A "Serious Problem" with "An Introduction to Covenantal Apologetics"

Lyndon Unger has a “SERIOUS problem” with my Introduction to Covenantal Apologetics.  He expresses his concerns in the comments here. I asked him a series of questions that he has not answered, so I will go ahead and give a few of my thoughts in response to his comments. His comments are below, followed by my questions, followed by some explanation of why I asked what I did.

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Why does Bolt attach Covenant theology to his system of apologetics?

I’m confused as this sure sounds like he’s riding a hobby horse from one field to another and confusing the issue by attaching on new terms.

Just call it “presup” and move on.

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Okay.

I have a SERIOUS problem.

I don’t care about the “covenantal” label as much as something else.

I skimmed through all 45 of those posts and, well, I agree with Bolt. I like Chris. He’s a smart guy, and he’s doing what he discerns is doing biblical apologetics…

…except that he’s not getting anything he says from the actual exegesis of specific biblical texts. He alludes to Romans 1 a few times, but he’s basically philosophizing about theological issues in a way that’s, well, disconnected from the scripture in a way that I find frightening.

I find it frightening partly because of the reading I’ve done on that suggests that the uniform testimony of history is that when men build theological/doctrinal/apologetic systems on philosophical groundwork, things ALWAYS go bad somewhere along the yellow brick road of good intentions.

I find it frightening mostly because unless you’re not speaking from God’s word. If you’re not speaking from God’s word, you have no guarantee of the truthfulness of your ideas, you’re not doing evangelism (which is really what apologetics with unbelievers is), your foundation for authority is lost and the divine power of the scripture is absent from your efforts. Beyond that one could possibly suggest that, in practice, you’re evidencing that you don’t really believe some of the things that you profess about the word of God (i.e. sufficiency or efficaciousness).

I’ve talked with Bolt before on the lack of what I am beginning to call “exegetical apologetics”; namely building up a system of rational defense for God and his word on the basis of the actual teaching of the text of scripture. This doesn’t mean general allusion to passages like Romans 1, but would mean answering specific questions from specific text of scripture. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen any exegetical defense for the T.A.G that a text book case of blatant eisegesis.

I’m not saying that presuppositional apologetics isn’t right or true, but I’m suggesting that the more presuppositional guys I read, the less serious exegesis I encounter.

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“Why does Bolt attach Covenant theology to his system of apologetics?”

Where did I do this? Be specific.

“I agree with Bolt.”

What do you agree with me on? Be specific.

“…he’s not getting anything he says from the actual exegesis of specific biblical texts.”

What inconsistencies have you noted between the claims in my introductory series and the actual exegesis of specific biblical texts? Be specific.

“If you’re not speaking from God’s word, you have no guarantee of the truthfulness of your ideas…”

How do you know that this idea, or any of the other ideas you have provided here, are true? Be specific.

“I’m suggesting that the more presuppositional guys I read, the less serious exegesis I encounter.”

Are you reading these “presuppositional guys” in instances where they are writing on subjects other than exegesis like I was? If so, then I am not sure why you are complaining.

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Unfortunately Unger’s comments are not very specific and so it is difficult to understand at times what he is getting at. He does not, for example, provide me with many clues about where he believes I have attached Covenant Theology to “my” system of apologetics. One obvious guess here is the title of my series, but Unger goes on in his second comment to refer to a “’covenantal’ label,” meaning that he understands it as such (a label).  I am mostly following K. Scott Oliphint here in terms of the label to prevent confusion. Looks as though I failed! There are reasons to not call the method “presup” as Unger suggests. Moreover, it makes sense that a person who finds both Covenant Theology and the apologetic method in question to be faithful to Scripture would connect the two in the push for consistency. Finally, covenants are clearly found in Scripture, whether or not they have anything to do with so-called “Covenant Theology.” Certainly this is a much more Scriptural label than is “presup” since the latter does not even appear in Scripture. Unger’s knee-jerk reaction to seeing the word “covenantal” is perhaps unhelpful, if not a bit out of place. In any event, readers can consult Oliphint’s article on this suggested name for more information.

Unger goes on to express agreement with me, but that is all he expresses. Agreement. I have no idea what he is agreeing with me on, and it appears that he wants to actually disagree with me on some things.

Unger’s claim that I am not getting anything I say from the actual exegesis of specific biblical texts is also vague. In my Introduction to the series I wrote, “These short pieces are being written again from memory and without sources at hand. It should also be said that I will not make explicit reference to passages in Scripture but will from time to time allude to it. In this way I hope to give you my words and my understanding of presuppositional or covenantal apologetics in the vein of Van Til and Bahnsen.” So, no, I did not do any actual exegesis of specific biblical texts in my introductory series. It was not my intent to do so. I said as much. Of course, it does not follow that the things I say in the series are not based upon, in some sense, the actual exegesis of specific biblical texts. Unger would have to know how I actually went about learning what I know, what was going through my mind, etc. in order to make his assertion if we take him this way. Another understanding of his claim may be in order. Perhaps Unger means to say that there are actual inconsistencies between the claims in my introductory series and the actual exegesis of specific biblical texts. This makes the most sense of what Unger is claiming, but he would need to demonstrate these alleged inconsistencies, if this is what he means. It would be an odd complaint indeed to take exception to my writing a series that includes little or no exegesis, but at times it appears that Unger is doing exactly this. He writes, “If you’re not speaking from God’s word, you have no guarantee of the truthfulness of your ideas…” Okay, but I refer the reader back to my discussion of exegesis above. If Unger takes “speaking from God’s word” to be synonymous with “actual exegesis of specific biblical texts” then I am afraid he can have no guarantee of the truthfulness of any of his own ideas that he posts in the comments in question. You see, Unger provides no such exegesis in those comments. Further, many of his own blog entries do not include such exegesis. Finally, if we want to really speak from God’s Word then perhaps we should just resort to quoting it rather than doing exegesis. Why put that extra step in there?

We can hammer on the importance of exegesis all day long. I am thankful for those who do. I am encouraged by guys like LK Unger who are extremely well-gifted in terms of language and interpretation of the text of Scripture. However, it is self-referentially problematic to suggest that we are limited to pure exegesis in all that we write or say.

There has been a good amount of exegesis done within the Van Tilian camp. I do not know whether or not Unger is familiar with this work. He may believe that it is not very sound exegesis. If so, then great! We need correction. But it is distracting, at best, to express serious concern over someone not doing exegetical work when that person is not doing exegesis, is not doing it intentionally, and is cognizant of these facts.

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them…” (Romans 12)


2 Comments

Two New Apologetics Books

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Pilgrim

An excellent response.


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