Debate Opener

The following is the text I was going to use to open the debate on the 25th.

The Reformation’s theological reclamation sent shockwaves throughout the Church, and the consistent application of the principles of that reclamation created the Protestant theological legacy of Sola Scriptura, along with the other 4 Solas which comprise central tenets of the Christian faith, seen as a cohesive, coherent, comprehensive unit. The premise I intend to defend in today’s debate is that Covenantal apologetics is the only Biblical apologetic methodology. The principle that the Scriptures Alone are the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience is the opening statement of the London Baptist confession of 1689. This statement was intended to show the serious commitment that English Baptists had to the Scriptures, and to serve notice that they were indeed orthodox Christians of the most determined stripe. Covenantal apologetics, I submit to you, is the necessary outgrowth of first, Sola Scriptura, but secondly, yet another Reformational principle – that of Semper Reformanda – “Always Reforming”. The Five Solas – Sola Scriptura, Solus Christus, Soli Deo Gloria, Sola Fides, and Sola Gratia are all involved in today’s debate. Semper Reformanda is, simply put, the constant desire of every Christian to adhere to Sola Scriptura more and more closely – and to “stand on the shoulders of giants”, as is so often quoted, by learning from both the mistakes and successes of our predecessors in that Scriptural adherence. It is our desire to glorify God alone which drives us to seek our sanctification, and to more properly defend the Word of His testimony. It is to glorify Christ as all in all that we seek to place His work and life at the center of our apologetic, as the One in whom is hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge. It is to emphasize the exclusivity of faith in Him that we insist on a revelational epistemology. It is to spotlight the wonder of His grace when we say that only in Him is true knowledge possible; and to highlight His grace anew when we emphasize that in His common grace even the unregenerate man can still make contributions to God’s purpose and glory, by His decree, not their own.

Covenantal apologetics emphasizes the necessarily covenantal relationship of man to his Creator. It presents the antithesis between man as covenant breaker and covenant keeper – on every single level concerning every single object of knowledge. It is not enough to speak of man as merely a sinner, in a general way. It is not enough to speak of man as a being, in a general way. It is not enough to speak of knowledge, in a general way. Sin, being, knowledge, and every other subject under the sun is, by virtue of the nature of man, a subject involving, and inseparable from, his covenant with his Creator -whose nature does not admit of any independence from relationship upon Him. God, as God, is not to be trifled with, and is not to be ignored. It is in Him we live, move, and have our being. It is He who has determined all things whatsoever that come to pass. There is nothing in creation that is separable from God as its Creator, and without subjection to Him. For man, created in His image, there is surely no escape from covenantal relationship. That image involves the eternal Triune covenant and economic work of the Triune God in subjecting all men to their relationship as a God-glorifying subject of the Eternal King. In us, and to us He has “made it evident” that He exists, and what may be known of Him, inescapably. Where can we go from His Spirit? Neither death, nor life, angels, principalities, things present, things to come, nor powers; nor height, nor depth, and no created thing whatsoever can separate us from God, our Creator. We are, without regard to our own theories or desires concerning the matter, unable to escape the knowledge of God, or the knowledge of the covenant He has made. We all know, without exception, that we are covenant breakers, or covenant keepers with the God of Heaven, and that we are utterly responsible to Him. Romans 1 states this very clearly. Unregenerate men have knowledge of God sufficient to leave them without excuse; They know the God who created them exists, and enough of what He is like to well know that they are responsible to Him in all respects, and must submit to Him accordingly. They know that they are sinners against that God, and that they will have to account for their sin before Him. Yet, they do not want to hold that knowledge in the light, where it confronts them. They constantly attempt to suppress that truth, and to replace it with an unlivable lie. Their knowledge is that of the covenant-breaking rebel; the prodigal in the pigsty. He cannot help but remember his Father’s voice, he cannot help but recall that he should be at his Father’s table – yet does not have the knowledge the returned heir has of his Father’s forgiveness, the need for a contrite spirit, or the repentance and faith granted only by the Spirit of God. Regenerate men have a renewed knowledge of God, through the special, expansive and specific self-revelation of the Triune God. They are constantly progressing in sanctification, and are being made perfect in the image of the Son day by day. Their knowledge is that of the covenant-keeping heir; joint heirs of their heavenly Father, and all the glorious wonders of the true, deep, and rich fulness of God’s personal and demonstrative love for His elect. Their knowledge is that of the new line of Adam, restored to their initial place before the face of God, and the image that burns within them is constantly imbuing them with the reflected glory of the God they once again honor as they ought.

