With the name change, there will be particular hang ups with some who use the methodology to defend the faith. A good example is Fred Butler, a respectable guy who graduated from TMS and advocates presuppositional apologetics. He says :
It is unnecessary because I believe the word “presuppositionalism” is an appropriate descriptor for the methodology. When we engage unbelievers, we are engaging the presuppositions of their worldview — the foundational building blocks of those “strongholds” they have built against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:4-5). And moreover, we stand our ground on the presuppositions that we are committed, Bible-believing Christians. We don’t begin by making a probable case for the existence of God; we begin by what we know is true according to God’s word: all men know God exists and are in rebellion against Him.
That brings me to the reason why the name change is problematic: It “presupposes” the exegetical validity of the “covenant of works.” I can certainly agree that the covenant of works is a logical piece to Covenant Theology proper, however, I see no exegetical proof from the pages of Scripture that it is a legitimate covenant.
First of all, I commend and agree completely with Fred in the first paragraph quoted. We definitely agree that the believer and unbeliever are at odds with each other on a fundamental level. We agree that we must argue at the level of transcendental, and address the silent assumptions that the grounds (or lack thereof) for the way they interpret the world. We also know from scripture that men are in rebellion against God in their hearts and their minds until God changes their heart via the Holy Spirit working through His Word.
However, where thomists and evidentialist apologetics set the common ground at “logic” and “evidences “, Paul sets it at a more fundamental level. As Fred would certainly agree, the common ground is the image of God. Van Til, who was simply applying the Reformed hermeneutic, wrapped this up in the context of God covenantally relating to man.
For example, in “Defense of the Faith” he says
“God has never left himself without a witness to men. He witnessed to them through every fact of the universe from the beginning of time. No rational creature can escape this witness. It is the witness of the triune God whose face is before men everywhere and all the time. Even the lost in the hereafter cannot escape the revelation of God. God made man a rational-moral creature. He will always be that. As such he is confronted with God. He is addressed by God. He exists in the relationship of covenant interaction. He is a covenant being. To not know God man would have to destroy himself. He cannot do this. There is no non-being into which man can slip in order to escape God’s face and voice. The mountains will not cover him; Hades will not hide him. Nothing can prevent his being confronted ‘with him with whom we have to do.’ Whenever he sees himself, he sees himself confronted with God.” (pg. 172)
The label “presuppositionalist” was attached to Van Til. However, he saw himself as a “Reformed apologist”. He taught that since Christianity needed to be argued and defended as a unit, and fundamental to that unit was the doctrines of God, creation, covenant, and man. Now, in good Vantillian form, Oliphint has undertaken the task of clarifying and showing the Reformed themes in which Van Til systematized his apologetic, as well as showing the exegesis that grounds it. The name change is to show how Vantillian methodology is consistent with Reformed thought, as to take it back out of the relativistic contexts in which it is applied today.
Fred demonstrates the need for the name change in the second paragraph of the quote. He disagrees with the label because “It “presupposes” the exegetical validity of the “covenant of works”.
Now, while this is correct, it is simply stating the obvious. Van Til was teaching apologetics, and applying (and translating) theological principles to apologetics and philosophy. What if I just retorted that Fred just wants to stick with the label “presuppositionalism” simply because he is presupposing the exegetical validity of dispensationalism. Now that isn’t saying much, and Fred would hopefully agree with me on that.
Why this is problematic, Fred doesn’t really address other than saying ” I see no exegetical proof from the pages of Scripture that it is a legitimate covenant.” If that is the case, I wonder why Fred aligns himself with a methodology that springs from Reformed soil. Why wait to change your mind now? Now notice that here I’m not arguing for the legitimacy for the covenant of works, I’m simply arguing that it is not out of hand for a Vantillian apologist to change the name, as the argumentation is of the same substance, with the distinctives laid out on the table in clearer terms. Shouldn’t he have been more skeptical about this methodology earlier given the nature of the case?
As I said before, and as Fred has indicated in his rejection of the change, the name change shed more light on the way we argue as a unit. I would encourage Fred to perhaps develop an apologetic that is consistent with the framework in which he interprets scripture, given that it is at odds with the framework in which the presuppositionalist interprets it. I don’t think he will come to the same conclusions were he to do such a task. But this is why Van Til had such a polemical punch in his methodology.
I hope that this isn’t considered mean spirited, because I do respect Fred and his work even though we disagree here. Hopefully he will consider these thoughts, and maybe align with a methodology that is more consistent with his theology. That is a fundamental task of apologetics and more importantly, life.
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