Tag Archives: Early Church

Is the presuppositionalist approach to apologetics Biblical?

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

Here’s J.W. Wartick’s take from Always Have a Reason blog.

Excerpt:

Cornelius Van Til pioneered the field of “presuppositional apologetics” primarily through his works Christian Apologetics and The Defense of the Faith. His arguments are easily misunderstood as question begging or viciously circular. Herein, I have presented a brief outline and analysis which reveals that while the presuppositional approach may indeed have some logical faults, the overall system has a certain power to it and can be integrated into a total-apologetic system.

[…]The key to understand here is that Van Til does not accept that there is a neutral reason “out there” by which Christians and non-Christians can arbitrate the truth of Christianity; his point is that there is no neutral ground and that one’s presuppositions will determine one’s end point. Again, he writes, “this [apologetic method] implies a refusal to grant that any area or aspect of reality, any fact or any law of nature or of history, can be correctly interpreted except it be seen in the light of the main doctrines of Christianity” (Christian Apologetics, 124).

However, Van Til takes it even further and argues that one must presuppose the truth of Christianity in order to make sense of reality: ” What is the content of this presupposition, then? It is this: “I take what the Bible says about God and his relation to the universe as unquestionably true on its own authority” (The Defense of the Faith, 253); again, “The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything” (Christian Apologetics, 19). Thus, Van Til’s apologetic does not make Christianity the conclusion of an argument; rather, Christianity is the starting presupposition.

The presuppositional approach here cannot be stressed enough. For Van Til, one simply cannot grant to the non-Christian any epistemic point. “We cannot avoid coming to a clear-cut decision with respect to the question as to whose knowledge, man’s or God’s, shall be made the standard of the other. …[O]ne must be determinative and the other subordinate” (The Defense of the Faith 62-63).

What place is had for evidences in Van Til? At some points, he seems to be very skeptical of the use of Christian evidences. In particular, the fact that he argues there is no neutral evaluation grounds between the Christian and non-Christian seems to imply that  there can be no real evaluation of such arguments apart from Christianity. One of Van Til’s most famous illustrations of the use of evidences can be found in The Defense of the Faith pages 332 and following. He uses three persons, Mr. Black (non-Christian), Mr. Grey (Christian non-presuppositionalist), and Mr. White (presuppositional/reformed apologist):

Mr. Grey… says that, of course, the “rational man” has a perfect right to test the credibility of Scripture by logic… by experience… [Mr. Grey then takes Mr. Black a number of places to show him various theistic evidences. Mr. Black responds:] “you first use intellectual argument upon principles that presuppose the justice of my unbelieving position. Then when it it is pointed out to you that such is the case, you turn to witnessing [subjectively].

…At last it dawned upon Mr. White that first to admit that the principles of Mr. Black, the unbeliever, are right and then to seek to win him to the acceptance of the existence of God the Creator… is like first admitting that the United States had historically been a province of the Soviet Union but ought at the same time to be recognized as an independent and all-controlling power… If one reasons for the existence of God and for the truth of Christianity on the assumptions that Mr. Black’s principles of explanation are valid, then one must witness on the same assumption [which makes witnessing wholly subjective.] (p. 332-339)

It can be seen here that even evidences for Van Til must be based within a presupposition. There is no way to look at evidences in the abstract. One can either offer them within the presuppositions of Christianity or outside of Christianity. For Van Til, once one has agreed to offer evidences outside of Christianity, one has granted the presuppositions of the non-believer, and therefore is doomed to fail.

This would include using arguments like the cosmological argument, the fine-tuning argument, arguments from miracles, etc. – including the resurrection. That seems to be Van Til’s view. No evidence allowed – you have to presuppose Christianity is true in order to make sense of the world.

Now, I think we need to make a distinction between using questioning the pre-suppositions of our opponents, as with William Lane’s Craig’s moral argument, Plantinga’s epistemological argument for reason and Menuge’s ontological argument for reason. There are arguments for theism that question the pre-suppositions of an atheist. Certainly, non-theists cannot ground things like morality, free will, consciousness and rationality on atheism. But that’s not what Van Til is saying. He says that an atheist cannot be swayed by evidence unless he first becomes a Christian. I.e. – he is saying that atheist Anthony Flew is lying when he says that evidence caused him to turn to believe in God. On Van Til’s view, that’s impossible.

