Covenantal apologetics have virtually no place in the academy.
It’s not that they shouldn’t have a place in the academy. It’s just that they don’t.
But why would we expect anything different? Covenantal apologetics are firmly grounded in the Christian worldview and are used to cast down every thought exemplifying its antithesis. It is not merely that non-Christians will misunderstand or reject covenantal apologetics in an intellectual sense, but rather that they will not even like them. So we should not expect to see covenantal apologetics pulling up a chair next to Naturalistic Atheism or Thomistic Christianity in the college classroom or philosophical journal. Covenantal apologists are not going to be able to get the types of degrees that even other Christians might get at higher levels of education and some of the more well-respected schools. The so-called transcendental argument is certainly not going to be making an appearance in a journal of philosophy. No worries! The absolute academic failure of covenantal apologetics will only serve to highlight their aforementioned unabashed acceptance of the authoritative Word of God. The absence of academic material stemming from a covenantal approach to various disciplines is thus easily justified by pointing out that people just can’t handle the truth.
Or not. There are Christians in virtually every field of study with a firm commitment to the authoritative Word of God. Even philosophy! Many of them make Christian claims that the academy will reject and even detest, but it has not prevented them from excelling in the realm of higher education and getting published. Moreover, there are enough details involved in fleshing out the covenantal apologetic method that those firmly committed to its explanation and defense should have no problem, relatively speaking, in publishing on an interesting and/or difficult theological or philosophical aspect of covenantal apologetics.
For example, Greg L. Bahnsen, a student of Cornelius Van Til and popularizer of the covenantal method of apologetics, was able to earn his Ph.D. in Philosophy from a well-respected secular university. And what did he write his dissertation on? The Crucial Concept of Self-Deception, an epistemological principle which immediately lends itself to the advance of presuppositionalist thinking in apologetics! Who will continue to represent covenantal apologetics in the academic realm where Bahnsen only got the ball rolling?
Enter James N. Anderson. Anderson is no stranger to the academy. He holds a Ph.D. in Philosophical Theology from the University of Edinburgh that he received after his M.A. in Philosophy and Apologetics from Trinity Theological Seminary in addition to his earlier Ph.D. from Edinburgh in Computer Simulation that followed from his B.Eng. in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from the same school. I’m exhausted from just writing about it. He serves as Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In 2011 Dr. Anderson wrote the first (that I am aware of) positive presentation of covenantal apologetics (Anderson does not use this label for his method, but we can forgive him) to be published in an academic journal of philosophy. (There are, of course, other journals much more inclined to accept the Van Tilian stream of thought since they are published by those who adhere to that particular perspective or something similar to it, and I am overlooking them here for precisely that reason.) The article is titled, “No Dilemma for the Proponent of the Transcendental Argument: A Response to David Reiter,” and it appears in Philosophia Christi (13:1). Whether Anderson’s response to Reiter is successful or not, his article serves to silence the critic who asks for an example of covenantal apologetics in an academic journal of philosophy. But more importantly, it opens the door to future apologists who desire to write articles on similar subject matter.
Immediately after Anderson’s 2011 article was the very popular, “The Lord of Non-Contradiction: An Argument for God from Logic” which was written by Anderson and Greg Welty and appeared in the very next issue of Philosophia Christi (13:2). Though the article does not explicitly mention its very Van Tilian roots, Anderson went on to blog about it shortly after the appearance of the paper. The article in question was by no means the first time that Anderson had so rigorously and skillfully defended what are often initially considered extremely radical Van Tilian claims. He did so in his much earlier dissertation. That work is available from Paternoster Theological Monographs. Paradox in Christian Theology: An Analysis of Its Presence, Character, and Epistemic Status is an exceedingly clear, persuasive exposition of some of Van Til’s most brilliant insights concerning the Christian worldview and apologetic adapted to the current analytic climate.
Anderson hits hard. His publications constitute articulate expressions of concepts and arguments that he has been thinking about for many years. He has a gift for taking what seems virtually inexplicable and…well…explaining it. It has earned him respect amongst his academic peers in the theological and philosophical communities. Perhaps there is a place for covenantal apologetics in the academy.
Yet for the Christian, academics are not an end in and of themselves. They are, rather, to be used in service to Christ and His kingdom. Dr. Anderson no doubt understands this. Though his publications are too numerous to list here, and though some of them are more technical than many laypersons prefer, others will undoubtedly be more widely read. For example, Anderson has written a number of book reviews. He also contributed “Presuppositionalism and Frame’s Epistemology” to John M. Frame’s festschrift, Speaking the Truth in Love: The Theology of John M. Frame edited by John J. Hughes. The first article that I remember reading by Anderson is his “If Knowledge Then God: The Epistemological Theistic Arguments of Plantinga and Van Til” which appeared in Calvin Theological Journal (40:1) in 2005. In that article Anderson not only compares and contrasts the methodologies and arguments of Plantinga and Van Til – a practice that will no doubt become even more prevalent in the very near future – but actually explains their arguments in straightforward, clear language that even those of us like me who are much less blessed upstairs can understand! Perhaps his pastoral experience has something to do with this. While in Edinburgh, Anderson served as assistant pastor at Charlotte Chapel and is now an ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. He also ran the now defunct Van Til List which examined presuppositional apologetics from virtually every angle one can think up. Thus Anderson not only has the street creds one needs for injecting some covenantal apologetics into the academic realm, but has the deep Van Tilian roots and pastoral care to do so while keeping his excellent work accessible to the church.
James N. Anderson has done more to articulately advance covenantal apologetics in an analytic fashion while remaining faithful to core Van Tilian principles than any other living advocate of this method I know. His work is of great benefit to the academic philosopher and the amateur apologist. You may find it at http://www.proginosko.com. All of the articles referenced above are available there and much more.