Monday, September 5, 2016
Reviewing Jamin Hubner: The Portable Presuppositionalist: Preface to the Third Edition
From the beginning of Hubner’s preface, we almost hear the faint quote from the Astronauts of Apollo 13, “Hubner, we have a problem.” Well, we hear something like it. At the very beginning of the section The Bible in Presuppositional Apologetics, in his “Preface to the Third Edition,” of his book, The Portable Presuppositonalist, Hubner says that Reformed Christians and a large portion of self-professing “conservative evangelicals” have a view of what the Bible is, and therefore what it means and what it can do, that is fundamentally unrealistic, unhelpful, and inaccurate. I must confess, as a reformed Christian, and a presuppositional apologist, Hubner’s opening paragraph stopped me dead in my tracks. How could a book that claims to be of this genre contain such a basic contradiction to the genre itself? Am I misunderstanding what Hubner is doing? was my first thought. After all, I see endorsements by men that I am certain would not agree with Hubner’s characterization of how Reformed Christians view the Bible.
The first thing that strikes me about Hubner’s Preface is that is seems to be an attempt to strike at the heart of the rest of the book. You might call the book the presuppositional Trojan Horse. We see articles and quotes by men like Van Til, Oliphint, Frame, and Bahnsen. We think, this should be a good addition to the tool box. But if you read the Preface, you realize that Hubner is obviously hoping for a different outcome. Perhaps the book is best described as a liberal in conservative clothing. Maybe Hubner is targeting the presuppositional audience in hopes that they will resonate with his Preface and go out and perform some of this genuine research that he calls it, see the light, and abandon their Reformed view of Scripture. Could this be his real goal? It’s impossible to say but it certainly isn’t unreasonable to draw such conclusions given the Preface of the book in view of the overall context of the rest of the book.
Hubner begins his assault of basic conservative beliefs about the Bible. First, that it is God’s word and should not be questioned. But then Hubner muddies the waters on this subject. Christianity does not contend that we should not ask questions about the meaning of Word of God, or even about historical transmission of the Word of God. What we claim is that Word of God is always true and that its claims cannot be subjected to external tests in order to establish their veracity. If Scripture teaches that there was a physical resurrection of Christ, then the truthfulness claim must not be questioned. Either God is our final reference point for truth claims or Man is our final reference point for such claims. Hubner never bothers to interact with this fact. He ignores it throughout his rant (preface). Hubner says we should not be afraid to call into question certain presuppositions. For instance, he points to the common notion that God loves everyone the same without distinction and links that to the belief that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. If the former is not true, why not be open to question the latter? Can you see Hubner’s tactic? Most, if not all Reformed Christians reject the idea that God loves all men the same without distinction. In fact, Hubner sandwiches the idea that God does not love all men the same, something we Reformed folks agree with between the supposedly naïve view that Moses wrote the Torah, and the Bible is the Word of God. Sneaky I think. But that’s just me. The language that Hubner uses about Moses’ authorship also deserves comment. He writes, “If all goes well, eventually they learn that the Pentateuch was largely compiled and edited long ago after Moses’ life by an unknown scholar.” Well, that is not exactly the consensus of all scholars. In fact, the question is still hotly debated with scholars landing on both sides of the debate. Longman III and Dillard write, “In the final analysis, it is possible to affirm the substantial Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch in line with the occasional internal evidence and the strong external testimony, while allowing for earlier sources as well as later glosses and elaboration.” [Longman III & Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 51] Hubner indeed says a lot in his preface but he also, interestingly enough, leaves a lot more unsaid.
Hubner seems to think that the claim that the Bible is without error or perfect on all matters it touches places a lot of unnecessary pressure on the Bible. One is left wondering if Hubner thinks that the Reformed position on the nature of Scripture was created in the back rooms of some philosophical lab. The Reformed position is that Scripture brings us to these conclusions about itself. It is not a necessary premise in a logical syllogism designed to save face with non-Christian opponents. The Reformed doctrine of sola Scriptura, contrary to what Hubner seems to imply, is not a rescuing device.
Indeed, Hubner provides what he thinks is the Reformed syllogism for Scripture: 1) The Bible is God’s Word; 2) God never lies; 3) The Bible is inerrant. I would rephrase (2) with God is never wrong, or God never errors. At any rate, Hubner goes on to quote a paragraph in his last preface where it rejected W.L. Craig’s perspective that he does not have to defend the doctrine of inerrancy in order to defend Christianity. Hubner then says directly that he retracts these words completely. In other words, Hubner once thought Craig incorrect but not he believes Craig is correct. Where is Hubner going with this rant?
