A lot of people seemed upset when I posted an encouragement and admonishment to Sye Ten Bruggencate yesterday. The fallout seems to consist of either those praising me for doing so, or vilifying me for same. I’m no stranger to controversy, obviously, so I have been watching the general trend of commentary. The fallout from my detractors, on the main, seems to have missed the central meat of the post. Sure, I mentioned several things only in general, but most of our regular readers know what I was referring to. I’ve said the same things I am saying now over several years. I just haven’t said them specifically about, or to Sye. This was a purposeful move. It may have been mistaken, but I can affirm that it was purposeful. Someone new to something shouldn’t be hammered simply because he acts as if he is new. This is to be expected. However, if there is a lack of growth over time, then you have to re-evaluate the situation. That is the point we are at now.
The central issue regarding Sye’s apologetic, first off, is that it isn’t what the Bible teaches, what Van Til taught, and not even what Bahnsen taught. It is a narrow, one-issue methodology focusing almost entirely on epistemology, and even within that, engaging in a vain repetition that by itself is needlessly offensive. There isn’t anything wrong with discussing that topic. There is everything wrong with rarely discussing anything else, and further, giving the impression that you cannot. To shed some light on why this is so important, I am using a comment from Robert Poe, a former Facebook friend who also seems to be confused about what the topic of contention is. I’ll reproduce his comment in its entirety, then using that as a template, since he seems to be expressing what the majority of folks have to say while objecting to, well, my objection.
I have been reading through this discussion. Maybe it is just me but I really can not make sense of this. I hear Joshua saying he disagrees with Syes method. I’m not really sure on what points he disagrees. The only objections I see explained are the ones in this post of Joshua.
I see Joshua says ” can’t reduce things to the level he does.” What do you mean by this? Reduce it down to the fact that a person can not account for how they know anything apart from God? That is exactly what scripture says. Which to me this is the whole presup defense of Christianity. Reality shows it to be true as well. The choice is God or absurdity. Do you object to this?
Now I do not believe that every single time we present the gospel we must break it down to this level. If someone will listen to the gospel with an open mind to what I am saying there is no need. But when people say “You believe the Bible? What a joke!” I am going to break it down to that level. Because they are making statements of truth of which they can not account for because they deny God.
Maybe you can help me out, Maybe I am the only one but I sincerely am not understanding your objections or on what basis you are objecting.
Well, let’s start with the “sense.”
I have been reading through this discussion. Maybe it is just me but I really can not make sense of this.
I’m going to take a page from church history, and make a comparison. Imagine that a Roman Catholic apologist comes along, and says “This whole Reformation business is just one big misunderstanding! Rome has always believed in the necessity of grace for salvation! What we need to do is just mend our bridges, and be one big happy family!” Do we believe him? Of course not! We don’t believe him, because the issue of the Reformation was never the necessity of grace – it was the sufficiency of grace. Sola Gratia. If someone tells me the following: “This whole critique is just one big misunderstanding! Sye has always believed in the necessity of a transcendental argument from epistemology! What we need to do is just mend this bridge, and be one big happy presup family!” Do I accept that? No! Why not? Well, first of all, because the Bible isn’t just about epistemology! The issue is not about the necessity of epistemological transcendentals, but whether those are sufficient by themselves to defend the entire Bible. They aren’t, and they can’t! We affirm that every fact presupposes the truth of Christianity – not just the epistemological relevance of them.
I hear Joshua saying he disagrees with Syes method. I’m not really sure on what points he disagrees.
Well, let’s take this a bit further. Imagine someone’s objection is concerning the suffering of a loved one. As I understand Sye’s methodology, the key to answering this objection is to get to the point of them justifying their epistemology concerning this suffering, preferably by asking them how they know any particular statement X that they make concerning said suffering. Here’s the thing. While it may be true that everything, eventually, connects with epistemology, is that really answering their question? Secondly, is that even broadly gracious, or empathetic? Here’s another thing to consider. While it is true that epistemology connects with everything else, eventually, so does every other Christian doctrine connect with every other Christian doctrine, in the same fashion. The Christian epistemology is one doctrine of a system. It is important, of course, to recognize that interconnectedness, but can you explain why, specifically, epistemology is interconnected to every other doctrine, and to every fact in creation, at some level? Further, is it not true that the ontology (or existence) of epistemology itself presupposes the truth of Christianity? That’s not an epistemological transcendental, it is an ontological transcendental. So, let’s try this. The ontology of epistemology presupposes the truth of Christianity. Epistemology exists. Therefore, the truth of Christianity. Now, that wasn’t an argument from epistemology, was it? It was an argument about epistemology, from ontology. It was a transcendental argument,- as can be seen by the use of “X presupposes Y, X, therefore Y” – the classic transcendental format, so it is clearly not dealing with how you know – but what exists – yet is clearly a transcendental argument! We could multiply examples, but for the sake of time, and for the sake of space, we’ll let that suffice for now to answer that question.
