Apologetics to the Glory of God

Various and Sundry Issues to Recap

Last week, my comment at Aporetic Christianity resulted in a bit of a firestorm – of posts, and sometimes fiery discussion. I’d like to use this opportunity to make a few comments on this exchange, and exchanges in general. In the exchange between Paul, myself, and BK, some might consider the “tone” in places to be overly harsh. While I think Paul may have thought at one point that I was objecting to the tone, I think we’ve come to at least a partial understanding of the other’s goals. That being said, there’s a balance to be had in the exercise of theological and apologetical discussion. Bahnsen characterized two positions as 1) Humble Boldness and 2) Obscurantist Arrogance. (I believe there’s also a Cringing Milquetoast in there somewhere – but I digress…) As laymen, or as ministers (I am the former), our common cause should be the glory of God. We are to glorify and honor our Lord, while loving our brothers in Christ as well. All too often we fail to strike an appropriate balance in our responses – and I know I have often been guilty of such, to my detraction, and perhaps even the detriment of my witness.

What we are to do, as apologists, as theologians – as men of God in whatever place God may have put us – is to humbly, yet boldly proclaim the truth of God to the unbelieving world, to other believers, to our families, and to ourselves – all for the glory of God. When we engage in dispute over any matter, we must pay careful attention to what we are about. I’ll admit something – I should have been a bit more tempered in my response toward the beginning of the post. I shouldn’t said several things I said at the beginning – they were unnecessarily combative, and made things more personal than they should have been. I would submit, however (given that I wrote it – I have special information available!) that the rest of the post, writ large, was an exercise in “busting chops” – at least as far as tone goes. I went over the top intentionally (as I believe he recognized) to point out that rhetoric of a certain nature can easily be turned around to press the other way – if you don’t, at least putatively, share the same “foundation”. It has limited value insofar as argumentation – despite the obvious entertainment value!

That aside, (and appreciative of the olive branch I’ve been offered) I’d like to make a proposal to Paul. I do continue to believe that the principal “issue” he has is a theological one – but it is one of inconsistency, not of unorthodoxy. Van Til, for instance, critiqued quite a few of the most orthodox writers of the past two centuries on just this point – consistency. I don’t, by the way, consider myself to be an exemplar here either; but I’ve worked for a number of years toward the “goalpost”, to use his term, of consistency with theological orthodoxy in the Reformed, confessional, systematic tradition. I don’t dislike modern (or even historical) philosophy in general due to any anti-intellectualist tendency. Nor do I object to what he has written for simply the sake of hero worship or authority-preservation. I’m objecting on principled grounds, from the standpoint of a teacher (in a lay capacity) of apologetics, who is concerned for the sake of the church and those he teaches about identifying and responding to the issues Paul has with Covenantal apologetics in general, due to his influential “name recognition”. Specifically, it centers on the topic of the knowledge of God, despite the fact that the discussion has wandered further (and wider) by now.

My proposal is this: I’d like Paul to imagine that he’s speaking to someone who is more familiar with Van Til than Bahnsen, and for the most part, isn’t exactly comfortable with the way much of Van Til’s teaching has been popularized, especially by Frame’s modifications, Schaefferian influence, and generally, within the context of “evangelicalism”, divorced from confessional Reformed orthodoxy. I’d like Paul to imagine that he’s speaking to someone who, instead of being ignorant, per se, (although I admit I have much to learn, and am always seeking to learn more) of the categories Paul’s speaking of, disagrees with him on the centrality or importance of his criticisms to what Van Til himself said, disagrees on characterizations that have been made of Van Til’s thought and position, and actually disagrees with him about fairly basic issues concerning what a Covenantal apologetic’s central concerns are and should be, and disagrees about the centrality of a particular philosophical methodology (to include its terminology) being as important as he believes it is for the advancement of covenantal apologetics. All of this is concerned with, first, a systematic understanding of theology that Van Til himself pointed us to as what we are defending, and a method faithful to what he presents rather than that which Paul seems to attribute to his popularizers – many of whom I disagree with. It seems to me, having experienced (and responded to) an abundance of criticisms of Covenantal apologetic methodology, that his criticism in this exchange has lacked any serious, detailed engagement of Van Til’s writings on the subjects discussed; and most importantly, hasn’t addressed the text of Scripture in any great detail. In fact, he has barely hit on Scripture at all. Now, I will admit that it is true that I haven’t addressed Scripture to any substantial extent myself as yet – but I have, in fact, offered frequent treatments of that section of Scripture. As one additional note, take this proposal into consideration. While my engagement with him in this “round” has been primarily in the philosophical “field” – my primary concern, as someone who is quite concerned to take every bit of knowledge and submit it to Scripture, is that we have not been given a reason, Scripturally, to think that what he is saying is true. He seems to be worried about justification – but I’m concerned primarily with the doctrinal content of what we are being presented with. I am concerned with first establishing the basis of my contention exegetically and/or theologically from systematic or equivalent prior to anything else, as a general rule. I took the time a couple nights ago to comb through the classical systematics I have in my library; in the main, I don’t see anything of what he seems to be teaching concerning a potential knowledge of God in our systematic theology. Not in Gill, not in Hodge, not in Bavinck, and not in Calvin, et al. They aren’t teaching that there is a merely potential knowledge of God, given defeaters (unreasonable or not), but that there is an actual knowledge of God, immediately and mediately known by all men whatsoever – immediately through the ineradicable imago dei, and mediately through the glory of God proclaimed in creation, and understood rightly by virtue of God’s intentional and volitional self-revelation through it. I was merely curious at first how he would propose to solve the dilemma he claimed to have established (and about his particularities in even arriving at where he had arrived) – but this particular idea he advanced (as at least “mostly right”) strikes me as fundamentally opposed to the witness of Scripture in Romans 1 and elsewhere; and virtually unheard of in Reformed systematic. Further, it wasn’t exegeted at all. Since I’m Reformed, argument devoid of exegetical foundation worries me.

