Seven Theses on Presuppositionalism: A Primer

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Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
I thought this might prove to be useful...

1. When it comes to interpreting the world—i.e., self-consciously making a philosophy of life, a worldview—there are two options. One can submit to Scripture as a perspicuously self-attesting authority, or one can attempt to construct such a philosophy himself, theonomy or autonomy. The history of philosophy has generally followed the autonomous approach, e.g. viewing the Greeks as innocent little children who were looking around the world, just trying to figure things out, rather than as those who deny that God’s attributes are plainly revealed by what is made so that they are without excuse (Romans 1:18 ff.). Allowing that man is fit to interpret the world properly without clinging to Scripture is substantively the same as Rome’s nature-grace dichotomy, applied to apologetics.

2. There is no neutral methodology of constructing a worldview. “The intellectual is itself ethical.” If one assumes that the world is investigate-able without necessarily appealing to God’s authoritative revelation (the Bible), then he is assuming that he is warranted in thinking of facts as not necessarily created by God, which is atheism. He can either submit to God at the outset, or choose not to. There is no neutrality, either Biblical philosophy or manmade philosophy; it is a “forced decision.”

3. Consequently, arguing as if autonomous presuppositions are correct in order to prove theonomous presuppositions, as with classical apologetics, is repudiated. Such a view cannot possibly prove God because it tries to derive from an antitheistic presupposition (that God is not necessarily sovereign over reasoning in any respect) to a thoroughly Christian presupposition (that God is necessarily sovereign over reasoning in every respect). If we are to submit to the Bible on its own authority—and there is no other possible way to go about mining doctrine from it—then we cannot expect to prove it on some other grounds.

4. Presuppositionalism is not fideism. Presuppositional apologists believe that we are rationally permitted in believing in the authority of Scripture as self-evident (as all Christians believe in practice), and that doing so is the only way to have a non-absurd worldview. By arguing from the impossibility of the contrary, presuppositional apologists show that one must presuppose the truthfulness of Christianity in order to have a basis for attempting to critique Christianity in the first place!

5. Presuppositionalism is the only way to avoid fideism. All other approaches require some type of “leap of faith,” for they cannot but establish a probability, even in theory (thus requiring faith to “fill the gap”). Presuppositionalism, on the other hand, insofar as it argues that all non-Christian worldviews destroy the possibility of rationality, argue for the necessity of Christianity.

6. Presuppositionalists believe that, because of contrary presuppositions that permeate to affect one’s entire belief-structure, believers and unbelievers have absolutely no common ground in principle. If unbelievers were consistent with their unbelief, they would be blabbering idiots; but God is kind and restrains them in their rebellion. Therefore, because of God’s restraint, unbelievers are forced to accept specific beliefs about the world, those that they simply cannot distort by virtue of their presuppositions (e.g., belief in the universe as behaving according to rational rules). By these beliefs, which I personally term “immutable facts” for classification purposes, the presuppositional apologist has a “bridge” which he can use to attack and to show the inconsistency of unbelief. Were God not to restrain unbelievers in their rebellion, there would be no common ground at all..

7. Presuppositionalism rules.
 

ChristianTrader

Puritan Board Graduate
I'll just pick on point 1

Allowing that man is fit to interpret the world properly without clinging to Scripture is substantively the same as Rome’s nature-grace dichotomy, applied to apologetics.

No, it is just saying that general revelation has teeth, even if one never sees a Bible. If one wishes to distort general revelation, then that is on them. Since not everyone either sees the Bible or gets non heretical teaching out of one, it seems that your position gives them an out for seeing the world falsely.

CT
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I thought this might prove to be useful...

1. When it comes to interpreting the world—i.e., self-consciously making a philosophy of life, a worldview—there are two options. One can submit to Scripture as a perspicuously self-attesting authority, or one can attempt to construct such a philosophy himself, theonomy or autonomy. The history of philosophy has generally followed the autonomous approach, e.g. viewing the Greeks as innocent little children who were looking around the world, just trying to figure things out, rather than as those who deny that God’s attributes are plainly revealed by what is made so that they are without excuse (Romans 1:18 ff.). Allowing that man is fit to interpret the world properly without clinging to Scripture is substantively the same as Rome’s nature-grace dichotomy, applied to apologetics.

2. There is no neutral methodology of constructing a worldview. “The intellectual is itself ethical.” If one assumes that the world is investigate-able without necessarily appealing to God’s authoritative revelation (the Bible), then he is assuming that he is warranted in thinking of facts as not necessarily created by God, which is atheism. He can either submit to God at the outset, or choose not to. There is no neutrality, either Biblical philosophy or manmade philosophy; it is a “forced decision.”

