Is it sinful to call evidentialism…sinful?

Recently I was directed toward a blog post found here:

http://calvindude.com/dude/blog/2008/08/on-the-%E2%80%9Cappropriate%E2%80%9D-apologetic-method/

I must confess that I am unfortunately not familiar with this particular writer.

In his post Calvin Dude presents a number of arguments against the use of the presuppositionalist method in certain contexts. The arguments look as though they are almost wholly based upon misunderstandings of the presuppositional method. As best I can tell this writer’s concerns are dealt with directly in most presuppositionalist literature.

The author of the entry begins by taking issue with an apologist who claims that presuppositionalism is the only valid method of apologetics, which leaves me completely confused since the author appears to have actually read a great deal about the subject of presuppositionalism. Are there any presuppositionalists who believe that other methods are valid? Perhaps there are, but I am not so concerned with this question as I am with what follows.

The more pertinent question here is whether or not it is actually sinful to approach apologetics from something other than presuppositionalism. As radical as it appears, and as “mean” as it may sometimes sound, those of us at Choosing Hats recognize other methods as being sinful. We are not the only ones. In fact Bahnsen did as well.

Thus I find it a bit odd that we (not directly, obviously) should be compared to Dr. White’s “cage stage” Calvinists – those who are new to Calvinism and, lifted with pride in newfound knowledge, attempt to force it upon everyone they can. None of us here have just now read Bahnsen for the first time. Nevertheless it is apparent that we find other methods of apologetics to fall short in many ways. I am not sure I understand how Bahnsen himself could be used in this supposed parallel either. He certainly was not reading his own work for only the first time while he was going about calling other methods of apologetics sinful!

Does Scripture ever use evidentialist arguments? No. Rather evidences are always offered in accordance with the presupposition of God’s revelation to humanity. Read that again. Evidences are offered in Scripture. There is a difference between using evidences and using evidentialism. Evidences are not a method of apologetics, they are entities used in apologetics. Dr. Bahnsen presented an enormous list of evidences during his debate against Dr. Stein, but he did not use evidentialism. Does Scripture warrant evidentialism? No. Psalm 19 and Romans 1 state that God is known to exist. God is clearly seen through what has been made, so much so that people are without excuse. God is known and God is seen. Clearly. So much for traditional arguments! An especially relevant example here is the teleological argument, but there are many other syllogisms which essentially (I mean that literally) deny that God is known and clearly seen through creation.

Presuppositionalism involves a higher view of evidences than does evidentialism. Both evidences and unbelieving responses to them are to be understood in terms of God’s revelation, not in terms of would-be autonomous thought. God’s glory is manifest in nature. I can honestly say that I have never run across a single presuppositionalist who denies this. That God’s glory is manifest in nature is not an evidentialist argument in the sense of Scripture using an evidentialist as opposed to a presuppositionalist method. Presuppositionalists do not deny evidence or its use. How many volumes need be written on this misunderstanding before it is cleared up?

Presuppositionalists are at fault for not addressing other-than-atheist manifestations of the non-Christian worldview with the same rigor and thoroughness as they do atheism. This fault should not be credited to presuppositionalism’s account. There are apologists working on correcting this problem. I hope to be able to make my own contributions toward this end. Nothing is preventing other presuppositionalists from joining in this effort.

Presuppositionalists are at fault for keeping their material largely inaccessible, often using philosophical language and argumentation that the vast majority of people would not be able to understand. This fault should not be credited to presuppositionalism’s account. There are apologists working on correcting this problem. I hope to be able to make my own contributions toward this end. Nothing is preventing other presuppositionalists from joining in this effort.

Every non-Christian, whether Muslim, Mormon, Atheist or whatever else; is totally opposed to the Christian worldview. We do not therefore treat them as though we can agree upon certain assumptions and evidences. We cannot. Evidences do not speak for themselves. Assumptions which are necessary for intelligibility can only be accounted for if one presupposes Christianity. That’s the argument. It is biblical and it is cogent.

God converts people, not presuppositionalism or evidentialism. Apologetics are a means to an end ordained by God. No one amongst us is disputing this; it is an obvious truth. God uses means to accomplish ends. For example, God uses the preaching of His Word to bring about repentance and faith. God uses even terrible preaching to bring people to Christ. Terrible preaching is nevertheless a sin. Utilizing preaching methods which go against those prescribed in Scripture is sinful, even though it may be a means by which God chooses to save someone. Likewise in the case of apologetic method. If presuppositionalism is prescribed by Scripture, as I argue that it is, and if evidentialism is warned against by Scripture, as I argue that it is; then evidentialism is sinful. I do not think this evidence of presuppositional cage-stageism on my part or on Dr. Bahnsen’s part. I distinctly remember thinking that Bahnsen was a bit off his rocker and harsh the first time I ran across his work. I thank God that I nevertheless returned to his writing and saw more clearly what it is that this man gave his life to.

