A House of Mirrors

Fristianity, as I’m sure you all know, is a hypothetical, or stipulated worldview which putatively provides the same “account” for all things whatsoever despite the addition of “just one thing” to the worldview. In other words, it is, in the words of Choi, “otherwise identical” to Christianity. In this post it might be apropos to note that there is a variety of “flavors” to “the” Fristianity objection. Sometimes, within the same objection, there are multiple “flavors”, sometimes contradictory flavors, offered simultaneously. The continuing discussions on our facebook page and in our comments illustrate this point rather clearly. Both Chris and I have addessed Fristianity at length, and much of the discussion rehashes previous attempts at “flavors” of the arguments we have addressed, and to which I will refer to throughout this post. What they all have in common, however, is what is sometimes called “attenuated” VanTillianism, hereafter referred to as AVT. In this system, I argue, and Chris has argued previously, the attenuation is assumed in order to advance the argumentation.[1]

In the initial post quoted, Chris writes;

Is Fristianity the same thing as the claim that TAG is an inductive argument? Is Fristianity the same thing as the appeal to mystery allegedly available to adherents of other supposed revelatory worldviews? Is Fristianity the same thing as the ‘apologetic mirror’ objection? Is Fristianity the same thing as the question of what the ‘Christian worldview’ is comprised of? Is Fristianity the same thing as the question of what the canon is comprised of? Is Fristianity actual or possible? Is Fristianity an argument or a worldview?

The first is not something Ben Askins refers to, thankfully. The second, however, Ben does seem to affirm, when he writes “This is a significant difference from ‘Fristianity,’ which contradicts a *mystery* revealed in, but unexplained by, revelation.” Further, in another comment, “I want to argue that there is an inexplicable mystery at the heart of Christianity which needs to be incorporated faithfully into our apologetic, so that our faith is in Christ and not in ‘the impossibility of the contrary.'” He affirms the next when he says “I understand that it’s hypothetical, it’s parasitic, it’s a “mirroring” objection, it’s a pseudo-Christian cult, it’s frustrating, etc. But none of those things demonstrate it is *impossible*.” He affirms the next point, when he says “You’ve missed the point of our prior discussions. Your proposed “Judainity” contradicts explicit *revelation,* such as large sections of Galatians or the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. This is a significant difference from “Fristianity,” which contradicts a *mystery* revealed in, but unexplained by, revelation.” He affirms the next in his initial postulate: “Let’s postulate that it’s in the forthcoming textual apparatus of the NA-29 of Matthew 28:19: τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος [καὶ τοῦ φρεδ]. Hotly contested recent discovery of a lost, but undeniably strong, manuscript tradition. Many expect it to be incorporated into the main body of the NA-30 and UBS-6 (you can’t make these sorts of changes overnight).” Ben seems to be clear that it is only stipulated, not actual. On the other hand, I believe the discussion of how possibility is determined is very relevant to the dispute; because if what I have argued concerning possibility is true, then the distinction they are careful to introduce loses much of it’s “distance” from actual theological implication. Ben seems to have been careful to present Fristianity as a worldview, not merely an argument.

Ben seems to agree that an atheist cannot stipulate Fristianity successfully. This lead me to see why it was that we argued that Mitch LeBlanc could not do so. As stated in the conclusion of Chris’ response, “Unless Mitch shows that he is standing on something more than thin air in his utilization of logic to make his arguments, there is no real need for concern.”

Let us, however, refer to yet another post by Chris, which seems to bring in another piece of the puzzle.

