Ravi and apologetics: a lesson?

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ccravens

Puritan Board Freshman
The Ravi scandal, which has been talked about endlessly, has caused many leaders to list a number of "lessons" to be learned from the discovery of his private life. Yet rarely do I see any lessons posited based on his particular form of apologetic, which I would characterize as more "classical" in aproach.

Yet I did run across a video from Ray Comfort on the scandal, in whch he stated (clearly aimed at Ravi's apologetic):

"Intellectual preaching produces intellectual converts, who name the name of Christ, but are strangers to the new birth."

And in a related note on Ravi from John MacArthur:

"He never, ever quotes the scripture. It's always some kind of philosophical argument."

Can Ravi in some way be an example of the ineffectiveness of his apologetic approach? I say this as a presuppositionalist who is contantly frustrated by the popularity of the classical and evidentiary approaches.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I think it highlights the weakness of apologetics in general, not just one type. Them presup guys can be pretty annoying, smug, and arrogant. I'd rather have a simple guy reading straight from Scripture than some young zealot who can't wait to shout, "BY WHAT STANDARD!"
 
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Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
I think it highlights the weakness of apologetics in general...
I think it would be more accurate to say that it highlights a problem with some apologists. Even more accurately, it highlights the problem with fallen unregenerate people. There is nothing wrong with apologetics. In fact, we are commanded to do apologetics: "in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense [ἀπολογίαν, apologian] to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet. 3:15).
 

gjensen

Puritan Board Freshman
I am skeptical of these "ministries", and I am reluctant to call them ministries. I do not think they are what is being communicated in 1 Peter 3:15.

This does not mean that I expect them all to have moral failings. I certainly do not see a connection to an apologetic method.
 

kainos01

Puritan Board Senior
For what it's worth, Sproul was also a classical apologist.
Of course, one may disagree with his apologetics, but it would certainly be a stretch to label him 'ineffective' because of it.
Just one example, but there really is no correlation between one's apologetical method and his moral failings.
And Comfort's quote, while pithy, is silly. Are there no intellectual - and thoroughly biblical - preachers whom everyone at PB would hold in high esteem?
 
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BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Can Ravi in some way be an example of the ineffectiveness of his apologetic approach? I say this as a presuppositionalist who is contantly frustrated by the popularity of the classical and evidentiary approaches.

Sye Ted is a presup who was also involved in a sexual scandal. So there's that. In any case, Ravi isn't really a philosophical apologist. He talks about moral absolutes, but his grasp of philosophy is surface-level and tenuous. He admitted he was more of an existential philosopher than a classical one.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Read any Ravi book and then read JP Moreland on substance metaphysics. Spot the difference, then try to say Ravi was an "intellectual" apologist. He was nothing of the sort.
 

retroGRAD3

Puritan Board Sophomore
Not sure if Ravi was a classical apologist either. Sproul certainly was, but he used scripture pretty extensively as well as philosophical argumentation. In his debate with Bahnsen, there seemed to be several areas of intersection, especially when it came to the truths presented in Romans 1.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
I think it would be more accurate to say that it highlights a problem with some apologists. Even more accurately, it highlights the problem with fallen unregenerate people. There is nothing wrong with apologetics. In fact, we are commanded to do apologetics: "in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense [ἀπολογίαν, apologian] to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet. 3:15).
Sure, but did Paul's defenses look anything like most apologists? With Jews he argued from Scripture. With gentiles he began from reason, and move on to special revelation. Most apologists I hear make complex philosophical arguments that often leave me scratching my head. Paul used neither the cosmological nor the transcendental argument.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
The reformers defended the faith in a straightforward way: when the criticized Roman Catholicism, they criticized its internal inconsistencies and its disagreement with the Scripture. And the same for Socianismism, Arminianism, Judaism, etc. They didn't see the need to have a one-size-fits-all "approach".
 

C. M. Sheffield

Puritan Board Senior
The reformers defended the faith in a straightforward way: when the criticized Roman Catholicism, they criticized its internal inconsistencies and its disagreement with the Scripture. And the same for Socianismism, Arminianism, Judaism, etc. They didn't see the need to have a one-size-fits-all "approach".
Yes, I find in conversation with some, they are too enmeshed in their particular apologetic to hear anything I am saying. I generally consider myself a presuppositionalist. But I have read others like Clark with great profit. I think many on this subject wish to go beyond what is written.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
As someone who has been all over the map on apologetics, my .02. Learn a few basic arguments and learn how to communicate with people (many apologists actually have terrible people skills). The other day I used cosmological reasoning to help some people overcome roadblocks to theistic belief (yikes, I even sound like an apologist).

A few apologetic issues are good and worth mastering, but don't start an apologetics ministry.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
And while I am disappointed in the direction Alpha and Omega ministries have gone recently, James White had a pretty good tweet on the Ravi scandal about why we need to learn virtue first, and then after a decade or two of hard study, maybe then you are ready to be an apologist.
 

ccravens

Puritan Board Freshman
Surely that argument is the entire thesis of the post.

