can be reasoned to Christ? Without citation and example what you say is "patently clear" is simply assertion.

I know I am coming off as harsh, but really, the questions I am asking you, you need to be able to answer. Otherwise you are guilty of muddy thinking and writing and making false accusations. Generalizations are not appropriate.

I await your precise response. Thank you.

8:51 AM, February 29, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Blake asks,
Which precise part of the statement do you disagree with?

I don't know how clearer I can be. Fallen men do not retain reasoning faculties in which they can gain important data from nature about theology. Theology is derived from Scripture alone, not nature.

Do you think classical apologists disagree with you on this? And if so, please give citations.

They may claim they believe a sinner's rejection of the Christian faith is a spiritual problem, but they do not practice such things when they engage unbelievers in an apologetic encounter. As for citations, read Adam's comments, along with the countless websites linked at the webhub listed on your profile page.

... you misquote the statement.

Actually, I am conflating the statement with other statements Adam has made. If you are implying there is some misrepresentation, you need to be specific yourself.

but you are still adding in some elements that others have not claimed. So please, again, indicate the words you disagree with and then the Bible passage that clearly teaches otherwise.

There are no added elements. Are you reading the other comments?

Who has said that the "historicity of the Resurrection or the complexity of DNA pointing to design" IS salvific?

When Adam says the Holy Spirit can use evidence to clear away obstacles to provide a reason Christianity is true, how else am I to take this? He understands his apologetic as one "leading a person to salvation." Am I wrong? Of course, this comes down to the foundational issues of what the Bible teaches regarding man, the work of regeneration, and conversion, subjects my classic apologist detractors wish to dodge.

I would imagine you and Adam are synergistic in your understanding of God's salvation, IOW, the apologists clear the way by giving reasons to believe and then it is up to those individuals to decide to believe, and I guess, submit to what the evidence is saying about God. The Bible tells us that a miracle of regeneration must take place first in the heart of the sinner before he will consider any evidence as an affirmation for the faith.

Who has said they thing Anthony Flew was saved?

All I did was point out how Flew is lifted up as an example of the power of "evidence" because he allegedly "followed the evidence" and changed his mind. That is pointless, because he never came to Christ.

continued below

10:39 AM, February 29, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Continuing,
Fred, you are imposing your thoughts on other people. You simply can not (I should say-should not) do this. I listen and read the types of people/organizations you mention. Again, never have I heard there that someone can be reasoned to Christ. It is NOT their MO.

Are you serious? You don't think any of the guys associated with these ministries want to present the truth claims of Christianity in a reasonable fashion that a lost person can "reason" about those claims and make a decision for Christ? Obviously they believe their arguments have some merit or they wouldn't be involved in the apologetic enterprise. How exactly do you think they see their ministries?

Go to the Christian Apologetics Alliance and cite just one example please. Just one. If you can't then you are putting words in people's mouths and that is not acceptable. Where is it "patently clear in the overall objective of these websites" that someone can be reasoned to Christ? Without citation and example what you say is "patently clear" is simply assertion.

Please, Blake. Don't be lazy. Let me, for the sake of space highlight three, emphasis mine:
From the RTB About page http://www.reasons.org/about/our-mission
RTB's mission is to spread the Christian Gospel by demonstrating that sound reason and scientific research - including the very latest discoveries - consistently support, rather than erode, confidence in the truth of the Bible and faith in the personal, transcendent God revealed in both Scripture and nature.

From the Apologetics 315 site: http://www.apologetics315.com/2008/09/case-for-apologetics.html
First, apologetics is used in a proactive way to prove the truth of Christianity and to persuade unbelievers to believe. This may involve arguments from history, philosophy, science, culture, logic, and testimony, among others. The purpose is simply to build a reasonable case to persuade the unbeliever. Removing intellectual stumbling blocks is a key element. “Apologetic argument may not create belief, but it creates the atmosphere in which belief can come to life.”

The Apologetics.com website
Apologetics.com exists to remove intellectual impediments to Christian faith, thereby enhancing believers' confidence in, and weakening skeptics' objections to, the gospel message.

You may think I am a muddy writer; perhaps, but you are not a careful reader nor have you seriously considered what these groups are truly saying.

10:41 AM, February 29, 2012  
Blogger Adam said...

Thanks for your responses Mr. Butler. I don't have time to respond to your responses and to the paper you linked. So, I'll offer a few comments on the paper. First, please note that I loved "The Heresy of Orthodoxy," however, I found this paper terribly disappointing, confused, and even contradictory.

To begin with, the author seems to be talking about two extreme positions within popular apologetics, both of which I would disagree with as well. Most classical apologists I know of would disagree with these extreme views also. Of course science alone, in the modern limited empirical understanding, cannot determine the truth of Christianity. And of course objective truth exists. I also agree with the author that far too much of modern preaching, and evangelism, tries to "cater to the felt needs of its audience." That drives me crazy and I speak out against such practices quite often. And the idea of pragmatism determining truth, which the author speaks against, is equally frustrating to me as well. Pragmatism is a terrible method for determining truth. And of course one cannot throw out facts and figures (a.k.a. evidence) without first getting behind the philosophical understanding of the person they're talking with. All this is part and parcel with classical apologetics. No apologists with any limited amount of understanding would commit such foolishness.

