Sunday, April 28, 2013

Richard Howe’s Concern about YEC and Presuppositionalism
A Presuppositionalist Responds: Part III

This will be my final interaction with Dr. Richard Howe’s outline dealing with his concern that many if not most YEC are turning to presuppositional methodology in how they frame their argument in support of a faithful acceptance of Gen. 1-11. Before I object to how classical apologetics misuses the theistic proofs, I want to make it clear that I am not opposing the use of evidence in Christian apologetics. Evidence and proofs have their place. It is precisely “the place” that classical apologetics gives to evidence and proofs that concerns me. Moreover, the kinds of proofs and evidence that classical apologists use in their defense of Christian theism can be highly problematic. Many, if not most philosophers believe that it is impossible to prove that God exists. What is at issue here is something I eluded to in my second post: criterion. Anytime philosophers talk about “proof,” what they are alluding to is what we call the properties of “proof.” In order to qualify as a proof, the evidence being offered must meet certain criteria. If it fails to meet the criteria, it fails to qualify as proof. A person’s criteria of proof are shaped by their metaphysical and epistemological presuppositions. By now, you can probably discern the trajectory of this discussion. Since the believer and the unbeliever begin the conversation about metaphysics and epistemology with fundamentally opposing presuppositions, it is difficult to imagine how they could ever agree on what passes as criteria for proofs within their respective worldviews. Classical apologetics fails to take this problem seriously in my opinion. It is precisely the serious nature of this problem that presuppositional apologetics confronts from the start.

Christian apologetics or better, biblical apologetics is not merely interested in showing that theism is probably true. Christianity does not simply assert that based on the evidence and proofs it is highly probable that there is a god out there somewhere. But this is exactly what classical apologetics does. In addition, Christianity does not assert that it is highly probable that Jesus is God and that all men should place their faith in Him because we are almost certain He is going to judge the world in the end. It is not enough that apologetics defend the nebulous idea of a god. After all, unbelievers and believers differ remarkably in their understanding of the idea of god or God respectively. Rather, Christianity asserts that the Triune God of Scripture exists, that He is the Creator of all that is, that all knowledge is deposited in Him, and that all creation everywhere at all times must acknowledge Him, adore Him, and humbly submit to His Lordship at all times and in all places. His name is Jesus, and this God became man in order to condemn sin in the flesh and to rescue the perishing by His death, burial, and resurrection. He gives light, life, and hope to all who hear His word. This is the reason for the hope that is in us and it is the only way Christians should give a defense for the hope that is in them.

I closed my last post by arguing that humanity knows God in one sense and that it does not know God in another sense. Why do I make this assertion? It is quite simply the way the Scripture puts it. The Scripture tells us in Romans one that humanity knows God is there. God has made Himself known to them, in them, among them, and around them so that humanity is left without any excuse for failing to acknowledge God as the ultimate Creator and source of all that is. At the same time, 1 Corinthians 1-2, 2 Corinthians 4, Eph. 2, and the gospels inform us that humanity does not know God personally, accurately, rightly, because of the sin nature. Humanity possesses knowledge of God and through its sinful nature, it perverts suppresses, and distorts that knowledge. As unregenerate sinners, man willingly distorts the image of God. Not only is this a natural act of sinful humans, as natural as breathing in fact, it is something that we all do willingly so long as our heart remains darkened by sin. This means that man knows God and is culpable for his sinful behavior, but at the same time, that man in his fallen condition will not know God rightly, truly. This reality has serious implications for the project of Christian apologetics. This being the case, I want to finish my review of Howe’s comments.

In V. A. of his outline, Howe says, “Presuppositionalists maintain that a proper apologetics methodology must be built on the solid Reformed (Calvinist) theological doctrines of the sovereignty of God and the total depravity of the human race.” Howe is surely correct in that presuppositional apologetics insists that our apologetic is based off sound theology as a result of solid biblical exegesis. So far, so good.

V. A. 1. Says, “To assume an intellectual common ground between the believer and unbeliever from
which the believer could launch into a rational argument for God's existence, is defacto to deny the God of Christianity.” Note that Howe does not provide a single source for this statement. This is not what PA asserts. In fact, Van Til writes of the truly biblical view of the point of contact between believers and unbelievers, “It is assured of a point of contact in the fact that every man is made in the image of God and has impressed upon him the law of God.” [Christian Apologetics, 120] Van Til unambiguously affirms that a point of contact not only exists, but that the unbeliever cannot avoid it. Eta Linnemann, in her criticism of higher criticism says it most eloquently, “I know from personal experience that the move from criticism of the Bible to trust in the Bible does not occur through arguments that consider intellectual presuppositions of the Bible critic in such a way that he can accept those arguments.” [Linneman, Biblical Criticism on Trial] Howe is simply wrong to make such characterizations of presuppositional apologetics. He should at least provide an accurate understanding of what PA affirms and what it denies.

In point V. A. 2. Howe writes, “The God of Christianity must be presupposed to exist before there could be any coherent or rational thought in the first place.” This is true in one sense and not true in another. Yes, man lives his life as if God is there and He knows that God is there. But man refuses to acknowledge God as he lives out his life in the here and the now. The presupposition is assumed in the background, not confessed openly. If this is what Howe is saying, he is correct. But if he is saying that PA asserts that unless you willfully acknowledge God’s existence openly, then you are not capable of rational thought, he would be far from accurate. PA affirms that rational thought serves as a modus ponens form of argument for Christian theism. If rational thought is possible, then Christian theism is true. Rational thought is possible. Therefore Christian theism is true. In reality, this argument is true for any Christian who acknowledges God as Creator of all that is. How could it not be?

V. A. 3. “The unbeliever's attempt to argue against the existence of the Christian God already employs epistemological assumptions that can be the case only if the God of Christianity exists.” This is a statement that I will absolutely affirm. Howe is spot on here. How could an unbeliever predicate anything at all, or know anything at all or claim to know anything unless God were the necessary precondition that makes all knowledge possible to begin with? Any assumption about reality is reflects the state of affairs that has obtained is only possible because God made reality as it is.

