The Way It Looks on the Screen

So I am a presuppositionalist. That’s true enough, but what do I need to presuppose? This will require more development, but what needs to be presupposed is the way things actually are. You don’t need to know all the precise details of how things actually are — you don’t begin at the end — but you do have to be committed to the truth a priori, knowing that such objective, unmovable truth, which is so necessary as the foundation of every form of knowing, is not possible apart from the bedrock of the true and living God.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 9:10). But beginning with the fear of the Lord does not mean beginning with the Lord alone, the Lord solitary, the Lord isolated. No one can know the Lord that way — it is incoherent — oxymoronic. God cannot be known from outside God unless there is a creation, in which the knower lives. And if he lives in a created order larger than himself, then he also knows things other than God simultaneously with his self-knowledge, and these other things also testify to the majesty of the God who created them all.

So prior to the creation, there was no fear of God. In order to have the fear of the Lord (which is the beginning of knowledge), it is necessary to have a knowing subject who does the fearing, and who knows himself to exist as a fearing creature. Moreover, he lives and moves and has his being in a world within which that fear makes sense.
That fear makes sense to the creature because he presupposes the whole shebang. He presupposes the God who is, the world that this God spoke by the word of His power, the holy law that our first parents disregarded, and the Scriptures which declare to us His spelled out explanations of all that has come to pass.

If I presuppose a Creator, then heaven and earth must be contained within that presupposition. If I presuppose a Savior, then a Word containing gospel is contained within that presupposition. If we say that God wrote two books, His Word and the world, it makes no sense to pit those books against each other. God is perfect, and the books He wrote need to be perfectly harmonious.

Not only can I not consider God independently of the created order, I cannot successfully isolate His Word to us from that created order. In order to read a Bible, I have to reckon with a cascading series of things like learning to read, a cow that contributes leather for the cover, paper, ink, the light that strikes the page, the physical eyes that receive that light, the brain cells that remember what I read yesterday, and so on. How shall they distribute tracts without a typesetter?

It is not the case that the world comes to me through this portal, and the Word through that portal. God is the living constant, and He is speaking at all times and through all things. This is something precious I learned from Van Til. At the same time, I do want to run with some of this and apply it in ways that perhaps Van Til would have been uncomfortable with. The computer that is my brain can (I think) run two operating systems — Van Til 1.2. and Lewis 5.2. The code in the back room can look pretty funky sometimes, but I like the way it looks on the screen.

So, like all presuppositionalists, I try to reason from Scripture instead of reasoning my way to the Scriptures. I don’t want to presuppose a neutral space, from which I try to get others to become Christian. But when I presuppose Scripture, there is another foundational layer underneath that. I must presuppose a God who is absolute, and who has revealed Himself in absolutely everything. In the words of Schaeffer’s great title — He is there, and He is not silent.

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120 comments on “The Way It Looks on the Screen

  1. “I don’t want to presuppose a neutral space, from which I try to get others to become Christian.”
    My impression of a presuppositionalist, is one that argues with the unbeliever that the common or ‘neutral’ ground is God’s. Whereas the evidentialist, takes that common ground and uses it to lead the person to God.

  2. One question I always have about Van Til type presuppositionalism (and I admit I’ve read little of him) is where it does it actually get to The Christian God? Presuppositions about a creator and a savior are all well and good, but whence comes YHWH? And going along with this, what role does monergism play here? If someone askes “why do you believe in God”, whatever answer I give, the foundation would be “He opened my eyes and my heart to believe what he said is true.”

  3. jigawatt,
     
    With no disrespect or smart aleck type of response intended: God says that the fool says in his heart that there is no God. I think that pretty much defines the anyone who does not, as a first principle, acknowledge that God is. I cannot (nor do I want to) get past what God says about Himself and us: He says that by His sovereign power He has revealed Himself to us in creation, and that all men know this (and suppress that truth), and those who “say” they do not are in effect lying (let God be true). The implications of this are staggering; when we are speaking with a person who says there is no God, they are in effect “lying fools”.

  4. RFP – I think you missed Jigawatt’s point. I have always wondered the same thing. I remember listening to Bahnsen vs. Stein and wishing that I could have been there to ask Dr. Bahnsen: you say that the Christian religion is the only basis for knowledge. What is it about the Christian God that satisfies the transcendental argument that some other monotheistic deity doesn’t have? Could presupp apologetics be used just as effectively to lead the to Muslim faith? 

  5. Matt and jigwatt, so Islam and Christianity make basically the same transcendental argue and view of Creation?  If basically the same, than I guess it’s open; however, I would venture, based on Wilson’s frequent mentioning of the Trinity as an essential doctrine for understanding much about humanity, relationship, and various other items, I would say that the Trinity would be at least one distinct characteristic of Christianity that would make Christianity the only basis for knowledge.

    _____

    That’s merely a rough idea off the top of my head, so I offer it for criticism and conversation, willing to change my thought if shown to be wrong.

  6. The difference between Biblical Trinitarianism and Islam is quite stark. Only in Biblical Trinitarianism can you have a God who is love from eternity past, who can be both transcendent and immanent, sovereign over and really interacting with His creation. The allah of Islam is forever removed, lonely, and incapable of real communion.

  7. Therein lies my point, Josiah.

  8. As someone who has read everything he could find from Bahnsen, I am quite sure he would respond in a much more general way than pointing out the trinity (although he would agree with the points made above). He claims in several places that presuppositional apologetics proves all of God’s truth, but only God’s truth, so where the Koran agrees with the Bible, this apologetical approach would work. However, what is assumed in presuppositional apologetics is the reveal word in the Bible. This is what got him into trouble with other folks within Christianity. He rejected adamantly the idea that Charismatics, Catholics, and Arminians could properly use this apologetic method, since they are relying on sources of knowledge about God outside of Scripture (personal revelation, tradition, and personal autonomy). If one does not presuppose all of the word of God, properly understood, presuppositional apologetics eventually reaches a contradiction. He claimed that many within Christianity use this apologetic method inconsistently. Many Muslims try this method, but Bahnsen (several times) argued that the way Allah is portrayed in the Koran, it ultimately destroys the possibility of knowledge.

  9. @Matt,
    I believe this point of why only Christian theism (and in particular, presbyterianism, or at least the teachings of the Westminster Confession) can satisfy the preconditions of intelligibility was answered by Bahnsen in his “Nuclear Strength apologetics” seminar. When someone says that religion X can satisfy the preconditions of intelligibility, you have to then do an internal critique of that religion to see if it stands on two legs. In case of Islam, how can a holy and just God capriciously forgive sinners? How is there no propitiation for our sins? What of their blood-lust history towards those who will not bow to their version of Allah? (See James R. White’s book for a better critique of this religion.) In the case of non-Westminster confessed systems of Christianity, it is a similar story. Can their system withstand an internal critique that is biblical and logical, etc. I may not do Bahnsen (or Van Til) complete justice in this explanation but I believe the jist of it is there. 
    @BJ, very well explained but I think it is important to include Bahnsen’s language of internal critique in answering that objection.

  10. BJ, thanks. That’s very helpful.

  11. Thanks for the discussion y’all. I’m not sure how an Islamic “presuppositional” argument would sound, but I suppose one could be made in some sense. That’s not quite what I had in mind in my first comment. I was thinking that someone could, as a thought experiment, postulate a god much like the triune Yahweh and write some sacred book much like the Bible and then have a presuppositional argument much like what I’ve heard from some of my fellow believers. One criticism I’ve heard from the presupps is that evidential apologetics only gets you to “a god” and not “the God”, and I just don’t see any improvement in most of their alternate arguments – e.g. Bahnsen’s TAG.
    Why – in a purely logical sense – is Christian presuppositionalism inheriently more convincing? Proving that God logically *must* exist as a Trinity seems to me to be a steep hill to climb, especially since the best of our Old Covenant brothers would have found such an argument, um, let’s just say tenuous.
    In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not settled on an apologetic methodology; I see benefits to evidential and presuppositional approaches both, given the right contex. Apologetics is applied evangelism, and evangelism is applied exegesis. I therefore see my apologetic M.O.’s as “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” and “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

  12. Mr. Alldredge, well stated: “Only in Biblical Trinitarianism can you have a God who is love from eternity past, who can be both transcendent and immanent…”  Jigawatt, I agree that proving that God logically *must* exist as a Trinity is indeed a steep hill to climb.  Which is why this must be revealed to us by the Holy Spirit (i.e. by special revelation).  Once it’s revealed to us though, it certainly makes sense in light of Scripture, as well as our view of reality.  When it comes to a non-believer’s worldview, we must always consider (and look for) their presuppositions.  As RJE said: “Can their system withstand an internal critique that is biblical and logical, etc.”  Thus, the question always comes down to: Which worldview (i.e. which presupposition) is more coherent and consistent with the nature of reality and the nature of man?  I believe this is the heart of what Van Til and Schaeffer tried to make sense of.  And I think for the most part, they succeeded. 