It seems to me that Hubner’s own thinking about Scripture has let him down. It appears that Jamin was unable, in his own mind, to formulate an adequate concept of the nature of Scripture, how Christians come to know that nature and to embrace it, and how that knowledge may be expressed or articulated in philosophical terms in a way that is persuasive to opponents. Hubner says that the claim that the Bible is the Word of God must presuppose its extent and meaning. In other words, Hubner has moved the bar. Reformed Christianity never claims that a Christian must be able to fully understanding accurately every text of every book of Scripture in order to affirm the overall nature of Scripture. If that were true, Hubner would be right and theism of all stripes would be destroyed. If Hubner’s high bar is accurate, and it is the case that comprehensive understanding is required in order for knowledge to obtain, then we cannot possible know God. Contrary to Hubner’s reasoning, we do not have to attain an accurate understanding of every part of Scripture in order to affirm Scripture as our final reference point for all truth claims any more than I have to be a PhD in mathematics in order to affirm that my calculator is right in all its solutions. I know that my computer or calculator’s mathematical ability far exceeds my own understanding. I also know that it does not follow that if I am unable to work out a problem using a manual formula, that that itself is not a good reason for me to reject the laws of mathematics or the reliability and authority of my calculator. I enter large problems into my computer or calculator and I trust their solutions. I do not feel the need to test them at every corner.
Hubner laments the fact that in presuppositional apologetics, the authority text of the religion must be presupposed in order to engage in apologetics for that religion. He thinks it cuts off meaningful dialogue. This is not a new problem for apologists. The Qur’an claims to be God’s final revelation which blatantly contradicts Scripture’s claim. How do we settle the matter? Hubner concludes that “It’s just an uncritical assertion – and it wouldn’t be part of apologetics were it not for an overly-ambitious, artificially-protectionistic doctrine of Scripture.” Well, that isn’t an answer either. It isn’t a solution. Hubner has raised an issue that he seems uninterested in tackling. If Hubner is right about the Reformed view of Scripture, then how is an apologist to handle competing claims from other religions that it is their religious text that is the final reference point for all truth claims? We have a stalemate. Hubner’s focus on textual criticism and the canon, even if we accept his solution (whatever that might be, it seems unclear to me), does nothing to advance Christian apologetics on this issue even an inch. The presuppositionalist turns the religious text’s claims on themselves for an internal critique to determine if they can pass their criteria and standards. To a text, at least for the major religions, they cannot. There is no religious text that has been examined to date, other than the Christian Scriptures, that do not clearly engage in outright contradictory claims, incoherent nonsense, and meaningless drivel. The presuppositionalist says to bring them on if you have a competitor and let us examine them.
On the other hand, opponents of Christian Scripture have been unable to effectively demonstrate the same flaws in the Christian text. Difficulties exist, sure. But there are no inescapable contradictions or outright false claims in the biblical text. Notice that Hubner offers not a shred of support for his view that Reformed Christians ought to abandon their claims about the Bible. I have searched his books on Amazon and have not found one that follows up Hubner’s preface here with a more detailed argument for his position.
Hubner then claims that it is one thing to say that when God speaks we cannot challenge it, but to say that God speaking is to be extended to say, the Masoretic Text of Jeremiah or the Comma Johanneum is absurd. But reformed Christians do not believe that they have a perfect word for word replica of the autographs. What we believe is that we have, in the manuscripts themselves, the original word of God as was given to the Church from the beginning. What we have in our versions of the Bible are excellent and reliable copies of copies of copies…of the manuscripts which are copies of the original. Moreover, that what we have, without any doubt whatsoever, is the accurate record of divine revelation as it was given down through redemptive history beginning with Moses and ending with John. If Hubner wishes to be more specific in his dispute of that claim, then the burden is on him. To rant for a few pages in the preface to a book that doesn’t even share his views seems somewhat bizarre to me.
Hubner says that Christians should abandon the “modern” idea that Scripture is self-attesting. It is untenable in his view and therefore should be discarded for something more true. But what is that thing that Hubner says is more true? The fact is, we don’t know. Hubner doesn’t say. Why should Christians abandon this view? Hubner says, “The end result is a kind of apologetic suicide, and Christianity is losing credibility as a result.” Hubner goes on to tell us how it is possible for theological views to live so long in truth-oriented religious communities – including the view of the Bible that is held by evangelicals and reformed Christians. He complains that writers like Kevin DeYoung only include research from scholars that share the conservative view of Scripture. Somehow, that is supposed that approach is the product of bias. What is interesting is that Hubner had already admitted that presuppositionalism is correct in its claim that neutrality is a myth. So why complain about bias. In addition to this, when one reviews Hubner’s list of books for further study at the end of his Preface, it is virtually a who’s who of left-leaning scholars. By the way, I think it is interesting that Hubner describes the reformed culture as a “truth-orientied” culture, as if the last thing he is advocating isn’t truth.
Hubner goes on the complain that evangelicals should calling their claims facts and based on hard evidence because they are not. But since Hubner supplies no content with to interact there is little than can be said other than he is making empty criticism. Hubner then contends that evangelicals should stop the practice of referring to teachings that go against the historic evangelical position as “non-orthodox Christianity.” I cannot help but wonder if Hubner believes that gay Christianity fits within orthodox Christianity. Or perhaps, maybe the denial of a physical resurrection of Christ should enjoy a place within orthodox Christianity. Perhaps it is not the idea of non-orthodox Christianity with which Hubner has a problem. Perhaps it is the location of the line that Hubner doesn’t like. That there is a line is hard to miss in the NT documents. Paul calls false teachers wolves in sheep’s clothing. Peter compares them to vomit-eating dogs. Jesus called them vipers. That they were identified and excommunicated is impossible for anyone how reads the text honestly to miss.
