Presuppostionalism "Eventually bogs down?"

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TomVols

Puritan Board Freshman
It's not a chess match. What are your own presuppositions?

The Bible is truth and the Holy Spirit will illuminate it to bring about new life. Speak with confidence. Is the person truly inquiring about the veracity of scripture? Show its self-attestation, its consistency across time, space, and genre , and the respect that has been accorded it across many academic fields even among non-belivers.

If the person shows interest but doubts, ask him how he evaluates something to be true. Keep asking questions: no other philosophical system can be self-consistent. Know that and speak accordingly. (Another presupposition :) )

If a person just wants to argue, why cast pearls before swine? You may not get the last word in, but maybe you've planted seeds.

This might be way watered down from Dr. Van Til and his mid-century approximaters, but it reflects time engaging folks across many settings from academic to the hiking trail.
Well, it is and it isn't :) Remember, I'm in a greater sense talking about this as a critique of the presuppositional. Does this happen in the "nitty gritty?" Sure.

And if a person just wants to argue, why? There's a reason they're arguing, and to assume they're just being a jerk should not be a default. Maybe there's a reason they're antithetical. Paul persuaded people, and so should we.
 

TomVols

Puritan Board Freshman
Yeah well circular reasoning was a bad choice of words for Van Til. On this side of Postmodernism the sort worldview and pressupossinal analysis that he was referring to would not be viewed as circular reasoning. Perhaps it was his time in history that caused him to label it that way. Had he developed his views 50 years later he might have had better "lingo" to describe what he meant.
Frame does a good job of defending him here. As well Bahnsen describes "circulatory" as another name for consistency. I think Van Til referred to the kind of C.R. you're referring to as "viscous C.R."
Your second point, I don't think it is "bibliology" to use Van Til's method. And why would you get stuck there? I don't understand that? So "Mr. Kreeft" let's dialogue away! I think you mean to say is it's like Fundamentalists arguing that just throw their favorite verses at each other that "prove" their point while ignoring verses that are problematic for them, is that kind of what your talking about?
Sort of.

As to the point about stuck defending the Bible, as I alluded before, if a person objects to the idea that there can be only one true (or any true) religion, the moment we invoke Biblical teaching, critics note that 99.9% of the time the other person is now going to shift from engagement over Christ's unique claims to our claims about the Bible and how it's erroneous and it's full of myths and so on.

I don't have Kreeft's book in front of me where he makes this statement (he's not the only one). I'm going to get crucified for this but Kreeft is an engaging writer and worth reading even for us presuppers.
 

TomVols

Puritan Board Freshman
I'm guessing you're referring to Sye Ten Bruggencate. He's been accused of oversimplifying but a continuous jerk he is not. If you've listened to interviews and talks he's given in the past couple of years he regrets some his earlier emphases. I've heard him say he doesn't want presuppositionalists to replace 6 hours of evidences with 6 hours of epistemology.
That's a great point. One of the attractions of presupp is that you can get right to the heart of the matter. I borrowed that thought from Tim Keller (hiding so I don't get rocks thrown at me).
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
That's a great point. One of the attractions of presupp is that you can get right to the heart of the matter. I borrowed that thought from Tim Keller (hiding so I don't get rocks thrown at me).
You won't. Sue is confrontational, at least he used to be.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
Sort of.

As to the point about stuck defending the Bible, as I alluded before, if a person objects to the idea that there can be only one true (or any true) religion, the moment we invoke Biblical teaching, critics note that 99.9% of the time the other person is now going to shift from engagement over Christ's unique claims to our claims about the Bible and how it's erroneous and it's full of myths and so on.