Howe’s conclusion about presuppositional apologetics, “The truth of the Christian worldview is demonstrated by a transcendental argument in terms of which a rather full-blown Trinitarian Christian theism is the necessary prerequisite for any rational thought at all” Now, let’s analyze this statement. Would human beings exist if Trinitarian Christian theism were not true? The answer is clearly no. And it has to be answered negatively for anyone who claims to hold to Biblical Christianity. The only reason humans exist is because the God of Scripture created us. Now, would humans be able to reason if they did not exist or if God had not created them with the specific capacity for logical thought? Of course not. Therefore, the only reason human beings are capable of rational thought is because the triune God of Scripture exists and because He created us with such capacities from the start.

A final word for what is passed off as being apologetics in contemporary times is in order. What we see out there in the marketplace of Christian ideas, in the seminaries, on the internet, and in the bookstores is not actually apologetics. Christian apologetics, or as Cliff McManus calls it, biblical apologetics does not involve Christians running around the world picking fights and setting up repetitive debates with atheists and other religions in order to prove that Christian theism is true or probably true. Biblical apologetics is responsive in nature. Moreover, the mandate is not to prove that Christian theism is true to an unbelieving world. That is not how Scripture defines biblical apologetics. Apologetics is giving someone an answer for the reason of the hope that is you. If you are giving a gospel proclamation or if someone who thinks your life is a bit curious or unique, and this curiosity leads them to question you, then your response is apologetics. Your goal is to honor God by giving them the gospel, with gentleness and respect, in humility, and of course hoping and praying that God will water what is being planted. That phenomena we see across the world is in large part, the foolish endeavor of men who are more interested in the sound of their own arguments and in how they look and in winning debates than it is the result of a humble desire to honor God by proclaiming His truth and having faith that He will do with it what He has determined.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Richard Howe’s Concern about YEC and Presuppositionalism (Part II of III)

A Presuppositionalist Responds: Part II of III

In part one of this post, I addressed Dr. Howe’s misunderstanding of what presuppositional apologetics (PA) actual claims about common ground versus neutral ground between the believer and the unbeliever. In addition, I discussed Howe’s failure to take seriously the epistemic consequences of the fall. Rather than deal with the problems, he dresses it up in Calvinism and then knocks it over as if that approach makes for good argumentation. It does not. In addition, I chided Howe’s repeated use of emotive language and his tactic of poisoning the well, not to mention his fallacy of bifurcation. In this post, I will focus more specifically on the apologetic methods at issue and provide a more detailed biblical/theological analysis of the theological and philosophical commitments and consequences of both.

Howe states that classical apologetics is characterized by 1) defending that reality is knowable; 2) logic applies to reality; 3) morally fallen human beings have some capacity to cognitively understand certain claims of the Christian faith. Howe says that once the foundation for rational interaction is in place, arguments are given for God’s existence. Finally, once we prove that God exists, and that miracles are possible, we are ready to provide specific arguments for the truth of the Christian faith. According to Howe and many others in the field of Christian apologetics, this is how the art is to be carried on in reality.

There is a devastating problem in Howe’s very first proposition, that Christians must defend the idea that reality is knowable. Halverson remarks, “I would observe, in conclusion, that there is no need to develop a constructive argument in support of direct realism.” [Halverson, A Concise Introduction to Philosophy, 133] He believes this common-sense notion of reality is where we all begin, and that we are only moved from that position through bad argumentation. Halverson thinks, “we have only to refute arguments that led to its abandonment in the first place.” Howe’s position fails to acknowledge two very basic issues at play. Frist, it is impossible to completely separate how we know from how things are. This is because ‘how we know’ is itself a metaphysical property at bottom. We know ‘this way’ because this is ‘how things are.’ In other words, our theory of knowledge is the unavoidable product of our theory of reality. The attempt to divorce epistemology from metaphysics is illegitimate folly. As Bahnsen put it, “One’s view of knowledge is itself necessarily conditioned by his understanding of what constitutes ultimate reality (his view of man, the world, and God). [Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics]

To begin, I want to examine Howe’s first premise, which is his contention that Christians apologetics must begin with the defense that “reality is knowable.” The apostle Paul tells us in Romans 1:19 “because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” Based on this text, man does not need to have anyone prove to him that reality exists and is knowable. If God has made it evident to them, why must we repeat the work God has already done? In fact, according to Paul, God has already given all men sufficient proof not only about reality, but about the specific kind of reality that exists and He has even provided man with sufficient knowledge and understanding that these facts so as to render all willful ignorance inexcusable. The work that Howe says needs to be done has already been done. God has taken care of this Himself. Paul says, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him or given Him thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Rom. 1:21) Evidently, according to Paul, man knows God is there. He does not require any more proof than that which God has already provided. When we agree to give men more proof than that which God has already provided, we agree with ungodly men that the proof they possess is inadequate. This is a serious breach of Christian fidelity because if God has plainly said His proof is sufficient, who are we to agree with fallen men that it is not?

In addition to those points already made, I would like to say a thing or two about knowledge. A Christian theory of knowledge is antithetical to any and all unbelieving theories of knowledge. For the believer, all knowledge is revelational. For the unbeliever, such an assertion is preposterous. Neither side can compromise on the matter. We already established that believers and unbelievers begin with fundamentally opposite theories of reality and now we must recognize that we also begin with radically antithetical theories of knowledge. Without getting into the technical details of ways of knowing and types of statements, it is important to comment on the basic difference between Christian and non-Christian justification for knowledge. The unbeliever will demand rational argumentation or empirical proof as standards by which all knowledge is to be tested. Unless a certain claim to knowledge passes the unbelievers standards, they will reject it. For the Christian, the situation is really quite different. Since all knowledge claims are justified by revelation, either natural or special, the Christian’s standards for what qualifies, as true knowledge is notably different and even contradictory at many points with that of the non-Christian. Since both the Christian and the non-Christian enter the conversation with commitments that are the product of their worldviews and since one’s worldview can only change from the outside, it is impossible to reach agreement on these very fundamental issues so that the conversation can get going. PA argues for a different approach. If one pays attention to most debates in the area of Christian apologetics, many of them fail to move away from these very issues. If there is no God, then reality is not what Christians say it is and knowledge is not revelational. The non-Christian will insist that we prove the latter without proving the former. Classical apologetics contends that we can show true reality and knowledge apart from God and then move to God. Cornelius Van Til writes, “One of the greatest and, surely, always the first victory the enemy boasts is the victory of breaking the morale of the believer. If he can make a Christian believe that no supernatural redemptive revelation is necessary for man because his mind is normal and needs only the mutual check of fellowman to guide it on its flight, then he has accomplished much.” [Van Til, Reformed Epistemology]

Classical apologetics is either ignorant of the problem of criterion or it simply ignores the problem altogether. Roberick M. Chisholm confesses “The problem of the criterion” seems to me to be one of the most important and one of the most difficult of all the problems of philosophy. I am tempted to say that one has not begun to philosophize until one has faced this problem and has recognized how unappealing, in the end, each of the possible solutions is....” [Chisholm, The Problem of Criterion] The problem of criterion was put well in Montaigne’s Essays. In order to know if things are really as they appear to be, we must have a procedure for distinguishing between appearances that are true from appearances that are false. The procedure cannot work unless we already know which appearances are true and which appearances are false. Hence, we are caught in a circle.