The Christian worldview is a revelatory worldview. We know about the Christian God and worldview because the Christian God has revealed Himself to us. The Christian worldview also provides the preconditions for the intelligible stipulation of the Fristian worldview. This much is granted even by most Fristianity proponents. Inasmuch as the Christian worldview is thus sufficient the Fristian worldview is not necessary. It must be admitted that the Fristian worldview by its very nature cannot be the necessary precondition for intelligible experience, but it is never offered as such. It is rather offered as a sufficient worldview in this regard. However according to Choi, that “the Fristian God is a quadrinity is something we know to be true in virtue of stipulation.” But then how can the Fristian god and worldview ever be known apart from some other worldview? Since the Fristian worldview can never be stipulated in terms of itself as this would entail a contradiction the Fristian worldview can never be known apart from the necessary preconditions of stipulation provided in some other worldview. The Fristian worldview as described here provides neither the necessary nor sufficient preconditions for intelligible experience since it is admittedly stipulated in terms of another worldview.

(Formatting mine)

Notice something there. What was the grounds for Chris saying that Mitch’s objection failed, and with which Ben agreed? The inability of the atheist worldview to account for what was stipulated, correct? Can the “Fristian” stipulate Fristianity in terms of itself? Obviously not. So, as has been pointed out to Ben, and seemingly mistaken for objecting to Fristianity *for being* hypothetical, the objection is to Fristianity for being unable to stipulate anything in terms of itself, and secondly, for attempting to cut it’s own legs off at the knees. The claim of Fristianity is that it is “otherwise identical” to Christianity – but this is an empty claim. It cannot be stipulated in terms of itself – it needs an “operable worldview” to be actually in place and already deemed sufficient in order for the objection to be made. On the other hand, the objection purports to *refute* the sufficiency, and thereby the necessity of the very worldview it rests upon, and cannot be stipulated without. Fristianity requires another, operable worldview to be stipulated at all. Christianity does not. On simply those grounds, it might be advanced that Fristianity fails, in that it is not, therefore, “otherwise identical.”

However, this is not the only problem with Fristianity, nor is it the most serious. My most serious objection to Fristianity is not merely that it is hypothetical, as has been repeatedly asserted, but that there is an actual, and fundamental denial of Christianity which needs to be posited in order to *say that* Fristianity is “otherwise identical.” Van Til was always quite careful to note that theology is systematic, and that we presuppose the *entirety* of the Christian worldview. We presuppose “Christian Theism” – the Triune God of Scripture. This does not mean we presuppose merely that which Scripture says about God, or merely that which is known about God from general and special revelation, or merely a set of “minimal facts” concerning God and His revelation. It means that Christianity, when defended, is defended as Christianity. All of it. “The whole enchilada.” Recall that another Fristianity proponent (and fellow AVT) has defined Fristianity as “whatever subset of Christian claims the TAGster thinks we need for preconditions of intelligibility, *except that* the Trinity is a Quadrinity.” What was Chris’ response to such an argument?

In cases where a ‘Christianity +1’ worldview is offered one may appeal to Christianity to show that the +1 creates inconsistencies with the Christianity already accepted. To show that +1 is inconsistent with Christianity constitutes an internal critique of that particular worldview.

What is being said here? The ‘+1’ always, always, always results in more than just ‘+1’. Without exception. The nature of revelation demands that this be the case. If every singular doctrine is tied, coherently and unexceptionally, to every other doctrine, then it is necessarily the case that a change in one place will result in a host of changes elsewhere. The Fristianity proponent, seemingly without exception, does not address this, or account for this in their objection. In the recent exchange, this is seen to be somehow an “objection to it being a hypothetical.” Obviously, this is not the case. What this is, when looked at in terms of theological implication, is a case of unintended consequences. What this assumes is not merely an AVT – but an attenuated Christianity. When Van Til makes his case, he does not do so apart from the revealed doctrines of Christianity. In fact, he frankly asserts that he presupposes *all of* Christianity. Whether or not it is convenient for the Fristianity proponent to *admit* that his proposal would have far-reaching theological implications, and necessarily be, therefore, something other than “otherwise identical,” it remains the case that such cannot be avoided.

