Review of Oliphint's "Covenantal Apologetics"

Presuppositional, or what Scott Oliphint calls Covenantal, apologetics is probably the most misunderstood way of thinking about apologetics. Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987), the fountainhead of presuppositional apologetics, has been called “the most original apologist of our time” (18). Oliphint has even published a booklet titled Cornelius Van Til and the Reformation of Christian Apologetics.  While many apologists such as Gordon Clark, E.J. Carnell, Ron Nash, Carl Henry, and Francis Schaeffer have called themselves presuppositional, this book is the brand of presuppositionalism most touched by the fingerprints of Van Til. Other Van Tillian presuppositionalists include Greg Bahnsen, Doug Wilson, Richard Pratt, William Edgar, and John Frame. Presuppositional Apologetics has been long on theory and short on practice. It has also been characterized by jargon and therefore inaccessible to many Christians. Perhaps this is also why straw men are prone to be built when opponents describe it. In this book, Scott Oliphint aims to remedy that situation. He received his Bachelor of Science from West Texas State University, and received two master’s degrees and his Ph.D from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He is currently Professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster. A long-time student of Van Til, Oliphint has also published numerous articles, five other books on apologetics, along with other books on philosophy and theology.

This book’s aim is to translate the apologetic methodology of Cornelius Van Til “into language, terms, and concepts that are more accessible” (26). Due to the dense prose and technical philosophical nature of Van Til’s work, many have not benefitted from its richness and others have mischaracterized his approach. He also aims to make explicit the biblical and theological undergirding that Van Til often assumed in his work. The theology is decidedly Reformational in nature, particularly in regard to the authority of Scripture and the doctrine of sin. In fact, Oliphint is convinced that if one embraces the theology that came out of the Protestant Reformation, then this approach to apologetics is the only consistent one available. The author’s desire is to be both principial and practical so the book consists of seven chapters of principle that build upon one another, and increase in technicality, each concluded by sample dialogues that put the principle into practice.

The author introduces his method by noting that the beauty and uniqueness of this approach “is that it is naturally and centrally focused on the reality of God’s revelation in Christ, including of course, the good news of the gospel” (25). It is also distinctive in that since the argument is for the Triune God of Scripture, who calls all men to repent, rather than a generic deity, it calls for a radical commitment (25). Oliphint acknowledges that presuppositionalists have been guilty of talking too much about principles. Important though they are, he asserts that “an apologetic that can do little more than continually talk about itself is not worth the effort exerted or ink spilled over it” (25). Because of this, Oliphint barely uses the word “presupposition” and goes so far as to suggest a new label, namely covenantal apologetics, as more apt for Van Til’s approach.

Chapter 1 fittingly begins with a definition of apologetics: “the application of biblical truth to unbelief” (29). Chapter 1 is Reformation Theology 101. Of supreme importance for apologetics is the biblical truth that all people are either in Adam or in Christ. Every person “is defined, in part, by his relationship to a covenant head.” Hence, the aptness of Oliphint’s new label. Next, the author emphasizes the lordship of Christ. Because Jesus is the Lord of every person, truth is not relative and we must base our defense of the faith on reality – as God has defined it. Every single person is in covenant with the Triune God, by virtue of his creating them for relationship, either as a covenant keeper or a covenant breaker.

The author then appeals to the locus classicus of covenantal apologetics: Romans 1:18-23. There Paul tells us that every single person knows that God exists. It is not the case that they know of a god, but of the one true God, the creator of all things. Oliphint writes, “We can say unequivocally, therefore, that by virtue of man’s being created in the image of God, by virtue of man’s being a covenant creature, every human being on the face of the earth since creation and into eternity has an ineradicable knowledge of God – a knowledge that is given through the things that were made, which includes, of course, everything (except God himself)” (42-43). So Romans 1 explicitly teaches that all people know God but all people also suppress this knowledge. Sin causes the human race to be irrational. As a result of our Adamic nature, we now try to convince ourselves that what is actually true about the world is not true. No one is neutral and brute facts are a myth. So the problem is not with the evidence. Romans 1 says the evidence is undebatable: “For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse” (1:20). As Oliphint puts it, the problem is not the evidence but the receptacle to which the evidence comes (44). Because of Adam, our father who sought autonomy, unbelievers are not ignorant, but culpably rebellious.

Having laid the theological groundwork, the author then moves to his ten tenets for covenantal apologetics, which will be returned to and unpacked throughout the remainder of the book (55). They are:

1. The faith that we are defending must begin with, and necessarily include, the triune God-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—who, as God, condescends to create and to redeem.