My view of presuppositional apologetics is that is as a system, it is circular reasoning. It assumes Christianity in order to prove Christianity. But there is an even worse problem with it. It’s not a Biblical way of doing apologetics. It’s man’s way of doing apologetics, not God’s. I think that the best way to understand Van Til’s apologetics is by saying that it really just a sermon disguised as apologetics. The problem is that Van Til’s sermon has no basis in the Bible. Wherever he is getting his view from, it’s not from the Bible. When I look the Bible, I don’t see any Biblical support for the view that pre-suppositional apologetics is the only approved way of defending the faith. Instead, the standard method seems to be evidentialism.

In Romans 1, Paul writes that people can learn about God’s existence from the natural world.

Romans 1:18-23:

18The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

19since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

20For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools

23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

And in Acts, Peter appeals to eyewitness testimony for the resurrection, and Jesus’ miracles.

Acts 2:22-24, and 36:

22“Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.

23This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.

24But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.

And finally from the same chapter:

36“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Professor Clay Jones of Biola University makes the case that the use of evidence when preaching the gospel was standard operating procedure in the early church. (H/T Apologetics 315)

Intro:

In 1993 I started working for Simon Greenleaf University (now Trinity Law School) which offered an M.A. in Christian apologetics (Craig Hazen was the director). Much of my job was to promote the school and although I had studied Christian apologetics since my sophomore year in high school, I decided I needed to see whether an apologetic witness had strong Biblical precedence.

It does.

As I poured through the Scripture I found that Jesus and the apostles preached the resurrection of Christ as the sign of the truth of Christianity.

What follows are some of the passages which support the resurrection witness.

Here is my favorite verse from his massive list list of verses in favor of the evidential approach to Christian apologetics:

Mat. 12:39-40: A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign! But none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jesus is saying that the resurrection was deliberately given as a sign to unbelievers to convince them. (“The Sign of Jonah” = the resurrection)

So, I see that God uses nature and miracles to persuade, which can be assessed using scientific and historical methods. Can anyone find me a clear statement in the Bible that states that only pre-suppositional arguments should be used? I could be wrong, and I am willing to be proven wrong. I think we should use the Biblical method of apologetics, not the fallen man’s method of apologetics.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

Did the Jesus’ followers expect Messiah to rise from the dead alone, before the final resurrection?

Investigation in progress
Investigation in progress

Why did the early church apply the word resurrection to Jesus? If they wanted to say that Jesus was alive and had triumphed over his enemies and was exalted by God, then why not say that? Why not say that he had been bodily assumed into Heaven and was now with the Father? The early proclamation that Jesus rose from the dead is a puzzle for naturalists, because it seems unexpected given what most Jews believed about the concept of resurrection. Jews didn’t have any concept of an individual resurrection before the day of judgment. Resurrection was something that happened to all the righteous at the end of the world. Not to one person.

Here’s a post from Tough Questions Answered to explain.

He quotes Tim Keller’s “The Reason for God” so:

The report of Jesus’s resurrection would have also have been unthinkable to the Jews. Unlike the Greeks, the Jews saw the material and physical world as good. Death was not seen as liberation from the material world but as a tragedy. By Jesus’s day many Jews had come to hope that some day in the future there would be a bodily resurrection of all the righteous, when God renewed the entire world and removed all suffering and death.  The resurrection, however, was merely one part of the complete renewal of the whole world, according to Jewish teaching. The idea of an individual being resurrected, in the middle of history, while the rest of the world continued on burdened by sickness, decay, and death, was inconceivable.

[…]If someone had said to any first-century Jew, “So-and-so has been resurrected from the dead!” the response would be, “Are you crazy? How could that be? Has disease and death ended? Is true justice established in the world? Has the wolf lain down with the lamb? Ridiculous!” The very idea of an individual resurrection would have been as impossible to imagine to a Jew as to a Greek.

And there’s more in a second post (this is Keller quoting N.T. Wright):

Over the years, skeptics about the resurrection have proposed that the followers of Jesus may have had hallucinations, that they may have imagined him appearing to them and speaking to them. This assumes that their master’s resurrection was imaginable for his Jewish followers, that it was an option in their worldview. It was not.

