Posts Tagged ‘presuppositional apologetics’

Worldview Suppression: Romans 1 and Apologetics

July 6, 2018 8 comments

From my recent reading (Challies 2018 Reading Challenge) and Reformed theology conference lectures comes an apologetics study of Romans 1.  What do general revelation and suppression really look like, in our 21st century post-Christian world?  This question is addressed in Scott Oliphint’s lecture from the 2018 Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology (theme Spirit of the Age: Age of the Spirit), Workshop 4: The Anatomy of Unbelief.  Oliphint is always interesting to listen to; I enjoyed listening to his lectures last fall, in Reformed Forum’s conference on the Reformation and Apologetics.

This 2018 conference lecture provides commentary on Romans 1 and suppression, and what that involves — what truth is suppressed?  His invisible attributes; His eternal power and His divine nature – and the wrath, the judgment that comes as a result (Romans 1 verses 24 through 32).  Oliphint also recounts his recent experience with a graduate level Hegel philosophy course.  Throughout the course, until the very end, the students were kept in suspense: what is Hegel’s “absolute”?  The expert didn’t know, and the expert admitted that he thinks Hegel himself didn’t know what it was.

Philosophers are nothing new, and Paul in Romans 1 was dealing with the same type of thing from the Greek philosophers of his day.  Yet their ideas about reality are only theoretical and do not work in the real world.  Objective truth is there, facing us every day in the external world.  We cannot arbitrarily ignore and re-interpret reality to decide that a red light means ‘go’ and a green light means ‘stop’.  A chair lifted up and about to hit your face is a real threat that cannot be ignored.

Another interesting point Oliphint noted, was observed by Jonathan Edwards.  We often hear that hell is the absence of God.  Yet this cannot be; by His very nature, God is everywhere, omnipresent–including in hell itself.  Instead, hell is the ever-continuous presence, in wrath, of the God that the people there despise and hate.

My recent reading includes a past Kindle deal that also addresses this subject of Romans 1, suppression, and the limitations of non-Christian worldviews which don’t work in the real world: Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes , by Nancy Pearcey.  Suppression involves focusing on one part of reality and making it the full truth – and ignoring the parts of reality that don’t “fit” within the box.  Following an outline of Romans 1, Pearcey presents five points to help Christians identify and respond to worldview suppression, with examples from Hegel, materialism and other philosophies.

  1. Identify the idol.
  2. Identify the idol’s reductionism
  3. Test the idol: does it contradict what we know about the world?
  4. Test the idol: does it contradict itself?
  5. Replace the idol: make the case for Christianity.

Many examples are provided (with the actual quotes) from secular scientists and philosophers who admit that they really can’t live with the ideas they come up with about reality, such as this section about materialism:

When it reduces humans to complex biochemical machines, what sticks out of the box? Free will. The power of choice. The ability to make decisions.  These are dismissed as illusions. Yet in practice, we cannot live without making choices from the moment we wake up every morning.  Free will is part of undeniable, inescapable human experience—which means it is part of general revelation.  Therefore the materialist view of humanity does not fit reality as we experience it.

When we see statements about how “we cannot live with” a view, that is worldview suppression.  Through the five principles, we can identify the specific type of suppression – and respond to it, to those who present such ideas, with the truth of Christianity.

Oliphint’s lecture is an excellent summary overview of apologetics related to Romans 1.  Pearcey’s book provides more details and examples, with special emphasis on the experience of college students who leave home as Christians and “lose their faith” when challenged by anti-Christians in the academic university setting.

Van Til on Presuppositional Apologetics

August 17, 2017 6 comments

Continuing in the 2017 Challies’ Reading Challenge, some books are more challenging and slower-going, such as a selection for apologetics:  Cornelius Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith,  about presuppositional apologetics.  The writing style itself is not always easy to follow, with a lot of abstraction and philosophy, though some parts are clearer.  Overall, though, I see the basic points of presuppositional apologetics, along with a detailed explanation for why classical/evidential apologetics is not the best approach for communication with unbelievers.

Throughout, Van Til contrasts Catholic and Protestant-Evangelical (Arminian) apologetics, with the understanding of Reformed Theology.  As well-pointed out, what it really comes down to is that Reformed folks should use the same approach for both preaching and apologetics; Reformed preaching proclaims the sovereignty of God in all things, including salvation, as well as the total inability of the lost sinner.  Yet often, Reformed Christians depart from this when it comes to apologetics, turning instead to lost man’s “reason” independent of the authority of God’s word.  The analysis of basic differences in the very definitions of concepts between unbelievers (even unbelievers of varying types, pagan polytheists versus secular), such as the concepts of deity and mankind, is quite interesting, all supporting the point that believers really do not share any “common” point with the unbeliever, in terms of the natural man’s thoughts and reasoning.