I don't have Kreeft's book in front of me where he makes this statement (he's not the only one). I'm going to get crucified for this but Kreeft is an engaging writer and worth reading even for us presuppers.
As far as them pointing out myths and so on, those arguments can be proven wrong. The bigger underlying point that you are alluding to is the implication that we're being biased not neutral (and they aren't either). You didn't say that but it's implied in your question. Well first they're not being neutral either. They have a worldview as well, with pressupossiton and all. They're arguments pressupose things about the bible, which are generally wrong. So on one level bringing the bible and theology in is to correct the context of their arguments.
An example. The argument from God's sovereignty destroying free will, and his being responsible for evil, rests on unbiblical assumptions and category mistakes. Since the God their proposing isn't the biblical God we are under no obligation to refute their argument.
I generally agree with them that that God, whoever it is, can't exist. Then I'll say "good thing that's not the biblical God I believe in." That move subtly brings in the issue of pressupossiton. I generally don't use the term pressupossiton because there's too much to unpack with that term, I use assumptions.
Practically I try to gently move the conversation to the deeper issues involved and then I get a little more harder with the questions. Like why can they bring in their assumptions (religious, philosophical, scientific, etc.) But I can't? When they cry that they're not doing that I'll try to show them that they are.
The conversation can develop any number of directions from here. That's why I say Van Til gave us a method of doing apologetics first, not so much an argument. But the method can be applied to any situation. So in conclusion they're being just as circular, in the broad sense, as I am and if they can do it so can I. Is that better at answering your questions?
As far as myths and scholarship questions about the bible, that area isn't my strongest suit (mine is philosophical and theological questions). I know enough to deal with the average persons arguments but I also have access to resources that I can go to to answer those (books and such).
Two practical points here: 1. Don't ever be afraid to say I don't know but I know where I can get the answer. This will not only almost always guaranty a second conversation (which is always good) but it shows your humble and take the issues seriously enough to find an answer. Being part of the PuritanBoard is a great resource to find answers. 2. Don't get in over your head. If a liberal professor of theology tries to argue with you and you don't have their level of credentials he/she does it may not go well. And then your faith might be shaken. Find someone with their credentials to match to converse with them and observe how they handle it. I hope this helps.
One last story and I'll close. When I was much younger I witnessed a Christian girl outside of a book store debating 5 guys who were destroying her with questions she couldn't answer. Her response was always "I don't know, I just have faith". To which they laughed and she just coiled away in shame and embarrassment, she didn't start the conversation BTW. I said "maybe I can answer your questions". They snuggly took my challenge and within 5 minutes I had all 5 backed into 5 different corners they couldn't logically get of. I don't think any of them were converted but I kept looking at the girl and could tell that her faith was strengthened at observing the debate. She couldn't do it but at least she could see that someone could, that blessed me very much.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
And if a person just wants to argue, why? There's a reason they're arguing, and to assume they're just being a jerk should not be a default. Maybe there's a reason they're antithetical. Paul persuaded people, and so should we.
I'm calling for wisdom. And to answer the OP a bit more directly, presuppositionalism does not get weighed down in the nitty gritty. God's word is truth axiomatically. Answer honest questions and trust the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Word. Ask questions and draw out the incoherence of every worldly system. I suspect that was part of the reason Dr. Van Til taught the history of western philosophy to first-year seminary students -- so students could recognize the "wisdom" of man and deal straight-up with the weakness inherent in a thought-system that does not recognize God as the truth-giver He revealed Himself to be. The moment you slip into classical apologetics, and try to argue for the truth of God's word, you are accepting the possibility of, at most, universal negation, or at least, particular negation.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The moment you slip into classical apologetics, and try to argue for the truth of God's word, you are accepting the possibility of, at most, universal negation, or at least, particular negation.

I don't know. "Classical" apologetics is a slippery time. I have no problem with the so-called "5 Ways," but I am not a Thomist like Sproul was.

And if Van Til is right, most of Reformed prolegomena for the past four hundred years is wrong. Not saying that van Til isn't right. History doesn't make truth. On the other hand, that is a huge burden of proof.

As to arguing for the truth of God's word, ultimately you are going to appeal to outside sources, like how do we determine the contents of the canon of the NT. Scripture isn't really clear on what books should or shouldn't be in there.
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
if Van Til is right, most of Reformed prolegomena for the past four hundred years is wrong.
I'll concede he didn't agree with too many folk.

We should at least see his work as a check against the ascent of man's reason over the ~200 years prior to his work. So much of what comes after him seems more of leap of faith than solid reasoning. A strident, I'm-gonna-beat-you-with-my-intellect doesn't have any root in the man himself, though what people remember of him is fading rapidly.

Though I should add, the history of theology is not my strong suit. I've taken what I've learned and filtered through a lifetime of trying to apply that knowledge.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
I don't know. "Classical" apologetics is a slippery time. I have no problem with the so-called "5 Ways," but I am not a Thomist like Sproul was.

And if Van Til is right, most of Reformed prolegomena for the past four hundred years is wrong. Not saying that van Til isn't right. History doesn't make truth. On the other hand, that is a huge burden of proof.

As to arguing for the truth of God's word, ultimately you are going to appeal to outside sources, like how do we determine the contents of the canon of the NT. Scripture isn't really clear on what books should or shouldn't be in there.
There have been some essays written that show he was simply wrong about Reformed Scholasticism, and much closer to their thinking.
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Junior
I'm talking about the critique of presuppositionalism. Is this a fair critique, and what would the presuppositionalist say to the evidentialist, for instance, who makes this critique?

I have a rather odd way of defending at least one aspect of presuppositionalism. My argument is that the Bible itself is presuppositional, and its declarations of what is and is not true are understandable to all men. Nowhere does the bible present God's existence evidentially, as if at least some people might not already know who ad what He is. God's existence is known by all men innately. All sound preaching is presuppositional in that it presupposes that its hearers, made in the image of God, can and do understand the implications of what is being said. Preaching states the truth, commands people to obey and believe the truth, and holds them eternally responsible if they reject that truth. (Romans 1) That's presuppositionalism at its highest level.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Nowhere does the bible present God's existence evidentially, as if at least some people might not already know who ad what He is.