2. God’s covenantal revelation is authoritative by virtue of what is, and any covenantal, Christian apologetic will necessarily stand on and utilize that authority in order to defend Christianity.

3. It is the truth of God’s revelation, together with the work of the Holy Spirit, that brings about a covenantal change from one who is in Adam to one who is in Christ.

4. Man (male and female) as image of God is in covenant with the triune God for eternity.

5. All people know the true God, and that knowledge entails covenantal obligations.

6. Those who are and remain in Adam suppress the truth that they know. Those who are in Christ see truth for what it is.

7. There is an absolute, covenantal antithesis between Christian theism and any other, opposing position. Thus, Christianity is true and anything opposing it is false.

8. Suppression of the truth, like the depravity of sin, is total but not absolute. Thus every unbelieving position will necessarily have within it ideas, concepts, notions, and the like that it has taken and wrenched from their true, Christian context.

9. The true, covenantal knowledge of God in man, together with God’s universal mercy, allows for persuasion in apologetics.

10. Every fact and experience is what it is by virtue of the covenantal, all-controlling plan and purpose of God.

Chapter two teaches a theology of lordship. To use puritan terminology, God is a se – from himself. God is absolutely independent and self-sufficient. He is absolute and personal. Though transcendent, he has condescended in Jesus, who has been made Lord of all. Along the way, Oliphint interacts with and critiques the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Next, the author tackles the complex issue of proof, spending a fair amount of space examining Acts 17. Oliphint exhorts us not to draw a hard line between evangelism, preaching, and apologetics. In whatever “mode” of discourse the Christian is in, the gospel must be our focus. He argues that there are two truths underlying Paul’s address on Mars Hill: the fact that all human beings are made in God’s image and the fact of universal general revelation. In the application section of this chapter, Oliphint shows the inadequacy of the causal argument because one cannot know that God is uncaused (112). He also points out that the problem with the evidential approach is that according to Romans 1, all people know God by virtue of all that he has made. So, as he mentioned earlier, the problem is not the evidence but us since the Bible teaches that “everything evidences God’s character” (114).

Oliphint prefers to speak of persuasion rather than proof. Rhetoric is a lost art in that education used to consist of three subjects: grammar, logic, and rhetoric. The structure of persuasion consists of ethos (character), pathos (frame of mind), and logos (speech). With persuasion in mind, he returns to Acts 17. Apologists must be meek but humble. We must know and connect with our audience, rather than objectify them as Thomist Apologists tend to do. Chapter 5 includes an exposition of 2 Corinthians, showing that apologetics is the destroying of arguments and is in many ways a battle over authorities (163), including both positive and negative aspects. In this chapter, much time is spent on the so-called “Achilles’ Hill” of Christianity: the problem of evil. This is an example of negative apologetics, weakening an objection to stave off attacks. The next chapter uses Colossians as a launch pad to resume the discussion of persuasion. Oliphint concludes this chapter with a fictitious dialogue with Daniel Dennett on science. Returning again to Acts 17, the author concludes with a chapter on false religions, showing that they are parasitic, depending on the real thing for their basic identity. When dealing with other religions, Christians must do their homework and be acutely aware of exactly who the other god is, how it relates to the world, and their theory of revelation. The twenty-three page dialogue concluding this chapter is a technical one with a learned Muslim familiar with their philosophers and the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, since Thomas was so dependent on many Aristotelian philosophers of the Islamic persuasion.

Oliphint has certainly made a contribution to the canon of presuppositional literature. In putting it this way, however, I show my hand in not being excited about scholars un-needingly inventing new labels. After the first chapter, Oliphint helpfully recommends a list of books for those interested in further study. One of the greatest strengths of this book is the emphasis placed on the exegesis of Scripture and theology. Of all the apologetic methodologies, presuppositional apologetics most consistently seeks to ground their approach in Scripture, showing that the only proper way to see oneself and the world is through the spectacles of Scripture (191). I think Oliphint succeeds in exposing the exegetical and theological foundation that underpinned Van Til’s approach. He rightfully flogs the flat-lined horse of Romans 1 showing that for all involved, God is always the premise and never the conclusion.