The problem Hubner is raising is epistemological in nature. How do Christians know the Word of God when they read it? Do Christians examine the Scriptures empirically or by rational processes and decide that this text is divinely inspired and that text is not? Hubner neglects to mention the role of the Holy Spirit in bring the Scripture to the Church. The entire process is completely ignored.
Is Hubner asking us to accept the idea that some of the Bible is inerrant, but not all of it? And is he asking us to believe that some of the canon is inerrant but not all of it. Perhaps he is asking us to accept the idea that there are inspired books that are not actually in the canon. Absent a self-authenticating canon, Christianity reduces into a religion that is the product of the decisions of white males over a 1600-year period. This view is theologically untenable, not to mention, to borrow one of Hubner’s own expressions, apologetic suicide. If the Scripture is not self-authenticating as a whole, then it is not self-authenticating in part either. By what standard can I say that this text is self-authenticating here in Romans 8:30, but that text over there in Mark 10:1 is not. By what standard can I say that John is self-authenticating, but Esther is not? Let’s suppose I come up with a set of criteria by which to determine those parts of Scripture that are self-authenticating and those that are not. How do I go about demonstrating my claim? To say that something is self-authenticating is to say that it is its own criteria. Okay, so then, if Hubner is correct, and Scripture is not fully self-authenticating, and if my understanding of self-authentication is correct, then Scripture is in fact not at all in any place self-authenticating. To say that a document is self-authenticating is to say that one does not need external proof to determine its truthfulness. Hubner’s claim then places him in the position of having to come up with external proof for the truth claims of Scripture. It gets worse. Let’s say we determine that this book is self-authenticating (misnomer I know) and that that book is not. If it is the case that some books can be said to be self-authenticating and others not, then why not sections of books as well? Logically speaking, that is precisely where we must go. What makes a book reliable? That is comports with secular history? What if components of a book violate everything we know about how the world operates? Like, for instance, people who have been dead for three days do NOT get up and walk around. Why should that section of Scripture stand as reliable? The only witnesses we have are Christians, followers of Christ. Isn’t that a little biased? There are no external witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. There are only external witnesses to the beliefs of Christ’s followers. That is a big difference. n
All this means that Hubner will need a set of criteria by which he can justify or warrant belief in miracles apart from Scripture. If he is unable to do so, not only is he in a position of not being able to affirm Scripture, he cannot affirm Christianity. If we have to reject one miracle of Scripture because it goes against what we know to be true about how the world works, then we will have to get rid of all of them. And if we get rid of all of them, we surely will lose the resurrection of Christ. And if we lose the resurrection of Christ, we lose Christianity altogether. What men like Hubner fail to realize is that in their desire to slice Christianity up into natural, rationalistic, respectable categories, rather than salvaging Christianity and retaining some sense of cognitive respectability, what they end up doing is destroying Christianity at its foundation.
What Hubner is going to have to do is provide an alternative view of Scripture that comports with the rest of the teachings of Christianity. A view that sees Scripture not entirely as the Word of God but still authoritative enough that it places all men everywhere under absolute and complete obligation to believe it and to submit to its teachings. I will close with two arguments.
1. Something is self-attesting if its proof is internal to itself.
2. Either Scripture is fully self-attesting or it is not self-attesting at all.
3. If Scripture is fully self-attesting, then it is inerrant in all it teaches.
4. If Scripture is not inerrant in all it teaches, then it is not self-attesting.
5. If Scripture is not self-attesting everywhere, it is not self-attesting anywhere.
7. If Scripture is not self-attesting, then it cannot be the final reference point for all truth claims.
8. If Scripture cannot be the final reference point for all truth claims, then it is not self-authoritative.
9. If Scripture is not self-authoritative, then it is not the final authority for Christian belief and practice.
10. If Scripture is not the final authority for Christian belief and practice, then one cannot appeal to Scripture in order prove that Christianity is true.
11. If one cannot appeal to Scripture in order to prove that Christianity is true, then Christianity cannot be proven true.
12. Christianity claims that it can be proven true.
13. Therefore, Christianity is false.
And again, one more argument that is also located on my website at Reformed Reasons:
1 There must be an ultimate reference point (URP) for all truth claims if skepticism is to be avoided.
2 Either God or Man is the URP for all truth claims.
3 If Man is the URP for all truth claims, which man?
4 If we cannot identify which man is the URP for all truth claims, skepticism cannot be avoided.
5 We cannot identify which man is the URP for all truth claims and avoid an infinite regress.
6 Therefore, if man is the URP for all truth claims, skepticism is true. [in other words, if man is the URP for all truth claims, there is no URP for all truth claims. See #1]
7 Skepticism cannot be true since skepticism is self-refuting.
8 Since Skepticism is self refuting, man cannot be the URP for all truth claims.
9 Therefore, there must be an URP for all truth claims that is not man.
10 See 2 above.
11 Therefore, God is the URP for all truth claims.
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