The only objections I see explained are the ones in this post of Joshua.
Well, I can offer a variety that are related to this subject – but here is a sampling:
Infallibilism, Knowledge, Attenuated Presup and Unwitting Clarkianism
There are many more. However, I will refer back to my post of yesterday. 1) “In an effort to “keep it simple,” he has actually complicated the issue by forcing those who follow it to contort every discussion into one about epistemology. This isn’t to argue that we shouldn’t bring that subject up when it is relevant, but there is a right and a wrong way – or time – to do so.” 2) “It is a problem when what he teaches results in an incomplete apologetic, and a stunted conversation. Your defense of the gospel cannot be of less than the Gospel. Our defense of Christianity must be of all of Christianity. We all have a secret desire for some sort of “silver bullet” that is easy, simple, and inexorable. Unfortunately, anything worth doing is worth working for. You can’t make every person a nail, just so you can always use your hammer. We are to both build and defend entire structures, with a wide array of tools and fasteners. To be truly “receptively reconstructive”, we need to both acknowledge the function of, and exercise the function of all the other tools and fasteners we are given in the toolbox. All facts are God’s facts. Not just the facts about epistemology.” 3) “ What you teach is a simplistic reduction of presup. Please, don’t drag folks backwards, like a Schaeffer, or a Clark. Stop treating everyone you come into contact with as an epistemological nail. Answer systematically, and theologically. Stop trying to make things simple, and start teaching folks how to do hard things.”
The above is the central issue we have with Sye. There is a dangerous imbalance in making every apologetic encounter revolve around a single subject. Apologetics is the flip side of the evangelistic coin. If the evangel is not all about epistemology, then the apologetic should likewise not be. Or, let’s put it another way. What is the faith? Well, according to my confession, it is “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture.” Well, let’s ask ourselves – can we defend the whole counsel of God solely on the basis of epistemological argument? No, we cannot – and should not. Can we do so by using the full range of transcendental argumentation? We most certainly can.
Far from being “crypto-evidentialists,” as one particularly confused individual accused us of earlier today, we are instead arguing that we really do engage in affirming that each and every fact in existence presupposes the existence of God, and doing so by every outlet of transcendental argumentation. We do not artificially limit ourselves to epistemological discussions.
I see Joshua says ” can’t reduce things to the level he does.” What do you mean by this? Reduce it down to the fact that a person can not account for how they know anything apart from God?
No, I mean reducing apologetic argumentation to only that they can’t know anything apart from God. Here’s another example. Man’s existence presupposes the truth of Christianity. Man exists. Therefore Christianity is true. Notice, also, one significant difference in what I am saying. Notice that I am consistently saying that “Christianity is true” is the presupposition we hold to. This can be said another way – the Triune God of Scripture exists. This is a two-fold presupposition – God exists, and He has spoken. What He has spoken is true, and we believe what He has spoken. The summation of all that God has said, and that we are to believe, is Christianity. You will often see it coded as “CT” in argumentation. For example: Man’s existence presupposes CT. Man exists. Therefore, CT. We are defending more than knowledge, although we don’t dispute that we defend that. We also defend the existence of man. We also defend the nature of man. We also defend the nature of God, of creation, of morality, of beauty. We defend all of what Scripture teaches. We should not take a tortuous route of doing so in order to keep to our comfortable, scripted argument concerning epistemology. You can always get there, eventually, but I think those who try would be hard-pressed to explain why it is the case that you can, eventually, always get to epistemology. I will give you a hint – it concerns a very significant attribute of God that figures very prominently in Reformed systematic, and about which I post very frequently. Even if you did know why – can you defend that via epistemology without an extremely tortuous argumentative path, that accomplishes quite the opposite of the intent, which is to “keep it simple”? I would submit to you that you cannot. The Christian faith is not all about epistemology, despite the truism that it all relates to epistemology in some sense. Human epistemology presupposes CT. Human epistemology, therefore CT. Once again, we see CT, as a whole, being the necessary precondition – even for what is the favorite subject of many!
That is exactly what scripture says. Which to me this is the whole presup defense of Christianity. Reality shows it to be true as well. The choice is God or absurdity. Do you object to this?