I think it was wise and helpful for the author to include the apologetic dialogues at the end of each chapter in order to see his approach worked out. He is at pains to make clear that the fictional discussions are merely one way these conversations could go. I would have liked to have seen more “normal” conversations, as much of the dialogues are overly technical, and at times a bit harsh (e.g. 213, 216, 249). One can see how the method is used, but these dialogues are also didactic. Especially illuminating is the dialogue about science with the humanist, in that he shows that to hold to unguided evolution is every bit as religious as the Christian faith. It is no accident that scientific inquiry flourished from a Christian worldview since it provides the needed guarantee of predictable events (120). There is no rational grounding for trusting the scientific method in a chance-random universe, but because God has created and guides the natural world, we can expect uniformity of nature, that the future will be like the past.

The conclusion is helpful in reminding apologists to be mild in manner, strong in matter, as Van Til used to say (260). Running into an overzealous and arrogant Christian who has studied apologetics can be as unpleasant as a root canal without Novocain, so this is a helpful reminder. It is not us versus them, but them versus the Lord. We are merely his humble servant-ambassadors.

One familiar with other presuppositional literature will be surprised at how little treatment the transcendental argument receives. To his credit, the author does assert that covenantal apologetics is transcendental, which is an approach that “looks for the (so-called) preconditions for knowledge and life” (46). He also develops what he calls the “Quicksand Quotient,” where one attempts to show that the opposing position is sinking sand and cannot stand on its own (76). This is basically what traditional presuppositionalists have called the transcendental argument, where the Christian seeks to show the internal inconsistency of the unbelieving worldview, in whatever form it may come. In showing the impossibility of the contrary, this has traditionally been the heart of the presuppositional argument so one would have expected an expanded treatment and illustration. For example, there was not enough space spent on showing the necessary rational foundations for argument itself. The unbeliever lacks the worldview needed to provide the preconditions for the trust and use of reason itself. For them, reason is merely the firing of neurons. This is why Van Til was fond of saying that the best defense is a good offense. He was so bold as to say that the strongest proof for Christianity is that without it, one cannot prove anything. Living on borrowed capital, anti-theism presupposes theism.  Christianity provides the necessary worldview for the use of reason so Van Til would often use the illustration of a little girl he once saw on a train sitting on her father’s lap and slapping him on the face. In order to reach him, she had to sit on his lap. So it is with the non-Christian who seeks to use reason to argue that God is not there.

In the section on the problem of evil, the transcendental argument could have been utilized as well. On their own terms, humanists/atheists/materialists do not have an ultimate standard of good or bad in their worldview so they are left to preference when defining what evil even is. In a chance-random universe, there is no good or evil, just matter in motion. Just as it would make no sense to call the fizz in a soda bottle wicked, so it would be silly to call anything humans do wicked since we too are merely complex chemical reactions. The transcendental argument can also be used to speak of logic, ethics, freedom, knowledge, love and a host of other realities. Only Christianity provides the preconditions for intelligibility in this world.

One is also left scratching one’s head as to why the name Greg Bahnsen does not get more mention. After Van Til, Bahnsen was arguably the greatest presuppositional apologist and popularizer of Cornelius Van Til of the 20th Century, yet his name does not even appear in the general index or bibliography. His book, Van Til’s Apologetic, is mentioned in the “Further Reading” section of chapter one, but being a very significant presuppositional publication, I expected to see his name more.

Being published by Crossway and endorsed by many both within and outside of the typical Presbyterian circles one typically finds presuppositionalists in, it seems that this book will be influential for years to come. Time will tell whether or not the new label will take, but if this book causes some to further consider the thought of Cornelius Van Til, it will be a success in this reviewer’s opinion.

Douglas Wilson to Sam Harris

"Now I know that if you have read this far, it is probably because you are just 'indulging the preacher.' But I do want you to know that I know that this sounds like gibberish to you. As an argument, I know that it seems beyond strange. 'A Jewish carpenter was executed by the authorities of Jerusalem two thousand years ago, and this happened so that our sins could be forgiven?' So why do I repeat it then, knowing how strange it sounds to you? Well, the answer is that God has promised to transform the entire world - a multitude beyond all counting was promised to Abraham - as people listen to this particular story being told. And for two thousand years He has been doing exactly that. And so Christians will continue to tell it until He stops fulfilling His word, which means that this is the story that will be told to the end of the world. May the Lord call you to Himself, on the basis of this kind gospel. But whether He does this or not, if we ever meet, I would love to buy you a beer."