3. Consequently, arguing as if autonomous presuppositions are correct in order to prove theonomous presuppositions, as with classical apologetics, is repudiated. Such a view cannot possibly prove God because it tries to derive from an antitheistic presupposition (that God is not necessarily sovereign over reasoning in any respect) to a thoroughly Christian presupposition (that God is necessarily sovereign over reasoning in every respect). If we are to submit to the Bible on its own authority—and there is no other possible way to go about mining doctrine from it—then we cannot expect to prove it on some other grounds.

4. Presuppositionalism is not fideism. Presuppositional apologists believe that we are rationally permitted in believing in the authority of Scripture as self-evident (as all Christians believe in practice), and that doing so is the only way to have a non-absurd worldview. By arguing from the impossibility of the contrary, presuppositional apologists show that one must presuppose the truthfulness of Christianity in order to have a basis for attempting to critique Christianity in the first place!

5. Presuppositionalism is the only way to avoid fideism. All other approaches require some type of “leap of faith,” for they cannot but establish a probability, even in theory (thus requiring faith to “fill the gap”). Presuppositionalism, on the other hand, insofar as it argues that all non-Christian worldviews destroy the possibility of rationality, argue for the necessity of Christianity.

6. Presuppositionalists believe that, because of contrary presuppositions that permeate to affect one’s entire belief-structure, believers and unbelievers have absolutely no common ground in principle. If unbelievers were consistent with their unbelief, they would be blabbering idiots; but God is kind and restrains them in their rebellion. Therefore, because of God’s restraint, unbelievers are forced to accept specific beliefs about the world, those that they simply cannot distort by virtue of their presuppositions (e.g., belief in the universe as behaving according to rational rules). By these beliefs, which I personally term “immutable facts” for classification purposes, the presuppositional apologist has a “bridge” which he can use to attack and to show the inconsistency of unbelief. Were God not to restrain unbelievers in their rebellion, there would be no common ground at all..

7. Presuppositionalism rules.


Some random thoughts (not necessarily in opposition to you, I am just thinking out loud):


Point 1: Many do not know of Scripture and so construct their worldview based on what they see in nature; some groups even coming to a belief in one high God. The creation itself, even without the Bible, shows that there is a Creator.


Point 2: Presuppositionalists like the word "autonomous." Also, I have noticed a tendency for them to use a lot of big words.


Point 3: Most people that come to faith do not come to faith due to logical argumentation or because their arguments have been attacked and found wanting. Most people come to faith for reasons not solely nor mainly tied to logic. Most are attracted to the beauty of Christ or flee to Him as a means of escape, they do not logically deduce him.


Point 4: believers and unbelievers have more common ground than you think. A general deism or theism could produce a world with some hint of rationality

Point 5: Many mistake apologetics for evangelism and think that mastering more arguments will bring more folks into the kingdom. It seems that many, many reformed believers want to master apologetics, which seems to be a narrower discipline, than they do basic evangelism. I think evangelism and apologetics needs to be separated and seen clearly as two discipline or else apologetics needs to be subsumed under evangelism as a narrower discipline. I am afraid that we are focusing much effort on atheists who are mostly hardened and not on the normal unbeliever, who will be blessed a lot more by evangelistic appeals rather than presup argumentation.


What are your counter-thoughts to these thoughts? Again, I am not attacking, just throwing out some random, not-very-well-developed first thoughts.
 

Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
I'll just pick on point 1

Allowing that man is fit to interpret the world properly without clinging to Scripture is substantively the same as Rome’s nature-grace dichotomy, applied to apologetics.

No, it is just saying that general revelation has teeth, even if one never sees a Bible. If one wishes to distort general revelation, then that is on them. Since not everyone either sees the Bible or gets non heretical teaching out of one, it seems that your position gives them an out for seeing the world falsely.

They do get an out as far as not having a wholly Biblical philosophy -- just as those who never hear the Gospel cannot possibly be condemned for rejecting it.

They still have a false philosophy, of course.
 

Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
Pergy,

Point 1: See my reply to CT. I do not deny that those who have never heard can get some things right.

Point 2: :D It took me a while to understand what exactly was signified with that word (approximately a year after diving into presuppositionalism), but I’ve finally got it.

Point 3: I agree. But nonetheless a Biblical defense of the faith is preferred to one that presents a false view of Christ. I see apologetics more as “silencing the mouth of the unbeliever” than actually bringing people to faith, for usually the ones making arguments against Christianity are the most morally opposed and are the least willing to convert (in general).