Which brings me to the last point. When confronted with a counter-objection, namely, ‘Judainity’, wherein the Judaizers are posited to be actually *right* – the rebuttal to that counter was that it wasn’t in regards to a mystery. With all due respect; this is utter, and absolute nonsense. The Gospel is a mystery. Ephesians 6:19 clearly states this. The relation of Christ to the church is likewise a mystery, per Eph 5:32. God’s will is likewise a mystery, per Eph 1:9. What I would just like to posit is this. The Biblical definition of “mystery” is, indeed, a “secret”, as was asserted by Ben – but he accuses me of an exegetical fallacy in applying the definition “a secret, once hidden, but now revealed” universally. While I can somewhat sympathize with Ben in his comment, he neglected one thing. To demonstrate that his definition of “mystery”, in this sense, as “the reality behind the paradox in Scripture’s revelation of the Trinity” is a Biblical definition. A “paradox” is what Van Til calls apparent contradiction – not a mystery. Mystery, Scripturally, is something once hidden, but now revealed. A mystery in the sense of “we still don’t know God fully, but we will yet know Him as He is” is, of course, still a valid definition. See DotF pg. 35 for a delineation at that point. However, my point was in regards to *what has been revealed*, wasn’t it? The criticism, as such, is irrelevant. Biblically, it is most certainly the case that we know God exists as 3 persons. This is, of course, directly contradictory to the Fristian claim that God exists as 4 persons. Using a doctrine that some do not know overly well as an excuse for “wiggle room”, or as a supposed “appeal to mystery” is, quite frankly, not overly compelling. I know the doctrine of the Trinity. I love the doctrine of the Trinity. It is not the case that God has not revealed with clarity that He exists as 3 persons. It is, on the contrary, quite clear, and abundantly so, that God has, in fact, revealed Himself to be 3 persons. We consider it to be so abundantly clear that we anathematize those who deny this doctrine. We likewise anathematize those who deny the Gospel. I’m not much of a “tension in the text” type, personally.

You will find, if you study μυστήριον and it’s linguistic relatives, that it is quite obvious what it is I’m referring to. In every single instance in the NT, a μυστήριον is something known, understood, and central. For instance, in Colossians 2, we have a “true knowledge” of this μυστήριον. How can this be so, if we don’t have a “comprehensive knowledge” of the subject? As Van Til discusses in the above reference, the Christian view of mystery is a *sufficient knowledge* of the thing in question. Yet, what is being advanced seems to be the very antithesis of this idea. That since we do not have comprehensive knowledge of the thing, there is therefore room to *question* the sufficiency of that knowledge we have been granted, in Christ, through the Spirit, by the Word. Such is not a Christian doctrine of mystery. Full stop. In Colossians 1, note something. In vs. 25b, we have “so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God,” – straightforward, right? vs. 26; “that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints,”. uh-oh. Tough words there. “Manifested”? Think “made known.” Notice earlier in the verse. Mystery – μυστήριον, then τὸ ἀποκεκρυμμένον – which has been hidden. Once hidden, now made known. vs. 27 to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Catch that? God willed *to make known* – what? The riches of the glory of this *mystery* among the gentiles. As I’ve said, you’ll find that every single NT usage of this term follows similar lines. It is revelation of something once hidden. So, is it proper to appeal to *what we cannot yet know* about God to somehow overthrow what we *do know* about God? Not in the slightest. In fact, it’s not… possible to do so. What is revealed is what? Sufficient. If sufficient, therefore… what? Necessary. So, as I argued in my debate vs. Roman Catholic Dan Marcum, if there is already sufficiency, a claimed “likewise sufficient” is therefore superfluous. Chris has argued this in several venues as well, you’ll also note. In order to advance the Fristian hypothesis, what needs to be denied? The *sufficiency* of Scripture. On what basis?