--Letter From a Christian Citizen, 108-09

Good Lookin' Out: Presuppositional Apologetics

Covenant Media and American Vision have come together to publish a book that the late Greg Bahnsen had written, but lost in a move!! They waited until now to publish it. It is 289 pages, and sure to be helpful stuff. American Vision writes: "This magnum opus of apologetics lays out the Biblical presuppositional method, provides rigorous Biblical proof, and defends the uniqueness of the method. This is the work we all longed for Bahnsen to write, yet never knew that he already had written it! Now rescued from the dustbin of history, this monument of apologetics will provide must-reading for Christian defenders of the faith for generations to come." Here is a link to some short posts I did on presuppositional apologetics.

From the website: Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen (1948-1995) provided perhaps the clearest, most faithful, and most powerful advancement of Cornelius Van Til's presuppositional apologetics of anyone. This statement holds true both for Bahnsen's written scholarly work as well as his practical applications in both formal and informal debates and exchanges. Those knowledgeable of Van Til's “Copernican Revolution” in Christian apologetical method will understand the enormity of this compliment to Greg Bahnsen. Those not formerly introduced to Van Til or Bahnsen will understand shortly after beginning this volume—for this book presents the most clear, systematic, and rigorous statement and defense of Van Tillian presuppositional apologetics written to date.

This volume presents the systematic counterpart to Bahnsen's earlier publication, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis. While that previous work included a broad and topical overview and explanation of Van Til's contribution—which, though highly organized according to an outline, and much more accessible than Van Til's own massive corpus of writing, still does not fully execute the task of a systematic work—this volume gets closer to an apologetical version of “systematic theology,” as opposed to, say, “biblical theology.” Both approaches provide vital understanding, and now we have both.

Here is a John Frame's blurb: This book is an important part of the historical record. It is authentic Bahnsen, vintage Bahnsen. It displays brilliantly his intellectual gifts and his devotion to the Lordship of Christ in all areas of life. Despite my differences with Bahnsen, I revere him yet today as a great blessing of God tothe church and as one of the most brilliant apologists I have known. He seeks to set forth the comprehensive lordship of Christ over the human mind as over everything else, and he does that effectively. In that goal we should all be in agreement, and we should seek Bahnsen's help to become more consistent in our commitment to the Lord. So I commend this book to all who seek to think God's thoughts after him.

The Reason for God

"[C.S.] Lewis gives us another metaphor for knowing the truth about God when he writes that he believes in God 'as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.' . . . .Which account of the world has the most 'explanatory power' to make sense of what we see in the world and in ourselves? We have a sense that the world is not the way it ought to be. We have a sense that we are very flawed and yet very great. We have a longing for love and beauty that nothing in this world can fulfill. We have a deep need to know meaning and purpose. Which worldview best accounts for these things? . . . I believe that Christianity makes the most sense out of our individual life stories and out of what we see in the world's history."
-Tim Keller, The Reason for God, 122, 213.

Greg Bahnsen Videos

I have posted before on how much I have been helped by the teaching ministry of the late Greg Bahnsen. I have his picture on one of the bookshelves. I recently noticed that someone has put together 52 videos in a "Greg Bahnsen Channel" on YouTube. One set of videos is "Basic Training of the Christian Faith" and the other is audio of "The Great Debate." Watch these excellent videos here or buy them from Monergism or American Vision.

Evangelical Subculture

I am very interested in the surrounding culture's view of evangelicalism. This being the case, I am always looking out for articles, books, and movies dealing with (or usually mocking) the Christian subculture. Sadly, usually the secular world is right on. I love going to bookstores, but usually get nauseous when visiting mainstream Christian bookstores. Anyway, all that to say, read this review by Hanna Rosin of Daniel Radosh's recent book, "Rapture Ready: Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture." Here is an excerpt:

A Christian friend who'd grown up totally sheltered once wrote to me that the first time he heard a Top 40 station he was horrified, and not because of the racy lyrics: "Suddenly, my lifelong suspicions became crystal clear," he wrote. "Christian subculture was nothing but a commercialized rip-off of the mainstream, done with wretched quality and an apocryphal insistence on the sanitization of reality."
For more, see:
And from a Christian perspective:
All of David Wells' books. Wells is a little more difficult to read, but does a great job of applying Refomed theology to contemporary culture (a sociological systematic theology).

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

Tuesday, Southern hosted a pre-screening of the movie "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" starring Ben Stein. It is a documentary on the war between Darwinism and Intelligent Design mainly focusing on the bias of the academy, but also the media, courts, and schools. Several professors have been fired for questioning the dogma of Darwin and Stein and Premise Media are concerned.