Point 4: Without getting into the specific arguments…I disagree. :)

Point 5: You are absolutely right. I have noticed that apologetics is mostly a “builder-upper” for those who are already Christians. While I still love apologetics and see it as important in confronting unbelief, I nonetheless think it can easily be turned into an idol and something that draws attention away from helping others’ souls, which I am glad you pointed out.

-----Added 6/8/2009 at 11:34:39 EST-----

They do get an out as far as not having a wholly Biblical philosophy -- just as those who never hear the Gospel cannot possibly be condemned for rejecting it.


???

Excuse me for my ambiguity -- they are not condemned for the specific sin of rejecting the Gospel. They are still damned for their sins.

That was terribly unclear.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Pergy,

Point 1: See my reply to CT. I do not deny that those who have never heard can get some things right.

Point 2: :D It took me a while to understand what exactly was signified with that word (approximately a year after diving into presuppositionalism), but I’ve finally got it.

Point 3: I agree. But nonetheless a Biblical defense of the faith is preferred to one that presents a false view of Christ. I see apologetics more as “silencing the mouth of the unbeliever” than actually bringing people to faith, for usually the ones making arguments against Christianity are the most morally opposed and are the least willing to convert (in general).

Point 4: Without getting into the specific arguments…I disagree. :)

Point 5: You are absolutely right. I have noticed that apologetics is mostly a “builder-upper” for those who are already Christians. While I still love apologetics and see it as important in confronting unbelief, I nonetheless think it can easily be turned into an idol and something that draws attention away from helping others’ souls, which I am glad you pointed out.

-----Added 6/8/2009 at 11:34:39 EST-----

They do get an out as far as not having a wholly Biblical philosophy -- just as those who never hear the Gospel cannot possibly be condemned for rejecting it.


???

Excuse me for my ambiguity -- they are not condemned for the specific sin of rejecting the Gospel. They are still damned for their sins.

That was terribly unclear.

Thanks. Maybe in a week or two we can talk about point 4.
 

Myshkin

Puritan Board Freshman
Hi Confessor/Ben,

Question for you on theses 3:

"3. Consequently, arguing as if autonomous presuppositions are correct in order to prove theonomous presuppositions, as with classical apologetics, is repudiated."

Would you give a specific example of classical apologetics attempting what you stated? I want to understand exactly what you mean by this.

Thanks!

-----Added 6/8/2009 at 11:52:53 EST-----

"But nonetheless a Biblical defense of the faith is preferred to one that presents a false view of Christ."

I saw this after I posted.

Question: I assume you do not mean by this that classical apologetics presents a false view of Christ? In light of theses 3, one could interpret this as the meaning. I just want to be clear.
 

Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
"3. Consequently, arguing as if autonomous presuppositions are correct in order to prove theonomous presuppositions, as with classical apologetics, is repudiated."

Would you give a specific example of classical apologetics attempting what you stated? I want to understand exactly what you mean by this.

[...]

"But nonetheless a Biblical defense of the faith is preferred to one that presents a false view of Christ."

I saw this after I posted.

Question: I assume you do not mean by this that classical apologetics presents a false view of Christ? In light of theses 3, one could interpret this as the meaning. I just want to be clear.

That second quote actually is regarding classical apologetics. But please don't take me as meaning that I think classical apologists are non-Christian or something. Perhaps an accurate way of stating it would be that I think classical apologetics presents an Arminian view of Christ. It's false, but it's not as if I think classical apologists are hellbent on subverting Christ's kingdoms and have horns sticking out of their heads. I think they're wrong (hence "false view of Christ"), but not terribly wrong.

Anyway, as a specific example of classical apologetics' using autonomous presuppositions, you have to look to (1) to see how I defined "autonomous." Essentially, if one tries to begin with man's own perspective and self-consciously tries to construct a philosophy from that, then he is being autonomous -- and that is exactly what the entirety of the history of philosophy has done. Classical apologetics does the same thing. For instance, take the cosmological argument. It basically says, "Look around the world. You see motion. What does this motion mean? ... There must have been a Prime Mover." It starts with man's perspective and is therefore autonomous.

There are manifold reasons to reject classical apologetics, but the #1 reason is because if one begins with an autonomous approach (thinking that man is the one who has the prerogative to interpret reality, i.e. construct a philosophy), then one cannot end with a theonomous approach (thinking that God through Scripture is the one Who has the prerogative to interpret reality). If one somehow comes to the conclusion that the Bible is trustworthy, it would only be because it seems plausible given man's interpretation of reality, not because God actually has the prerogative to interpret reality. And that is wrong, for God, as Creator, certainly has that prerogative.
 