Nobody disputes that Scripture says this. A cursory read of the site will show you that we have spoken of this very subject often. The next sentence is precisely what we object to, however. The whole presup defense of Christianity is NOT merely concerning knowledge. It cannot be, because all of Christianity is NOT about knowledge! It is true that we are responsible for knowing Christianity, but that is not the same thing, at all. Again, while it is quite true that knowledge is a necessary element of Christianity, it does not follow that knowledge is the only line of transcendental argumentation. Think back to your Bahnsen. He is often summarized with three lines of transcendental – and remember, these are examples of transcendental argumentation he is giving. These three are the laws of logic, morality, and the uniformity of nature. Other times they are summarized as logic, science, and morality. We could add in aesthetics, or a few others examples he gave, but take just those. Knowledge and morality are inextricable from each other – I made that argument in Issue one of In Antithesis. This does not mean that morality is reducible to knowledge! Any time you make an argument in regard to morality, you are necessarily making an argument that is not epistemological. You will have to do so, and I would wager that everyone reading this post has done so. Congratulations, you have demonstrated the impossibility of the contrary for me! How? I’ll show you. Moral arguments presuppose CT. Moral arguments, therefore CT. There’s another transcendental. In one sense, Sye is right – it is simple, in many respects, to argue transcendentally. What I refuse to do, however, is to limit my argumentation to infinite rounds of “How do you know that?” The overarching arguments are seen as above, but you have probably figured out by now that every transcendental incorporates a host of subargumentation, that subsists within the transcendental, and presupposes it. Most generally, this is the transcendental argument that all subsist within – All things presuppose CT. All things, therefore CT. It is also true, however, that ANY thing included in “all” – namely, any thing whatsoever – presupposes the existence of God. Pick one. Let them pick one. Or, as we have been taught by Bahnsen and Van Til, use the one they object to Christianity with. For instance, instead of redirecting the conversation toward epistemology with the family member of the sufferer we mentioned previously, argue that suffering presupposes the truth of Christianity! Why go anywhere else, when you can answer the very question they asked, by showing that suffering presupposes the perfection of creation – and that creation was damaged and put under bondage along with us, in the fall. That every instance of suffering is yet another reminder of the bondage to sin, in the curse that those who are in Adam languish under! That the answer to this curse is the new Adam, who took on flesh, took the form of a servant, and suffered for the sake of His people! That His perfect righteous is imputed to them, and their sinfulness to Him. That in sanctification, we are being perfected, and will be raised incorruptible, with no more suffering, as there is no longer any need for a curse, as He who bore that curse has been raised, and all of His people with Him. They will, of course, come up with another objection. Answer that, by showing once again, that it presupposes the truth of Christianity. You can do this limitlessly – and yes, you can even demonstrate that without the truth of Christianity, they can’t know anything. However, even that which they DO know is despite their own presuppositions, but entirely due to God’s common grace. God has restrained the corruption of creation’s bondage for the sake of His people, and all men reap the benefits thereof, to some extent, for our sake
Now I do not believe that every single time we present the gospel we must break it down to this level. If someone will listen to the gospel with an open mind to what I am saying there is no need. But when people say “You believe the Bible? What a joke!” I am going to break it down to that level. Because they are making statements of truth of which they can not account for because they deny God. .
I think you misunderstood “reduce”, as I pointed out above. To “reduce,” in this context, is not a statement intending to communicate “making it more understandable”. It is intended to communicate “leaving things out”, or “stating things too simply, and failing to properly represent the complexity of the matter.” That is the meaning of that term, contextually.
Maybe you can help me out, Maybe I am the only one but I sincerely am not understanding your objections or on what basis you are objecting.
I am objecting on this basis: “It is a God-given duty that we should take the content of Scripture and bring it together in a systematic whole. It is plain that we are required to know the revelation that God has given us. Yet we would not adequately know that revelation if we knew it only in its several parts without bring those parts into relation to each other. It is only as a part of the whole of the revelation of God to us that each part of that revelation appears as it is really meant to appear.” (See this post) It does no lasting good to argue only on the basis of epistemology. We argue systematically, or not at all.
I am objecting on this basis: “Van Til does clearly distinguish “positive statement” from “defense,” and though in general he aligns the first with theology and the second with apologetics, he does insist that, because each is indispensable to the other, theology must have an apologetic thrust, and apologetics must expound theology. The difference between the two in practice, then, becomes a difference in emphasis rather than of subject matter.” (See this post) We cannot simply stick to epistemology, and expect this to be sufficient! Apologetics must expound theology.
One other thought from the previous link to leave you with something more to ponder. “Van Til’s theology, conventional and traditional as it may seem at first glance, is just as significant in its own way as is his apologetics. If Van Til has given a new epistemological self-consciousness to apologetics, then he has done the same for theology and all other types of Christian thought. If (as may well be said) Van Til has done for Christian thought what Kant accomplished for non-Christian thought, giving it a revolutionary awareness of the uniqueness and comprehensiveness of its distinctive principles, then as with Kant the “Copernican” radicalism of his contribution must be appreciated in all areas of human thought and life.” It will not do to simply argue one doctrine of Christian systematic.
I will finish with this link, which I stand behind as being both true, and applicable to this situation. Grace and peace to you, and in hope that some clarity has been offered. I do not take in pleasure in offering corrections such as this. My concern is that we do not continue breaking the stained glass window of a truly comprehensive, Biblical system, in order that we might use a single shard of it. Thank you.