Since then, the discussion has ranged from a laundry list of my various philosophical and/or exegetical problems, a potpourri of “interestingly imagined” Van Tillian arguments (as well as a brief summary of his position, as far as it went) in “Where are you standing?,” a commentary dump on Romans 1 (sans commentary of his own), to his current series on whether TAG is a deductive argument – which, honestly, since it covers so much ground Chris and BK have posted on previously, I won’t even chime in on.

Since I’m still on this subject, I’ll add a challenge to my proposal. My next series, Lord willing, is going to be focused on the doctrine of man’s knowledge of God. To write such a series, the first thing I’m going to have to do is exegete Romans 1. I have another series still going, commenting on Van Til’s apologetic “story” about Mr. Black – but I’ll do my best, within the time constraints I have. I’d like to challenge Paul to exegete Romans 1:16-2:16 and show us what the Scripture says on the matter. I plan to open my series with that task in mind, and I hope he takes up this challenge as well.


12 responses to “Various and Sundry Issues to Recap”

  1. Jeff Downs Avatar


    As far as I can tell, I am with you. I have not/can not spend the time on this that I’d like because of my seminary studies, but this was an issue a few year ago as well. Blessings on your work.

  2. ZaoThanatoo Avatar

    So I’ve followed the whole discussion so far and I’ll throw two cents in, if it’s even worth that much…

    It seems that Paul Manata’s resolution to the whole issue he has raised is that all people have warranted true beliefs about God, but (due to the no-conscious-believed-defeater condition) the warrant for those beliefs is insufficient to qualify as knowledge in a post-Gettier sense of the term. (He said something like this somewhere in the comments, but I don’t have time to backtrack it, sorry.)

    This seems to me to simply be a precise way of stating the Apostle Paul’s assertions in Romans 1 within the context of contemporary epistemological considerations; namely, that all men have a “knowledge of acquaintance” with God (which is insufficient to qualify as “knowledge” in a post-Gettier sense of the term) but unrighteously suppress the truth (adopting irrational defeaters for belief in God).

    James Anderson also offered a comment regarding a counterfactual account of human responsiblity for suppressing the truth in unrighteousness; namely, that we are responsible for the knowledge we would have had if we had not chosen to unrighteously suppress it.

    I think I’ve understand Paul and James correctly and I don’t think either of their accounts are “fundamentally opposed to the witness of Scripture in Romans 1 and elsewhere.” However, they more than likely are “virtually unheard of in Reformed systematic.” But that probably says more about the history of Reformed dogmatics in relation to recent advances in epistemology than it does the current debate.

    1. taco Avatar

      So in a post-Gettier sense:

      The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth that isn’t “knowledge”. For what can be known, but not be knowledge about God, is plain to them, because God has shown it to them but not clearly enough to be knowledge. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, but not clearly enough to clearly be knowledge, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made excluding this knowledge. So they are without excuse in their clearly perceived not knowledge knowledge. For although they in an insufficient to be called knowledge manner knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him who they know but do not have knowledge of, but they became futile in their thinking due to no-conscience-believed-defeaters, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

      Who was the one that decided that Gettier’s analysis applied to the knowledge we have of our potter? Or is this just assumed?