  13. An evidentialist-only apologist logically can gets you to a “maybe” about God.  Presuppers show you that if you’re trying to noodle anything out (that is, if you’re using logic), then you’re already (unwittingly maybe) assuming God — no maybes about it.  RC Sproul once complained to Bahnsen:  (paraphrasing:) “Why can’t it be that there is no ultimate logic?” (empty buckets).  Which is akin to asking “What’s so illogical about having no logic?!”  A presuppositionalist is always an evidentialist too, but unfortunately not always the other way around.

  14. We can presuppose from Scripture because He wrote it.  He wrote nature too.  Either will do nicely to get us saved, given the Spirit.

  15. Hi Eric, not sure I follow. It would seem that Sproul was asking, having followed Sproul, that he was asking Bahnsen why there cannot be an ultimate logic, ie. the law of non-contradiction, that can be used by the apologist to argue for the existence of God. While I would agree that this approach leads to a big maybe about God, it most certainly disproves any notion of atheism.

  16. Exactly, and disproving atheism is all you need to do.  Almost no one in the West is actually considering converting to e.g. Islam or Buddhism.  It is entirely Christianity vs. No Religion.  Either approach will work just fine for this, insofar as any approach will work at all, though I prefer evidentialism in general as it seems less presumptuous to nonchristians.  One of my favorite lines from the presuppositional playbook though is that Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice means God plays by his own rules.

  17. Eric, well put: “We can presuppose from Scripture because He wrote it.  He wrote nature too.  Either will do nicely to get us saved, given the Spirit.”  And that’s the key: given the Spirit.  Without the Spirit, man cannot reason his way to “saving faith”, no matter how compelling the natural evidence.  

  18. Matt, I think the reason for this “Christianity or nothing” is because Christianity is the only real “something.” 

  19. “We can presuppose from Scripture because He wrote it.  He wrote nature too.  Either will do nicely to get us saved, given the Spirit.”
    Eric, there is not enough revelation in nature  to save us.  There is just enough to condemn us and leave us without excuse.  Only the Spirit and the Word of God can bring us to saving knowledge and faith in Jesus Christ.

  20. Stewart says:

    Eric, there is not enough revelation in nature  to save us.  There is just enough to condemn us and leave us without excuse.

    If there is enough to condemn us, is there not by necessity enough to save us?  That thought always struck me as odd.

  21. My problem is with saying that we are primarily condemned by not listening to nature, as the saying that “There is just enough [in Nature] to condemn us and leave us without excuse,” implies.  We are primarily condemned by being born of the fallen line of sinful Adam.  Nature will condemn us by us not submitting ourselves to the Truth about God which is apparent in Nature. 

    __

    I of course acknowledge that salvation comes through the proclamation of the Word, as Paul makes clear in Romans.

  22. I think God can , through his Spirit, use nature and the witness of creation as part of a sinner’s salvation story, but it alone will not lead one to salvation.   I agree with Barth in that if nature and creation were sufficient enough to offer saving knowledge, we would not need the final revelation of Jesus Christ.  The Word alone with the Spirit saves, and Jesus is the Word.
    I would not go as far as Barth, or course, and reject all Natural Theology.  Just saying he has a point. Maybe….
     

  23. I’m tracking pretty good with Stewart there. I would add that esoteric philosophical arguments about epistomological presuppositions can fall in the same category as evidential arguments from nature. God can, and does, use those to open blind eyes to the fundamental failures of atheism. But getting to the gospel of Jesus Christ, that requires that “how will they hear without a preacher” kind of special revelation.

  24. I think that nature viewed properly speaks of God: “…what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them…being understood by the things that are made…” and that this truth is suppressed because human nature is in rebellion against God. All creatures are inherently indebted to their creator, and man does not enjoy that knowledge so he denies it, as well as the sole venue for satisfaction of said debt: “…he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”

  25. Last thought….Something to keep in mind with the current discussion of Natural Theology/Revelation in the works if Van Til and Bahnsen is the fact that they typically deal with the question of natural revelation in the context of the “Autonomous mind” or “unaided reason.”  Their critiques are about an a”autonomous mind” looking at God’s creation.
    But Steven W and Peter E. are right to question if we really know what an “autonomous mind” looks like.  Where in scripture is monster described? We throw it around a lot, but how do we know so much about it? 
     
     

  26. Hi Dan, you said “Without the Spirit, man cannot reason his way to ‘saving faith’, no matter how compelling the natural evidence.”
     
    Yes this is true, but what becomes of the city when the church is in agreement, and the secularists cannot look to atheism anymore? If the arguments are as simple a good 1, 2, 3…?
     
    For example, Rowe misread what Aquinas meant by the distinction between a set proceeding to infinity, and the impossibility of a set becoming actually infinite. A PhD mathematician and atheist claimed that it is logically possible to snap his fingers for the infinite time. Then an unnamed philosopher of religion and agnostic, would not admit whether these two sets of numbers are determined differently or the same:
     
    (…3, 2, 1)
    (1, 2, 3…)

  27. Those two sets of numbers should be on separate lines. The ‘enter’ key doesn’t appear to be working.

  28. Douglas wrote:  “If we say that God wrote two books, His Word and the world, it makes no sense to pit those books against each other. God is perfect, and the books He wrote need to be perfectly harmonious.”
    This hits it squarely on the nail head!  Thank you, Wilson, Wedgeworth, and Escalante for defending the validity of Natural Law.

  29. Stewart, I think you said it well: “if nature and creation were sufficient enough to offer saving knowledge, we would not need the final revelation of Jesus Christ.  The Word alone with the Spirit saves, and Jesus is the Word.”  This is why I stated earlier that without the Spirit, man cannot reason his way to “saving faith” no matter how compelling the natural evidence.

  30. Hi Mike.  If the secularists cannot look to atheism anymore, then I assume they’ll stick with some form of agnosticism (such as David Hume did).  Also, I’m not sure what to make of the PhD mathematician and atheist who claimed that it is logically possible to snap his fingers for the infinite time.  I guess his definition of “infinite” must mean when his fingers wear out.  It’s really a meaningless statement masquerading as a sophisticated one.

  31. If you want to say there’s not enough revelation in nature to save us, you need to also say there’s not enough revelation in Scripture to save us.  Which is true.  Scripture is as equally powerless as dirt.  But either carries enough message for the Spirit to wield to save us.

  32. Eric, while I recognize the point you’re making, I wouldn’t quite say that Scripture is as powerless as dirt.  The Scripture is God’s Word whether one acknowledges it or not.  The Scripture is a means of God’s special revelation to us in a way that nature is not.  While nature can certainly show us that God exists, and is even a demonstration of God’s awesome power, creativity, and beauty, it is Scripture which informs us of God’s triune nature, as well as His holiness, love, mercy, and His many other attributes.  Also, it is Scripture which informs us of God’s purpose for His creation as well as it’s redemption.  And it is Scripture where we learn about the Incarnation and the Atonement and the gospel of Christ.  None of these things are learned or derived from nature; they can only be learned from Scripture, with the illumination of the Holy Spirit.  Another way of stating it is that Scripture is a divinely authored means of God’s grace to grow us into the likeness of Christ.  God speaks to us through His Word in order to change us.  Thus, Scripture is a means of sanctification in a way that nature is not.  I say all this, not to be argumentative, but just to point out that since Scripture is a special means of God’s grace to us, it is not powerless.

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    Jigawatt, Bahnsen did claim that the transcendental argument proves the existence only of the Christian God…and that the Trinity (among other Christian distinctives) is a necessary part of what undergirds the intelligibility of all our experience. But he also taught that Islam should be treated as a “Christian heresy” and rebutted as such. So even assuming that, because they’ve borrowed so heavily from the Christian story, the transcendental argument could be legitimately appropriated by these religions (Islam, Judaism, Mormonism etc…), they could easily be invalidated on this approach.  

  34. Jigawatt, Bahnsen did claim that the transcendental argument proves the existence only of the Christian God…and that the Trinity (among other Christian distinctives) is a necessary part of what undergirds the intelligibility of all our experience. But he also taught that Islam should be treated as a “Christian heresy” and rebutted as such. So even assuming that, because they’ve borrowed so heavily from the Christian story, the transcendental argument could be legitimately appropriated by these religions (Islam, Judaism, Mormonism etc…), they could easily be invalidated on this approach.  

