Tuesday, September 15, 2009

RPCUS Distinctives and the Westminster Standards, Part 2 -9/15/09

A Continuation...2 of 6

By Rev. John M. Otis

A Commitment To Presuppositional Apologetics

The RPCUS advocates a presuppositional approach to apologetics in the Van Tilian tradition. The heart of presuppositional apologetics is its insistence that the debate between Christianity and all competing systems of philosophy occurs at the worldview level. Individuals always define and interpret the facts according to their governing presuppositions, i.e., their worldview. Accordingly, it is pointless to argue endlessly with the unbelievers about “the facts.” Rather, we must challenge the foolishness of the unbeliever’s philosophy of fact, his worldview. Accordingly, apologetics will always involve a debate about ultimate starting points or presuppositions. These presuppositions constitute the highest authority to which one can appeal. One’s ultimate starting point is the foundation that one assumes to be true, an assumption that is often made without critical analysis or independent verification. It is one’s foundational axiom.

The Christian’s ultimate starting point is self-attesting Scriptures. The Scriptures are our foundational axiom. God’s word must be the ultimate staring point instead of subjective human experience or the independent facts of the universe. “A presuppositional method of apologetics assumes the truth of Scripture in order to argue for the truth of Scripture. Such is unavoidable when ultimate truths are being debated” (Greg Bahnsen, A Biblical Introduction To Apologetics, Classroom syllabus 1976, p. 34).

One of the central issues in apologetics is the issue of certainty. Why do we believe Christianity to be the only true religion? On what basis do we believe Christianity to be true? First, Christianity can never be reduced to a probability statement. Christianity is not probably true; it is an absolute certainty. The Bible does not ask men to first establish the Bible’s reliability and then put their trust in it. The Bible makes absolute demands upon man. The Bible testifies to its own authority. Our certainty rests upon the Scripture’s self-attestation to its authority and truthfulness. The Bible is not open for independent verification. Van Til saw that it was sinful for man to call into question the Bible’s veracity. Man must bow in humility to the Bible’s authority and repent of his own autonomous thoughts.

Among some Reformed brethren, there are two other apologetic methodologies. Some are Christian rationalists, being followers of Gordon H. Clark, and others are evidentialists. For Clark, the ultimate test for truth is coherence, and undergirding this is the supremacy of the law on non-contradiction. A person chooses a self-consistent system over against a self-contradictory one (Gordon Clark, A Christian View of Man and Things, p.34). Clark maintained that systematic consistency is a test for revelations from God. Clark said, “If Bible doctrines are self-consistent, they have met the only legitimate test of reason. This test of logic is precisely the requirement that a set of propositions be meaningful, whether spoken by God or man” (quoted in Gilbert Weaver, The Concept of Truth In the Apologetic Systems of Gordon Hadden Clark and Cornelius Van Til, p.77).

Clark put great emphasis upon the use of reason, for Clark said, “The intelligibility of the Scripture presupposes logic. Therefore, anyone who is in the business of selecting first principles would seem to do better by choosing the law of non-contradiction as the axiom rather than Scripture. Scripture without logic would have no meaning” (Ronald Nash, ed. The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark, p.64).

Regarding the issue of certainty, Clark made the following comments: “Logical consistency therefore is evidence of inspiration; but it is not demonstration. Strong accidents do happen to occur, and no proof is forthcoming that the Bible is not such an accident” (quoted in Howard F. Vos, ed. How May I Know My Bible is Inspired, Can I trust My Bible, p. 24).

Regarding the use of Scripture in apologetics, Clark said, “the first reason for believing the Bible is inspired is that the Bible claims to be inspired … It is circular. We believe the Bible to be inspired because it makes the claim, and we believe the claim because it is inspired and therefore true. This does not seem to be the right way to argue” (Ibid. p. 10). Essentially, Clark believed that the apologist’s task, in part, was to reduce anti-Christian systems to absurdity. Clark maintained that Christian propositions are consistent with each other and thereby show the validity of the axiom that Christianity is truth. Hence, logical consistency is Christianity’s test for truth. We will reserve analysis of Clark’s methodology until we have listed another major approach to apologetics.

E.J. Carnell was an advocate of another major approach to apologetics known as evidentialism. Carnell said that truth is what God says it is. How do we know when God is speaking truth? We must test truth claims to determine their validity. Regarding one’s starting point for apologetics, Carnell has said, “I have always been warmly attracted to the Cartesian starting point, for it has close affinities with my own procedure” (E.J. Carnell, Christian Commitment, p. 37). The Cartesian starting point is: I think therefore I am. Carnell continued, “Here is what I defend: I think therefore, I am morally obliged to admit to reality of my own existence” (Ibid).

Regarding the relationship of faith to evidences, Carnell has said, “We have defined generic faith as a resting of the mind in the sufficiency of the evidences, saving Faith is a cordial trust in the person and work of Christ. But saving faith is built on the foundation of generic faith, for we could never yield ourselves to cordial trust unless the whole man rested in the sufficiency of the evidences” (Carnell, Christian Commitment, p. 267). For the evidentialist, the truthfulness of the Bible rests upon the weight of evidences. For the Christian apologist, the preponderance of evidence proves Christianity to be true. Evidentialism demands that man, even non-Christian man, be the determining judge of what constitutes a legitimate proof; therefore, man is the ultimate starting point for truth, not the Scripture itself.

Having set forth three major approaches to apologetics, which one does the Westminster Standards advocate? In chapter 1 section IV, the Westminster Confession states, “The authority of the holy scriptures, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God, (who is truth itself,) the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the word of God.” The Confession goes on to describe the uniqueness of the Scriptures as being spiritual in content, possessing great doctrines, having majestic literary style, setting forth a unity of doctrine spanning all sixty รข€“six books, which were written by different authors over centuries of time. The Confession says that these are “arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the word of God; yet, not withstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts” (Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 1 section V).

The Westminster Confession clearly adopts a presuppositional approach to apologetics. The Bible’s internal testimony to its inspiration and authority is our starting point. God has sovereignly revealed Himself in its pages, and his Word exercises unquestionable authority over all men. Some might say, “The RPCUS is being rather narrow or nit-picking in what it deems as an acceptable apologetic approach.” The issue at stake is no minor one. One of the great doctrines of the Westminster Standards is that of the sovereignty of God. Man exists to bring glory to His sovereign God, and any perspective that detracts from this central point diminishes this doctrinal truth. Man’s experiences, his observations, and his reasoning can never be the criteria upon which man stands as judge over God. Any apologetic methodology that begins with man and not with God as He is revealed in Scripture is insulting to the God of Scripture. The God of the Bible cannot come to us in any other way than that which is consistent with Himself. God has revealed Himself as the I AM THAT I AM, one who is self explanatory, one who is accountable to no one but Himself. If God chooses to reveal Himself in Scripture, then the Scripture needs no verification. The Bible’s self-attesting authority demands that man submit his whole being (mind, heart, and will) to the word of God. Yes, the Bible is the most rational explanation of the universe, and the evidences or facts of the universe do point to Christianity’s truthfulness. However, this alone is not what makes Christianity the only true religion. The Bible is not true because of the facts, but the facts are true because the Bible is true! An overriding doctrine of the Standards is that man, the creature, is the servant of God the creator, not vice versa. The Clarkian and evidentialist approaches to apologetics must be abandoned because they are not faithful to Scripture nor to the Confessional Standards. It is on this basis that the RPCUS insists that its officers adopt a presuppositional approach to apologetics.

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