Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Apologetic Method Matters – Adam at Ratio Christi and Fred Butler on Classical versus Presuppositional Apologetics

I am going to pick up where I left off with Adam’s endorsement of William Lane Craig’s view that philosophy takes primacy of place in the field of Christian apologetics, and theology as well for that matter, and to put it bluntly, all things requiring any sort of interpretive exercise whatsoever. In other words, if it requires human interpretation, philosophy is the magistrate under whose domain it resides. Since it is to Craig that Adam points, it is to Craig we shall turn in order to understand why it is philosophy rather than theology as derived from sound biblical exegesis that should dictate the accuracy and truthfulness of our interpretations of reality, knowledge, and ethics.

One does not have to read far in Craig’s philosophy project in order to understand where he thinks philosophy fits in Christian theology: He writes, “Because philosophy operates at a presuppositional level by clarifying and justifying the presuppositions of a discipline, philosophy is the only field of study that has no unquestioned assumptions within its own domain.”[1] In other words, only philosophy is objectively pure. Only in philosophy is there neutrality. And that neutrality can be leveraged to serve as the standard for all human predication. If philosophy or human reason has a better explanation for biblical revelation, then our theology must be reworked, and our interpretation revised in order to satisfy that standard. Robert Marrihew Adams poses an excellent question in his article on Kierkegaard’s “Arguments Against Objective Reasoning in Religion” when he asks, “If you are willing to abandon your ostensibly religious beliefs for the sake of objective inquiry, mightn’t we justly say that objective inquiry is your real religion, the thing to which you are most deeply committed?”[2] One has to ask if faith ought to be thought of as unconditional devotion to a belief.[3] And in this case, is it not fair to ask proponents of Classical Apologetics if their real religion is objective evidence, science, and autonomous human reason rather than the uncomplicated revelation of God speaking to us in the revelation of Scripture? I think it is entirely fair top to bottom to raise this as an issue because I think it is the issue, that is, the defining difference between the classical and the presuppositional methods.

Is Craig’s claim that philosophy has no unquestioned assumptions correct and does it even matter? Let us ask this question without the double negative. Is it true that every assumption in the field of philosophy is questioned? Whether or not that is actually true seems irrelevant to me. I can question everything that is claimed by every system making a claim and that really tells me nothing about the soundness of my method. A crazy person could take up such a practice. Would that mean he is a genius? In all seriousness, if it really is the case that every assumption has to be subjected to questions, then how are we ever going to get the philosophical train out of the station and on it’s way. Why is this important? I think it is obvious why this is important. If Craig’s claim is true, we would have an infinite regress of questions in rational inquiry, and as a result, no claims could ever be made. It is the nature of finitude to end someplace so that human predication can have a starting point. So Craig’s claim that philosophy is as pure as the driven snow when it comes to objectivity and neutrality strikes me as simply wrong. Not only this, it is not at all obvious to me how this view does not lead to an arbitrary subjectivism and ultimately, skepticism.

There are two fundamental roles that philosophy attempts to play on the playground of human predication. First, philosophy has the critical task of putting questions to certain claims. But even this task must have some starting point. It must assume some basic things, like my questions are valid, my inquiry is meaningful, truth is discoverable, err is possible. Second, philosophy has the constructive task of providing a positive statement for what reality, the world, life, knowledge, and morality are all about. Philosophy wants to construct a worldview by which humans may understand their world and order their lives in a way that is meaningful and intelligible. However, one must understand that there are only two options open to philosophers (and we are all philosophers) in order to get the project of philosophy off the ground: either human reason will serve as the standard by which all claims are measured, or, God’s divine revelation will serve as the standard by which all claims are measured. Either man will be the ultimate reference point for human knowledge or God will be that reference point. Note that this is a decision that has to be made before philosophy can even begin. How will we go about deciding the answer?  This is the famous chicken and the egg dilemma. But this dilemma is a bit more serious than eggs and toast. Notice that we have to have some very basic presuppositions, assumptions, that is, unchallenged assumptions before we can even get going. The house of human knowledge, because it is finite and dependent, must rest upon something other than itself if it is to refute the charge of hanging in mid-air.

Aristotle told us that if we wish to succeed, we must ask the right preliminary questions. If, then, we wish to succeed theologically, may we straightaway begin talking of God, or is there something we must say, or do, beforehand?[4] Can we begin with the idea that we all have the same information about God? Does not Calvin inform us that we all know God? There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. This we take to be beyond controversy.[5] If this is all there were to the state of affairs that has obtained, then perhaps Craig and the classical approach may be a sound way of approaching this issue.  Moreover, if this actually is a reflection of the state of affairs as it is, then we must ask the question “why revelation?” If man is created in a way that he can actually reason, contemplate, calculate, and investigate matters from a neutral standpoint and reach the right conclusions on his own steam, then why do we need revelation at all? In fact, what happened at the fall? I am afraid that we have not heard the other side of the story and as you will hopefully see; the difference between classical and presuppositional apologetics is actually informed by basic theological commitments, which are either informed by the exegesis of divine revelation or by pagan philosophy. This is where the argument actually lives.