  35. The Word of God is living and active…and does not return void.

  36. Hi Dan.  Scripture is wonderful content.  While I think you under-appreciate nature’s content in your note, you might be over-valuing the power of Scriptural information.  Scripture itself testifies that in its static condition, it will kill you, not save you, through shining its testifying light on your guilt.  Nature kills you that way too.

  37. “Scripture is wonderful content.  While I think you under-appreciate nature’s content in your note, you might be over-valuing the power of Scriptural information.”
    Eric,
    With all respect, I think your line of reasoning has jumped the rails. I’m not sure how to interpret your position.
     

  38. Eric,
    With all respect, I think your line of reasoning has jumped the rails. I’m not sure how to interpret your position.

  39. Stewart,
    An autonomous mind/heart/attitude is such that is disposed to live independently of God in disobedience; one that behaves as an unregenerate mind/heart that does not want to be subordinate to God. Scripture has lots to say about this kind of fallen and cursed thinking/reasoning/mentality, since mankind exercises a (pretended) autonomous attitude of delusional/illusory self-sufficiency whenever we willfully sin in carrying out or submitting to our desire to please/glorify ourselves rather than to please/glorify God (Ge 3:6,17 Dt 12:8; Jdg 17:6; Pr 12:15; Jer 8:9; Mt 16:23; Ro 8:7).
    Stewart,
    An autonomous mind/heart/attitude is such that is disposed to live independently of God in disobedience; one that behaves as an unregenerate mind/heart that does not want to be subordinate to God. Scripture has lots to say about this kind of fallen and cursed thinking/reasoning/mentality, since mankind exercises a (pretended) autonomous attitude of delusional/illusory self-sufficiency whenever we willfully sin in carrying out or submitting to our fleshly desire to please/glorify ourselves rather than to please/glorify God (Ge 3:6,17; Dt 12:8; Jdg 17:6; Pr 12:15; Jer 8:9; Mt 16:23; Ro 8:7).

  40. Brian, I’m aware of the many biblical passages describing man’s sinful disposition toward God.  I’m just saying that this information doesn’t answer all our epistemological and Psychological questions about the exact nature of man’s knowledge of God.

  41. Stewart, I read earlier in a post on 22 Jan 14 @10:27 AM that you had mentioned a question regarding where in Scripture the monstrous autonomous mind is described. I believe the Scripture references in my post above justifiably provide such a description.

  42. The Words of God are not autonomous drones He spat out long ago, now retrieving His intended targets.  If they are like drones, He has his fingers all over the knobs.  But His fingers are on the clouds and waves and dirt as well.  All make nifty tools to accuse and to save us.

  43. Doug, you said:  “God is perfect, and the books He wrote need to be perfectly harmonious.”  This reminded me of Schaeffer when he speaks of scientific knowledge of creation (the book of God’s works) and its interaction with our knowledge of the Scriptures (the book of God’s Word).  Sometimes they seem to contradict each other.  This is of course what the atheist assumes and loves to point out to believers, and he always assumes that it is atheistic scientism that is right in any appartent contradiction.  But as Schaeffer points out, with all apparent contradictions between our understanding of the created universe and Scripture, it isn’t that they are actually contradictory.  They both have the same consistent and perfect author, after all.  Apparent contradictions come because of imperfect people interpreting either one or the other book (or both) imperfectly.  When we come to understand both natural and special revelation correctly on a particular point upon which they both touch, then we will see that the apparent contradiction was just that, “apparent”.  God authored both books and they harmonize perfectly.  Only our imperfect and incomplete understanding of one or both makes it seem like a contradiction.  In the project of evangelism and apologetics, we should not seek to exclude one book or the other from our efforts at evangelism and apologetics (like some exclude Scripture, hoping instead to start from some theoretical neutral ground, when the unbeliever they are talking with repudiates the authority of Scripture.  Others exclude natural revelation in apologetics/evangelism, thinking that since people must hear the gospel to believe, there is no point in trying to find common ground in God’s creation from which to reason).   //   
    I recall years ago listening to a lecture by James Jordan in which he pointed out that man is not (at the foundational level) homo sapiens but homo adorons.  I remember the revelation this was for me at the time (Schlossberg essentially assumes this same point in “Idols for Destruction”).  I still agree with Jordan’s point, but I wonder if part of the current natural law debate is because the pendulam has swung for some a bit too far in the homo adorons direction.  What I mean is that, at our most fundamental level, humans are religious, we are worshippers.  But that does not mean that, at the same time, we are not also by nature thinkers.  Yes, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge and it is most definitely not the other way around – knowledge is not the beginning of the fear of the Lord.  However, neither is knowledge – true knowledge – contradictory to the fear of the Lord, and, to a degree and with all the proper caveats (especially about our fallen natures and the effects of sin) all men do truly know something of the Lord they refuse to fear.  This is why they are guilty before God of their unbelief, even when the gospel has not reached them.  They really do truly know enough about God to be held responsible for their unbelief, their idolatry, their denial.  But they are idolaters first, and in their idolatry they suppress the knowledge God gives them of himself in the created order.  We are homo adorons first, but we are homo sapiens at the same time and as a close second in priority, you might say.
     

  44. Womb babies can be saved.  No Scripture required.

  45. Hi Eric.  Yes, God can save womb babies, I can’t deny that.  And God can also save the thief on the cross.   Outside of these special situations, though, what is the primary means that God uses to save people?  My main point is that it is “not” through nature.  Thus, general revelation is enough to condemn a man, but it is not enough to save a man (again, generally speaking).  Based on general revelation alone, how would man know what he’s being saved from, as well as how he needs to be saved?   If there is no Bible, or if there is no preacher or evangelist who’s preaching from the Bible, how would man come to know what he needs to know in order to be saved?  Why did Jesus send out his disciples on their Great Commission?  Why did Paul say in Romans 10:15: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  It’s because the “good news” is the gospel, which Paul said “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”  But believe what?  What is man to believe?  Based on general revelation through nature alone, what is the gospel?  What is the Incarnation and the Atonement?  What is God’s purpose for His creation and His plan for its redemption and restoration?  Eric, this is why it’s a bit too careless to imply that Scripture is as powerless as dirt and is not required.  Scripture is very much required (except in special cases when God acts directly without it).  But that is God’s prerogative.  It doesn’t negate the fact that Scripture is a special means of God’s grace, and the primary means by which believers come to know who Christ is and what Christ did for them.  Nature doesn’t inform us of that.

  46. Dan Glover, I completely agree that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge and it is most definitely not the other way around – knowledge is not the beginning of the fear of the Lord.” 

  47. Hi Danno.  Everything is a special means of God’s grace.  One way ain’t more special than another.  I agree that general revelation is not enough to save … unless of course God has His hands on it.  Which He always does, don’t you know.  Maybe most folks in heaven will have never heard any Scripture until then.  But we do have it, and as Paul said, there’s much advantage to being entrusted with it.  But like nature, Scripture is not enough.

  48. Hi Eric, good discussion.  I agree that Scripture is not enough without the Holy Spirit impressing its truths upon a person, either directly from reading Scripture, or indirectly from the preaching or teaching of Scripture by someone else.  Nevertheless, whether the person has read Scripture himself, or had its truths shared to him by someone else, in most cases, Scripture needs to play a role.  This was the whole purpose of God giving us His Word.  If it’s “not enough” then why would God have given it to us?  It is, after all, the primary means by which we can learn about God as well as the person and work of Christ.  Therefore, I disagree with you that “maybe most folks in heaven will have never heard any Scripture until then.”  I believe most folks in heaven will have heard the Scripture before then, either directly from reading it themselves, or indirectly from the preaching or teaching of it by others.  At some point, they needed to hear the gospel.  The words of the gospel are always derived from Scripture in some form, but the Holy Spirit must impress its truths upon a person in order for them to understand it and believe it.  Thus, the Holy Spirit works in conjunction with the Word in order to illuminate the truth of the Word, enabling the person to believe the gospel. 

  49. D — Start with them babies.  Millions and millions and millions of them.  Most not saved ’cause they couldn’t hear some OT or NT verses?