The evidential method does not differentiate properly between the prodigal and the heir. It does not recognize the pigsty as separate from the palace. The husks of the prodigal’s dinner are assumed to be just as fulfilling as the father’s fatted calf. Scriptura is not Sola in the evidential method. Their theology is not consistent with their apologetic. Not only that, but the evidential method also fails to glorify God alone. Is God glorified by the conclusion that He probably exists? Is this the brand of uncertainty that we are to satisfied with, in the defense of and with the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule? I don’t think it can be successfully argued that an evidential approach gives appropriate weight to the glory of God and the nature of His revelation to man.

Evidentialism, I submit, is a holdover from Roman Catholicism, which in turn is influenced by Aristotelian thought. The being of God and man are seen as scalar, with God’s being as the highest, and man’s as lesser – but it is possible to talk about “being in general”. In the same way, knowledge and morality are spoken of similarly – as if it is seen on a scale, but first addressed “in general”. It is not the case that the being, knowledge, or morality of God are on the same scale as that of man. It is not the case that the Creator is of the same order as the creature.

The focus of this debate arose in regard to the writings of C.S. Lewis, the 20th Century Anglican philologist turned layman Christian apologist. As a layman myself, his status as a layman has never concerned me; and I can share some interesting stories concerning my lifelong interest in Lewis if the occasion arises! As a point of contention, however, it remains true that I do not recommend his works methodologically. As I have pointed out publicly on numerous occasions, much of Lewis’ work is in fact better than his method. I consider his work to be a sort of proto-presuppositionalism, in some respects. This is not to say that he is consistently, methodologically, or systematically Covenantal, but there are distinct tendencies in his work that lead me to say that. For instance, in the short essay God in the Dock, he points out that modern man put God in the defendant’s seat, and presides over Him as judge – when this is actually precisely backwards from how things ought to be. This is altogether true, and I have quoted that section many times, to good effect. Unfortunately, it is also true that there is a lack of correlation in his thought regarding the same principle being true in regards to knowledge, or to logical conclusions being made. If we are not to put God in the Dock in terms of morality, why ever should we put revelation in the Dock of human understanding? If, as Lewis says, “God is more than a god, not less” (in Myth became Fact), why should we be seeking to prove that a god exists in order to then prove that the God exists? When he quotes Robert Bridges in saying that “Man’s reason is in such deep insolvency to sense” (in Horrid Red Things) in view of showing the difficulties of explaining the things of God to the worldly man – why then do we expect the worldly man to believe the things of God on the grounds of worldly arguments? Of course, this is the premise of the debate in question. Is evidentialism, at bottom, the presentation of worldly arguments, and their end, a worldly god?

In my view, I don’t think it is at all a matter of intent. I think it is a matter of tradition. Lewis, in many ways, broke out of the traditional mold. In Religion and Science, we are treated to a rousing discussion of the assumptions made by modern scientists, and their atheist adherents. It is pointed out that the assumptions of said scientists are almost completely disregarded, and only their conclusions addressed. This, in many respects, is what a Covenantal apologetic seeks to bring about – a discussion of what the worldly man takes for granted that he is by no means justified in taking for granted! In many respects, the modern evidentialist, following the lead of Aquinas, will assume on the one hand that man is to be convinced by reasoned arguments, and the judge, that same man, will judge rightly – since his reason is quite unscathed (in the important respects) by the fall of man into sin. On the other hand, the protestant is all too aware that man is not unscathed in his reason by the fall, and will seek to call his assumptions into question. The problem is, the judge is not a righteous judge. He suppresses the truth in unrighteousness. He is denying the truth that he knows, and pushing it down where it is not in his sight, and telling us that everything in reality is not that way at all. He is not operating on the basis of revealed knowledge – he is operating on the basis of “knowledge so-called” – knowledge which does not accord with God’s revelation, and does not accurately deal with His world. We are not dealing with “facts in general” – we are dealing with facts as interpreted by truth-suppressing sinners, or as interpreted by the Creator of those facts. At every point there is an absolute, ethical, antithesis in play. By this, we mean that there is an ethical consideration involved in our understanding of each and every fact of God’s universe. Knowledge and morality are not separable. They are inextricably linked, and there is no excuse for men who rebel against their Creator in their understanding of His world.