Howe’s second premise that we must show unbelievers that logic applies to reality is somewhat ambiguous. How does one show that logic applies to reality? Do unbelievers reject the idea that logic applies to reality? Moreover, this also begs the question of the kind of reality that exists. The unbeliever’s metaphysical commitments are far different from the Christian’s metaphysic. For the Christian, God is ultimate reality. For the Christian, “For by Him all things were created…all things have been created through Him and for Him…and in Him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:16-17) Christians begin with this reality. Anything that contradicts this reality, Christians are obligated to reject. For the unbeliever, reality is explained in a variety of ways, all of which reduce to irrationalism sooner or later. It is not morally neutral to pretend that we can know something about reality apart from God. We must insist on responding to the unbeliever’s challenge without pretending anything in our system of belief is false or unproven. Nowhere do the authors of Scripture ever set out to do what Howe says is fundamental to champion the faith. In addition, everywhere we see apologetics at work in the NT, primarily in Acts we see a tenacious and relentless refusal to give up any ground on the starting point of Scripture. Logic does apply to reality, but only to true reality. And that reality is God’s reality and logic applies to it because all sound use of logic is a reformed logic. Only those who think God’s thoughts after Him can reason properly, faithfully, redemptively. I would say that we must show the unbeliever that redemptive logic applies to a distinctively redemptive metaphysic.

Howe argues that unregenerate men can accurately know true reality. He says that unregenerate men can know certain truth claims of the Christian faith. He implies that men can apply logic to reality correctly apart from God. Is this an accurate description of the current state of affairs? To answer this question, I want to turn your attention to Scripture:

·         Rom. 1:19-20 says that men plainly know things about God because God made it evident to them. This knowledge is clear and understood and therefore all men are without excuse.

·         Rom. 1:21 says that even though men know God, they have become vain in their speculations.

·         Rom. 1:25 says that men have willingly exchanged the truth they have about God for a lie.

·         Rom. 1:26 says that men’s willing exchange of truth for a lie has resulted in God giving men over to perverted and unnatural lusts, including homosexual perversion.

·         Rom. 8:7 informs us that the whole person of unregenerate men is hostile toward God; that the whole person of unregenerate men is not willing to submit to God’s law; and finally, that the whole person of unregenerate men is not even able to submit to God’s law.

·         Rom. 8:8 tells us that unregenerate men are not capable of pleasing God. In other words, they cannot do anything that is pleasing to God, or better stated, their actions are in no way aimed at pleasing God in any way.

·         I Cor. 2:14 tells us that unregenerate men do not accept the things of the Spirit of God, that they consider these things foolishness, and that they cannot understand them because they require spiritual evaluation and analysis. This evaluation can only be carried out in cooperation with the abiding presence of the Spirit of God.

·         I Cor. 1:18 explains that the preaching of the cross is foolishness to the unregenerate.

·         I Cor. 1:20 unequivocally affirms that unregenerate men do not come to God as a result of human reason or logic.

·         I Cor. 1:23 asserts that the gospel is foolishness to unregenerate Gentiles and it is a scandal to unregenerate Jews.

·         I Cor. 1:27 says that God deliberately chose foolish things of this world to confound the intellectual elite of the unregenerate so as to shame them.

·         I Cor. 1:29 says that God chose this method in order to remove human boasting.

·         I Cor. 1:30 says that are all in Christ, not by rational argumentation and evidence, but by God’s work alone.

·         II Cor. 4:4 says that the god of this world has blinded the eyes of men from the light of the gospel. Men reject God, not because of a lack of evidence, proof, good argumentation, or information. They have all they need according to Scripture. They reject God because of their current state of spiritual death. They hate God knowingly and willingly even if they deny it with the mouth.

·         Eph. 2:1 describes man as dead in trespasses and sin. He is not sick, maimed, or partially obstructed from receiving the truth. He is dead.

·         Rom. 3:10-18 says that all of humanity is totally depraved, unrighteous, and that none of them seek God or are doing anything good. The situation is spiritually horrific.

While it was my goal to limit my comments to a couple of posts, as you might guess by now, it will take a least one more post to complete my interaction with Howe’s outline. My final post will interact briefly with the failure of the theistic proofs before moving on to interacting with Howe’s comments regarding presuppositional apologetics.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Richard Howe’s Concern about YEC and Presuppositionalism

A Presuppositionalist Responds

Dr. Richard G. Howe has raised a number of concerns about YEC proponents adopting a presuppositional approach to their defense of the age of the earth. Dr. Howe is admittedly a YEC proponent himself. However, Dr. Howe is a classical apologist and therefore, it seems that Howe believes that the only sound method for defending the age of the earth is by use of the classical method of Christian apologetics. Dr. Howe has an outline of his concerns in PDF form on his website in which he criticizes presuppositional apologetics in general and Ken Ham in particular for his part in the YEC-presuppositionalism scandal. The purpose of this blog is to interact with Howe’s statements in that document, and to provide an alternative perspective in some cases, and a refutation of them in other cases.

Howe states in I.A.2, “My concern arises largely as a function of my concerns about and objections to Presuppositionalism as such.”