  50. Hi Eric, I am coming late to the conversation but I wanted to jump in and ask you to deal with a few Scriptures.  It seems mostly that your argument about Scripture not being powerful (or being as equally powerless as natural revelation to save) is based on your own stream of reasoning.  You stated above that “Scripture is as equally powerless as dirt.”  Could you deal with a few passages and let us know how you understand them (sorry, I wish I could separate with separate paragraphs):  “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12)  //  “and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:15)  //  “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”  (2 Tim. 3:16-17)  //  “For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  (Rom. 10:11-17)  //  “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Is. 55:11)  It seems to me that you need to deal with what God says about his Word in the Word.  I understand the point you are making that without the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, Scripture is insufficient to save…fair point.  However, without the regenerating work of the Spirit, unbelieving and unrepentant Israel will still be held to a higher standard of accountability in the judgement because they had God’s revelation of himself in Scripture whereas most of the unbelieving nations had only God’s revelation of himself in nature (Sodom and Gomorah, for example).  God’s revelation of himself in nature is enough to comdemn the unbeliever who suppresses that knowledge through unrighteousness (the point Paul is making in Rom. 1), but nowhere does Scripture state that, with the Spirit’s working, natural revelation is sufficient to save (at least nowhere I am aware of).  So, I think you need to deal with the biblical passages above which seem to refute the point you were making about God’s Word not being powerful or at least being only of the same “power” as natural revelation, and you also need to present a biblical case for your assertion that, with the Spirit, God’s natural revelation is sufficient to save apart from the special revelation of the gospel in God’s Word, written or spoken.

  51. Dan Glover, well said.  This is a good and worthwhile discussion we are having, and I appreciate each of your perspectives.  But I agree with Dan that we need to make sure our reasoning is based on Scripture and not just our own assertions. 

  52. Hi Double D now!  Are you asking where to find Bible validation about God using nature — without written or spoken Scripture — to save?  The Bible both promises and chronicles it.  Always as a slap to proud Jews (and us!) claiming that knowing all about the special stuff relieves them of the need for humble, Spirit-imbued faith.  “Hey,” God says through Isaiah, Jeremiah & Paul, “God can & does make many of those ignorant Gentiles righteous — ‘by means of nature’ — without the Special Revelation you have.”  It takes a new white heart, not old black ink.  The Spirit blows that in wherever He wants.

  53. Oh — on your first question:  That God can & does use “nature” without Scripture to save, is not to deny that there is much benefit in every way to possessing His written & spoken words.  He stands before, behind, and works through all His revelations.  Including those He wrote down for us.  That’s what keeps them so effective.  So that’s how my stream of reasoning deals with those glorious verses you quote.

  54. Hi Eric, thanks for your colorful replies.  I enjoy the discussion.  I agree with you that God works through all His revelations.  But I still contend that other than special situations, the “primary” means that God uses to save people is His Word in conjunction with the Holy Spirit.  My main point is that it is not normally through nature.  Thus, general revelation is enough to condemn a man, but it is not enough to save a man (again, generally speaking).  Clearly, if most people could come to saving faith by general revelation through nature alone, what would be the purpose of God giving us His Word?  What would be the gospel that we are to proclaim?  What does nature inform us of the gospel?  Until you answer these questions, I believe we’ll remain at an impasse.  

  55. D, At this impasse, may I go on the offence?:  Where from Scripture do you get this “special” situation vs “normal” differentiation?  Romans 2 doesn’t tell you that gentiles came to faith  without Scripture?

  56. Eric, which specific passage in Roman 2 are you referring to?  Which passage indicates gentiles coming to faith without any special revelation?  Also, I’d still be interested in your response to my 2 questions: 1) if most people could come to saving faith by general revelation through nature alone, what would be the purpose of God giving us His Word?  And, 2) what would be the gospel that we are to proclaim?

  57. D, 2:14 & 15 especially.  On yours: (1) If most pe(2)ople can live without glasses, what would be the purpose of glasses?  Life is better!  And the gift of the recorded Words of God is most useful for teaching and correcting us and training the tender heart in righteous behavior.  (2)  The gospel we proclaim is the one His Spirit brings to babies in the womb and old folks in the homes:  While it is called today, I adjure you to love and fear the Lord!

  58. Does the good book say the Spirit hovers in all nature’s nooks and crannies?  That man himself carries the spittin’ image of God?  My goodness, what content general revelation doth display!  Only enough for condemnation?!  Yet Abel knelt in righteous faith, no need for further explanations from his Father.   Joy he shared with burdened earth, pouring forth in the first of promised communion blood.  He shared it’s song of thanks.  Yet over there, even forewarned with direct Words, Cain withdrew from nature’s evident call to be a shepherd it or to even keep care of his own kind.  Forced to swallow now perverse communion, earth screamed it’s complaint until Cain fell deaf.  The earth is full of the glory of God.  Even a mirror shows it.  The first humanity to step into the new kingdom saw and heard his Father in nature only.  Yet his brother, even hearing the Word directly and directed to himself, from heaven will be kept.

  59. Eric, thanks for your reply.  I don’t think Rom. 2:14-15 describes gentiles coming to faith without special revelation.  Not sure how you derived that.  What this passage describes is the reality of a universal moral standard (also referred to as natural or moral law).  And since this universal moral standard exists, even gentiles who don’t have the Jewish Law are still obligated to follow the moral law, and for one reason: they are accountable to God.  Thus, the Romans 2:14-15 passage is another indication that general revelation is enough to condemn a man but not save him, since it shows that man is without excuse if he denies God.  The Bible is clear that neither following the Law, nor our personal righteousness, is enough to save us, nor were they meant to save us.  They were meant to point us to the One who can save us: Jesus Christ.  The Law serves to show us our sin before a Holy God (i.e. it makes us conscious of our sin).  Also, I disagree with your analogy that God’s Word merely makes life better, in the same way that glasses do for some people who need them.  This seems to imply that God’s Word is somewhat optional and favorable, rather than necessary and fundamental.  I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree here, since I don’t view the Bible this way.  Lastly, you keep bringing up babies in the womb, but I’m not sure what this implies regarding your view of salvation.  Are you implying that God saves “all” babies in the womb, or just some?  If He saves all of them, then you’re subscribing to universalism, which the Bible does not teach.  If He only saves some of them, then why just some?  Have you fleshed this out biblically?  Also, if you believe in original sin, then even babies in the womb are tainted by it.  If you believe babies are not tainted by it, then you don’t believe in original sin.  Hence, this would affect not only your view of salvation, but your view of general revelation as well. 

  60. Eric, you said: “The first humanity to step into the new kingdom saw and heard his Father in nature only.”  This of course is not true.  The first humanity (Adam and Eve) also received “special revelation” because God spoke to them directly.  Adam and Eve knew exactly what they should and shouldn’t do.

  61. Eric, I meant to add that whether God has spoken audibly, or a prophet or an apostle has written or spoken, or the Word is read or preached, these are all aspects of the “special revelation” which constitutes God’s Word (both written and spoken).

  62. D — I meant to say the first of humanity to get into heaven = Abel.  No record of special revelation to him.    As to why God doesn’t save all aborted babies, you’d have to ask him.

  63. D — back to Romans 2:  So you’re saying that the passage does not describe gentiles sans bible yet doing what the law requires?  Or are you saying that doing what the law requires comes naturally?

  64. Eric, regarding aborted babies, yes I assume God would save them, but I can’t assert this Biblically.  Thus, I wouldn’t attempt to be dogmatic about it either way.  Yes, I would think God would save them, but I also believe in original sin, so it’s a tough issue.  This is where our theology (which is imperfect) must give way to God’s prerogative.  Regarding Romans 2, I was responding to your question/assertion: “Romans 2 doesn’t tell you that gentiles came to faith without Scripture?”  Then I asked you which passage supported this assertion, and you replied with Rom. 2:14-15.   However, I don’t know how you derived that.  Rom. 2:14-15 doesn’t describe gentiles coming to faith without special revelation.  Rather, it describes the reality of a universal moral standard which even gentiles who don’t have the Jewish Law are still obligated to follow, since they are accountable to God. 

  65. D — so you’re reading the phrase: “gentiles … by nature do what the law requires” not that they’re ACTUALLY really doing what the law requires but more like “gentiles are OBLIGATED to do what they law requires, but of course when they don’t have the Word they CAN’T do what the law requires unless some exception is in play.”  Did I get your exegesis right?