Psalm 19.
God's existence is known by all men innately.

Not mutually exclusive
All sound preaching is presuppositional in that it presupposes that its hearers, made in the image of God, can and do understand the implications of what is being said.

That's trading on a different meaning of "presuppositional." Every classical apologist affirms what you just said. Even foundationalists and common sense realists like Thomas Reid say that.
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Junior
That's trading on a different meaning of "presuppositional." Every classical apologist affirms what you just said. Even foundationalists and common sense realists like Thomas Reid say that.

I guess you are right. I probably should get it out of my repertoire. I said it was odd and you corrected me.

Thanks,

Ed
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
I think the OP is trying to ask something like, "Say there are apparent contradictions (e.g., one gospel says Jesus was going to Jericho. Another gospel says concerning the same incident he was coming from Jericho). Presupposing the Bible doesn't really address these contradictions.

The presup will say, "Without presupposing the Bible is true, you can't even use the concept of contradiction."

Perhaps, but that doesn't really address the question. This is a bigger problem for the Clarkian than it is for the Van tillian.
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Though Van Til was often critical of the "scholastics" his prolegomena was actually was closer to their own. Jeff Jui makes this point in "Theologia Naturalis, A Reformed Tradition" in the book Revelation and Reason.

But regarding the OP, I can see how the conversation could get bogged down into a debate on the veracity of Scripture. But my experience has usually been on the opposite side, getting bogged down in exploring the unbeliever's fragmented epistemology and trying to help them see the incoherence. Perhaps the presup critic in mind in the OP has seen presupps jumping too quickly to appeal to the authority of Scripture instead of thoroughly listening to the unbeliever to identify their specific idols and objections. I know I wrestled with that temptation in my early presup days, jumping to answer the initial stated objections, rather than listening for the real objections underneath. Just a thought...
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
I think the OP is trying to ask something like, "Say there are apparent contradictions (e.g., one gospel says Jesus was going to Jericho. Another gospel says concerning the same incident he was coming from Jericho). Presupposing the Bible doesn't really address these contradictions.

The presup will say, "Without presupposing the Bible is true, you can't even use the concept of contradiction."

Perhaps, but that doesn't really address the question. This is a bigger problem for the Clarkian than it is for the Van tillian.
True but that gets more into evidential arguments, which are fine. And as far as I can tell has nothing to do with Van Til's method. It simply doesn't address the same things. But nice clarification.
 

Henry Hall

Puritan Board Freshman
True but that gets more into evidential arguments, which are fine. And as far as I can tell has nothing to do with Van Til's method. It simply doesn't address the same things. But nice clarification.
Van Tilian presuppositionalism addresses every fact, no matter how small. In the case of BayouHuguenot's example, it is appropriate for the apologist to say, "You have complained about a 'contradiction.' But please make your argument intelligible to me. In your worldview, what is a 'contradiction'? In virtue of what is a contradiction a contradiction?
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
Van Tilian presuppositionalism addresses every fact, no matter how small. In the case of BayouHuguenot's example, it is appropriate for the apologist to say, "You have complained about a 'contradiction.' But please make your argument intelligible to me. In your worldview, what is a 'contradiction'? In virtue of what is a contradiction a contradiction?
True one could examine their assumptions like it is merely a human document so it contradicts itself. Or if it's divine than it should be perfect. Both are false assumptions but one would still have to examine the texts to show there really is no problem.
 

Taylor Sexton

Puritan Board Junior
They can bite the bullet and respond, "Can you at least address the contradiction?"

Honest question: Why should we proceed to honor their request as if their worldview can account for the law of non-contradiction, and an accompanying moral injunction never to violate it?
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Honest question: Why should we proceed to honor their request as if their worldview can account for the law of non-contradiction, and an accompanying moral injunction never to violate it?

Because we are trying to lead them to the truth. This might very well be an intellectual stumbling block for them and the Holy Spirit might be wanting us to remove it.

True, they could just be arrogant and are playing the "Yeah, but whattabout" game, but I'll assume they are not for the moment.

I used to do apologetics by beating the intellectual mess out of someone. I then realized that was the polar opposite of 1 Peter 3:13-17.
 

Taylor Sexton

Puritan Board Junior
Because we are trying to lead them to the truth. [...] I used to do apologetics by beating the intellectual mess out of someone. I then realized that was the polar opposite of 1 Peter 3:13-17.

Does such a method de facto constitute "beating the intellectual mess out of someone"? It would seem to me that this is more of a question of motive and goal rather than method. I have seen presuppositionalists (of which I am) who are only interested in beating someone up, and plenty of them who are interested in leading people to the truth. But it had to do more with the person than the method.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
I think the OP is trying to ask something like, "Say there are apparent contradictions (e.g., one gospel says Jesus was going to Jericho. Another gospel says concerning the same incident he was coming from Jericho). Presupposing the Bible doesn't really address these contradictions.