No one should be surprised to hear an SES professor like Richard Howe objecting to presuppositional apologetics. In fact, I would be shocked to hear if Howe were not concerned. Like Howe, I am also concerned about apologetic method. Apologetic method is the product of theology and as such, it goes to the soundness of one’s theological understandings. Since theological understanding is the product of biblical exegesis, and God Himself speaks to us in Scripture, we are talking about what God says. Specifically, when we say that apologetics ought to be carried out in a certain way, we are actually saying that God says that apologetics ought to be carried out in a certain way. And if that method is contrary to what God says, we have every reason to be concerned. Therefore, I do not find any fault in the fact that Howe is concerned about apologetic method per se.

In II.A of his outline, Howe says, “The broader context within which my concerns arise has to do with this question: What is the proper way for Christians to defend the truth of the Christian faith?”

Howe is to be commended for putting it so succinctly. This is indeed the question. Sometimes, believe it or not, we can’t even agree that a “proper” way for apologetics even exists in the first place. Some Christians think that it really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we are out there doing something. I agree with Howe that there is a proper way for doing Christian apologetics.

“The Classical method, in terms of which the Christian is to marshal arguments and evidence demonstrating that the Christian faith is true.” [Howe: II.B.1] Howe is careful to point out that he is a classical apologist and not an evidentialist. There is a difference between these two schools. Once more, Howe’s clarity helps us understand precisely where he is coming from and what we can expect. In this bullet Howe is laying out the two concerns before us. He states there are two ways to answer the question of “proper method” in Christian apologetics. We can answer it using the classical method or we can answer it using the presuppositional method. Contextually speaking, Howe is only dealing with these two methods because he is a classical apologist and his criticism is directed at presuppositionalism. He is juxtaposing these two methods, and offering us his convictions for why we should adopt the former as opposed to the latter.

“The Presuppositional method, in terms of which the truth of the Christian faith (in its entirety, together with the Bible in its entirety) must be granted to be true before any knowledge or reasoning (even reasoning against the Christian faith) is possible.” [Howe II.B.2] In this case, Howe uses the ambiguous term “granted.” I must confess that I am unclear what Howe means in this statement. If he means that PA argues that apart from Christian theism, no knowledge or reasoning is possible, then he is correct about what PA affirms. However, if Howe means that PA insists that the skeptic confesses, acknowledge, or believes that Christian theism is true in order to know anything, then he is incorrect. PA does not assert that men who do not know God in Christ do not know anything at all, and cannot know anything at all. Common grace would preclude such foolishness. An atheist knows that 2+2=4 the same as a believer. The problem I have with the way Howe states it is that it is easy to mislead someone to believe that this is essentially what PA affirms to be the case. It is a good deterrent for those who are less informed on the subject to stay away from that school of thought. I am not accusing Howe of engaging in manipulative or deception practices. I am accusing him of being unnecessarily vague in an area where he should have been exceptionally clear.

Howe then classifies Christians into two basic schools of how they approach the question of doing apologetics: those who say we should and those who say we should not engage in apologetics. He then classes those who affirm as those who accept human reason and believe in a rational discourse of the gospel and those who deny, as those who reject the legitimacy of human reason in almost all its forms and those who usually just confine their interactions with unbelievers to proclaiming the gospel. This is a very poor way to classify people who might respond negatively to Christians doing apologetics. I would agree that any Christian who says we don’t need to do apologetics is categorically wrong. However, for some reason Howe distinguishes apologetics from proclaiming the gospel. Nowhere does Howe offer any justification for this dichotomy. Howe has no biblical basis for making such a dichotomy as will be demonstrated below. Secondly, Howe poisons the well by implying that all those who are not classical apologists are irrational or don’t believe in the legitimacy of reason. This is a backhanded way of framing the question. Surely Howe knows that men like Van Til and Greg Bahnsen fully recognized the value of human reason.

Howe then provides two answers to the question of proper apologetic method. On the one hand, is it proper to use a rational defense and evidence, or, on the other hand, is it proper to do apologetics through a proclamation of Scripture alone. The truth is that Howe is engaging in the fallacy of bifurcation. He unnecessarily reduces our options to two and one of the two is really an extreme of the second. By associating reason with classical apologetics, Howe uses an enthymeme to say that every other method is unreasonable. This begs the question of the place of reason in other methods, and specifically in presuppositional apologetics. It is not a question of reason, but rather a question of unaided human reason to be precise. It is a question of autonomous human reason, apart from God. It is a question of the noetic effects of sin. Howe ignores this entirely in how he frames out his argument. In addition, Howe continues to separate gospel proclamation from apologetics without attempt at justification for this procedure. This is more than a little puzzling.

How then states his specific concern in III.A&B: My specific and main concern is that the illegitimate method of Presuppositional Apologetics has hijacked Young Earth Creationism. By this I mean that an overwhelming majority of those Christian apologists who are defending Young Earth Creationism are doing so by means of the Presuppositional Apologetic methodology.” First of all, I am disappointed that Howe uses emotive terms such as ‘illegitimate’ and ‘hijacked.’ These serve to elicit an emotional response. On the one hand, they distract the logical thinker with emotions so that his thinking is impacted. On the other hand, they are a great tactic with less informed audiences in a culture where critical thinking is an endangered human behavior. Perhaps YEC has been forced into a PA approach because of its allegiance to Scripture and logic. A high view of Scripture and a desire for consistency could be the culprit for why YEC are becoming more and more PA in their apologetic method. Howe does nothing to address this possibility. He ignores it entirely. It seems to me that Howe might be better served to ask the question ‘why’ in this case. Why are YEC moving in a presuppositional trajectory? What is driving this phenomenon? One does not have to look far to see that a high view of Scripture coupled with a sound hermeneutic, in addition to the principle of the analogy of faith could easily move a person to PA. Why is that difficult to understand? Howe leaves this component of the discussion entirely unaddressed.

“As a Young Earth creationist, I regret that this model of creation is being done a disservice by being tethered as much as it is to an illegitimate apologetic methodology.” [Howe III.D] I am befuddled why any Christian scholar in a conservative evangelical seminary would object to a position that simply insists that all men are obligated to believe what the Word of God affirms regarding the origin of creation on the basis of the fact that it is the Word of God. What other basis could we discover that is better than the one God breathed out to us in Scripture? Classical apologists live under the delusion that we can improve the strength of our arguments with extra-biblical evidence. While such evidence may be edifying, it does nothing to increase our faith or the strength of our argument. The only way to increase the strength of an argument is to provide superior evidence or more witnesses of the same quality. Extra-biblical evidence does neither. Extra-biblical evidence is inferior to biblical evidence. Extra-biblical witnesses are always less credible than biblical ones. Does this mean that extra-biblical evidence has no value whatsoever? It does not. It simply looks at such evidence with the right perspective and understands its place in the grand scheme of things. Howe’s to reference to PA as illegitimate is simply an over the top emotive tactic that is easily recognizable and confutable.

