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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Mike Sweeney
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Mike Sweeney

“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.

jigawatt
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jigawatt

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.”

RFB
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RFB

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… Read more »

Matt Hoover
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Matt Hoover

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? 

wtrsims
Member

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… Read more »

B Josiah Alldredge
Member

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.

wtrsims
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Therein lies my point, Josiah.

BJ
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BJ

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… Read more »

RJE
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RJE

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… Read more »

Matt Hoover
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Matt Hoover

BJ, thanks. That’s very helpful.

jigawatt
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jigawatt

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… Read more »

Dan
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Dan

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… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

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.

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

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

Mike Sweeney
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Mike Sweeney

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.

Matt
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Matt

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.

Dan
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Dan

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.  

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

Stewart
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Stewart

“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.

wtrsims
Member

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.

wtrsims
Member

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.

Stewart
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Stewart

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….
 

jigawatt
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jigawatt

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.

RFB
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RFB

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.… Read more »

Stewart
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Stewart

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? 
 
 

Mike Sweeney
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Mike Sweeney

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… Read more »

Mike Sweeney
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Mike Sweeney

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

Jack Bradley
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Jack Bradley

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.

Dan
Guest
Dan

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.

Dan
Guest
Dan

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.

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

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.

Dan
Guest
Dan

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… Read more »

Quentin JP
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Quentin JP

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Quentin JP
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Quentin JP

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.  

RFB
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RFB

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

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

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.

Stewart
Guest
Stewart

“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.
 

Stewart
Guest
Stewart

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

antexw
Member

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… Read more »

Stewart
Guest
Stewart

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.

antexw
Member

Stewart, I read earlier in a post on 22 Jan 14 Gary T: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.

prayersofadoration
Member
Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

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.

Dan Glover
Guest

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… Read more »

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

Womb babies can be saved.  No Scripture required.

Dan
Guest
Dan

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… Read more »

Dan
Guest
Dan

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.” 

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

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.

Dan
Guest
Dan

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… Read more »

Eric Stampher
Guest
Eric Stampher

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?