Myshkin

Puritan Board Freshman
"That second quote actually is regarding classical apologetics. But please don't take me as meaning that I think classical apologists are non-Christian or something. Perhaps an accurate way of stating it would be that I think classical apologetics presents an Arminian view of Christ. It's false, but it's not as if I think classical apologists are hellbent on subverting Christ's kingdoms and have horns sticking out of their heads. I think they're wrong (hence "false view of Christ"), but not terribly wrong."

I think you’re saying that it is a systematic error and not an heretical error? Do I have that right?

I am trying to understand how one can have a false view of Christ yet still be a christian, as you have stated. A false view of Christ historically takes one out of historical orthodoxy. An Arminian view of grace is one thing, but to require this to mean one automatically has a false view of Christ himself is quite a stretch, I think. I think it would be better to say that Arminians have a false understanding of grace and how Christ’s life and death are applied to us. And if so, I fail to see how this issue is related to one’s view of general revelation.

I know the presuppositionalist sees a connection, so this is where the two approaches split. CA does not see a direct connection between knowledge of general revelation and the nature of Christ, or even of Christ’s saving grace. The only way to do that it seems to the CA is to conflate the historical meaning of salvation to include not just salvation from sin/God’s wrath through Christ, but also salvation from a supposed inability to know anything outside of scripture without first assuming scripture. (I know the presupp would counter here that the lattter is part of the former). The CA would agree that salvation involves 1) a new orientation of how we view things and 2) the learning of things we would never know without scripture, but they won’t equate that with the unregenerate being unable to know anything whatsoever to any degree without first knowing God. To the CA mind this seems as if salvation is from ignorance and this strikes their radar as flirting with gnosticism, whereas to the presupp mind it seems as if the CA thinks salvation only covers moral/law issues and not a fallen mind thus denying total depravity (and thus is Arminian). This comment is not to debate which side has this right, but is simply to point out each side’s concerns, and I think we should respect those concerns instead of shouting them down without winsomely enaging one another.

That “CA is Arminian or even Roman Catholic” is the common stance of the presuppostionalist, and that deserves discussion on its own, but this is honestly the first time I have ever heard that CA presents a false view of Christ. Something tells me that Van Til would never have said that himself (I gather this from Kim Riddlebarger’s lectures on Francis Schaeffer)?

Just to be sure, do you equate a “false view of Christ” with “a false Christ”?

I hope we can keep a tone of friendly discussion rather than debate. I am not out to persuade you to CA, just seeking to discuss our differences in the hopes of understanding the postions for what they are and not for the caricatures they are often made into.

Grace and Peace to you!
 
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Confessor

Puritan Board Senior
I think you’re saying that it is a systematic error and not an heretical error? Do I have that right?

Yeah. As far as how grievous the error is, I'd say it's about as far as Arminianism.

I am trying to understand how one can have a false view of Christ yet still be a christian, as you have stated. A false view of Christ historically takes one out of historical orthodoxy.

Honestly, don't get too worked about my "false view of Christ" comment. For all intents and purposes, read that as "I think classical apologetics is wrong." I find it difficult to distinguish between levels of error, so I apologize if I come across as being too harsh in my phraseology.

I know the presuppositionalist sees a connection, so this is where the two approaches split. CA does not see a direct connection between knowledge of general revelation and the nature of Christ, or even of Christ’s saving grace. The only way to do that it seems to the CA is to conflate the historical meaning of salvation to include not just salvation from sin/God’s wrath through Christ, but also salvation from a supposed inability to know anything outside of scripture without first assuming scripture. (I know the presupp would counter here that the lattter is part of the former).

Yeah, that's pretty much how I would respond. When someone is brought from death to life spiritually, it's not just a mere addition to their life; it's a complete 180. Their entire life is entirely different, and it spans across all areas.

The CA would agree that salvation involves 1) a new orientation of how we view things and 2) the learning of things we would never know without scripture, but they won’t equate that with the unregenerate being unable to know anything whatsoever to any degree without first knowing God. To the CA mind this seems as if salvation is from ignorance and this strikes their radar as flirting with gnosticism, whereas to the presupp mind it seems as if the CA thinks salvation only covers moral/law issues and not a fallen mind thus denying total depravity (and thus is Arminian). This comment is not to debate which side has this right, but is simply to point out each side’s concerns, and I think we should respect those concerns instead of shouting them down without winsomely enaging one another.

Interesting point of how CA sees presup.
 
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