“As a Classical apologist, I desire to show Young Earth creationists that the Presuppositional method not only does not serve to convince the detractors that Young Earth Creationism is true, but it scandalizes Christians in what constitutes sound apologetics in the first place.” [Howe III.E] Perhaps this is Howe’s greatest error, not to mention, the greatest error of many if not most classical apologists. Howe is worried that PA will not convince detractors that YEC is true. PA is not formulated with the goal of convincing unbelievers of the truth claims of Christ theism, to include a young earth. PA is formulated with the sole purpose of humble submission and obedience to God’s prescribed method for doing apologetics. PA asks the question how Christians ‘ought’ to go about giving a defensive proclamation of the gospel, which is what apologetics, and then seeks the Scripture in order to come up with an answer. PA recognizes that epistemic stalemate is inevitable but for grace. PA seeks to help Christians faithfully think God’s thoughts after Him without compromise. It takes the doctrine of depravity seriously. PA acknowledges that God is sovereign, even over His Church. For this reason, PA can thunder the gospel defensively without attempting to meet the ungodly standards of men in order to convince them that Christian theism is true. We are not called to win debates or persuade men of the truthfulness of Christian theism or the age of the earth. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. And He accomplishes His work in human hearts through the foolishness of preaching, not sophisticated rational argumentation, and historical evidence. Howe says that PA scandalizes YEC. I have news for Howe, the gospel of the cross is foolishness to the philosopher, and it is a scandal to the religious. Still, even though I make these statements, I cannot help but wonder how any conservative scholar could maneuver himself into such a position where he is concerned with a method that takes God’s word at face value.

Finally, to close out part one of this response, Howe says, “This is not to say that every aspect of the Young Earth Creationism case is undermined by its Presuppositionalism. My concern is how the overall debate between Young Earth Creationist and Old Earth Creationists is framed by these Young Earth creationists in the wrong way.” [Howe III.F] How is it framed? PA argues that a plain reading of Gen. 1-11 indicates that God created world in six literal days around 6,000-7,000 years ago. If Scripture is God’s word, and God’s communication is relatively simple, then I must take God’s word to mean precisely what it says here. The truth is that this approach is offensive to others in academia. It makes us look non-critical, unscientific, and even anti-intellectual. In short, it makes us look silly. Therefore, we must come up with a different way to frame it so that we don’t look quite so silly. We must be able to maintain some semblance of academic respect among unbelieving liberal scholars if we are to have any hope of persuading them of the truth of Christian theism. No, we do not! But for grace, we would all perish. God saves His elect in His time, on His own terms and we can be sure of the fidelity of our God in this area. Part two will follow in a few days. That response will contain all the biblical references refuting, or at least calling into question Dr. Howe’s argument for classical apologetics and his misguided concern over the relationship between PA and YEC.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Abolish Human Abortion Coalition: Clarity and Some Final Considerations