A film well done has the potential in our culture to reach many more than a dozen well written books. This film is excellent! It is not only a razor sharp critique, but is also very, very funny. I would encourage everyone I know to plan to go to the opening weekend on April 18th, then buy two DVD's when it releases around Labor Day (one for yourself and one to give away).

Darwinism is the primary opposing worldview to Christianity (or theism in general) in America today. It has provided many with "scientific" reasons for suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. This movie is great in that it shows what is really at stake: not scientific evidence, but complete ideologies. This war is not about who is doing 'true science;' It is a clash of worldviews. One scientist comes to the evidence, presupposing that we came from mud that was struck by lightning, while the other comes at least open to the possibility of an intelligent designer. Stein's concern is that the Darwinists are snuffing out those who would even question their beloved theory. Freedom of inquiry is being lost.

If this movie does well, Premise Media intends on tackling another project on the sanctity of human life. This is much needed, and Christians need to realize that the two are not unrelated. Belief in evolution has necessary implications. If we came from some sort of matter, then there is no room for making distinctions between good and evil, no room for human responsibility, dignity, or freedom. We are inherently equal with ants and plants, just more evolved. So abortion is fine, euthanasia is helpful to society. Hitler thought he was moving the human race forward. This is just being a consistent Darwinist. Go see the movie. It's worth the money.

Here is the trailer, and here is a longer one, and here is an interview with Stein by Sproul.

Secularized Salvation

David Well's writes in "Losing Our Virtue" that in our individualistic, self-centered, consumer-driven culture, the twin healers of the day are "psychotherapists and advertisers." This is no doubt true, and we have the merging of the two with the plethora of commercials about psychotropic drugs. You have seen the commercials: smiles, confidence, joy, the mending of broken families, contentment with work, with your spouse, with life. Redemption is here...in a bottle! Sin and salvation have been psychologized. "Are you tired, unmotivated, ready to quit? Do you suffer from anxiety, shame, or guilt? You may have _____?" Fill in the blank. Never mind asking your doctor (or pastor) about symptoms and the proper treatment. Just come right in and ask for our product. And your doctor probably won't mind dishing out the prescriptions. After all, that particular drug representative just took him out for lunch and a round of golf last Friday!

All this to say, I read a fascinating article today from the public library of science showing the disconnect between what is advertised on television, and what scientific data actually says concerning SSRI's (Paxil, Zoloft, etc). The title is "Serotonin and Depression: A Disconnect between the Advertisements and the Scientific Literature." Here are some excerpts:

"In fact, there is no scientifically established ideal “chemical balance” of serotonin, let alone an identifiable pathological imbalance."
"To our knowledge, there is not a single peer-reviewed article that can be accurately cited to directly support claims of serotonin deficiency in any mental disorder, while there are many articles that present counterevidence. Furthermore, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), which is published by the American Psychiatric Association and contains the definitions of all psychiatric diagnoses, does not list serotonin as a cause of any mental disorder. The American Psychiatric Press Textbook of Clinical Psychiatry addresses serotonin deficiency as an unconfirmed hypothesis, stating, 'Additional experience has not confirmed the monoamine depletion hypothesis'"

"Yet, as previously mentioned, there is no such thing as a scientifically established correct “balance” of serotonin. The take-home message for consumers viewing SSRI advertisements is probably that SSRIs work by normalizing neurotransmitters that have gone awry. This was a hopeful notion 30 years ago, but is not an accurate reflection of present-day scientific evidence."

"The incongruence between the scientific literature and the claims made in FDA-regulated SSRI advertisements is remarkable, and possibly unparalleled."
For a great read on America and its psychologized salvation, see "Losing Our Virtue" by David Wells and "One Nation Under Therapy" by Sommers and Satel.

Mohler on the New Atheism

It is becoming more and more evident that the walls of "Christendom" are coming down. Indeed, they are already gone in Western Europe, and we are following suit. In many ways, this is good and the Lord can use the cultural changes to purify his church.

Recently, Dr. Mohler gave some very enlightening lectures on "the new atheism" mainly focusing on the work of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris, whose books have sold like mad in the last few years. Here they are:

Lecture One: The New Atheism and the Endgame of Secularism
Lecture Two: The New Atheism and the Assault on Theism
Lecture Three: The New Atheism and the Defense of Theism
Lecture Four: The New Atheism and the Future of Christianity

They can be accessed here. One (of many) notes of interest is the fact that both Hitchens and Dawkins turned from their Christian upbringing early on. I think this is often the case. Kids grow up watching their "Christian" parents deny the gospel by their lives on a daily basis, and walk away from the faith as soon as they leave home. Moral of the story: Parents (and all believers) must model genuine Christian lives.