The Reformed Christian is often Reformed in preaching and Arminian in reasoning.  But when he is at all self-conscious in his reasoning he will seek to do in apologetics what he does in preaching.  He knows that man is responsible not in spite of but just because he is not autonomous but created.  ..  He knows also that the sinner in the depth of his heart knows that what is thus held before him is true.  He knows he is a creature of God; he has been simply seeking to cover up this fact to himself.  He knows that he has broken the law of God; he has again covered up this fact to himself.  He knows that he is therefore guilty and is subject to punishment forever; this fact too he will not look in the face.

And it is precisely Reformed preaching and Reformed apologetic that tears the mask off the sinner’s face and compels him to look at himself and the world for what they really are.  Like a mole the natural man seeks to scurry under ground every time the facts as they really are come to his attention.  He loves the darkness rather than the light.  The light exposes him to himself.  And precisely this neither Roman Catholic or Arminian preaching or reasoning are able to do.

Van Til points out that evidentialist apologetics does the first part of evangelism by appealing to the natural man’s thinking, and challenging the atheist/agnostic unbeliever with the fact, the existence, of God.  Only after this first part of “accommodating” the unbeliever, the apologist then “switches” to the Christian perspective and why one should believe the Bible, etc.  The unbeliever can certainly follow along at the first point, since nothing is being challenged in his fundamental human reason.  As Van Til observes, the result is a two-phase approach to Christian conversion:  first to Theism, then, later, conversion to Christianity.  This method obviously does ‘work’, as God’s sovereign purposes in calling His elect include even faulty apologetic methods; but Van Til makes the case for a true Reformed approach to the matter.

It helps to relate what Van Til is saying to real-world examples.  What Van Til described here, describes the conversion story of C.S. Lewis, who was an atheist when he met colleague J.R.R. Tolkien at Oxford in the 1920s.  Much has been said on the negative side regarding the theology of both of these men – though as has also been noted, Tolkien converted Lewis to Christianity in general, not to Catholicism.  Yet as Lewis himself described it, his conversion was indeed a two-phase process: first, conversion to theism, and then – about two years later – to the Christian faith.  Van Til’s critique of classic apologetics provides the clear explanation for the very process/method of Lewis’ conversion experience.

Though the overall reading is not easy, I’m now over halfway through, and some parts are quite good, with insightful quotes.  In closing, here are a few great quotes from Van Til:

The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. And it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or indirectly. It tells us not only of the Christ and his work but it also tells us who God is and whence the universe has come. It gives us a philosophy of history as well as history. Moreover, the information on these subjects is woven into an inextricable whole. It is only if you reject the Bible as the Word of God that you can separate its so-called religious and moral instruction from what it says, e.g., about the physical universe.


Time rolls its ceaseless course. It pours out upon us an endless stream of facts. And the stream is really endless for the non-Christian basis. For those who do not believe that all that happens in time happens because of the plan of God, the activity of time is like to that, or rather is identical with that, of Chance. Thus the ocean of facts has no bottom and no shore.


Study: The 1689 London Baptist Confession as Systematic Theology

January 2, 2015 1 comment

Lately I have begun studying the 1689 London Baptist Confession: as a good summary of Christian doctrine, as compatible with historic premillennialism (and the actual view of many of the writers of the 17th century confessions) , and the confession that Charles Spurgeon used for his church,  complete with his own catechism.

The following Sermon Audio lecture series (by Arden Hodgins at Trinity Reformed Baptist in California) was recommended to me –  not yet complete but quite in-depth, with 230 messages so far over the course of several years, done as a systematic theology covering the many topics in the 1689 confession.