A stipulated worldview that cannot be stipulated in terms of itself, which denies the *sufficiency* of something it supposedly grants is sufficient, and which worldview is supposed to *also* be sufficient in “reflection” of this other worldview. Yet, as we can see, it not only is not “otherwise identical,” but not “sufficient,” and in fact denies the sufficiency of the worldview that it is using to stipulate itself, and cannot be stipulated apart from. Much like a house of mirrors, the reflections are meant to confuse, obfuscate, and turn one around in circles. Yet, in the end, each and every reflection is just that. A reflection. In which we can only see darkly.

My personal note to Ben; If you think about this clearly, you will see that you must “attentuate” in order to even make the objection that is somehow the basis for your attenuation. It’s obvious that your view of mystery is not that of Van Til. Your view of possibility is not that of Van Til; and, at least in practice, your view of the sufficiency of Scripture is not that of Van Til.

  1. [1]“Fourth, someone who asserts that, “There are *some* things that are *not* part of this ‘necessary for intelligibility package’” assumes the failure of TAG in his or her attempt to show the failure of TAG, which is viciously circular and hence also fallacious.”

5 Comments

B.C. Askins

Thanks for this, Josh. I appreciate both the time it took to “dig into the archives” on this and the thought put into articulating things this way. Kudos.

Before continuing on Fristianity as such, I’d like to dispel this issue surrounding “the biblical definition of ‘mystery,’” for your benefit and the benefit of your readers. Simply, whenever someone asserts that they are using THE biblical definition of a term, they have almost certainly committed an exegetical fallacy. See Don Carson’s book Exegetical Fallacies which refers to this as a case of “false assumptions about technical meaning” (p. 45f.), which is a kind of “unwarranted restriction of the semantic field,” (p. 57f.). Carson: “In this fallacy an interpreter falsely assumes that a word always or nearly always has a certain technical meaning – a meaning usually derived either from a subset of the evidence or from the interpreter’s personal systematic theology.” (p. 45)

Josh’s personal systematic theology appears to be driving his definition of μυστήριον (“mystery”) here, which leads to his erroneous conclusion: “In every single instance in the NT, a μυστήριον is something known, understood, and central.” He’s derived this conclusion from a subset of the evidence (at least Col 1-2), and applied it across the entire semantic field of μυστήριον. He’s probably surveyed more than just Col 1-2 to arrive at this conclusion and was just giving those as examples; however, if even one instance of μυστήριον in the NT does not mean “known, understood, and central” then his whole lexical argument fails.

And there are, of course, several instances of μυστήριον as “secret,” i.e. “unknown” (the definition I’ve been using). Frankly, this should be obvious from the fact that there is more than one definitional entry on μυστήριον in a standard concordance or lexicon. See Strong for an example (http://biblesuite.com/greek/3466.htm).

In each of its parallel instances in the synoptic Gospels (Mt 13:11, Mk 4:11, Lk 8:10) μυστήριον is translated into most modern English versions as “secret(s).” In these instances the “secrets of the kingdom” are revealed to the disciples, but remain unknown to others, “so that… they may not understand.”
In 1 Cor 14:2 “no one understands” the “mysteries uttered.”
In 1 Cor 13:2 “mystery” is held up as the opposite logical pole from “knowledge” in a merismatic lexical doublet construction.
In 2 Thess 2:7 we also have the “mystery of lawlessness,” which had not yet been revealed at the time of Paul’s writing (note the future tense of ἀποκαλύπτω in 2:8; this mystery still befuddles interpreters to this day!).
The frequent Pauline usage of μυστήριον as something which was “once hidden but now revealed” is an idiolectic development (possibly based upon dominical sayings such as the synoptic passages above) from the more common use of μυστήριον as “secret” in Hellenistic/Koine Greek.

The definition Josh is using *presupposes* the definition I am using. Both are present in Scripture, though, which clearly refutes his assertions.

Josh, would you admit your assertions (quoted above) are wrong regarding μυστήριον?