      1. ZaoThanatoo Avatar

        Hi Taco.

        I don’t really get the point of your tendentious representation of Romans 1. Maybe you’d care to explain?

        You asked “Who was the one that decided that Gettier’s analysis applied to the knowledge we have of our potter?”

        Um, Barack Obama.

        Anyway, the words “knew God” in vs. 21 have to have some sort of content. Do you think Paul uses “knew” as justified/warranted true belief? If so, why?

        And, if so, how do you respond to Manata’s internalist/externalist dilemma?

        And if you don’t think it’s J/WTB, then what’s the beef?

        1. taco Avatar

          “Maybe you’d care to explain?”
          Sure. I was just trying to make sense of what you were saying with the text. I’m sorry if it came across mean spirited. But to call something knowledge and then to say on the other hand that is doesn’t qualify as knowledge seems a bit antithetical.

          It would seem to me that one should be able to use the definition of such a word and the necessary conclusions of that definition in the text and it should still make sense.

          1. ZaoThanatoo Avatar

            No worries, mate, I just didn’t understand where you were coming from or going…

            “But to call something knowledge and then to say on the other hand that is doesn’t qualify as knowledge seems a bit antithetical.”

            That’s sort of the nub of the issue, isn’t it? What are the limits of the use of “know” in Rom 1? As you said,

            “It would seem to me that one should be able to use the definition of such a word and the necessary conclusions of that definition in the text and it should still make sense.”

            I agree. However, the question of greatest import is, I think, what is the appropriate definition of the term in this context? Is it knowledge of acquaintance, description, perception, justified/warranted true belief, functional knowledge, merely true belief, counterfactual knowledge, etc.?

            I think we can agree that to simply assume that Romans is referring to JTB+ is misguided, right? We have to exegete the text.

            However, PM presents some interesting extra-biblical considerations for our understanding of Romans 1, given an underdetermined exegetical foundation for interpreting “know” here as JTB+.

            What do you think?

  3. ??? Avatar

    Umm why when I go to Paul’s blog it says it is no longer available, the author deleted the blog???

  4. Paul Avatar

    See, I knew I could sit back and take a break, Zaothanatoo is doing a far better job explaining things than I could. 🙂 I don’t see anything he’s said I’d disagree with, and it seems he’s understood my position correctly. Word, g.

    1. ZaoThanatoo Avatar

      Thanks, P-diddy. I’m glad you agree that my two cents is worth a full two doggone cents… 🙂

  5. taco Avatar


    Do you really think the knowledge of our Creator is underdetermined in Romans 1 in light of the rest of the Bible?

    Also, Gettier has a set of assumptions that I don’t think comport with a Biblical view of knowledge, nor does it take into account the Doctrine of God, Creation, and Providence. For example, as I understand Gettier and the type of problems he set forth, a common theme can be seen as happenstance or chance in opposition to the providence of God and his decree as seen in Romans 1.

    In so many words, I think Gettier does us a favor, like Hume does,in regards to non-Christian views of knowledge but if one is going to make claims that this applies to what the Bible teaches they need to address it from a Christian view and show how Gettier’s analysis applies to it.

  6. ZaoThanatoo Avatar

    “Do you really think the knowledge of our Creator is underdetermined in Romans 1 in light of the rest of the Bible?”

    Now, it’s a question like this that makes me think I’m either not being clear enough or you’re not reading carefully enough.

    When you say “knowledge” in the question above, what *sense* of the term do you mean?

    Do I think knowledge of the Creator *in any sense* of the term is underdetermined in Romans 1? Of course not. The issue at hand is, to exactly which *kind* of “knowledge” is the Apostle referring?

    I’m unsure what relevance your other two paragraphs have to the issues we’re discussing. Maybe you could clarify for me?

  7. Paul Avatar

    “Do you really think the knowledge of our Creator is underdetermined in Romans 1 in light of the rest of the Bible?”

    All sides agree that Romans 1 teaches a “natural knowledge of God.” The exegetical information contained in the text is underdetermining for a lot of the specific claims made *about* this kind of knowledge, such as: claims about the *kind* and *content* of this knowledge, claims about its status as *diachronic* and *indefeasible*, etc. Moreover, there is serious exegetical debate about whether the knowledge is manifested *to* or *in* them, and the view I’m criticizing has made it clear that it demands the latter. So, it is the specific theological, philosophical, and apologetical claims made by some that are underdetermined by the text.

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