What should be problematic to us is the excuse that we give a worldling for his sin, if we give him the “right” to judge whether God is believable. What are we to expect a sinner to choose, when we tell him that he is able to judge rightly whether or not it is reasonable to believe god probably exists? For instance, if “we are not taking anything from the Bible or the Churches” – as Lewis states in Mere Christianity, to begin his argument – then are we to believe that Lewis believes that we can start without the Bible, or Churches, and find our way to God “partway”? “All the way”? Without the Bible, or Churches who preach that Bible, what are we to say about how far it is permissible to go with this exercise? So, beneath the claim that what he is doing is “not taking anything” – he is actually taking. He has to, in order to get the extent of the argument, for example. Additionally, are we to expect him not to be arriving at the Bible, and Churches, with this argument? If we do expect him to arrive there, I submit to you that he is building a house on a foundation of sand, then inviting the unbeliever to build the house on top of it. Is it customary to use an intentionally flawed and faulty foundation in order that we might construct a house? I mean, after all, one can shore up the house and replace the foundation afterward, correct? I suppose, if you intend to effectively build your house twice, and put unnatural stresses on every conceivable portion of it, you might do it that way. Of course, while you are chipping out the flawed foundation and repouring it under the shored up house (which, for the meantime, is hanging in air on the thinnest of supports) you have no utilities, you cannot live in it, and it is, in all practical considerations, useless to anyone. This is all assuming, for the sake of argument, that you can arrive at the destination you seek at all!

The Reformed Christian, with his love for Scripture, the glory of God, the desire to press the centrality of Christ, the emphasis on faith and repentance by grace alone, cannot be satisfied with an approach that tells the sinful man that he can be the judge. Make no mistake – the evidential methodology does just that. We must not, further, mistake the use of evidences for an evidential methodology. The use of evidences, to a Covenantal apologist, is done from within the framework of Christianity, and shown to be impossible, otherwise. The unbelieving philosophies are unable to present any bit of evidence as something meaningful, coherent, and bearing any relationship to any other bit of evidence. It has no basis for doing so. Likewise, an apologetic methodology which grants that same unbelieving philosophy the “right” to be conducting its own affairs independently has no basis for doing so. It is contradicting itself. A Christian cannot tell the non-Christian that it is okay to be a covenant breaker. A Christian cannot tell the non-Christian that it is reasonable to interpret all facts in light of that covenant-breaking philosophy. We cannot say that we begin to reason with a man who has an immaculate reason – we know this is not true. We cannot say that we begin to reason with a man whose reason is “good enough,” either. The Bible tells us otherwise. To do so is to go against Scripture, and is neither right nor safe. Man may, in God’s common grace, be allowed to contribute positively despite his rebellion – for the sake of the elect. He is not, however, to be told that his contribution is due to his own, independent, rebellious principles. The rebel is not to be told that his rebellion is justified, as far as it goes.

As a final word, I intend to turn a passing observation of Lewis into a bit of a point. In Christian Apologetics, he says “Fortunately, though very oddly, I have found that people are usually disposed to hear the divinity of Our Lord discussed before going into the existence of God. When I began I used, if I were giving two lectures, to devote the first to mere Theism; but I soon gave up this method because it seemed to arouse little interest.” I found this observation keenly interesting since the first time I read it, and the more so since I was convinced of the exclusivity of a Biblical apologetic. Men don’t want to hear bare theism “proven” to them. That is not only uninteresting, but irrelevant. Who is a bare theist, anyway? What good is it to prove it? What “bare Theos” are we to prove, anyway? They know as well as we do that there is no “bare Theos”. They know it, suppress it, and are impatient with any parlor tricks we might show off on the subject of “God in general”. We both know that there is no “God in general”, so why do we waste our time with something that a Muslim can do just as easily, were only “mere Theism” in view? They know as well as we do that we don’t want them to believe in “mere Theism” – and are rightly annoyed at our sophistry. Instead of offering something Aristotle could affirm, in order to “step up” to the real game, and “re-pour” the foundation we just laid, is it not the more Biblical, more honest approach to simply offer the God of Scripture as He is, and offer Him all of a piece? We aren’t interested in some sort of God. We are interested in our God, the God of Scripture. Let us instead give a reason for the hope that is within us, not for a probably that applies to any sort of “god”, and is proven “in general”, before we approach the real God we know and adore. Let us defend the Lord of Glory in all of His majesty.

One Comment

Dennis Mackulin

Well said. Evidential methodology is simply put, Idolatry. It confirms man’s autonomy rather than challenges it. It borderlines on a virtual “Christian” brand of skepticism when it lowers the certainty of the Gospel to the probability level. We should not be surprised then how well this methodology fits in with the sub-biblical theology of Arminian Evangelicalism. Ever sensitive to the “seeker” it is a clear compromise of Christ’s lordship over all of creation. An Christian brand of the rational/irrational dialectic (spoken of by Van Til) applied to Reformed biblical doctrines.

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