The presup will say, "Without presupposing the Bible is true, you can't even use the concept of contradiction."

Perhaps, but that doesn't really address the question. This is a bigger problem for the Clarkian than it is for the Van tillian.
But in presuposing the bible we presuppose the worldview of the bible, even about itself. First we analyze their assumptions about the bible and see if they hold water. No reputable Vantillian would stop there, then we would show them the biblical view of itself and show how based on that there is no contradictions. Like one event being told from different perspectives is no problem at all. It is to be expected.
In showing the facts interpreted through a biblical worldview there is no problem. If they cry fowl then we simply show that they neutral like they claim and if they can do it so can we.
 

jwright82

Puritan Board Graduate
Because we are trying to lead them to the truth. This might very well be an intellectual stumbling block for them and the Holy Spirit might be wanting us to remove it.

True, they could just be arrogant and are playing the "Yeah, but whattabout" game, but I'll assume they are not for the moment.

I used to do apologetics by beating the intellectual mess out of someone. I then realized that was the polar opposite of 1 Peter 3:13-17.
Yeah then play the game in love and humility.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Does such a method de facto constitute "beating the intellectual mess out of someone"? It would seem to me that this is more of a question of motive and goal rather than method. I have seen presuppositionalists (of which I am) who are only interested in beating someone up, and plenty of them who are interested in leading people to the truth. But it had to do more with the person than the method.

It doesn't have to be that way. Let's go another route:

The person might be asking a sincere question about the Bible, and shifting the discussion to the nature of contradiction and then saying 'your worldview cannot account for that' seems like dealing from the bottom of the deck.

What they will take home from the discussion is that the person didn't actually answer the question.
But in presuposing the bible we presuppose the worldview of the bible, even about itself

But that involves the actual text of the Bible, so we really haven't escaped that.
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Junior
"Say there are apparent contradictions (e.g., one gospel says Jesus was going to Jericho. Another gospel says concerning the same incident he was coming from Jericho). Presupposing the Bible doesn't really address these contradictions.

NOTE: This post has nothing to do with Presuppositionalism! :)

I couldn't be farther from the subject, but I couldn't resist inserting R. Lenski's solution to this "apparent contradiction."
Here's the first part of his commentary on Luke 18:35-43

35) And it came to pass while he was drawing near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the side of the road begging. Now, when he heard a crowd passing through, he began inquiring what this was. And they reported to him that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by. And he shouted, saying, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! And those leading began rebuking him, that he be silent. He, however, kept yelling much more, Son of David, have mercy on me!

See 1:8 for ἐγένετο plus a finite verb and for ἐν τῷ with the infinitive. Jesus had crossed the Jordan and was following the usual route through Jericho, near the river, up to Jerusalem.

At first glance there seems to be a decided discrepancy between Luke and both Matthew and Mark. Luke has the miracle performed as Jesus draws near the city, Matthew and Mark as he leaves the city. Strange solutions are offered, even to postulating as many as three different healings. Yet the matter is simple, and all shadow of contradiction fades away when we have all the facts. Jesus passed through Jericho (19:1), and yet, although it was late in the day, no one in the whole town invited him to be his guest. On the other side of the town, out along the highway, Zacchaeus was waiting to see Jesus pass by. Jesus calls him down from the tree, invites himself to this publican’s house, retraces his steps into Jericho, and spends the night with Zacchaeus. It was on this return to the city that the blind men were healed. Luke separates the events because he wants to tell the story of Zacchaeus in one piece, without inserting into it the story of the blind men. So Matt. 21:18–22 tells the story of the blasted fig tree in one piece, whereas Mark 11:12–14; 20–23 relate the two events separately.
  • Lenski, R. C. H. (1961). The Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel (p. 931). Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House.
There's more, but this will do for now.

 

Taylor Sexton

Puritan Board Junior
What they will take home from the discussion is that the person didn't actually answer the question.

That may be the case. And, of course, wisdom is required. A presuppositional approach may not be necessary. Be that as it may, that they conclude that we didn’t answer the question isn’t necessarily our problem, is it? In fact, it’s a big problem for them, because they don’t even understand the death their worldview brings.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Amanuensis
Be that as it may, that they conclude that we didn’t answer the question isn’t necessarily our problem, is it?

It could be on several counts. The Holy Spirit might have wanted that stumbling block removed. It also may tell them that we simply can't answer the question.
In fact, it’s a big problem for them, because they don’t even understand the death their worldview brings.

They probably won't care. In all the evangelistic conversations I've had over the past decade and a half, I can count on one mutilated hand how many people would even understand that.
 
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