So far I have listened to several messages: the introduction plus the first topic (chapter 1 of the confession), regarding the Bible itself: revelation, inspiration, cessation (five lectures on this specific topic), illumination, interpretation and translation.  At least some of this overall topic I recognize from other systematic theologies, such as this one from S. Lewis Johnson I listened to (in part) a few years ago. The section on illumination addresses three aspects of scripture’s authority: its sphere, the basis of its authority, and recognition of this authority. Here I notice the Baptist covenantal perspective, which (unlike the 20th century systematic theology of classic/revised dispensationalism) understands and presents Van Tillian presuppositional apologetics, pointing out the problem with the “Josh McDowell style” evidential apologetics, along with several good references to Van Til, including the following great quote:

The Bible is authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms etc. directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or by implication. It tells us not only of the Christ and His work, but it also tells us who God is and where the universe about us has come from. It tells us about theism as well as about Christianity, it gives us a philosophy of history as well as history. Moreover, the information on these subjects is woven into an inextricable whole. It is only if you reject the Bible as the word of God that you can separate the so-called religious and moral instructions of the Bible from what it says for example about the physical universe.

I look forward to further listening to these lectures related to the various topics from the 1689 Confession, including a few lectures affirming biblical young-earth creation with analysis of various compromise views: one on “debunking Evolution,” plus a full lecture on the gap theory and another on the day-age and framework ideas.

While in one area I, as a Spurgeon-style historic premillennialist, disagree with this particular teacher’s view (amillennialism), there is much here to learn in overall study of many other doctrines. The 1689 confession itself limits its statements on eschatology to “allow for” any millennial view (except, as noted in the first linked article above, the later-developed pre-trib view which splits the timing of the Second Coming). In the 230 messages so far, Ardin Hodges presents only two lectures in “overview” of millennial views, for a more neutral perspective than found in Sam Waldron’s “Modern Exposition of 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith” (1989 edition)  (note Amazon reviews here).

Dr. Bill Barrick’s Creation Seminar

May 29, 2013 3 comments

Linked at the Domain For Truth blog is another instructive lecture series from Dr. Bill Barrick:  a four-part series plus two Q&A sessions done at Central Seminary earlier this year for the 2013 MacDonald Lectures.

As usual Dr. Barrick provides many quote-worthy observations, especially concerning the mirror-image of the Biblical accounts of the beginning and the end, something I observed previously here (the Masters Seminary audio lecture Kingdom of God series), with many good points regarding the link between creation and eschatology.  The hermeneutics is a crucial point, and Barrick continues to uphold the underlying importance of biblical creation – biblical authority and inerrancy.  As he also points out, what we think about the past directly affects how we understand and what we believe concerning the future events revealed in God’s word.

A few excerpts from the first lecture:

Think about it.  If it really took millions or billions of years to create the First heavens and the First Earth, how long will we have to wait for the New Heavens and Earth after the old is destroyed?  Are you willing to wait millions and billions of years for the New Heavens and New Earth to evolve like the First one?  If God can create the second one instantaneously, why not the first? … Any time we start messing with either end of that entire structure of scripture, it affects the other end. Whether we reject the future prophecies — if we do that, then why would we accept the past, history?  If we reject the past history, why would we accept the future prophecies?


What kind of Bible does your ministry depend upon? Think about it. A trustworthy Bible, or an untrustworthy Bible? A Bible you can believe about creation the same as you can believe about salvation? How important is the Bible to your ministry? As soon as we start denying either end of the spectrum here we’ve looked at, in this overall and overarching theme that runs through the Bible, as soon as we start messing with either the eschatology, the future things, or the protology, the first things, we begin to destroy the Bible.  So if the Bible is significant to your ministry, why work to destroy it?  Because if you destroy it, then there’s no more foundation for the ministry you perform, for what you’re doing.  How can you tell people, ‘Thus says the Lord’, if you say, ‘well I only accept that when the Lord says such and such, but when the Lord says this, I don’t accept it.  I don’t care if God wrote it with His finger on the tablet of stone on Mt. Sinai that He created the heavens and earth and all that is in them in six days, I don’t believe that.  But I believe God over here when He says this.’ How can we pick and choose that way? How can we treat the Bible so casually?

What kind of God do we serve if we feel free to contradict what He Himself wrote on a stone tablet on Mt. Sinai?  Can we really say with Paul then, ‘let God be true and every man a liar’?  Are we instead saying, ‘oh, let modern science be true and let God be a liar when it comes to creation?’  It affects the character of God.

The second session, The Historicity of Adam, addresses an issue apparently of great discussion today within Seminary circles, and one he later addressed at the 2013 Shepherds’ Conference.   An additional reading source mentioned here:  Creationist Bill Cooper’s (1995)  “After the Flood: The early post-flood history of Europe”  (online text available here), which traces all European nations back to Japheth.

I’m still going through the series, and highly recommend it as well worth listening to.