  66. Hi Eric, Your handling of Romans 2 doesn’t prove your point.  Paul isn’t saying that some Gentiles, by nature, do ALL the law requires, and therefore they are able to stand before God as completely righteous and not in need of the blood of Christ.  The overarching point Paul is making in Romans 1&2 is that all people (individuals and groups) are lost in sin, under God’s wrath, subject to the coming judgment and in need of salvation.  Gentiles sometimes do what the law requires thanks to the light that God gives in natural revelation – “common grace”.  However, where do you see Paul saying that they are reconciled to God because of their knowledge of him through nature?  Can’t find it anywhere in here.  In Rom. 3:21 Paul announces that people whether Jew or Gentile are saved by the righteousness of God which is manifest apart from the law and that comes through faith in Jesus Christ.  The Gentiles Paul is speaking of, who do by nature what the law requires, could be either 1) Gentiles who have a sense of God’s moral law, having been made in his image, living in his creation, having a conscience, etc. and who sometimes obey the light they do have or 2) those who have already received a new nature by the grace of God and through faith in Jesus Christ.  There is nothing in this passage which indicates that God saves people apart from their hearing and receiving with faith the message of the gospel.  And I also agree with the other Dan in that we are speaking of the “normal” way God operates.  He is God, which means he reserves the right to save whom he will how he will.  I’d like to see you deal with the passages in my comment above.  You aren’t really making any sort of Scriptural case.  You just make some sweeping remarks that Isaiah, Jeremiah and Paul all agree with you.  You still aren’t proving your point, only asserting it.  Isaiah, Jeremiah and Paul all agree that it is only through the New Covenant and God’s direct work (in and through Jesus) that people are saved but they nowhere say that people can be called to reconciliation with God apart from the calling of his special revelation, his Word.  And Cain and Abel received special revelation from their parents, who God had verbally (by his Word) made a covenant with and defined for them obedience and disobedience, faithfulness and faithlessness.  It is reasonable to assume that Adam and Eve passed on God’s Word orally to their children just as God’s Word was most likely orally communicated down to the time of Moses.

  67. DG — enjoying your engagement.  I’d like to have you try to pin me down perhaps one verse at a time.  I’ll revisit your first one first.  Let me know if you want to go to the next later.  Heb 4:12.  Here the Word is closely associated with and has the same effect as God’s Sight (v 13).  I understand this to be a statement about the character, power & purity & justice of God.  Anything He says can’t be stopped or undone or stood against.  But note that v2 said the Word yielded no positive result in the unfaithful.  Didn’t help them a bit.  So we are exhorted to have faith lest we get on the bad side of that Word & Sight.  So Heb 4:12 is not a statement about how having God’s Word as simply as GOD’s WORD saves us — NO!  Your fathers had it and died.  The point is rather that faith & faithfulness is prerequisite for God’s Word to yield a positive, saving effect.  The Spirit must be working before, through & surrounding & afterward the time(s) the pronouncement or Wordifications occur.  That would include the hearing of the record of the Word that comes from reading and hearing.  So one should then anxiously kneel and beg God for this faith that God demands in His Word & Words — so we’re not like the unfaithful Word-bankers before us.  So this passage does not address whether God can or does or usually does or doesn’t usually give this faith unaccompanied by the RECORDED inked Word.  This verse as such gives no ammo against my argument that God saves folks independent of a hearing or reading of any specific passages from the 66 books.   But don’t get me wrong.  The printed Word reveals much more in detail what has and is and will go on.  It is from His brain, therefore infallible and like that sword.  It is the only written record we have of His mind.  But it is not the only record.  We ourselves are records.  One off, yes.  And Jesus is the EXPRESS image, while we are not.  Yet His record is in His images.  And all of creation came out of His mouth.  We can’t escape His revelations.  To say His revelations are somehow inherently inadequate as tools or vehicles to bring salvation is a bit defamatory.  To say any of His revelations are for some reason uncustomary means to bring salvation is to deny that they are in fact the product of His Word — like the ink on our Bible pages.  Now our minds are dim and poisoned.  We don’t read creation or ourselves right.  Nor do we read Scripture right.  Unless His Spirit enables.

  68. What?  Jesus mainly uses Scripture, not nature, as His prefered recreative instrument because it’s easier for Him?  It’s sharper and quicker?  It’s more obvious to folks so they don’t get confused about it’s origin? — I think you take this position because it feels to you like nature qua nature is too obscure for you to mentally grasp as revelation.  You see the Darwins and Freuds hoisting nature as their ally.  You know they’re wrong.  But it’s not super plain to you how clear nature is on the Truth.  If nature were more obvious, it might be a better and more common tool for God to use.

  69. DG — Your point about Abel is interesting.  If I understand you, God did not use Scripture to save Him.  Rather, He used the mechanism of hearing an oral history of recent vintage.  You call this “special revelation.”  And “special” = of divine origin and authority?  Do you presume the content of this oral history had to retain some specific degree of accuracy in order for it to keep your claim of being of the Spirit?  Might he accuracy of that oral history perhaps be fallible?  Presumably the content of the oral history got handed down with less and less accuracy through human history?    And when it got to Moses — it was still special revelation?  But the HotnTots received revision crossed over into just plain fairy tales? 

  70. Hi Dan, while I haven’t been able to follow the discussion you’re having with these other guys, I’d like to respond to your question for me. If atheism isn’t a possibility to the secularists, then that’s a good enough start… As for the guy who argued for the logical possibility of snapping his fingers an infinite number of times, no it wasn’t as simple as his fingers wearing out. He was at the time a moderator of the infidels board, and for some reason he felt the need to maintain that possibility. Now my philosopher acquaintance, acknowledged that you cannot form an infinite set through successive addition, and in his argument for an infinite set of past events, he believed that it was not formed through successive addition, but that it exists already and present events are then added to it. Which is where the comparison between those two sets of numbers came up. He didn’t think that something comes from nothing, and for him an infinite regress was the only possibility for God to not exist. Technically speaking, and I got part of this from Sproul, the only three statements to explain the universe are a. from nothing, b. from an infinite regress of past events, or c. from a first cause that is uncaused… To elaborate on my understanding of c., I see it as God. This ‘uncaused cause’ is aware of his action, and he is constantly around us upholding his creation. Once debating with atheist about the nature of quantum fluctuations, he asked why quantum fluctuations couldn’t account for the origin of the universe or the beginning of life. You just have to pause after reading a thing like that. In analogous way, when you or I freely act, as in simply snapping our fingers, we are act as an uncaused cause. Fingers snap, muscles contract, nerves fire, the person acting.

  71. Eric, the Rom. 2:14-15 passage implies that whether gentiles acknowledge it or not, they live by the universal moral law even apart from the Jewish Law, and they are accountable to God because of it.  As Dan Glover put it well, “Gentiles sometimes do what the law requires thanks to the light that God gives in natural revelation.”  In general, Romans chapter 2 seems to be a rebuke toward Jews who are being too judgmental and hypocritical in their view of gentiles, thus revealing a misunderstanding of God’s judgment.  But this presumption is not just limited to Jews, but to anyone who, in their unregenerate state, believes they are outside of God’s wrath and judgment.  Clearly, Romans 2 (just like Romans 1) shows that man is without excuse if he denies God and he remains under God’s judgment due to his sin.  Thus, as we’ve been asserting, general revelation is enough to condemn a man, but it is not enough to save him (generally speaking).  Again, we’re describing the “normal” way God operates. 

  72. Eric, regarding your last reply to Dan Glover, my contention is that whether God has spoken audibly, or a prophet or an apostle has written or spoken, or the Word of God is read or preached, these are all aspects of the “special revelation” which constitutes God’s Word (both written and spoken).  Thus, this form of revelation is distinct from “general revelation” which is imparted to us by God through nature and our conscience.    
     

  73. D — does that “prophet” type you mention include Doug Wilson?  If not, I’m presuming you mean recognized named-in-the-Bible-God-fearing type prophet?  And if so, was anything and everything a prophet or apostle said equal to special revelation?  (Which might make Peter’s pro-circumcision spokenage some thorny ground for you.)

  74. D — on Romans 2:14-15, your exegesis says all folks sometimes obey a universal moral code — and this is Paul’s proof we all are accountable to God?  So you read Paul as saying unsaved sinners sometimes are really obedient on occasion?!  And this obedience is evidence not of salvation but of a residual moral compass?

  75. Eric, yes you presumed correctly.  I specifically meant recognized named-in-the-Bible-God-fearing type of prophet.  And yes, I believe anything a prophet or an apostle said would equate to special revelation, since they were inspired by the Holy Spirit.

  76. D — Wait, what?!  So Paul was wrong to oppose inspired Peter?  But … wasn’t Paul inspired to do so?

  77. Eric, yes, sometimes unsaved sinners are obedient on occasion, at least outwardly.  But of course, this isn’t enough.  The Bible is clear that neither following the Law, nor our personal righteousness, is enough to save us, nor were they meant to save us.  They were meant to point us to the One who can save us: Jesus Christ.  The Law serves to show us our sin before a Holy God (i.e. it makes us conscious of our sin).  Thus, to your question, “And this obedience is evidence not of salvation but of a residual moral compass?”  My answer is: yes, that is precisely the point.  All of us have a moral intuition and a moral conscience because of God, because we were created in His image.  Therefore, general revelation is enough to condemn a man, but it is not enough to save him.  It can’t, because the Law was never meant to save him.