A strange thing happened, however, when the author was laying forth his case that modern and postmodern philosophy had so corrupted modern-day apologetics that presuppositionalism is the only saving grace. First, classical apologetics, specifically the classical apologetics I practice, stems from the thinking of Thomas Aquinas. This obviously predates modern philosophy and the Enlightenment, so any charge of the corruption of the former by the latter is suspect from the beginning. Secondly, and more importantly, the author says:
"…not realizing that it is the philosophical worldview (or presuppositions) of people that determines what they see as a “fact.” In other words, they forget that every person has a “worldview” through which and by which he interprets the evidence—making neutrality an impossibility. John Frame notes that 'there is no ‘purely empirical’ inquiry. We never encounter ‘brute,’ that is, uninterpreted facts. We only encounter facts that have been interpreted in terms of our existing commitments.'"

As I've said, I agree that everyone has a worldview, and the apologist must get behind that before meaningful discussion can take place. However, in the above quote, the author has undermined his own position. This idea that there is no possibility of examining facts beyond one's own interpretation and therefore no "brute" facts or neutral starting points exist is the very substance of modern philosophy's core. This boils down to a representationalist view of epistemology, which is a very modern notion indeed (ala Descartes and Kant).

But it gets worse. This view ultimately ends up being self-defeating. Is the view that "all views are based on interpreted facts and there are no 'brute' facts" an interpreted fact or is that true for everyone? If it's true for everyone then it's a 'brute' fact since that's simply what 'brute' facts are. If it's not true for everyone, then it's still the case that there are 'brute' facts. The claim is simply self-refuting and therefore necessarily false.

2:44 PM, February 29, 2012  
Blogger Adam said...

But it gets worse. The author says:
"How does the Christian worldview provide the foundation for knowledge? The necessary preconditions of knowledge—logic, science, and morality—are intelligible and coherent only within the framework of Christianity. Upon scrutiny, the unbeliever’s worldview cannot account for these preconditions and therefore provides no basis for knowledge. Thus, the reason the non-Christian should believe Christianity is because he has no other choice if he wants to make sense out of reality."

There are several problems with this. First, the author assumes, as he even states in the quote, the antecedent necessity of the laws of logic in order to make his own argument here, and throughout his paper, and in order to make his argument with the unbeliever. Yet, if there are no brute facts or neutral starting points, what are we to make of this? Are the laws of logic open to interpretation? Would not the laws of logic need to be in place before one could even make such an argument? The laws of logic are, in fact, "brute facts" (as in neutral, and true for everyone) on which all thought is based.

But the author has already told us that unless one fears the Lord he can "know nothing at all." But how could the laws of logic, etc. be the "necessary preconditions of knowledge" if the fear of the Lord is the necessary precondition? Would not one have to know how to communicate, understand the laws of logic, etc. before one could even know what "unless one fears the Lord he can know nothing at all" even means? But if that's the case, then it's true that one can know SOMETHING prior to his fearing the Lord. But if one can know something then he is capable of experiencing reality. And while one may be spiritually separated from God, it does not mean that one is completely separated from reality. It is this ability to know and experience reality that the classical apologist uses to point to God.

Also, again, would it not have to be the case that "unless one fears the Lord he can know nothing at all" is not the same as "one can know something without fearing the Lord" prior to the claim having any meaning? This just shows the transcendental nature of logic, but it does not show that the Christian God exists in and of itself. An epistemological claim is being made here, but one must assume the antecedent nature of the laws of logic in order to make the claim.

If the author wants to move from making an epistemological claim to making an ontological claim, then he is simply making a demonstratio quia argument, or arguing from effect to cause or consequent to ground. In other words, as the author says, he's arguing that an atheistic worldview, for example, cannot account for the existence of things like the laws of logic. But this is simply classical apologetics!! The Bible is certainly not needed in order to make such an argument. That's simply a philosophical argument.

2:45 PM, February 29, 2012  
Blogger Adam said...

But this does not result in one knowing that Christianity as a whole is true. The author says, as is common with many presuppositional apologists:
"Thus, the reason the non-Christian should believe Christianity is because he has no other choice if he wants to make sense out of reality. In philosophical terms, this argument shows 'the impossibility of the contrary.'"

This is simply incorrect. Logically speaking, contraries can both be false. So showing the falsity of one does not entail the truthfulness of the other. If the author means showing the impossibility of the "contradiction," then while it's true that the contradiction of a false claim would necessarily be true, that only further serves to illustrate the "brute fact" and transcendental nature of the laws of logic which the presuppositionalist, like everyone else, can't help but use.

Finally, the author implies in several places that any other method of apologetics makes something else superior to God. For example, the author quotes Richard Pratt as saying:
"If, however, trust in Christ is founded on logical consistency, historical evidence, scientific arguments, etc., then Christ is yet to be received as the ultimate authority. The various foundations are more authoritative than Christ himself. To use yet another analogy, if belief in Christian truth comes only after the claims of Christ are run through the verification machine of human judgment, then human judgment is still thought to be the ultimate authority."

First, we've just seen the author himself make the argument that based on the laws of logic one can show an unbeliever his worldview is faulty, which would imply the author values "logical consistency." Does this mean the author has put logic above God? Of course not! This is the common misunderstanding of the order of knowing and the order of being. Just because we need logic, philosophy, science, history, etc. in order to know something, that doesn't entail that those things are superior to what is being known. For example, say you have a GPS to help you get to a specific place in LA. Is the GPS superior to LA or more authoritative than the actual streets of LA? Of course not. Simply because you needed knowledge of a GPS or map to get you to LA, LA still existed first and is still the object of your knowing. In the order of knowing, the GPS came first. But in the order of being, LA came first.

More could be, and probably should be, said. But that's way enough for now. I must express my indebtedness to Richard Howe for many of these thoughts. I would encourage you to check out: http://richardghowe.com/Presuppositionalism.pdf
as well as: http://quodlibetalblog.wordpress.com/2011/07/12/its-worse-than-i-thought/

2:45 PM, February 29, 2012  

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