Others have put forth the conspiracy theory, that the disciples stole the body and claimed he was alive to others. This assumes that the disciples would expect other Jews to be open to the belief that an individual could be raised from the dead. But none of this is possible. The people of that time would have considered a bodily resurrection to be as impossible as the people of our own time, though for different reasons.

Another reason to question whether the concept of resurrection could be applied to Jesus is because there is no expectation that the Messiah was even supposed to die, much less be resurrected.

Dr. William Lane Craig explains:

The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite almost every predisposition to the contrary. Three aspects of the disciples’ disposition following Jesus’s crucifixion put a question mark behind the faith and hope they had placed in Jesus:

  1. Jesus was dead, and Jews had no anticipation of a dying, much less rising, Messiah.
  2. According to Jewish law, Jesus’s execution as a criminal showed him out to be a heretic, a man literally under the curse of God.
  3. Jewish beliefs about the afterlife precluded anyone’s rising from the dead before the general, eschatological resurrection of the dead.

It is important to appreciate, with respect to the first aspect of their situation, that in Jewish expectation Messiah would conquer Israel’s enemies and restore the throne of David, not be shamefully executed by them. Jesus’s ignominious execution at the hands of Rome was as decisive a disproof as anything could be to a first century Jew that Jesus was not Israel’s awaited Messiah, but another failed pretender. Failed Messianic movements were nothing new in Judaism, and they left their followers with basically two alternatives: either go home or else find a new Messiah. These were no doubt hard choices, but nevertheless they were the choices one had. After surveying such failed Messianic movements before and after Jesus, N. T. Wright remarks,

So far as we know, all the followers of these first century Messianic movements were fanatically committed to the cause. They, if anybody, might be expected to suffer from this blessed twentieth century disease called ‘cognitive dissonance’ when their expectations failed to materialize. But in no case, right across the century before Jesus and the century after him, do we hear of any Jewish group saying that their executed leader had been raised from the dead and he really was the Messiah after all.

And here’s more support for the no individual resurrection point:

Finally, Jewish hope in the resurrection of the dead was invariably a corporate and eschatological hope. The resurrection of all the righteous dead would take place after God had brought the world as we know it to an end. Surveying the Jewish literature, Joachim Jeremias concluded,

Ancient Judaism did not know of an anticipated resurrection as an event of history. Nowhere does one find in the literature anything comparable to the resurrection of Jesus. Certainly resurrections of the dead were known, but these always concerned resuscitations, the return to the earthly life. In no place in the later Judaic literature does it concern a resurrection to d o x aas an event of history.41

Even if the disciples’ faith in Jesus had somehow managed to survive the crucifixion, they would at most have looked forward to their reunion with him at the final resurrection and would perhaps have preserved his tomb as a shrine, where Jesus’s bones might rest until the eschatological resurrection. That was the Jewish hope.

But we know that that did not happen. Despite their having most every predisposition to the contrary, it is an indisputable fact that the earliest disciples suddenly and sincerely came to believe that God had raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.

So I hope that enough has been said there for you to realize that talking about resurrection with respect to Jesus is a very weird thing for the early church to do – that is, unless it actually happened.

Christians have always believed in a romantic, committed, exclusive view of sex

Does government provide incentives for people to get married?
The natural family is the only place where sexual activity makes sense

Consider this post from Michael Krueger about the history of Christianity with respect to sex, love and marriage.

Excerpt:

[I]n the second century, as Christianity emerged with a distinctive religious identity, the surrounding pagan culture began to take notice.  And it didn’t like what it saw.  Christians were seen as strange and superstitious–a peculiar religious movement that undermined the norms of a decent society.  Christians were, well, different.

So, what was so different about Christians compared to the surrounding Greco-Roman culture?

[…]While it was not unusual for Roman citizens to have multiple sexual partners, homosexual encounters, and engagement with temple prostitutes, Christians stood out precisely because of their refusal to engage in these practices.