Some arguments are dreadfully opaque. Sometimes, we argue poorly and end up inadvertently affirming things we really had no intention of affirming. This is a consequent of the fall. Humans are imperfect beings and as such, we argue imperfectly. Yes, all of us at times, argue fallaciously. There is no shame in admitting that. To the contrary, the shame exists in those who think they argue so soundly all of the time that one can hardly find them ever admitting they were wrong about something or that they stated their position with less precision than they should have. There have been times I thought this to be true of those from the AHA coalition. However, after responding to their criticism of my initial thoughts on the practices and positions of AHA, and then seeing T. Russell Hunter’s response to my criticism and then interacting a little more with him on the infamously rude Triablogue threads, I have concluded that AHA is arguing exactly as they intend to argue, even if those arguments are invalid and unsound. However, after several discussion on the subject, I thought it best to make my views clear, yet one more time and then move on. There is nothing more left to say on the matter, and when that happens in a discussion you run the risk of engaging in endless debate. And to engage in endless debate is sinful, therefore I wish to avoid it where I can.
My objection to AHA is not very complicated. In fact, it is really quite simple. First, I object to the implication that all Christians have to engage in opposition to the sin of abortion in the same way in order for that objection to rise to the level of Christian virtue. AHA would respond that they have wiggle room in their system so that the implications of my statement are not accurate. However, AHA misses the point that the principle of getting into the ballpark, since it is narrowly defined, is really the same even if there are lots of different places for one to stand inside that ballpark. In other words, if AHA says that a Church must do “P” in order to exist inside the ballpark of abolition, even if “P” is multifaceted, they are still making the same argument. In other words Church A preaches and teaches against abortion. But “P” requires not only preaching and teaching against abortion, it also requires a form of activism or volunteering at CPCs or what have you, then it follows that Church C is not in P. Here it is in a syllogism:
All X (godly churches) is P (engaging in a list of minimum actions against abortion)
Some C (churches) is not P (engaging in a list of minimum actions against abortion)
Therefore, some C (churches) is not X (godly churches)
This is a valid argument known as AOO-2 (Baroko).
However, valid arguments are not necessarily sound arguments. An argument’s propositions must be true propositions that support the conclusion in order to be sound. The problem with the soundness of this argument is located in P. I have said this all along, even if Hunter has for the most part ignored it. The argument that Hunter has to make goes to the necessary components required to make P, P. You see, no one in this discussion has argued that Christians should not promote the abolition of human abortion. I believe we should. I believe we must. That is not the issue. What is at issue is precisely a question of tactics, which is what “P” addresses. Hunter has accused me of not offering an alternative approach. However, this reveals that Hunter, as he has in so many other places, ignored that part of my initial concern about AHA from the beginning. I have said that preaching against the sin of abortion, teaching against the practice, encouraging people to speak out on the matter when the opportunity presents itself, talking to family, friends, and neighbors about the subject, etc. are all ways we can take a stand. Indeed, being available to counsel young women who may be considering abortion as a viable option is another way to be promote abolition. So when Hunter says that I do not offer any alternatives; that is simply not true. What Hunter does not like is the consequence of my position and more than anything else, that is what troubles him. If I am correct and doing these things satisfies “P” in the argument above, AHA becomes far less significant because of how it has positioned itself within the Christian marketplace of movements and ideas. If I am right, then there are a lot more churches who are godly churches and who are doing what they can to abolish abortion. In other words, if the essential components of P are fewer or less specific than Hunter wants, and if it is precisely those additional components that make AHA what it is, then AHA suffers the tragedy of being just one more movement based on a few people’s preferences and not a biblical mandate.
Secondly, AHA presumes that the methods it uses to oppose abortion are the most effective methods. Yet, AHA has never proved this to be the case. Where is the data supporting the assertion that going down to abortion clinics and preaching, carrying signs of babies ripped to shreds openly for even little children to see, is the best way to persuade women not to kill their unborn babies? AHA provides nothing to support their view. In fact, one must ask the question is the argument even strong enough to rightfully be called a working hypothesis. I have serious doubts. Can we even compare AHA’s methods with other methods to see what the difference might be? We simply have no data. It becomes a baseless and speculative presupposition. Again, we must ask if it is wise to engage in activities that are built off conjecture and speculation. AHA may respond that they are obeying God by going to abortion clinics and carrying signs and preaching the gospel. However, if it is true that obedience can be achieved by the pastor who preaches behind the pulpit Sunday morning or by the other activities I mentioned above, AHA is wrong. They are not obeying God by going to an abortion clinic and preaching. If going to abortion clinics is obeying God, then not going to them is disobeying God! Rather, AHA is doing what it "prefers" to do in opposition to abortion. In other words, they are engaging in their own preferred way of obeying God in this instance. There are other ways to obey God in opposing abortion. I have argued this all along. Will AHA admit this? If they do, then their very existence is threatened unless they frame their argument differently and change their approach with churches. Note, I have never said that they are necessarily wrong in their tactics at abortion clinics per se. I have said that I wonder if this is a good approach. I have my doubts. However, I strenuously object to the view that it is a divine command.
My last objection to AHA is that it is NOT a ministry that flows from the local church. T. Russell Hunter has stated openly and unapologetically that AHA comes under the sole authority of Jesus Christ. When asked if AHA is under a local elder board or a local church, he ignores the question. I have tried to find a local church associated with AHA on their website and their Facebook page. I have also tried to convince Russell to share with me privately the Church that he is affiliated with and he has consistently stiff-armed me at every turn. AHA is a national ministry that is also very controversial. The perception it creates in the mind of many will be transferred to everyone who names the name of Christ. No national ministry or movement is legitimate unless that ministry has been organized and authorized by the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ. In addition, integrity would demand absolute and complete transparency. Russell refuses to talk about the issue in any way, shape or form. Refusal to come clean on this issue in terms of Russell’s relationship with the local church raises red flags that should be cause for concern with anyone who cares about the name of Christ and the reputation of the Christian community. Not surprisingly, the rude crew at Triablogue has decided to support the idea that parachurch ministries do NOT require authorization from the local body. They have made such straw man arguments, as “one does not need their elder’s permission to rescue a child from a busy intersection about to get hit by an automobile.” Others have said that you don’t need your elder’s permission to hand out tracks. It is impossible to take such arguments seriously. In fact, it has become more and more difficult to take many if not most of the young bloggers at Triablogue seriously.
In summary, my specific agreements with AHA are:
  • Christians must oppose abortion
  • Christians must see abortion as murder
  • Christians must hope for and seek the abolition of abortion
  • Churches must actively oppose abortion in their teaching, preaching, and discipleship
  • Churches must encourage their members to stand against abolition where they can
My specific objections to AHA are:
  • Christians do not have to oppose abortion the way AHA opposes abortion in order to oppose abortion
  • Parachurch ministries have no authority to rebuke or correct local churches
  • AHA has no right to protest in front of local churches
  • It is highly unwise and objectionable to carry pictures of mutilated babies especially in front of other children
  • Abortion clinic activities are not wrong, but in my view, are not the best approach to address abortion
  • AHA is does not flow from a local church because it was not organized and authorized by a local, establish church
  • AHA apparently refuses to submit to a local church, asserting that its only authority is Jesus Christ - given every opportunity to identify his ministerial authority, Hunter refuses
  • AHA’s ecclesiology is defective, creates confusion in the body and is divisive
  • AHA’s leaders who refuse to come under authority are schismatics in the body and should repent and submit to local elders and pastors
  • Finally, it would be rank hypocrisy for anyone to openly reject God's command for submission to your elders in the local Church while pointing your fingers at other Churches who don't oppose abortion strenuously enough to someone else's personal standards 
In short, AHA has the following dilemma:

If it is true that we don't need to "oppose abortion" using specific AHA methods, then their methods are reduced to preferences. No one should set up their preferences as commands or even contend they are superior to all other options unless they can prove this to be true. Moreover, this means that AHA's specific message to other churches and pastors that we all must oppose abortion in a very specific manner is specious because who is to say that my method is not superior to their method. Either the Church is in great sin by not adopting the AHA methods or she is not. If she is, then AHA's existence proves necessary and the Church should repent. If she is not, then AHA's existence is reduced to the preference of men regarding the matter of methodology for opposing abortion. The preferences of men are not the commandments of God. The burden of proof is squarely on the shoulders of AHA. The final kicker is that all this is only true, and should only be considered if AHA were a legitimate work of the Church, having been formerly authorized by the Church and currently under the supervision of the Church. In addition, this authorization and supervision should be true of each chapter and all activities in all locations. Moreover, the project should move from one church to another church. In other words, one group of elders should share the ideas with other groups of elders and so on and so forth. In addition, materials and activities should be under constant scrutiny so as to avoid foolishness and scandal. Our hearts are prone to foolishness and scandal because we are all sinners in need of grace and of one another.
I hope that this final piece on the overall issue of abolish human abortion has clarified my position on the coalition. I realize that some things have been stated rather firmly and I make no apologies for that. I do not see Mr. Russell as an enemy in any sense of the word and it is not my intent to be disrespectful in any way. I have not made any disparaging remarks at all about Russell or the people of AHA. I do not believe they are bad people, stupid people, lazy people, or anything like that at all. I appreciate the idea of abolishing abortion as any Christian would. I respect all the hard work that they have done. I am sure they have accomplished some good along the way. My comments are entirely directed at views and positions that I believe are outside the limits of Scripture. It is my hope that this perspective will clear up any confusion and perhaps help others make a better decision regarding the tactics of AHA.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Is Jesus the Only God?

