Friday, December 12, 2014

Apologetic Method Matters – Dialoging with Ratio Christi & Fred Butler

Fred Butler over at Hip andThigh has been blogging about presuppositional apologetics as of late and I, for one, have really enjoyed what Fred has had to say. Recently, Fred has been interacting with “Adam” who apparently works for Ratio Christi, and who is a classical apologist and has a different perspective than those of us who hold to the presuppositional method. In the interest of fair disclosure Adam has assured us that he is not writing on behalf of Ratio Christi and so my remarks are directed at Adam and the classical approach in general and not at Ratio Christi. I first want to say that I appreciate my classical apologists brothers as they stand in union with us as we attempt to publish and proclaim the gospel. I realize that Christ is preached and the good news announced throughout the world by those who hold to a classical method. So this post should in no way be understood as a cause for division. It is a subject worthy of serious discussion and I suppose it will continue to be so until our Lord returns. Nevertheless, apologetic method is a very important component in our theology and evangelism efforts and we should do our best to ensure that our thoughts, words, and method are an accurate and honest reflection of God’s divine self-communication in Scripture.
I want to begin with one of the most basic issues that Adam raises when he writes:

For example, of course the Christian faith is founded in revelation found in the Bible. But there is no inconsistency in first determining whether or not the Bible is in fact trustworthy. 

The first statement confesses that “Christian faith is founded in revelation found in the Bible” strikes me as odd. The Bible is itself, top to bottom, the revelation of God. The Bible does not simply contain revelation, but it is itself God’s divine revelation. Perhaps this is the root of Adam’s problem, or perhaps it was a mere faux pas. Are we in a position to judge which parts of the Bible are revelation and worthy of acceptance and which parts should be rejected as folklore, legend, and erroneous or mistaken? I cannot see how such a conclusion could be avoided using this logic.

The next statement, “But there is no inconsistency in first determining whether or not the Bible is in fact trustworthy” is simply not true. Why is it not true? It is not true because it is, in fact, inconsistent to claim that the Bible is our final authority for epistemic justification, that it is self-attesting, that it is the final arbiter of truth only then to take it back and place some other standard over the Bible before we accept it as our final authority. Not only do we have to deal with the claim the Bible makes about itself, but we also have to come up with a different standard separate from the Bible, by which we can judge it’s fidelity. And it is that standard, the standard to which we will subject the Bible in our test of its fidelity that is our final authority, and not the Bible itself. And that practice is inconsistent with the Christian system. Hence, the reason we cannot subject the Bible to an external standard in order to deem it “trustworthy” is because doing so removes the Bible as our ultimate reference point and final authority for truth. The standard we use to judge the Bible is unavoidably our final authority for what is true and worthy of belief.

Classical apologists so often consider this issue to be the product of reason, science, argumentation, and evidence. It is not. Rushdooney reminds us well, “Man does not establish authority; he acknowledges it. This is the proper procedure, though seldom observed. Man wants to acknowledge only that authority which he himself establishes or at least gives consent to. All other authority is offensive to his sense of autonomy and ultimacy.”[1] Rather than begin with God and God’s word as our ultimate reference point for human predication, classical apologetics begins with finite human reason. This fact alone proves to be inconsistent with the idea that Christian faith is grounded, not in human reason, but in the transcendent divine revelation of God Himself who is immanent with, and covenantally related to humanity. The Christian God has condescended and communicated with man, revealing to man all things about Himself and His creation that He wanted us to know. Apart from this covenantal work of God, knowledge would be impossible. To be clear, we are not arguing about whether or not intelligibility is, but rather why it is and how we can account for it. Classical apologetics begins with man while the reformed method takes us to the source.
Adam then moves to the classical trail-walk from brute facts to God by saying,

Using the classical approach, one would show that truth is knowable

From the start, this statement introduces a number of problems. What is truth? Which theory of truth is the right theory of truth and how do we know? And if we have to use that theory of truth in order to prove the theory to be true, isn’t that the epitome of vicious circular reasoning? And isn’t that something the classical method seeks to avoid at all costs? The classical method is left with the one and the many problem, if it attempts to maintain that man can reason abstractly about reality apart from God. Additionally, once we determine which theory is the right theory, shouldn’t we subject the teachings of Scripture to that theory in order to make sure the Bible is teaching truth? Of course we should if we care about being consistent. So what then is the Christian theory of truth? Christians believe that all truth is revelational truth. All truth comes through divine revelation. The Scripture is the final reference point for what must be accepted and what must be rejected as true, rather than finite human reason, and instead of the sin-impacted rules of creaturely logic. Scripture could not be clearer that Jesus is the truth, that grace and truth come through Jesus Christ, that God’s truth is liberating truth, that all wisdom and knowledge are deposited in Christ, not the philosophy of God’s enemies. Van Til would say that true human knowledge corresponds to the knowledge that God has of Himself and the world. Any knowledge that differs from that knowledge is simply not knowledge at all.

Additionally, there is no such thing as brute facts. Facts do not just exist. Facts are known in terms of their relationship with other facts. If we begin with brute facts, we shall never move beyond them. There can be no such thing as an uninterpreted fact. But if the classical enterprise is actually reflective of the state of affairs as it has obtained, then brute facts can and do exist, and if that is the case, Christian theism is false. This is because Christian theism contends that the facts of reality are precisely what God made them to be and prior to creating them, God himself interpreted them. It is the duty of man to re-interpret the facts according to God’s understanding of the facts. A soon as man interprets a fact as a thing uncreated by God he has interpreted that fact wrongly. I will come back to this in part two or perhaps a summary post.

I want to deal with one final statement before closing up part one of this two-part response. Adam wrote,

 I certainly agree that evidence must be interpreted, which is one reason why William Lane Craig would argue that we must start with philosophy because this informs our interpretation.

As one who studies philosophy on an academic level, and who is trained in theology and the languages, I must confess that this statement is particularly concerning to me. The idea that theology has nothing to say until philosophy has done its work in hermeneutics is simply outrageous. The inference is that human reason sets the tone and the standard for everything to include how we begin with our most basic rules for even interpreting the Scripture. Mind you, that cannot only apply to our interpretation of the content of Scripture, but the nature of Scripture as well. The human person is elevated to a status above Scripture from top to bottom in this system. I will return to this point at the beginning of my next post.

[1] Rousas John Rushdoony, By What Standard? (Vallecito, CA: Chalcedon, 1995), 145.

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