For instance, Tertullian goes to great lengths to defend the legitimacy of Christianity by pointing out how Christians are generous and share their resources with all those in need.  But, then he says, “One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives” (Apol. 39). Why does he say this?  Because, in the Greco-Roman world, it was not unusual for people to share their spouses with each other.

In the second-century Epistle to Diognetus, the author goes out of his way to declare how normal Christians are in regard to what they wear, what they eat, and how they participate in society.  However, he then says, “[Christians] share their meals, but not their sexual partners” (Diogn. 5.7).  Again, this is the trait that makes Christians different.

We see this play out again in the second-century Apology of Aristides.  Aristides defends the legitimacy of the Christian faith to the emperor Hadrian by pointing out how Christians “do not commit adultery nor fornication” and “their men keep themselves from every unlawful union” (15).

A final example comes from the second-century apology of Minucius Felix.  In his defense to Octavius, he contrasts the sexual ethic of the pagan world with that of Christians:

Among the Persians, a promiscuous association between sons and mothers is allowed. Marriages with sisters are legitimate among the Egyptians and in Athens. Your records and your tragedies, which you both read and hear with pleasure, glory in incests: thus also you worship incestuous gods, who have intercourse with mothers, with daughters, with sisters. With reason, therefore, is incest frequently detected among you, and is continually permitted. Miserable men, you may even, without knowing it, rush into what is unlawful: since you scatter your lusts promiscuously, since you everywhere beget children, since you frequently expose even those who are born at home to the mercy of others, it is inevitable that you must come back to your own children, and stray to your own offspring. Thus you continue the story of incest, even although you have no consciousness of your crime. But we maintain our modesty not in appearance, but in our heart we gladly abide by the bond of a single marriage; in the desire of procreating, we know either one wife, or none at all (31).

The genius of Christ-centered relationships is that both parties have to prove that they can be faithful and committed during the courtship. Both people have to work before the marriage to demonstrate their ability at marital roles (husband or wife, father or mother). It’s not just that this is the way that we have always done it, it’s that there are real reasons why chastity and fidelity are important for marriage success. You can’t just have fun, pick anyone you like, and have marriage “work out”. You have to be comfortable with chastity and fidelity, and the person you choose has to be comfortable with chastity and fidelity. Each person has to demonstrate that they are capable of self-sacrificial love for others, since that’s the main thing that marriage is about – at least the ones that last. Virtue is at the center of the Christian concept of marriage.

What did early church fathers think about abortion and infanticide?

Unborn baby scheming about early church traditions
Unborn baby scheming about early church traditions

This is from Birds of the Air.

Summary:

Recently I came across a reading of the Didache. “The what?” you may ask. The Didache is a book written somewhere in the first or second century. For a long time it was up for consideration as Scripture. It was believed to be the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Eventually it was agreed that the book was an excellent book, but not inspired Scripture. So I was pleased to be able to download this admirable book containing good teachings from the early Church fathers.

The book seemed to be largely a lot of quotes from Scripture. You’ll learn the basic rules of Christianity — “First, you shall love God who made you; second, love your neighbor as yourself.” You’ll learn that “grave sins” are forbidden, like adultery, murder, fornication, and so on. (They specifically include pederasty in the list.) There are instructions regarding teachers, prophets, Christian assembly, and so on. Lots of the normal, good stuff. But, since this was written sometime prior to 200 AD, I was somewhat surprised at this instruction: “You shall not murder a child by abortion” (Didache, Ch 2).

I got curious about what babies look like when they are just a few weeks old, so I went looking for pictures of them.

This post from Life News has ten excellent pictures of life inside the womb.

Here’s my favorite from 10 weeks:

Unborn Baby - 10 weeks old
Unborn Baby – 10 weeks old

This is a first trimester baby!

I decided to go hunting to see what is developed at this time, and found this list:

  • From this week until birth, the developing organism is called a fetus.
  • The fetus is now the size of a small strawberry.
  • The feet are 2mm long (one tenth of an inch).
  • The neck is beginning to take shape.
  • The body muscles are almost developed. Baby has begun movement.
  • While still too small for you to feel, your little one is wriggling and shifting.
  • The jaws are in place. The mouth cavity and the nose are joined.
  • The ears and nose can now be seen clearly.
  • Fingerprints are already evident in the skin.
  • Nipples and hair follicles begin to form.