What Does John 1:18 Affirm about Jesus Christ?


John 1:18 in NU (Nestle Aland 28/United Bible Societies 4) reads, Θεὸν οὐδεὶς ἑώρακεν πώποτε· μονογενὴς θεὸς ὢν εἰς τὸν κόλπον τοῦ πατρὸς ἐκεῖνος ἐξηγήσατο. My literal translation is, “God no one has seen at any time: the one and only God who is in the bosom of the Father, that one has declared [Him].” At issue is the specific phrase μονογενὴς θεὸς, the one and only God. Some MSS read ο μονογενης υιος, the one and only Son. Did John write “the one and only God?” or “the one and only Son?” and what is John affirming about Jesus Christ in writing these words in the first place? It is the goal of this post to explore these two questions, while making every effort to avoid the more technical details of textual criticism. At the same time, however, we will at least be dipping our toes into the waters of the textual issues surrounding this verse, even if we do not go any further than ankle deep.

The text in question is significant because it reveals John’s views on the identity of Jesus Christ. Since John’s views in his gospel, his letters, and his apocalypse are all fully inspired by God the Holy Spirit, it follows that John’s text is a divine revelation of God Himself about the identity of the person of Jesus Christ. In addition, John informs us in this text that his view is that the unique God, Jesus Christ, is the one, the only one who has explained God to us. Hence, not only is this text telling us something about the deity of Jesus Christ; it is telling us a great deal about how we are to know and understand the Father! If the consensus understanding of this text is correct, John is telling us that 1) Jesus Christ is the unique God, and 2) He is the only way that human beings can know the Father. By consensus understanding, I simply mean the reading that is in NU (Nestle Aland/United Bible Societies), which is the base translation of most modern English versions.

Bruce Metzger tells us in his commentary that the committee regarded μονογενὴς υιος, which is the easier reading, to be the result of scribal assimilation to Jn. 3:16, 18; 1 Jn. 4:9. Scribal assimilation is the attempt on the part of the Scribe to make one reading similar to other readings he is familiar with in the document. The only begotten Son is common language for John while the unique or only begotten God is not. Our goal is to decide which one is most likely the original reading. The sources I believe providing the best information to finally make a decision regarding the text are the early MSS P66 and P75. Both of these early papyri are part of the Bodmer collection. The former dates to around the middle of the second century while the latter is dated to the late second century. [Comfort, Encountering the MSS]

P66 reads, θ̅ν̅ ουδεις εωρακεν πωποται· μονογενης θ̅ς̅ ο ων εις τον κολπον του π̅ρ̅ς̅ εκινος εξηγησατο[1]

P75 reads, θ̅ν̅ ουδεις πωποτε εορακεν ο μονογενης θ̅ς̅ ο ων εις τον κολπον του πατρος εκεινος εξηγησατο[2]

Without getting into the technical aspects of textual criticism, it is easy to see that neither manuscript contains the phrase μονογενης υιος. The only difference between the two texts is that P75 has the article while P66 does not. Concerning that issue, Metzger says, “there is no reason the article should have been deleted.” Comfort says, “Even without the knowledge of the two papyri (which were discovered in the 1950s and 1960s) Hort (1876, 1-26) argued extensively and convincingly for the reading μονογενὴς θεὸς. [Comfort, New Testament Text & Translation Commentary] As one will see, the external support for each reading is mixed. It would appear that “the only begotten Son” has more manuscript support, but this is only if one is counting manuscripts. In textual criticism, more important than the number of witnesses is the witness itself. This is why it is an essential element of textual criticism to know and understand the manuscript.

The major manuscripts that support the reading μονογενὴς θεὸς are P66 א* B C* L, and for ὁ μονογενὴς θεὸς, they are P75 א1 33. The dates of these manuscripts range from approximately 150AD (P66) to  the eight century (L - Codex  Regius) with most of them dating prior to the fifth century. In fact, Codex Regius is the only manuscript dated later than the early 400s. The variant reading, ο μονογενης υιος, is supported by A C3 K Γ Δ Θ Ψ f1.13 565 579 700 892 1241 1424 and the Majority text. The earliest of these is A (Codex Alexandrinus) and it dates to the fifth century. C3 is the 3rd corrected edition of Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus. This manuscript also dates to the fifth century. The remaining manuscripts beginning with K date from the 9th century and later. Hence, given the weight of internal and external evidence, the reading, μονογενὴς θεὸς, seems to be the preferred reading among textual scholars even though the matter remains largely open for discussion. In other words, while the door is not fully open, it is not closed shut either. Scholars are still discussing the matter even if most of them have made a decision.

With this in mind, it is time to look at the syntax of the text in question. Syntax is the study of how words within a unit relate to one another. The question of how we should interpret the phrase now comes into view. The relationship of the adjective μονογενὴς with the noun θεὸς tells us that John viewed Jesus as the unique God, the one unique God. The anarthrous construction tells us that μονογενὴς is an attributive adjective modifying θεὸς. Some translations render it the only begotten God. Wescott comments, “But the best-attested reading (μονογενὴς θεός) has the advantage of combining the two great predicates of the Word, which have been previously indicated (v. 1 θεός v. 14 μονογενής).”[3]
Lukaszewski classifies it as a Casus Pendens Clause, which is, “An classic Semitic construction, it is found Greek under the name of a suspended nominative phrase, often called the nominative absolute, or simply as a form of anacoluthon.”[4]
This construction is more common in John that in the Synoptics. [BDF $466]

This is a theologically rich text, deserving of more consideration than a blog post can give it. It sums up John’s prologue, beginning with 1:1 where John refers to the Logos as existing at the beginning with πρὸς τὸν θεόν, and then identifies the Logos as θεὸς. In verse 14, he introduces the word μονογενοῦς to describe the Man Jesus Christ and then here in verse 18, he brings the two concepts of μονογενοῦς in v. 14 and θεός in v. 1 together as he concludes his prologue. We are reminded of John’s purpose for writing his gospel in John 20:31, “but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” John seems to be opening his account of the life of Christ as if he were arguing a case. And 20:31 explicitly affirms this to be the true.