  78. Eric, I think I get where you’re going with natural revelation, and seeming to give it equal weight with Scripture. But what I cannot see, is where a sinner can find in nature the assurance that his sins are forgiven. I mean when you come to that place of seeing in all truth that you have offended a holy God and see in again yourself the fact that you are going to continue doing this, and having lost all hope in yourself and would agree with God that you deserve to go to hell… Where do you find a gospel story in nature?

  79. Eric, and again, I mean Isaiah had a vision of God and realized the depth of his depravity. Then an angel brought him a piece of coal that cleansed his lips. There’s little doubt here this was a type or symbol of the atonement that Christ made for us. Today maybe some guy who had never heard the gospel by a miracle comes to a similar place, God has millions and billions of ‘angels’ today to bring him the good news in Christ.

  80. Hi Mike.  “To come that place” ALWAYS requires a miracle, His Spirit there – including via the mechanism of contact with written record of Jesus.  What you were asking before I took as:  “Ok lets say the Spirit engaged the content of ‘general’ revelation to work in the miracle of a regenerate heart in a fellow.  How does that fellow then get the same level of assurance that he can get by reading about assurance in Scripture?”  Assurance requires Spirit, not reading.  Are you asking how Abel could have your level of assurance?  This is what God is in the business of doing.  Where do you find the gospel story in nature?  Only and always where the Spirit hovers.  Which is everywhere.  You can’t escape it and no one ever could.  You are in His image.  Where is the gospel story to be found in His image?!

  81. Amazing how desensitized we become.  We translate “Let there be Light” to “Ho, hum, another day.”

  82. They used to teach the kids how rainbows are “natural” (Spirit-created & controlled) declarations of the promise of salvation.

  83. I wasn’t in Abel’s shoes, but am willing to presume that he knew what was told to him by his parents. While it obviously isn’t the kind of assurance we have after the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ, it was presumably good enough. But if his parent’s hadn’t shared the ‘gospel story’ with him, I don’t think there’s any way he’s going to get that by looking at a rainbow all by himself.

  84. Eric, I don’t mean to be coy, but what I’m saying is that something has to be communicated in order for there to be any meaning in the rainbow. The meaning is there because God declared it to be.  If God doesn’t specifically declare it to Abel, then he’s not going to get it just because the Spirit is there.

  85. Mike — let’s put it another way.  What God’s handiwork speaks is only of Him.   Job 37.  The clouds demonstrate His mercy.   But He is incomprehensible.  Nature speaks to that.  Scripture speaks to that.  Both have plenty of content.  Neither “on their own” (an impossibility) can deliver that content.  All the content is Spiritually discerned.

  86. Mike, great point about Isaiah’s vision of God.  Also, I liked your comment: “Today maybe some guy who had never heard the gospel by a miracle comes to a similar place; God has millions and billions of ‘angels’ today to bring him the good news in Christ.”  In any of these special situations, it is God’s special revelation, not His general revelation, that will illuminate the gospel to the unbeliever.  Neither “nature” nor “the moral law” will do that.  Whereas general revelation shows man his guilt, special revelation brings him the gospel — either through divine intervention by the Holy Spirit, or by Angels, or by God’s Word, whether written, read, spoken, or preached.  Nature by itself doesn’t inform us of the gospel, but the God who created nature accommodates Himself toward us and reveals the One whom the gospel proclaims: Jesus Christ.  This gospel is proclaimed through the person and work of Christ, through the Holy Spirit, and through His Word.  In other words, through special revelation.    

  87. Eric, you said: “Amazing how desensitized we become.  We translate “Let there be Light” to “Ho, hum, another day.”  I don’t believe any of us translate this to “Ho, hum, another day.”  The fact that there’s light is evidence of God’s amazing general revelation that He imparted to us.  However, the fact that He spoke light into existence and that He intended for us to know that He spoke it into existence (through His Word in Genesis) is yet another example of His special revelation to us.  There’s not much point in creating light if those who see it have no idea where it came from.  Fortunately we know since He intended for us to know.

  88. D — Faith comes by hearing, really hearing, the Word.  Where is the Word?  You say you can’t find it in His image, in any clouds, in your conscience, but only in the enScripturated texts.

  89. God’s creation as a revelation of God’s glory is not another way of looking at promises and covenants that God has specifically given his people… Eric, you’re not saying that if God personally spoke to a person today then they might come to understand the gospel. That would be something different. But for you it’s like the clouds or the image in itself communicates the message given the Spirit. Doug’s post today, strikes me as spot on for the direction you’re tracking: “If a spirit calls Jesus ‘accursed,’ then it is not by the Spirit of God. And conversely, if someone in the spirit confesses that Jesus is Lord, then it is by the Holy Spirit. It is easy to see how someone in the grip of a blasphemous spirit might take the truth that Jesus became a curse for us on the tree (Gal. 3:13), and bend it slightly in order to take spiritual glee in italicizing the word ‘curse.’ But confessing the lordship of Jesus is not something they can bring themselves to do.”

  90. God personally speaking to a person is the only way anyone ever gets saved.

  91. Eric, you said: “God personally speaking to a person is the only way anyone ever gets saved.”  I’m not sure what you call that, but it is not general revelation, it is special revelation.  Whenever God speaks, or the Word is spoken or read or preached, or the Holy Spirit intervenes in a person’s life, this is God’s special revelation to us.  It is not general revelation through nature or the moral law.  Eric, this has been a good and worthwhile discussion, but I think I’m ready to put a period at the end of it.  Thanks very much for your time and your comments.  It’s all about “iron sharpening iron” as we grow and learn from one another.  I wish you Godspeed, Eric.  Thanks also to the others who’ve weighed in on this conversation.  All the feedback has been really helpful and valuable. 

  92. Roger that.

  93. Hi Mike. In general, when confronting an atheist or agnostic, as Christians I think we can feel confident in our philosophical presuppositions, and we can demonstrate that faith is grounded in and supported by rational principles and arguments. I don’t believe that faith and reason are incompatible with each other, since God gave us our minds and we are created in His image. Thus, here are 3 fundamental truth claims which are foundational to maintaining a coherent and logically consistent worldview. Truth claim #1: Matter and energy did not come from nothing. Something must have caused them to be. Every event that comes to be must have a cause, since there cannot be an infinite regression of causes. The ultimate first cause of the physical universe must have come from outside of and transcend the physical universe. Thus, the first cause of the universe must have originated from an uncaused, self-existent immaterial or spiritual being, which of course we believe is God. Truth claim #2: Knowledge is only possible when there is a coherent foundation to reality. This acknowledgement of a coherent, rational order of the universe is a necessary presupposition for acquiring knowledge, discerning truth, and doing science. Whether one accepts or denies this presupposition, it would be impossible to practice science (or mathematics or physics) in a random, disorderly universe. Thus, we accept the presupposition that God is the ultimate foundation of reality, order, and rationality. Truth claim #3:Truth is that which corresponds to reality. For instance: 2 + 2 = 4. This is always absolute, and does not depend on our sense perception or our emotions for its veracity. It is not merely a personal judgment or an opinion. Therefore, it is proof of absolute truth. Moreover, it is also proof of an inherent order in nature guided by an intelligent principle or being, which of course we believe is God. Mike, I believe the 3 aforementioned truth claims are as solid as a rock when confronting an atheist. This doesn’t mean he’ll accept them of course. But I guarantee you that whatever argument he puts forth will be significantly less coherent and rational than these 3 truth claims. For example, the supposedly great scientist Richard Dawkins sees no problem expounding on the beauty of life and everything we see coming from “nothing”. Now that’s rational, right? It’s no contest. In the end, though, I believe most atheists and agnostics don’t reject God for lack of “proof” but do so for other reasons, mostly psychological and spiritual.

  94. I’m afraid I’m going to have to bow out as well…I don’t have the time to continue the back and forth.  I might have more time, if Eric were willing to answer the passages I posed a while ago against his contention that special (Scriptural) revelation is just as powerless as natural revelation.  However, in my experience it is the person taking the unorthodox position who bears the burden of proof (Of course we all must be able to show that our positions are faithful to the Word of God – “study to show thyself approved, a workman who rightly divides the word of truth”).  I agree with those who have been defending special revelation as necessary for saving knowledge and that general revelation, while sufficient to condemn people for suppressing the knowledge of God that is clearly displayed in creation, is not sufficient for salvation.  I also agree that this is the normative pattern and that God reserves the right to save whomever he will by whatever means he chooses (babies, mentally handicapped, etc.).  But the way we are shown in Scripture that God brings people to himself is through the preaching of the message of the gospel, applied to people’s hearts by the Holy Spirit.  I am glad that all participants have agreed that salvation requires a special work of the Holy Spirit to bring a sinner to Christ.  Blessings Gentlemen.