My apologies if I was unclear in my wording. Maybe that's because I wasn't entirely clear in my thinking. I have been thinking a lot about usinging evidence and philosophical arguments in witnessing to unbelievers. I wonder about the effectiveness of those approaches. I've even seen people like Sproul and Frank Turek, nether of which would be labled as a pre-supp, use pre-supp arguments from time to time.

I wonder, as in the two people I quoted, if there isn't a danger in someone like Ravi using mostly philosophical anecdotal arguments to present belief in God to unbelievers. With very little scripture. Would it be possible for a mere professor of Christ to be more comfortable using that kind of apologetic which is mostly devoid of scripture? For both the apologist and the audience, I worry about the effectiveness of that approach. The Comfort quote is pretty clear, and that's what got me thinking.

I am appreciative of all the comments so far, as I try to muddle through all of this. Hopefully you will forgive my muddy thinking. I was raised a Southern and independent Baptist. We weren't really taught to think.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
I wonder, as in the two people I quoted, if there isn't a danger in someone like Ravi using mostly philosophical anecdotal arguments to present belief in God to unbelievers. With very little scripture. Would it be possible for a mere professor of Christ to be more comfortable using that kind of apologetic which is mostly devoid of scripture? For both the apologist and the audience, I worry about the effectiveness of that approach. The Comfort quote is pretty clear, and that's what got me thinking.

The danger is in apologetics ministries overall. When Paul was on Mars Hill he quoted a pagan poet, and that quote is very close to pantheism (it isn't, of course, but it could be misconstrued that way).
 

Semper Fidelis

2 Timothy 2:24-25
Staff member
Haven't had any time to participate here lately.

I agree that there seems (to me) to be an inherent danger in apologetic ministries in general. I listen to The Unbelievable radio program on podcast every week. It seems to me that, for many who focus exclusively on apologetics, the key thing is to make everything ultimately appealing to the person.

When it comes right down to it, many are re-tracing the same arguments that have been in play for a really long time. It seems to me that to be in apologetics ministry some are in the habit of doing whatever they can to be fresh or to re-craft the Christian message in a way that somehow resonates with the spirit of the age.

It's not to say that presuppositional apologetics is a guarantee to stem the tide - that if we simply show the incoherence of something and the solidity of our worldview in comparison that we'll win a soul for Christ.

The older I get the more inscrutable I discover are the ways of the Spirit and the way He acts. I'm also much more willing to admit that unbeliever share a sense of knowledge in the world that can be denied in some extreme versions of presuppositional apologetics.

Philosophical and apologetic arguments exist in a sort of controlled environment. By that I mean that it's easy for the belligerents to sort of control reality within the bounds of argumentation. Life, in contrast, is very messy. It's not as easy to put our lives into syllogisms. We can't even have a discussion with our wives or our kids that's limited to trying to show the incoherence of their views much less people we don't know.

Having tried to deal with an apostasy within my extended family and an obstinate young man, the more I realize that how God's Spirit works on a young man and how the flesh operates to blind them (and us at times) is not as controllable as we'd like to admit in the midst of an argument.

Perhaps what we can learn from this is that apologetics is not justification, sanctification, and adoption. We can engage in the safe work of apologetics and not be putting sin to death on a daily basis.
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
@kainos01 / Steve Curtis asked (post #6), "Are there no intellectual - and thoroughly biblical - preachers whom everyone at PB would hold in high esteem?" I know the gentleman is long gone to be with His Saviour, but Stephen Charnock was intellectual and biblical, as per his work in The Existence and Attributes of God, and I would assume in his preaching as well. And no doubt there are others like him, even today.
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
Interestingly, it's a common critique of Van Til that he does not do enough exegesis to bring out his points. I seem to recall a professor of mine, who studied Van Til, saying Van Til admitted such later in life. I cannot find this quote, but I found this in a Classical critique of Van Til:

"The first point that must be briefly addressed has to do with the role of biblical exegesis in Van Til’s system of thought. Van Til repeatedly affirms that all of his teaching presupposes the authority of Scripture and depends on the teaching of Scripture, yet one of the most striking features of Van Til’s writing is the almost complete lack of biblical exegesis in support of his numerous claims. There is, on occasion, a passing reference to Romans 1 and other texts, but for the most part, Van Til’s works are filled with assertions grounded in no other authority than Van Til himself. This is not sufficient when one is asserting that much of what Reformed theologians have been teaching for the previous five centuries has been in error." -Keith Matthison, https://tabletalkmagazine.com/posts/christianity-and-van-tillianism-2019-08/

Obviously no relationship to Ravi's sins, but a possible link with a weakness of many apologists.
 