The first truth one discovers about the person of Jesus Christ is that John affirms that He is in fact, God. There is far more here than I can hope to explore in this post. Hence, I am restricted to identifying those things that stand at the front of the text. Merrill C. Tenney comments in a footnote in his commentary, “there can be no doubt that this text also asserts the deity of Christ.” [EBC, 34n18] Lenski writes, “the simple truth is that John is revealing to us who Jesus Christ really was: the Logos, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity.”[5] The preponderance of the evidence for this verse indicates that John is unapologetically affirming that Jesus Christ is the one unique God. Over the past several decades many theories have arisen asserting that there were several “Christianities” existing in antiquity and that orthodoxy just happens to be the version that won out. Craig Bloomberg says of this hypothesis, “This whole approach is deeply flawed and, as is the case in so much of this debate, reflects anachronism and exaggeration.” [Bloomberg, Fabricating Jesus] In his book on the same subject, Ben Witherington III writes, “Perhaps a better set of questions might be, what is it about our culture that makes us prone to listen to sensational claims about Jesus and his earliest followers, even where there is little or no hard evidence to support such conjectures?” [Witherington, What Have They Done with Jesus?] According to John, Jesus was the one and only unique God, the one who is the closest to the Father, and He is the one who has declared the Father to us. One should not miss the point that John’s view is that Jesus is the only one in a position to explain God to us. John also informed us that he wrote these things so that we might believe and have life. Hence it follows that believing is tied to believing what John wrote. In other words, life only comes by faith. And faith only comes by reading these things and hearing them. In other words, our personal eternal state is dependent on receiving the things that John has written. And John wrote that Jesus is God.

The second truth that John reveals concerns Jesus’ mission on earth. The implications are far-reaching. John informs us in v. 18 that our knowledge of God is insufficient. No one has ever seen God at any time. There is a barrier between God and man and hence, a chasm between true knowledge of God and man’s knowledge of God. This is a serious problem for man. Without true knowledge of God, life is impossible and death is certain. John does not leave us hopeless. He tells us in no uncertain terms that Jesus Christ has ἐξηγήσατο the Father to us. This word is where we get our English word, “exegesis.” John is informing us that Jesus Christ has explained the Father! The word means to make fully known, to inform, to provide detailed information. Prior to Jesus Christ, the revelation of God was veiled and incomplete. Previous revelation pointed to a fuller revelation to come. Calvin writes, “Nevertheless, all things will tend to this end, that God, the Artificer of the universe, is made manifest to us in Scripture, and that what we ought to think of Him is set forth there, lest we seek some uncertain deity by devious paths.” [Institutes, V. I, 71] Jesus Christ Himself has shown us the Father. And that revelation itself is contained in the revelation that is Holy Scripture. In essence, one revelation contains the other. Francis Turretin observes, “Christ is our only teacher (Matt. 23:8) in such a sense as that the ministry of the word is not thereby excluded, but necessarily included because now in it only he addresses us and by it instructs us. Christ is not set in opposition to the Scriptures; rather he is set in opposition to the false teachers of the Pharisees who ambitiously assumed the authority due to Christ alone.” [Turretin, Institues, V. I, 59] Without the Word from God, we will surely perish because the very knowledge of God that brings life depends upon our ability to know and understand His Word. Keep that in mind the next time an ignorant fool claiming to know and love Christ opens his mouth to reduce or detract from the significance of divine revelation. The accusation of bibliolatry is most often leveled by enemies of the cross, not friends. Anytime anyone speaks negative about Scripture in any way, it should serve as the reddest of red flags.

The apologetic practical implications of this text are just as noteworthy as the theological ones mentioned above. To begin with the apologetic implications, it is significant that all true knowledge of God is derived only through Scripture. While it is true that man knows God apart from special revelation in Scripture, that is, in the natural order of things, it is also true that that knowledge is always perverted by the sinful intellect. That knowledge, while sufficient for culpability, is insufficient for eternal life. Contrary to William Lane Craig, the gospel is not found in natural revelation. Natural theology is a falsehood that is nowhere advocated in Scripture. Because all knowledge is indelibly linked to ultimate reality, it is impossible to divorce the two as many philosophers do. You cannot escape having some idea of reality bound up in your views on what passes for knowledge. Since God is ultimate reality, our knowledge must begin with the reality of God. Hence, man’s dependence on God for all knowledge leads us to the conclusion that all knowledge of God is revelational for the believer and unbeliever alike. John 1:18 informs us that Jesus Christ Himself has revealed God to us. The person of Jesus Christ is the key to any and all true knowledge of God. Since God is ultimate reality, we can know nothing apart from knowledge of God. Not only does John 1:18 pin the redemptive hopes of all mankind on the person and work of Jesus Christ, he pins all hope of any true knowledge on Christ as well.

What are the practical implications? For believers, we are obligated to believe all that Scripture teaches. Scripture teaches that Jesus Christ is God and that He and He alone has explained God to us. That explanation has come to us by the revelation of the inspired text. Hence, we are duty bound to embrace it, to teach it, and to defend it. In order to know God, we must know Christ. Christ brings God to us. Without Christ, we are without God. Christ reveals God to those whom He pleases even if that does not exactly please us. This is true even if we cannot always understand it. Every human being who hears what Christ has explained and taught about the Father has an obligation not to question it, but instead, to receive it with all humility. God commands men to repent on the basis of the resurrected Christ who has explained the Father to all of us. Paul tells us that the fact of the resurrected Christ will serve as God’s basis for judging the entire human race.

[1] Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2001), 389.
[2] Philip Wesley Comfort and David P. Barrett, The Text of the Earliest New Testament Greek Manuscripts (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 2001), 568.
[3] The Gospel According to St. John Introduction and Notes on the Authorized Version, ed. Brooke Foss Westcott and Arthur Westcott, Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament (London: J. Murray, 1908), 15.
[4] Albert L. Lukaszewski, The Lexham Syntactic Greek New Testament Glossary (Logos Bible Software, 2007).
[5] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), 97.