I want to start part 2 – in which I will interact more directly with Pastor Schuldheisz’s post – by saying that I appreciate the author for taking the time to write the article, and for his clearly articulated desire to maintain a Scriptural apologetic. I also want to mention how much I adore Dr. John Warwick Montgomery and the wisdom he shares on Issues, Etc. regularly, even if I do disagree with certain elements of his approach to apologetics. This response is meant to be a good-spirited rebuttal to Pastor Schuldheisz (and I suppose Dr. Montgomery, by proxy), and maybe it will get more Lutherans (and whoever else might listen in) looking at the methodologies and the surrounding issues for themselves. With that said, I do not plan on pulling any punches in what I say below.
Note that I have several thumbnails embedded below; clicking on these will give you Pastor Schuldheisz’s post marked to correspond to the numbers I will be using in order to keep my response as tied to his article as possible. That said, let’s get down to brass tacks.
At the outset of the article, I almost thought that Pastor Schuldheisz was going to be arguing for the Presuppositional approach based on the fact that he immediately acknowledges that it is the premises (i.e. presuppositions) that inexorably drive the conclusion. And he raises a good point: it is all about where one starts.
The Evidentialist starts with man’s fallible intellect as the measure of truth, and allows the unbeliever to posit that he needs to be convinced of God’s existence by evidence, when Romans chapter 1 plainly tells us that he already HAS evidence, and that in abundance, but still refuses to believe. If we start by granting the unbeliever’s premise that he does not have enough evidence to believe in God, we affirm him in his unbelief (which is far, far worse than Lady Gaga’s wardrobe, let me assure you).
The Presuppositionalist, meanwhile, starts with God’s revealed Word and what has been clearly perceived about Him since the dawning of the world (again per Romans 1), stressing that nothing – not evidence, not facts, nothing – is intelligible without this fundamental reality (called a “precondition for intelligibility”). We tackle the question of worldviews up front, establishing that the antagonist’s worldview collapses upon itself and forces him to borrow from a Christian worldview just to maintain some semblance of consistency, and demonstrate the futility of the unbeliever’s intellect rather than pandering to it.
I would add that I agree with Pastor Schuldheisz that the goal is to arrive at the foot of the cross, but that is not the whole picture. That is, whereas Dr. Montgomery’s approach seeks to present first and foremost the evidence for Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (along with the argument that God raising Jesus from the dead is the most likely explanation of this; an approach which faces the challenges mentioned in part 1) and working backwards towards original sin (why did Jesus die?) and the existence of God (who raised Him from the dead?), the Presuppositional approach follows the pattern of the Augsburg Confession by starting with the existence of God (Article I) and stressing the fact that we have broken His law (Article II) before approaching Christ and the Grace that He offers through His Gospel (Article III). As Lutherans, we know that the Law must first have its way with sinners before Christ can heal them with the Gospel; the Presuppositional approach deals with first things first.
I suppose I would be counted among the number of Lutherans who have “fallen victim to” the Presuppositional approach, but I honestly think our numbers would grow if more Lutherans read Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen for themselves. I do not know how helpful the term “fallen victim to” is, however, since it is certainly true that those who followed Luther during the Conservative Reformation were considered to have “fallen victim to” the Gospel itself by their Roman Catholic contemporaries. In my view, the difference between Evidential and Presuppositional apologetics does indeed touch upon the Gospel in a very real way as they embody the difference between man-centered and God-centered worldviews (see again what the Evidential and Presuppositional starting points are in #1 above).
There is a lot packed into Van Til’s statements here, and it can be hard to understand (English wasn’t his first language, for one thing). My part 1 should help to address it, as should the linked lecture at the end of that post.
Pastor Schuldheisz in his post asks, “once the unbeliever’s worldview is razed what is left in the rubble since the Presuppositionalist has already stated that investigation of empirical evidence based on common ground do not exist between the believer and the unbeliever?”
The answer? Nothing but two options. A) Futility (of thinking, of feeling, of life itself), or B) a way out, which is God and His Word. Again, the Presuppositionalist does not see his job as one of opening hearts (this is the Holy Spirit’s job), but rather of closing mouths.
No, philosophical uncertainty and religious anarchy is “and each man did what was right in his own eyes”. When we allow the unbeliever to impose his fraudulent presuppositions upon the evidence without challenge in the name of maintaining “common ground” so that HE is the final judge and arbiter of those facts, we have just put him who the Bible calls a fool (Psalm 14:1) in charge of the kingdom.
Now we move into the section where Pastor Schuldheisz details what he thinks are the problems in the Presuppositional approach. I’ll take them as he does, my letters corresponding to his numbers (i.e. A=1, B=2, and so on).