Calvin Dude’s post reveals some places where presuppositionalists could really clean up their acts; I am not excluded. I touched on a few of these above. I do not believe these weaknesses to be found in the method itself. He is correct that the context of the apologetic encounter, involving such factors as the person in opposition to the truth, bears heavily upon the way in which we use our method. However, we should never submit to a philosophy found outside of Christ Jesus, and evidentialism as an apologetic method is such a philosophy. Thus it is sin to use the evidentialist method of apologetics. Those who still disagree may be doing so based upon a different definition of evidentialist apologetics which should lead to further discussion on this subject.


14 Comments

Drew Lewis

Calvin Dude is also known as Peter Pike over at Triablogue.

Micah

“However, we should never submit to a philosophy found outside of Christ Jesus, and evidentialism as an apologetic method is such a philosophy. Thus it is sin to use the evidentialist method of apologetics. Those who still disagree may be doing so based upon a different definition of evidentialist apologetics which should lead to further discussion on this subject.”Wow, have you told Dr. White that to his face?

RazorsKiss

Don’t you think it’s a bit of an equivocation to quote a whole paragraph, and use one line to reply, hinging the entire objection on a single word – “that”?

Brian Knapp

Hey Micah!I haven’t told Dr. White this personally to his face (I have never met him, actually), nor do I think Chris has. Then again, I don’t think it would matter as Dr. White is presuppositional.By the way – putting aside whether Dr. White would or would not be offended, what are <>your<> thoughts about this post? Do you believe that Chris is correct in his assessment? Do you believe his position is scriptural?Thanks for stopping by!— BK

C.L. Bolt

The obvious answer is no, because I have not met Dr. White in person, but I do not think that is what you mean.Is this a point where Dr. White is in disagreement with Dr. Bahnsen? I am just not sure what you are getting at.

C.L. Bolt

I want to make it very clear too that this post really has nothing to do with James White. The only reason the name was ever mentioned was because of the term “cage-stage” cited from the original blog post that this one deals with.I say this because I have been warned by others much wiser than myself that people often set out to attack the man whenever his name is brought up on blogs, which is sad. I do not really care to be broadsided by posts of that nature. He loves the truth and is a phenomenal defender of the faith (I could go on all day), but he’s not the subject of the post.

Shamgar

Yeah, I’m not sure what Micah was getting at there…As Brian noted, Dr White is presuppositional, not evidentialist…

Ken

Chris,

I totally get your point, anything not flowing from Christ is sin.

However, novelty in methodology is I think an issue that isn’t addressed and perhaps beyond the scope of what you were looking at, however, the question that i believe this raises, is can you support the presup method from the ECF. If not, it seems difficult to say the God left his church with only a sinful method until the last few hundred years.

C.L. Bolt

Presuppositionalism is not novel. It is first biblical, but it may also be traced throughout history in the works of notable figures such as Augustine, Tertullian, Calvin, Kuyper, Bavinck, Van Til, and Bahnsen. If the method is set down in Scripture, and I believe it is, then God certainly did not leave us with only a sinful method. Additionally, I do not believe any apologist can completely rid himself/herself of presuppositionalism on some level.

Hope this helps, thanks for the comment!

Ken

I was asking for examples from the ECF’s. Do you have examples from Augustine?

RazorsKiss

Augustine:

“What I do know of myself, I know by Thee enlightening me.”(Confessions, Book 1, Ch. 1)

“I believe; therefore, I understand.” “Tractates on the Gospel of St. John,” XXIX.6

“Scripture has a sacredness peculiar to itself. In other books the reader may form his own opinion, and perhaps, from not understanding the writer, may differ from him, and may pronounce in favor of what pleases him, or against what he dislikes. In such cases, a man is at liberty to withhold his belief, unless there is some clear demonstration or some canonical authority to show that the doctrine or statement either must or may be true. But in consequence of the distinctive peculiarity of the sacred writings, we are bound to receive as true whatever the canon shows to have been said by even one prophet, or apostle, or evangelist. Otherwise, not a single page will be left for the guidance of human fallibility, if contempt for the wholesome authority of the canonical books either puts an end to that authority altogether, or involves it in hopeless confusion.“ Contra Faustum, Book XI

As I said in this post – “Is Presuppositionalism New?” – “presup is the apologetic manifestation of Sola Scriptura and is the logical extension of our belief in the sufficiency of Scripture.” Therefore, whenever we see someone arguing apologetically from Sola Scriptura, they are arguing presuppositionally, as Paul showed us, in Acts 17. To quote further: “What we are saying, when we say that the Triune God of Scripture must be presupposed in order to render anything at all intelligible, is that Scripture Alone is the foundation for rightly understanding anything whatsoever, and is *sufficient* to give us that right knowledge – for in HIM are hidden ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. This is not just our assertion, but that of apologists throughout history, until the period that Rome came into it’s apostate primacy, and returning when the church revolted and returned to it’s Scriptural foundation – on a Biblical basis, and argued presuppositionally. … Athanasius argued against the Arians by Scripture Alone. Augustine refuted Pelagius by Scripture Alone. The Reformers argued against Rome by Scripture Alone.”

C.L. Bolt

Unfortunately I do not know the ECFs very well.

The most famous example from Augustine is his “I believe in order that I may understand.”

Tertullian may also be considered an ECF. Some quotes from him may be found here – http://www.choosinghats.org/?p=1470

Hope this helps.

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