Earlier today I saw this tweet: “Reformed appologists defend presuppositionalism evn though as a system it’s new but condemn dispensationalism on the same grounds. arbitrary”
I would beg to differ, and strongly. First, this objection is to the *Scriptural* grounds of the system. This is not something I find compelling, or accurate – and I don’t enjoy seeing presup alongside dispensationalism in that regard, honestly.
“All the nations have gathered together so that the peoples may be assembled. Who among them can declare this and proclaim to us the former things? Let them present their witnesses that they may be justified, or let them hear and say, “It is true.” “You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me And understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, And there will be none after Me. I, even I, am the LORD, And there is no savior besides Me. It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed, And there was no strange god among you; So you are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And I am God. Even from eternity I am He, And there is none who can deliver out of My hand; I act and who can reverse it?”
– Isa 43:9-13
Notice, God is setting forth his case – and what does He argue? The impossibility of the contrary. He sets forth the antithesis between His express will, and the imaginations of men. The impossibility of their claims, and the inexorable certainty of His own.
“Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me. Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it; Yes, let him recount it to Me in order, From the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming And the events that are going to take place. Do not tremble and do not be afraid; Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, Or is there any other Rock? I know of none.’” – Isa 44:7-8
Notice, God presses them to account for history, for the present, and for the future. He contrasts this with His own immutable decree.
“Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, “I, the LORD, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself And spreading out the earth all alone, causing the omens of boasters to fail, Making fools out of diviners, Causing wise men to draw back And turning their knowledge into foolishness,” – Isa 44:25
God presses His own exclusivity against the so-called wisdom of the wise, the proud, and the false prophets.
“Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed, Whom I have taken by the right hand, To subdue nations before him And to loose the loins of kings; To open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: I will go before you and make the rough places smooth; I will shatter the doors of bronze and cut through their iron bars. I will give you the treasures of darkness And hidden wealth of secret places, So that you may know that it is I, The LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name. For the sake of Jacob My servant, And Israel My chosen one, I have also called you by your name; I have given you a title of honor Though you have not known Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me;That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun That there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these. Drip down, O heavens, from above, And let the clouds pour down righteousness; Let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit, And righteousness spring up with it. I, the LORD, have created it. Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker – an earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’? Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ Or to a woman, ‘To what are you giving birth?’” Thus says the LORD, the Holy One of Israel, and his Maker: “Ask Me about the things to come concerning My sons, And you shall commit to Me the work of My hands. It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands And I ordained all their host. I have aroused him in righteousness And I will make all his ways smooth; He will build My city and will let My exiles go free, Without any payment or reward,” says the LORD of hosts.
Thus says the LORD, “The products of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush And the Sabeans, men of stature, will come over to you and will be yours; They will walk behind you, they will come over in chains And will bow down to you; They will make supplication to you: ‘Surely, God is with you, and there is none else, No other God.’” Truly, You are a God who hides Himself, O God of Israel, Savior! Israel has been saved by the LORD With an everlasting salvation; You will not be put to shame or humiliated To all eternity. For thus says the LORD, who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited), “I am the LORD, and there is none else. I have not spoken in secret, In some dark land; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek Me in a waste place’; I, the LORD, speak righteousness, Declaring things that are upright. Gather yourselves and come; Draw near together, you fugitives of the nations; They have no knowledge, Who carry about their wooden idol And pray to a god who cannot save. Declare and set forth your case; Indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. They will say of Me, ‘Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.’ Men will come to Him, And all who were angry at Him will be put to shame. In the LORD all the offspring of Israel Will be justified and will glory. Bel has bowed down, Nebo stoops over; Their images are consigned to the beasts and the cattle. The things that you carry are burdensome, A load for the weary beast. They stooped over, they have bowed down together; They could not rescue the burden, But have themselves gone into captivity. Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, And all the remnant of the house of Israel, You who have been borne by Me from birth And have been carried from the womb; Even to your old age I will be the same, And even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you. To whom would you liken Me And make Me equal and compare Me, that we would be alike? Those who lavish gold from the purse And weigh silver on the scale Hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; They bow down, indeed they worship it. They lift it upon the shoulder and carry it; They set it in its place and it stands there. It does not move from its place. Though one may cry to it, it cannot answer; It cannot deliver him from his distress. Remember this, and be assured; Recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it. Listen to Me, you stubborn-minded, Who are far from righteousness. I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off; And My salvation will not delay. And I will grant salvation in Zion, And My glory for Israel.”
– Isa 45-46
Do you see the antithesis? The sheer, inexorable grinding to powder of any attempt to assert autonomy? The continual refrain of God – “I will, I will, I will”, juxtaposed with “let them, let them, let them”? The continual “I am” countering “no other”? God is presenting every paradigm of presuppositionalism.
Not only there, but in Acts 17. I invite you to read this excellent exegesis of that text, by Dr. Bahnsen. Paul, in his address to the Areopagus, instead of presenting proofs for the existence of God, does what? He directly appeals to the point of contact with the believer – the image of God in them. He tells them that they are (at least ambigiously) superstitious, and in fact worshipping in vain – and he will declare this true God to them. He tells them they are ignorant, and proceeds to correct that. Does he argue for the inspiration of Scripture? No, he *presupposes* it. The antithesis to the unbeliever’s ignorance of God, and Himself, is the knowledge of God possessed by the man of God, speaking forth His truth. Paul also appeals to the *suppressed* knowledge of God in every man – and calls them to repentance, warning them of the judgment to come. He inexorably presses their culpability for that which they know, but suppress. Just as God does in the previous passages.
