Focal Point Two — Archaic Hypothesis
“Postmodernism is a philosophical movement that is rooted in modernism but proclaims the bankruptcy of certain aspects of modern thought. . . . it denies the modernist belief that there is an objective truth . . . that can be discovered using reason.” The postmodern bomb fractured the foundation of the entrenched, traditional Judeo-Christian values most Americans held.
Fifty years ago, most people, to one degree or another, still held this Judeo-Christian base; to some degree they believed in God and Creationism. Just over twenty years ago, there was still trace evidence of this foundation. On October 4, 1982, under the Presidency of Ronald Reagan, in a Joint Resolution, both the United States Senate and House of Representatives declared 1983-The Year of the Bible. In part, they affirmed:
Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President is authorized and requested to designate 1983 as a national “Year of the Bible” in recognition of both the formative influence the Bible has been for our Nation, and our national need to study and apply the teachings of the Holy Scriptures (italics mine).
Interesting verbiage in light of today’s culture, is it not? Congress proclaimed they recognized the formative influence of the Bible and our national need to study and apply the teachings of the Holy Scriptures; what a difference twenty-five years makes.
A Deconstructed World
We are now firmly mired in the age of postmodernism or deconstructionism. A fairly long word, “deconstructionism”; chiefly it is “a form of hermeneutics, of interpreting a text.” However, deconstructionism has big arms and embraces many philosophical “isms.” It “embraces conventionalism . . . all meaning is relative . . . [it embraces] perspectivalism . . . all truth is . . . [based on] one’s perspective . . . [it embraces] semantic progressivism . . . a text can always be deconstructed.”
It embraces even more, but these will suffice to affirm these “isms” are why effective apologetics are critical today.
The point here is that in the present day, the Bible-based, Judeo-Christian foundation is rapidly crumbling. This milieu of deconstructionism has not just infected our culture as a whole, but has infected the church as well. This point is germane to this discussion for two reasons. First, there are citizens of this world, yea this nation, with no knowledge of or at least a deeply suppressed knowledge of God or Jesus Christ; i.e. the Judeo-Christian paradigm. Second, Van Til unwittingly has absorbed parts of these deconstructed “isms.”
Some have said, “That is laying a lot on postmodernism.” However, look at the “isms” posited above. If one can deny they do not permeate our society then, either they are not paying attention, or they are so deeply mired themselves they do not realize what is going on, or they have their own agenda; if more proof is needed, just look at programs invading us on television.
So the question then becomes, “if one never went to church or was raised without even a vestige of the Judeo-Christian religion on their horizon, how would they understand, or why would they embrace instantaneously the absolute presuppositional belief in the triune God of Van Til? The Classical paradigm would have a better chance at impacting this person by moving him towards Christ in small, methodical steps.
In accord with Van Til’s own apologetic model, this person would be (1) too steeped in depravity to have any epistemological basis to understand what he has heard. (2) The fact that the Presuppositional apologist even instigated a “rational argument” aimed at this unbeliever, means he (the apologist) actually believes epistemological common ground exists between himself and the unbeliever. That simple fact means he just denied the God he was arguing to prove!
As Evangelicals, to “presuppose” the truth of Christianity is foundational for our beliefs, but not for our apologetic; not in the manner of Van Til. Every apologetic methodology must be rooted firmly in sound biblical theology. Nonetheless, we must not be so entrenched in our worldview that we assume that the starting point of unbelievers is cognate with ours, as do the Presuppositionalists. Yet, as seen in the above examples, the unbeliever may have no grasp of the “ontological Trinity” whatsoever. The Classical Apologist must be prepared to start from bedrock if necessary and argue for Foundationalism and First Principles if he must.
While the apologetic school of Van Til espouses the need to understand the presuppositions of the non-Christian as a starting point, it seems that the transcendental argument, from a practical standpoint negates this. This is one of the key faults in Van Til’s metapologetic and a precursor to flawed methodology.