I confess I’m a little uncertain of what is being argued here. Are we saying that, as there is no end to the conceivable amount of philosophical positions, an approach which demonstrates the futility of non-Christian positions is useless as it will never come to an end of positions to refute? If so, then the Evidentialist must recognize that he faces the same problem; after all, are there not an infinite amount of ways to approach the Easter morning empty tomb? If we posit an infinite amount of philosophical positions, the answer must of necessity be “yes”. I do not see how this can be considered a “problem” exclusive to the Presuppositional approach, but perhaps I’ve just misunderstood the point that the citation of Dr. Montgomery was trying to make.
That said, let us understand that we are not saying that Christianity is true because other worldviews fail, but rather that it is true because we have God’s Word on it, which means that by the law of noncontradiction all other worldviews must be false.
There is no bridge, because trying to make any appeal to facts or logic without a transcendent God to anchor them in is simply arguing with two feet planted firmly in mid-air. Again, by putting God aside and arguing strictly on natural reasoning you answer a fool according to His folly and become like him yourself.
Of course Christianity is capable of examination! We have a God who interacts with us in space and time, it is inevitable that the world around us corresponds to the Truth of His Word! But again, allowing the unbeliever to approach these things with premises that are antagonistic to the truth without holding him accountable to them is equivalent to getting on his airplane. You can talk about whatever you want to talk about – show him whatever you want to show him. But in the end you are still going to his destination, because it is his presuppositions that are in the pilot’s seat.
In 1 Corinthians 15 Paul is dealing with the Resurrection, not the existence of God; while this does prove that examination of the evidence will always – when rightly understood – corroborate the Christian faith, it is a far cry from proving that unbelievers can rightly understand the evidence and be moved by it.
In Acts 26:26 I will point out that Paul starts his case for the resurrection of Christ by appealing to the presuppositions of his hearers in verse 8, and also note that those to whom he speaks already believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (v. 27), and therefore the heaviest of presuppositional lifting has already been done. Again, we are all agreed that there are historical facts and evidence that 100% corroborate what we confess as Christians (as Paul points out with his “this has not been done in a corner” phrase). The reality is, though, that the unbeliever will do his best to interpret God out of them, which is why his errant presuppositions have to be challenged first.
What Pastor Schuldheisz neglects to mention is that in “building [his] defense” the Evidentialist relies massively upon the laws of logic. These laws of logic are assumed by the Evidentialist, a priori, without any grounding for them offered – all parties are just supposed to assume them. Is this not question begging itself?
That said, all reasoning is ultimately circular when it reaches its foundations. Did you ever play the “why?” game as a child? My brother and I would pass the time on car rides by starting with a simple statement (e.g. the grass is green) and then the other would press in with the question, “why?” The goal was to see how long the questionee could prolong the conclusion. But no matter how long he stalled (with talk of chlorophyl and the visible light frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum, if we were particularly sophisticated that day) the ending always came: “…because God made it that way.” “Why?” “Because He wanted to.” “Why?” “Because He can.” “Why?” “Because He’s God.” “Why?” “Because He’s God.” “Why?” “Because He’s God.” ad infinitum.
Now, surely our reasoning as to why the grass is green was valid, but it was circular, in an ultimate sense. Thus it is with all reasoning – it has to have an anchor point in something that is self-authenticating, at which point it becomes circular. If Pastor Schuldheisz were to play the “Why?” game with any of the evidences at his disposal (or the logic he uses to understand them), he would ultimately find himself in the same point as my brother and I as kids: “Because God.”
But just because Presuppositionalists acknowledge the self-authenticating God as the necessary epistemological first-principle of a coherent worldview, instead of weaving through a minefield of secular reasoning to get to Him (and everything has to get to Him, as He is the author of all things), that makes us guilty of faulty reasoning? I think not. Or would we charge God Himself with faulty reasoning according to Hebrews 6:13?
Let me also address the charge that Evidentialism is more Biblically sound here. Did you know that Eve was the first Evidentialist? That’s right, when the serpent encouraged her to test God’s Word (that she would die if she ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) for herself… and she did… she became the first Evidentialist. Presuppositionalism, as Pastor Schuldheisz says, assumes a priori that God’s Word is true, and should be obeyed.
Actually, the argument is not a reversible one. Our “goggles” enable us to make sense of what we are doing, our use of logic and appeals to morality – the unbeliever’s do not. I have seen unbelievers try to reverse it on the Presuppositional apologist, but asking them “are you certain about that?” exposes their lack of ability to account for absolutes and ends that conversation rather neatly.