  95. Dan Glover, good word man.  Godspeed.

  96. Richard Dawkins is an odd duck. I haven’t read him at any length, but always thought it ironic that he compared our God to a flying spaghetti monster. His idea of God would by definition exist within space and time, whereas our God by definition exists outside of space and time. Christopher Hitchens was more enjoyable to read, and I could appreciate some of his critiques of religion. They also both touched on the arguments for the existence of God in their books. It’s funny how they almost always feel the need to dismiss the arguments, and almost any introduction to philosophy does so as well. Even Kant went there. I sometimes wonder if we would have had Marxism if he’d gotten it right.

  97. Eric, I also wish you all the best. God is really merciful unto us wretched sinners.  If it’s any encouragement, I recently went to a counselor for an ongoing issue I’m dealing with. And the advice I received was absolutely wonderful. It was also a great help that he dealt with the same thing intermittently. The wisdom of experienced counselors in the Reformed world should never be overlooked.

  98. Mike, good replies.  I agree with you that Hitchens was more enjoyable to read and listen to than Dawkins.  Admittedly, though, Hitchens could be brutal toward Christians.  Nevertheless, his arguments seemed more well thought out than Dawkins’s arguments, which often seem to border on the loopy.  Regarding Kant, due to his stature as the eminent philosopher of his day, he unfortunately gave credence to, and justification for, the deistic view of God which became so prevalent at the time.  Thus, the acceptance of “pure reason” unguided and unaffected by special revelation (which Kant believed we couldn’t know) led toward a “practical atheism” which essentially marginalized God as well as reduced religion to a mere moral philosophy.  And no doubt Marx would have been influenced by this Enlightenment mindset as well. 

  99. Hi Dan, I certainly appreciate your willingness to follow and engage in these types of discussions. I’m not aware of where Kant touched on the relationship between pure reason and special revelation. He did say of course that we cannot know the ‘thing in itself’, and to this day the majority opinion is overwhelmingly in agreement that we cannot have any kind of metaphysical knowledge. According to Gerstner, Jonathan Edwards had considered the contradiction involved in positing the existence of nothing. And that’s exactly what Kant failed to consider in his critique of the ontological argument… The real critique of pure reason, is about what reason does and does not tell you about the ‘thing in itself’.

  100. Hi Mike, good discussion, and thanks for your replies.  Kant denied the possibility of special revelation, since he denied the possibility of metaphysical knowledge in general, thus striking a blow to the ontological argument.  Therefore, by implication, man cannot really know God, since God is beyond man’s world.  Kant essentially believed that we can only know things as they appear to us (phenomena) but not as they are in themselves (noumena or real).  Thus, we only know the appearance but not the reality (i.e. thing-in-itself), since this forever alludes us.  Kant believed in God (sort of), but he believed that all the traditional arguments to prove God’s existence were invalid, since they delve into the theoretical realm, which is unknown.  Moreover, Kant subscribed to a naturalistic view of most Christian doctrines, and he deemed miracles to be both unnecessary and irrational, since they are contrary to natural law and our common experience.  Ultimately, according to Kant, pure reason can only apply to the phenomenal, material world, not the metaphysical or spiritual world (the world beyond us).  Unfortunately, this “practical atheism” essentially marginalized God as well as reduced religion to a mere moral philosophy, which Kant accepted for purely practical reasons.

  101. Hi Dan, I hope I don’t come across as argumentative. Overall you make a fair assessment of Kant’s philosophy. But I’m still pretty sure that Kant didn’t consider special revelation or any way relate it to the scope of pure reason. Also in my reading of Kant’s critique of the God arguments, it wasn’t that their rejection followed from a previous argument, but that on the arguments own merits failed to prove what they sought to.

  102. Hi Dan, I hope I don’t come across as argumentative. Overall you make a fair assessment of Kant’s philosophy. But I’m still pretty sure that Kant didn’t consider special revelation or any way relate it to the scope of pure reason. Also in my reading of Kant’s critique of the God arguments, it wasn’t that their rejection followed from a previous argument, but that on the arguments own merits failed to prove what they sought to.
     

  103. Hi Mike, no worries, and thanks for your reply.  Yes, I should clarify a bit further.  I shouldn’t have stated “according to Kant, pure reason can only apply to the phenomenal, material world”, but rather that “man’s reason can only apply to the phenomenal, material world” (since Kant was critiquing “pure reason”).  That would have been more accurate I think.  Essentially, Kant believed that we can only know things as they appear to us (phenomena), but not as they are in themselves (noumena – objects or concepts that are known to exist and conceived in the mind, but are not experienced).  Thus, we can only know the appearance of a thing, but not the reality (thing in itself).  Therefore, the reason I made the point about Kant denying special revelation, is because he denied the possibility of metaphysical knowledge in general.  This, plus his ardent denial of miracles, precludes the possibility of God revealing Himself to us through the Holy Spirit or through His inspired Word.  Kant also denied the Incarnation of Christ, which is another form of special revelation.  Overall, Kant believed in God (sort of), yet he believed that all the traditional arguments to prove God’s existence were invalid, since they delve into the theoretical realm, which is experientially unknown.  I hope this clarifies my understanding of Kant a little better.  But I’m open to your feedback on the matter.  This has been a good discussion. 

  104. Thank you for the thoughtful replies. I assumed Kant was a product of the biblical criticism during the time. But I still would find it extremely odd for him to have ruled out special revelation. To exclude it would require some kind of special understanding. I would venture to guess that he avoided the subject. But if he did, I would be sincerely interested to see it… Regarding Kant’s belief that the traditional arguments were invalid, for what I am sure is the case with the ontological argument, his belief in its invalidity was due to him not understanding the argument. In his critique of the ontological argument, he doesn’t say that it is false because it seeks to prove theoretical knowledge, he thinks he shows it is false on its own merit… As an aside, I once got into a debate with a group of atheists who flat out denied metaphysics. Since it was online, I couldn’t gauge their reaction when it was shown to them that the metaphysical discussion begins with only three statements that will account for the world.

  105. Hi Mike, thanks for your reply.  Yea, I imagine it was tough to debate someone who, at the outset, denies metaphysics.  But that’s essentially what Kant subscribed to as well.  Kant believed there was an impasse between a strict empiricist approach to knowledge (e.g. Hume’s view) and a pure rationalist approach to knowledge (e.g. Descartes’s and Leibniz’s view).  Thus, Kant set out to examine the limitations of each of these approaches to knowledge, as well as analyze the fundamental role of “reason” in knowledge.  Ultimately, Kant’s significant contribution, and influence, in philosophy was in synthesizing these two divergent views regarding how knowledge is actually derived.  The end result is that Kant’s system undermined the foundations of both natural theology and metaphysics, which has had wide-ranging effects in the fields of philosophy and theology.  You are correct that Kant believed the ontological argument was false on its own merit.  This is because Kant was skeptical of all rationalistic arguments to prove God’s existence, since these arguments violated the limits of reason and were therefore logically inconclusive.  According to Kant, theoretical reason can never reach God.  However, God can be postulated by practical reason.  Thus, while Kant believed that we cannot logically demonstrate the existence of God, he nevertheless accepted the existence of God for purely practical and moral reasons, where the theoretical notion of God is the foundation of ethics and moral obligation.  Kant concluded that in light of the fact that we cannot know if God exists, we must live as though God does exist, based on Kant’s belief in a universal moral law adhered to by practical reason.  In the end, though, Kant’s assertion that we cannot really know the real world, or know God, is actually self-defeating, since the very statement “We cannot know reality” is an assertion that presupposes knowledge about reality.  To claim to “know” that reality is unknowable is to make a claim to know something about reality.  The argument is self-refuting.  Due to his stature as the eminent philosopher of his day, Kant unfortunately gave credence to, and justification for, the deistic view of God which was so prevalent at the time.  Following his death in 1804, Kant’s significant influence and writings helped continue this Enlightenment mindset well into the 19th century and beyond.

  106. “You are correct that Kant believed the ontological argument was false on its own merit.  This is because Kant was skeptical of all rationalistic arguments to prove God’s existence.”
    I don’t know if that was the reason, but I would like to think that if the arguments had been clearly presented to him, then he would have allowed that to work its way into his system.