They do not apprehend God as he offers himself, but imagine him as they have fashioned him in their own presumption.[6] The point is that basic commitments are already at play before the investigation even starts. Moreover, it makes the profoundest difference in where you begin and how you proceed if you are a Christian or a non-Christian. In fact, no other single factor could even come close to having the impact that this question has on where you begin and how you proceed than “are you a Bible-believing Christian?” If this question has no impact on your metaphysic, your epistemology, and your ethic, then I am not sure a rational conversation is even possible, let along fruitful and promising.

The vital interpretative question for postmoderns is simply this: what makes one interpretation better than any others?[7] When the Christian begins his interpretation of the world, to include his interpretation of the art of interpretation, his only option is to begin with God. The reason the Christian begins with God is because, “In the beginning God.” If God has not preceded the beginning and had not acted in the beginning, the Christian contends we could know, understand, or interpret nothing. Intelligibility would be impossible. God acts in the beginning to create and to communicate. Neither interpretation nor interpretative approaches are innocent.[8]

Scripture not only presents itself as self-attesting, and as our sole authority for human predication, it presents itself as self-interpreting. Scripture provides our standard, not only for understanding reality, God, the commandments, but it also serves as our basic paradigm for meaningful communication. Scripture should be viewed as divine communicative action. Scripture is not Paul, or Peter or Moses speaking, but rather, God speaking. Again, Scripture is God speaking. I submit that God is present in Scripture precisely as a communicative agent, its ultimate author.[9]

A Christian philosophy of metaphysics states plainly that “In the beginning God created.” Additionally, God holds all things together by the word of His power. Moreover, Hebrews 11:3 informs us that we understand metaphysics by faith. “Faith enables us to understand that the visible universe was created by something invisible, namely, by the word of God. The suggestion that πίστει be taken with κατηρτίσθαι, meaning that it was by faith that God created the world (Widdess, Haacker 1969) has little to commend it; faith is not elsewhere predicated of God in Hebrews, and this construction would make ῥήματι θεο redundant.”[10]

A Christian philosophy of epistemology states that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7). Moreover, that same Scripture tells us that those who do not seek the Lord actually hate knowledge (Prov. 1:29) contrary to what we are told by so many pagan philosophers and some misguided Christian philosophers. Additionally, Paul tells us that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are deposited in Christ (Col. 2:3). Again, A Christian philosophy that is derived from sound biblical exegesis informs that the all men know God and suppress that knowledge (Rom. 1:18-19), that unregenerate men are not willing or even able to understand spiritual truth (1 Cor. 2:14), that the god of this world has blinded their eyes (2 Cor. 4:4), and finally, unregenerate men walk in the futility of their mind, by nature having their understanding corrupted with darkness (Eph. 4:17-24).

Finally a Christian philosophy of ethics is grounded in the commandment that we ought to love the Lord our God with our entire being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Rather than seeing the good in humanity, as pagan philosophy and all unbelieving thought does, Christian philosophy takes a distinctly different view of man. A biblically informed Christian philosophy of ethics claims that man is dead in his trespasses and sin (Eph. 2:1), that no man is good in terms of his disposition toward God (Rom. 3:10-18), and that unregenerate men are enemies of God (Rom. 8:6-8). All men have been placed under sin and are under the curse (Gal. 3:22).

From this it can be concluded that the sort of neutrality required in order for autonomous human reason or philosophy if you prefer, is impossible and therefore, secular philosophy is incapable of providing for the sort of objective, stand-alone criteria humanity requires in order to make human experience intelligible. This is true for our philosophy of reality, of knowledge, and morality. Sin has placed man under a curse and his ethical disposition places him at odds with divine revelation in every area of knowledge. Under this scheme, human predication is reduced to skepticism because it fails to anchor its metaphysic, it’s epistemology, and it’s ethic in the divine action of God speaking in Scripture. And it is precisely this God that Christian apologetics is called forth and duty-bound to proclaim and defend.

[1] James Porter Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 13.
[2] Baruch A. Brody, ed., Readings in the Philosophy of Religion: An Analytic Approach, 2nd ed. (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, ©1992), 55.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, First Theology: God, Scripture and Hermeneutics (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, ©2002), 15.
[5] Calvin, Jean. The Library of Christian Classics. Translated by Ford Lewis Battles. 2 vols. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, [2001?] Vol. 1, 43.
[6] Ibid., 47.
[7] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, First Theology: God, Scripture and Hermeneutics (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, ©2002), 23.
[8] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, First Theology: God, Scripture and Hermeneutics (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, ©2002), 23.
[9] Ibid., 34.
[10] Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1993), 568.

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