RazorsKiss

I’d just like to note something. If you look at what I said, I was dealing with the syntactical issue of what the word is conveying in the language used in the surrounding context. The available semantic domain of the term was not in question. I’d invite our readers to do the exegesis of the texts provided as counters and see whether they are, in fact, speaking of something once hidden, now revealed – and whether, in at least once case, the revelation is in the very text in question. Do that important work, and test for yourselves. It’s all very good to post the lexical sources, and provide a short bit of commentary on the various verses raised to counter the claim made – but please, do me a favor, and do what I have always encouraged our readers to do. Search the Scriptures to see whether these things are so. I made the claim that I made because I believe it to be the case. I had the verses in mind that he cited along with the verse that I myself cited in the original post.

Note, further, that at least one appeal is made to interpreters being “befuddled.” This can be said about many, many passages – but has very little to do with whether Scripture is, in fact, perspicuous. We know that all Scripture is not alike in its ease of interpretation, but it does not follow that it is not clear on that statement. I’ve said this for a long time now – whether interpreters are unanimous on a passage has very little to do with whether the meaning of a passage is obtainable, or has a clear meaning. I’m not alone in saying so, either. The confessions promote the perspicacity and sufficiency of Scripture in the strongest of terms. All Scripture is profitable, and all Scripture means something. Some passages take more work to wrestle with, but the gold can, in fact, be wrested from the text in each and every case.

Further, note that Ben has an “axe to grind” – as do I. My axe is fairly apparent, and is often expressed on this blog. What you might not know is which axe is being ground by Ben. His central assertion on our Facebook page, where he has spent a great deal of time over the last week or so, is that there is “an inexplicable mystery at the heart of Christianity which needs to be incorporated faithfully into our apologetic”. I would point out, in reply, that there seems to be something rather odd in the assertion that there is something inexplicable in the faith once delivered. Christianity, definitionally, is something revealed, not something unknown. That’s the point we are making, and is being seemingly rejected by recourse to this “inexplicable mystery at the heart”. It is the things that are revealed that belong to you and your children, not the secret things which belong to God. Calvin’s warnings against speculation seem to apply here, quite strongly – and I recommend them to our readers, once again. If we can resort to an appeal to something *unknown* to somehow trump, or counter that which is revealed, something is indeed rotten in Denmark. An appeal to “mystery” as something not known to us, but simultaneously the “heart” of the Christian faith is an interesting way to undercut the sufficiency of Scripture, no doubt – but is also doubtlessly a specific denial of the sufficiency and perspicuity of Scripture. If what is definitionally *not known* can be considered at the heart of what we are to know, and to believe – I’m not sure how such a position can consistently affirm Sola Scriptura in all of what it teaches. This is my concern, and what I have attempted to convey throughout this exchange. I invite you to look over the exchanges on our FB page, and all of the links referred to in this comment. Judge for yourselves. Who is being consistent?

B.C. Askins

“A ‘paradox’ is what VanTil calls apparent contradiction – not a mystery.”

What term would you use for the as-yet-unknown-still-a-secret *resolution* to the merely apparent contradiction present in the doctrine of the Trinity?

RazorsKiss

A “mystery”, in the OT sense found in “the secret things belong to the Lord” of Deu 29:29. Note, further, that you are talking about something not revealed, not the doctrine of the Trinity itself, which is indeed something revealed, by definition. You can’t “know” something unknown – and doctrines are things known. I would just point out that I addressed this in the text of the post itself, and gave a reference in DotF for further reading, to boot. I’m not sure why it’s being raised again. What is actually in view is a direct contradiction of “the things revealed,” is it not? There is no “mystery” involved in the OT sense as to how many persons there are in the Trinity. I’m at a loss as to why this continual return to this point is either relevant or cogent. The Trinity is a revealed doctrine. Fristianity is an objection which contradicts revelation. Appeals to “mystery” do not resolve this, as the subject in question is not subject to mystery in this sense, but only in the NT sense of “now revealed”. The necessity of appealing to “new revelation” to support this change should make this obvious, I’d think.

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