Taylor

Puritan Board Senior
Interestingly, it's a common critique of Van Til that he does not do enough exegesis to bring out his points. I seem to recall a professor of mine, who studied Van Til, saying Van Til admitted such later in life. I cannot find this quote...
It is in his response to G. K. Berkouwer in Jerusalem and Athens:

"The lack of detailed scriptural exegesis is a lack in all of my writings. I have no excuse for this."​
—E. R. Geehan, ed., Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Theology of Cornelius Van Til (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1971), 203.​

This is a truly humble admission from Van Til. But even with this admission on his part, I find this critique to be tired and, frankly, low-hanging fruit. Just because someone does not present detailed exegesis in their writings does not mean that their thought is not grounded in detailed exegesis. The fact is that Van Til was saturated in the dogmatic and exegetical writings of his colleagues and fathers in the faith. Furthermore, Van Til did not write exegetical works. What, should every Christian book of every kind also be part technical commentary? Should I hold every post here on Puritan Board to that standard? Of course not, and no one would ever seriously argue this about really any others Christian writings of a more philosophical nature. But many people, like Mathison, seem to find it very easy to do when it comes to Van Til. I will leave out for now any speculations about motives as to why this is, although I have my suspicions...

Of course, like you, I also recognize this thread isn't about Van Til, so I will not speak any more to this, unless someone starts another thread. But, since it was brought up, I thought this was worth saying.
 
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BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
It is in his response to G. K. Berkouwer in Jerusalem and Athens:

"The lack of detailed scriptural exegesis is a lack in all of my writings. I have no excuse for this."​
—E. R. Geehan, ed., Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Theology of Cornelius Van Til (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1971), 203.​

This is a truly humble admission from Van Til. But even with this admission on his part, I find this critique to be tired and, frankly, low-hanging fruit. Just because someone does not present detailed exegesis in their writings does not mean that their thought is not grounded in detailed exegesis. The fact is that Van Til was saturated in the dogmatic and exegetical writings of his colleagues and fathers in the faith. Furthermore, Van Til did not write exegetical works. What, should every Christian book of every kind also be part technical commentary? Should I hold every post here on Puritan Board to that standard? Of course not, and no one would ever seriously argue this about really any others Christian writings of a more philosophical nature. But many people, like Mathison, seem to find it very easy to do when it comes to Van Til. I will leave out for now any speculations about motives as to why this is, although I have my suspicions...

Of course, like you, I also recognize this thread isn't about Van Til, so I will not speak any more to this, unless someone starts another thread. But, since it was brought up, I thought this was worth saying.

I see both sides of this. Simply tagging your work with bible verses does nothing. Oliphint did that in his basic book on apologetics, and quite frankly it was flat. As proof-texting is a horrible way to do theology, it probably isn't much better in apologetics.

On the other hand, there is a biblical angle to this, though not where Van Tillians usually think it is. Van Til said Vos was his most influential prof. Okay, the best thing to do is trace a Vosian develop of Van Tillian themes. Dennison tried it. In some areas he was successful.
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
I see both sides of this. Simply tagging your work with bible verses does nothing. Oliphint did that in his basic book on apologetics, and quite frankly it was flat. As proof-texting is a horrible way to do theology, it probably isn't much better in apologetics.

On the other hand, there is a biblical angle to this, though not where Van Tillians usually think it is. Van Til said Vos was his most influential prof. Okay, the best thing to do is trace a Vosian develop of Van Tillian themes. Dennison tried it. In some areas he was successful.

Incidentally, Bill Dennison was the professor I was referring to. He really tried to bring out the influence of Vos on Van Til in his class. I believe he's developed some of this in his recent book, In Defense of the Eschaton, though I've not read it.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Incidentally, Bill Dennison was the professor I was referring to. He really tried to bring out the influence of Vos on Van Til in his class. I believe he's developed some of this in his recent book, In Defense of the Eschaton, though I've not read it.

I reviewed his work here. He made some excellent exegetical observations, but I don't think he really understood Plantinga or Reformed Epistemology.
 

Charles Johnson

Puritan Board Sophomore
It is in his response to G. K. Berkouwer in Jerusalem and Athens:

"The lack of detailed scriptural exegesis is a lack in all of my writings. I have no excuse for this."​
—E. R. Geehan, ed., Jerusalem and Athens: Critical Discussions on the Philosophy and Theology of Cornelius Van Til (Nutley, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1971), 203.​

This is a truly humble admission from Van Til. But even with this admission on his part, I find this critique to be tired and, frankly, low-hanging fruit. Just because someone does not present detailed exegesis in their writings does not mean that their thought is not grounded in detailed exegesis. The fact is that Van Til was saturated in the dogmatic and exegetical writings of his colleagues and fathers in the faith. Furthermore, Van Til did not write exegetical works. What, should every Christian book of every kind also be part technical commentary? Should I hold every post here on Puritan Board to that standard? Of course not, and no one would ever seriously argue this about really any others Christian writings of a more philosophical nature. But many people, like Mathison, seem to find it very easy to do when it comes to Van Til. I will leave out for now any speculations about motives as to why this is, although I have my suspicions...

Of course, like you, I also recognize this thread isn't about Van Til, so I will not speak any more to this, unless someone starts another thread. But, since it was brought up, I thought this was worth saying.
The argument that Van Til must be grounded in exegesis because he is grounded in the reformed tradition, which is grounded in exegesis, really only stands where Van Til is not idiosyncratic. But his system as a whole is highly idiosyncratic. If he were just a chip off the old block, we probably wouldn't be discussing him. Now, if anyone is willing to present exegetical arguments on his behalf, I would be more than happy to consider them.
 
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