Again, the Presuppositional approach allows for evidence, but what it is grounded in has to be accounted for. The unbeliever cannot account for evidence (knowledge, logic, etc.) and therefore is precluded from offering any on the basis that his worldview – if it were consistent – does not allow for it. At any rate: the positive demonstration of the truth of the Christian view is that without it, you can’t account for anything – not even contradictory evidence – since without God there is no grounds for an absolute law of noncontradiction!
Actually, I would say that the Presuppositional approach, by virtue of starting with God instead of man’s intellect, does more to serve the Gospel and is more consistent with it than the Evidential method. As Lutherans, do we not confess that we cannot by our own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel, enlightened us with His gifts, sanctified and kept us in the true faith? Is not the Gospel that God chose us out of this world to wash us and give us a new mind, devoted to Him? This is exactly what the Presuppositional approach proclaims.
A) Even if you and an unbeliever have the “common knowledge” that the tomb is empty, that is a far cry from being any sort of game-changer. Listen to the words of Atheist Paul Baird in dialogue with Sye Ten Bruggencate on the July 31, 2010 episode of Unbelievable! Radio:
Yes, that is an atheist admitting to a presuppositional bias against the supernatural – namely, the resurrection. I would argue based on Romans 1 that this is not a fluke; it is universal amongst unbelievers. It does not matter how much “common knowledge” you give to an unbeliever, if you do not address the presuppositions, nothing will change.
B) Again, Presuppositionalism does not deny that Christian claims about what has happened in history correspond with the facts and evidence. We too believe that Jesus Christ lived, died, and arose in space and time, and that the historical record corroborates this. However, we do deny that it should be the starting point of our conversations, which should first be turned to the task of dismantling the unbeliever’s worldview and showing it for the folly that it is, “destroy[ing] arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and tak[ing] every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
C) I have just one question for you: if “the evidence for the Christian faith is overwhelming and compelling”, why is Bart Ehrman an unbeliever? Not because he hasn’t seen the evidence – in fact his entire career has been built upon studying the evidence that Pastor Schuldheisz mentions. No, it is because he is rejecting the God he knows exists, and cannot bring himself to interpret the evidence he has in a way that is consistent with that fact because he has a precommitment – a presupposition – to atheism.
Despair is all one has without God, and so inasmuch as Presuppositional apologetics seeks to show the unbeliever what the world is if his atheism is true (i.e. as Ecclesiastes puts it, “meaningless and vanity”), then yes, I suppose Pastor Schuldheisz is correct about that much. But we need to recognize is that it is not up to the apologist to raise those dead in sin and give them confidence in Christ, it is the Holy Spirit who does this miracle. Without that work of the Spirit the unbeliever is just like Paul Baird or Bart Ehrman – able to “see” the evidence, but 100% unable to understand it.
What the unbeliever “needs” is to be convicted that he stands condemned before a Holy God, with no righteousness of his own to save him. What the unbeliever “needs” is the message that Jesus Christ’s righteousness is given to sinners as a Baptismal gift – a garment fit for the wedding feast of the Lamb. What the unbeliever “needs” is to “not be unbelieving, but believing.” Law and Gospel, regeneration by the Holy Spirit so that he can stop rejecting what he already has enough evidence to know is true (again per Romans ch. 1).
If anyone read this far, I have to tell you I appreciate it. This is not a topic that can be discussed in a shorthand manner – there is too much propensity for talking past one another for that. At any rate, I hope I have represented the Presuppositional approach accurately, and been fair to my Evidentialist brothers as well. There’s always more to be said, but I will leave that for the future; another time… another post.
Oh, but there is one more thing I want to say in closing. It is that I think the real worry underlying many Christian’s aversion to the Presuppositional approach is that if we are perceived as being “non-neutral” the unbeliever will scoff and mock our position. Being branded “fundamentalists” and “unthinking dogmatists” certainly isn’t fun, but what else should we expect? Are not the things of God foolishness to those who are perishing? Do we then divest ourselves of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and His Word in order to seem wiser to the world who has rejected Him? We must not forget that only by the Holy Spirit can one say that “Jesus is Lord”. We should not, in the name of some mythical “neutrality” – take off our “Jesus goggles” so we can look the unbeliever straight in his cataract-coated eye and plead with him to “look! Just look at all of this evidence!” To do so is to admit our own blindness to his condition – namely, that he is not “neutral”, but is an enemy of God fully devoted to rejecting Him. Yes, history corroborates the Christian message, but all the signed centurion affidavits in the world cannot replace a hardened stone with a heart that beats for God.