In Colossians 1, when writing to a church beset by heresy, does he argue his case with probability or possibilities? No! He states who God is – firmly, and boldly – co-opting the heretics’ favorite language and using it against them – pressing the Biblical doctrine of God against their false teaching at every point. In Col 2, he even tells them that in Christ are hidden ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge! Is this not presuppositional?
In 1 Corinthians, Paul takes the problems facing the Corinthians directly to the Scripture – and to the nature of God. He shows that God is who makes foolish the wisdom of the world, and uses what the world considers foolish to do it! Is that not precisely what God claims to do in Isaiah? What is he presupposing? Scripture. What is he doing? Pressing the antithesis. John uses antithesis in the strongest of terms. Romans presses the absolute sovereignty and purpose of God, comparing it to the futile speculations and foolishness of men. Paul exhaustively destroys all claimants while laying out the Biblical doctrines – the impossibility of the contrary. Hebrews demonstrates the supremacy of Christ while asking us who can compare to Him. Ephesians opens with a doxology to the majesty of God’s sovereign election, and the riches of his grace – and ends with an exhortation concerning how we are to fight the good fight, and with what weapons and defenses – the Word of God, and His good and gracious gifts as our armor, standing firmly on the Gospel. Proverbs is a treasure trove of wisdom – and all from the Lord. Peter tells us, first, to sanctify Christ as Lord in our hearts, in the apologists’ marching orders – and says in the next chapter that “Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God.” Is this not precisely what we say as presuppositionalists?
The Biblical basis for presuppositionalism is not only broad, but inseparable from the sufficiency of Scripture. In fact, I am wont to say that presup is the apologetic manifestation of Sola Scriptura and is the logical extension of our belief in the sufficiency of Scripture. Why do I say that? 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. Fundamentally, the Reformation was a battle of ultimate authorities. Sola Ecclesia vs Sola Scriptura. Why is this? When your foundation becomes other than Scripture, your apologetic also becomes other than Scripture. Athanasius argued against the Arians by Scripture Alone. Augustine refuted Pelagius by Scripture Alone. The Reformers argued against Rome by Scripture Alone.
This does not negate the fact, however, that they did, as I just did, use history to *confirm* that testimony, despite it not being the *pivotal* argument itself. They called witnesses, as God did to His statements, to bear testimony to what He had said. These are secondary, and *derivative* arguments. What did I call witness to? other who argued using… the same means – the Scriptures. To say that presup, as a system, is new – or novel – is simply not the case, as I have demonstrated. However, to try to get around the charge that dispensationalism IS novel, presup is called as a witness, by our friend above. Since, as he says, presup (as a system) is novel, reformed apologists cannot argue that dispensationalism (as a system) is false, because it’s novel. First, I think we have a bit of a category error going on. Dispensationalism is an interpretive method – and as such, *there was no one in the history of the church who had ever interpreted the Bible in such a fashion*. Period. As a system, or otherwise. More significantly, Dispensationalism has no Scriptural basis. It claims to be taken from Scripture, but it is not. I would challenge a dispensationalist to go through 1) Scripture and 2) The history of the church and find his interpretive system therein. I’m Covenantal because Scripture is. Scripture speaks of God’s covenant of grace, and we are taught to consider His promises within that covenant. Since Scripture lays it out for us in that fashion, we must believe it. I can also say, with historical conviction, that Covenantal theology was the theology of historical orthodoxy. As I said earlier, we appeal to church history because what the church *teaches*, when it holds to Sola Scriptura, is derived *from* Scripture.
Second, this objection is that we are being *arbitrary.* I’m sorry, but this is a direct challenge to presuppositionalism. When we object to something, we object to it on what grounds? If we say it is “new”, we *should* mean that it is *eisegesis* – a novel, invalid interpretation read *into* Scripture, not merely a temporally recent development of basically sound doctrine. Even if it was merely that – why did it take so long for the gates of hell not to prevail against the church, then? Was no one led into all truth by His Spirit? On the contrary, I believe I’m on firm ground when I say, after having recently taught a church history class focusing on the usage of Sola Scriptura in history, and the elements of presuppositionalism found therein as a result, that I am on a sound historical footing saying that presuppositionalism is not new, nor is it eisegetical.
To reject the witness of history to salvage a point of critique is to give up far too much. You say, in essence, that the gates of hell DID prevail against the church until the advent of Dispensational interpretation. I have no need to defend presup as “novel” – because it isn’t. The language used in the Dutch rediscovery (of what Calvin was trying to tell us, and Scripture has always said, and what the great defenders of the faith through history have used) is new, perhaps; but the principle is the same. Stick to Scripture, as it alone is Theopneustos. Athanasius knew it, Augustine knew it, Hus knew it, and Calvin knew it. There is no need to dismiss history – if what you teach is historical orthodoxy. Rome tries to co-opt history, the Mormons ignore history and rewrite in their image – let us not ignore history altogether to salvage a critique of an interpretive system – and certainly don’t drag presuppositionalism, the covenantal apologetic, with you, please. It’s not “on the same grounds” at all. Since I’m a presupper, though, I have to ask – whose ground were you standing on to say that? 😉
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