Focal Point Three—Defending the Indefensible
As posited at the outset, apologetics is pre-evangelism and as Christians, we are to be
prepared to defend our faith. In general, some apologetic systems are more effective than others at blasting through walls men erect to deflect the truth of Christianity. As the mission of John the Baptist was to “make straight the way of the Lord,” so too the mission of the apologist is to make straight the way of the Gospel of our Lord. The apologist must first break through an antagonistic unbeliever’s mental barriers, to make them receptive to listening to the Gospel. This is where the Classical system outpaces other systems—especially the revelational,
Presuppositional system. Nevertheless, a Christian apologist should be willing to use whatever apologetic argument is most effective for that time and for that person. Borrowing from the “Evidential” camp or “Historic” camp and using a blend is permissible—whatever it takes!
The Presuppositionalists however, are so busy defending their apologetic, they never get around to defending the gospel! Howe affirms this in a critical evaluation of presuppositionalism; he writes, “Van Til throughout his writings repeatedly asserts that one must presuppose the God of Christian theism before he can know anything else, I have yet to encounter one instance where Van Til or Bahnsen actually make this argument” (italics mine).
Additionally, because of this defensive and self-protective attitude, the Presuppositionalist is not open to “listening” to the unbeliever to discern what his objections to the Gospel are. Rather, the main concern for the Presuppositionalist is for the unbeliever to acknowledge “full blown Trinitarian Christian theism.” This is illustrative of why this is indeed a conundrum, a puzzle that will forever remain unfinished. Why is that the case? It is the case, because pieces of the puzzle have gone missing.
Howe eloquently explains Van Til’s error:
Much of the argument that Van Til and Bahnsen make seems more fitting as a transcendental argument for the necessity and unavoidability of logic itself rather than a transcendental argument for the necessity and unavoidability of Trinitarian theism. No one could argue that logic is not the case, since, in order to make the argument that logic is not the case (or that logic does not apply to reality) the arguer would have to use logic [italics mine]. This is so because acknowledging the difference between “being the case” and “not being the case” [or between “A” and “non-A”] demonstrates the antecedent truth and unavoidability of the logical law of non-contradiction. If the law of non-contradiction is not so, then there could be no distinction between “being the case” and “not being the case.” Since logic is necessary even to argue against logic itself [italics mine], this shows that logic is transcendentally necessary. But somehow, Van Til thinks that this is the case with a full-blown Trinitarian Christian theism. . . . Van Til never seems to see the disparity between the “order of knowing and the order of being. . . . or the difference between a certain metaphysical consideration and a certain epistemological consideration.”
Illustrative of this would be the relation of a writer to his book. The writer or author would have to be first in order. In the order of being, the writer is first. In the order of knowing, the book would be first, since to find out what the author has written one would have to read the book. Without the writer, there would be no book. Reading the book makes no incorrect statement about metaphysical priority of the author to the book.
“In the theistic argument debate, the theist certainly sees that in the order of being God is first, since, if God is the creator of all things besides Himself, then, if there was not a God, there would be nothing else at all, not even an argument for God.” Therefore, it must be concluded that, “the Presuppositionalist is wrong to think that if an argument leads one to a belief in the existence of God, this God could not be the God of Christianity. He is wrong in thinking that this would make God subservient to the argument. The fact that the argument for God’s existence comes first means that it only does so in the order of knowing.”
. Bowman and Boa, 162.
. William J. Federer, America’s God and Country, Encyclopedia of Quotations (N/A: Fame Publishing Inc., 1996), 709, 710.
. Geisler, BECA, 192.
. Ibid., 192,193.
. Obviously the same question could be ask of any apologetic paradigm, but the point here is paradigms other than the Van Tillian model don’t start and end with a foreknowledge of the Trinitarian God.
. Howe, 6.
. Ibid., 6.
. Ibid., adapted.
. Ibid., 7.