  107. Mike, Kant was as brilliant as they come.  He knew the ontological argument well, yet rejected it because he didn’t believe rational arguments can prove God’s existence.  He believed these arguments were flawed from the outset.  I, too, which he would have allowed for such arguments, but his predisposition to naturalism precluded it; just as Hume’s predisposition to naturalism kept him a skeptic.  The primary difference between the two is that Kant allowed for “practical” reason to postulate God on moral grounds; whereas Hume would never have postulated such a view of God.  And in this, Hume was more consistent.  Ultimately, Kant’s view of reason became an inconsistent blend of naturalism and moralism.

  108. “He knew the ontological argument well, yet rejected it because he didn’t believe rational arguments can prove God’s existence.”
    I disagree that he knew the argument that well. But he does have the appearance of it.  His rejection of the argument is because he can find no contradiction in positing the non-existence of a perfect being. For as he says “contradiction is the only criterion of impossibility in the sphere of pure a priori conceptions.” But if he had considered the existence of nothing in the way that Jonathan Edwards supposedly did, then he should have understood how the ontological argument proves a necessary being. Whether you call it perfect or something else, doesn’t matter. In fact an infinite regress would meet the requirements of a necessary being. Which brings us to the cosmological argument and William Rowe, someone who is considered to be the expert, and yet he cannot understand Aquinas’ distinction between a set proceeding to infinity and the impossibility of that set becoming actually infinite.

  109. Mike, do you think philosophically that it’s possible to presuppose an infinite regression of causes?  Please explain what you mean by your statement: “In fact an infinite regress would meet the requirements of a necessary being.” 

  110. Hi Dan, thank you for the discussion. I meant that an infinite regression would meet the requirements of a necessary being in an apparent or superficial sense. Which is why I then turned to the cosmological argument after the statement. I don’t think it’s possible to presuppose an infinite regression of causes. But this doesn’t mean that atheists or agnostics don’t go around saying it so much, that they think they can actually presuppose it or the possibility of it. And like I’ve been trying to say, it’s not complicated math. Aquinas’ distinction is about as simple as they come, and Rowe missed it. The unnamed philosopher I mentioned before was my professor in philosophy of religion at the university. He is also well published in the field. And he was unwilling to make a similarly simple distinction when it was presented to him in a discussion like you and I are having now.

  111. Dan wrote:

    “This is because Kant was skeptical of all rationalistic arguments to prove God’s existence, since these arguments violated the limits of reason and were therefore logically inconclusive.  According to Kant, theoretical reason can never reach God.  However, God can be postulated by practical reason.”

    I’m no expert on Kant or Hume, but I’m also skeptical of arguments intended to formally arrive at God as a conclusion.  God is not a conclusion, He is a premise.  Without Him as a premise, conclusions don’t follow.  There is no neutral, non-God starting point from which we can reason a path over to God’s existence.  This is where presupposition comes into epistemology.  I’m not familiar with how Kant distinguishes theoretical reason from practical reason, but I would distinguish derivation from axiom, otherwise we do end up with infinite regression.  We aren’t left to affirm a hypothetical god for its therapeutic effects on our behavior.  We can know God by faith in His external revelation.  Faith is a kind of knowledge that is not limited or confined by derivation, just as axioms in math are a kind of knowledge not confined to derivation, but from which derivation becomes possible.  To presuppose God is axiomatic reasoning, and it allows derivational reasoning.  As in the identification of mathematical axioms, we usually identify (or are taught), out of order, through derivational reasoning, that we have actually been presupposing God all along.

  112. Mike, thank you for the discussion as well, it has been very enjoyable and worthwhile.  Thanks also for your clarification regarding infinite regression.  Sounds like you and I are philosophically on the same page concerning this.  I also don’t understand how atheists and agnostics can possibly presuppose an infinite regression of causes.  This seems like it would be a greater “miracle” than all the biblical miracles that they so ardently deny.  I’m not sure how, based on their materialism and naturalism, that they can reason their way to presupposing an infinite regression of causes.  But I guess the answer is that when man denies his Creator, he is susceptible to believing almost anything.  As Romans 1 tells us, man suppresses the knowledge of God and the truth, and instead seeks something else in God’s place. 

  113. katecho, good comments: “We aren’t left to affirm a hypothetical god for its therapeutic effects on our behavior.  We can know God by faith in His external revelation.”  I completely agree with both of these assertions.  Ultimately, Kant was inconsistent regarding his view of reason (as I mentioned in a prior comment).  At least Hume was consistent with his skepticism due to his predisposition to naturalism, where he believed we can only know what we perceive through our senses.  Regarding your second assertion, I also believe that we can only truly know God by His special revelation to us.  Without the Spirit, man cannot reason his way to saving faith no matter how compelling the natural evidence.  This must be revealed to us.

  114. katecho, I appreciate the comment. While I agree there is “no neutral, non-God starting point from which we can reason a path over to God’s existence,” pure reason or the ‘God’ arguments do prove atheism to be false.

  115. I also agree that we have enough God-given reason and intuition to prove that atheism is false.  Since God is the Author of both the Bible and nature (i.e. special revelation and general revelation), we can therefore know something about God and something about nature.  Hence, we can refer to Romans chapter 1 where the Apostle Paul shows that man is without excuse.  Paul here is appealing to “general revelation” which all of mankind is endowed with, but which many suppress the truth due to their sinful nature.  Thus, even those who do not accept, nor read, the Bible, they are still accountable to God their Creator, since He has made His existence known to them.  Moreover, since we are created in His image, we therefore bear His likeness and we have His law written on our hearts, to which our consciences also bear witness (Romans 2:14-15).  Nevertheless, general revelation is enough to condemn a man, but it is not enough to save him; it is insufficient for man’s salvation.  Only special revelation can bring a man from spiritual death into spiritual life by the work of the Holy Spirit.  Thus, we can only truly know God by faith through His special revelation to us.   

  116. I see that Dan, but I also see something else. I see the leaders of this world having to claim they can snap their fingers an infinite number of times, or being unable to make very simple distinctions. What happens to our political life when the laissez-faire agnosticism pervading it is crushed? I do wonder about what follows… and I am very post-millennial in my eschatology :-)

  117. Mike said: “pure reason or the ‘God’ arguments do prove atheism to be false”, and Dan agreed that: “we have enough God-given reason and intuition to prove that atheism is false”.
                                                                                                                                                                                                       I think it’s helpful to decompose the process a bit, to point out something interesting that we shouldn’t overlook.  I agree that reason can reveal particular inconsistencies and insufficiencies as misfeatures of atheism, but once we come to understand that God is actually a precondition for our ability to mount successful arguments in the first place, and that God is a premise that allows us to reason to conclusions at all, then the falsity of atheism is already given by such a premise.  In other words, to presuppose God is to presuppose that atheism is false.  So technically, we aren’t deriving either the falsity of atheism, or the truth of theism.  We are taking God’s existence as a given, and demonstrating/illustrating (by way of reason) the fruitfulness of this axiom, and the fruitlessness of atheism.  Which is to say (noting the same pattern from Scripture) that our task isn’t to prove that atheism is false, but to illustrate (with reason and logic) the diverse ways in which it is false and is inconsistent and is fruitless.  I hope this distinction isn’t too subtle.

  118. Katecho, good points, as usual.  I agree with you theologically and philosophically.  But from the standpoint of one’s own experience, the process of “reasoning” if God exists or not still has to play itself out.  As I said, even those who do not accept, nor read, the Bible, they are still accountable to God their Creator, since He has made His existence known to them.  This is Paul’s whole point in Romans chapter 1.  Man suppresses the knowledge of God and the truth, and instead seeks something else in God’s place.  Clearly, Paul was acknowledging that man is without excuse if he denies God, due to the general revelation man has received through nature as well as his own conscience.  Because you and I are believers, we’ve been illuminated by the Holy Spirit to see, and to know, the truth of the God who is behind the creation.  Thus, from the standpoint of discussing these things with an unbeliever, we need to understand that in their own experience, they haven’t arrived at the some conclusion/presupposition that you and I have.  Therefore, I think it’s wholly acceptable to discuss in terms of showing/proving that atheism is false.  It’s not the only method of reasoning, of course (as you pointed out).  But it’s still a viable method nonetheless.       

  119. Well said gentleman. I think one of the best examples of fruitful apologetics in the Bible, is Peter’s Sermon on Pentecost. Take a look at the way Peter connects his listeners first hand evidence of the miracle with the disciples’ eyewitness account of the resurrection. In way similar today, we can take a good contemporary argument for the resurrection of Jesus, the kind of argument which has a very high probability of being true like the eyewitness claim of the disciples to those immediately present, and connect it with something that our listener instinctively knows to be true in spite of what the world tells them, like the fact of their sinfulness.

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