The unborn baby is now called a fetus. Though the fetus is constantly moving, you will not be able to actually feel fetal movement for several more weeks. All of the organs, muscles, and nerves are in place and beginning to function. As the hands and feet develop fingers and toes, they have lost their paddle like look. The touch pads on the fingers form and already have fingerprints.

During this week of pregnancy the crown to rump length of the fetus is 0.9 inch to 1.2 inches (22 to 30mm), weight 0.07 ounce (2gm). They are now on the way to forming their testicles or ovaries, getting ready for the next generation. Until the ninth week of fetus development, the fetal reproductive apparatus is the same one for the both sexes. The head is still large and curves into chest.

Each week your uterus grows larger with the baby growing inside it. You may begin to see your waistline growing thicker by this time. A pelvic exam will detect that your uterus has grown from it’s normal, size of your fist, to a little bigger than a grapefruit.

Fascinating!

Christians have always believed in a romantic, committed, exclusive view of sex

Does government provide incentives for people to get married?
The natural family is the only place where sexual activity makes sense

Nancy Pearcey tweeted this post from Michael Krueger, and it’s a must-read.

Excerpt:

[I]n the second century, as Christianity emerged with a distinctive religious identity, the surrounding pagan culture began to take notice.  And it didn’t like what it saw.  Christians were seen as strange and superstitious–a peculiar religious movement that undermined the norms of a decent society.  Christians were, well, different.

So, what was so different about Christians compared to the surrounding Greco-Roman culture?

[…]While it was not unusual for Roman citizens to have multiple sexual partners, homosexual encounters, and engagement with temple prostitutes, Christians stood out precisely because of their refusal to engage in these practices.

For instance, Tertullian goes to great lengths to defend the legitimacy of Christianity by pointing out how Christians are generous and share their resources with all those in need.  But, then he says, “One in mind and soul, we do not hesitate to share our earthly goods with one another. All things are common among us but our wives” (Apol. 39). Why does he say this?  Because, in the Greco-Roman world, it was not unusual for people to share their spouses with each other.

In the second-century Epistle to Diognetus, the author goes out of his way to declare how normal Christians are in regard to what they wear, what they eat, and how they participate in society.  However, he then says, “[Christians] share their meals, but not their sexual partners” (Diogn. 5.7).  Again, this is the trait that makes Christians different.

We see this play out again in the second-century Apology of Aristides.  Aristides defends the legitimacy of the Christian faith to the emperor Hadrian by pointing out how Christians “do not commit adultery nor fornication” and “their men keep themselves from every unlawful union” (15).

A final example comes from the second-century apology of Minucius Felix.  In his defense to Octavius, he contrasts the sexual ethic of the pagan world with that of Christians:

Among the Persians, a promiscuous association between sons and mothers is allowed. Marriages with sisters are legitimate among the Egyptians and in Athens. Your records and your tragedies, which you both read and hear with pleasure, glory in incests: thus also you worship incestuous gods, who have intercourse with mothers, with daughters, with sisters. With reason, therefore, is incest frequently detected among you, and is continually permitted. Miserable men, you may even, without knowing it, rush into what is unlawful: since you scatter your lusts promiscuously, since you everywhere beget children, since you frequently expose even those who are born at home to the mercy of others, it is inevitable that you must come back to your own children, and stray to your own offspring. Thus you continue the story of incest, even although you have no consciousness of your crime. But we maintain our modesty not in appearance, but in our heart we gladly abide by the bond of a single marriage; in the desire of procreating, we know either one wife, or none at all (31).

I think that women should want men who believe in chastity before marriage and who believe in committing to you exclusively as protector and provider for a lifetime. And they should have to prove that they can be faithful and committed during the courtship, too. You can’t just take their word for it, they have to work before the marriage to demonstrate their ability as a husband and father. It’s not just that this is the way that we have always done it, it’s that there are real reasons why chastity and fidelity are important for marriage success. You can’t just have fun, pick anyone you like, and have marriage “work out”. You have to be comfortable with chastity and fidelity, and the person you choose has to be comfortable with chastity and fidelity. It takes two people with self-control to make a stable, exclusive and committed marriage.