Keller's "The Reason for God"

Tim Keller's new book is out. There is also a website devoted to the book, where, among other resources, you can download sermons corresponding to chapters in the book. Here are they are:
-Exclusivity: How can there be just one true religion?
-Suffering: If God is good, why is there so much evil in the world?
-Absolutism: Don't we all have to find truth for ourselves?
-Injustice: Hasn't Christianity been an instrument for oppression?
-Hell: Isn't the God of Christianity an angry Judge?
-Doubt: What should I do with my doubts? (by David Bisgrove)
-Literalism: Isn't the Bible historically unreliable and regressive?
I have listened to a couple of the sermons, but have yet to buy the book. I probably won't get to it for a while but I am sure it will be great. I have read that he endorses some sort of theistic evolution, and the sermon on hell was pretty disappointing, but Tim Keller has been a huge source of insight and encouragement to me. For any pastor wanting to better understand the gospel, its implications, and how to communicate sin to postmodern people, Tim Keller should be on your IPod.

When Sin Becomes Trivial

More and more, our culture views serious sin as trivial. Killing babies is now just getting rid of the "product of conception." Fornication is just "hooking up to see if she will be a good lover." Pornography is fine because "boys will be boys." Drunkenness is a "disease." Homosexuality is "determined by birth, and therefore perfectly natural." Divorce in particular is now "just another aspect of life." This week's Time magazine has an article called, "Bye Bye, Love," where it covers people who are now getting rich off of the divorce culture (though they primarily use the term "break-up," even when referring to marriage break-ups). 40-50% of first marriages will end in divorce. Sadly, the numbers aren't drastically different among Christians (broadly defined). This being the case, that makes up a large marketing audience. Angie Schmidt developed the online business "smashingkatie.com," so divorcees would have an outlet to laugh at themselves and their divorces. She sells all kinds of "break-up" spoofs, ranging from gift cards to voodoo dolls to a knife holder resembling the 'ex.' A woman in New Orleans rents out a Limo for friends to drive around to celebrate over-the-hill birthdays. She has been surprised recently to find that divorcees are now wanting to rent it to ride around with friends celebrating the death of their marriages.

You can also buy a wedding ring coffin, or have a divorce cake made to celebrate the event. The Time article has a picture of a wedding cake where the bride has kicked the groom off of the top. The man is falling down the cake surrounded by cash, golf clubs, television, briefcase, PDA, and sports apparel. This paints a sad, but too often true picture, even within the church. God has ordained men to be the heads of their homes and many men abdicate this responsibility. Many men are idolaters, consumed with their own money, sport, promotion, and hobbies. Men who seek to love their wives like Christ loved the church are few and far between. Ultimately, men are the ones responsible for these broken marriages. The need of the day is serious-minded, selfless, Godly men who will lead, love, provide, and protect their wives.

Even so, divorce is not the solution, and is certainly not something to be laughed about. Schmidt asks, "Why take life so seriously?" The answer is because you will be held accountable and judged for how 'seriously' you take life. Divorce is an offense to God. This is particularly so within Christian marriages. The divorce preaches a false gospel to the surrounding world because marriage was instituted to be a picture of Christ and the church, and divorce preaches to the world that Christ is not faithful and committed to his people. This is a false gospel. Men, lead your homes toward Christ-likeness. Christians, take divorce very, very seriously. It should produce tears, not jokes. Having said that it is also important to keep in mind that divorce is not the unpardonable sin. In Christ we find forgiveness and righteousness. In Christ there is no condemnation.

Bahnsen's cross examination of Stein

Here is an excerpt from 'The Great Debate' between Greg Bahnsen and Gordon Stein written in "Pushing the Antithesis."

Bahnsen: Are all factual questions answered in the same way?

Stein: No, they are not. They're answered by the use of certain methods, though, tat are the same--reason, logic, presenting evidence, and facts.

Bahnsen: All right. I heard you mention logical binds and logical self-contradictions in your speech. You did say that?

Stein: I said. I used that phrase, yes.

Bahnsen: Do you believe there are laws of logic, then?

Stein: Absolutely.

Bahnsen: Are they universal?

Stein: They're agreed upon by human beings. They aren't laws that exist out in nature. They're consensual.

Bahnsen: Are they simply conventions, then?

Stein: They are conventions, but they are conventions that are self-verifying.

Bahnsen: Are they sociological laws or laws of thought?

Stein: They are laws of thought which are interpreted by men and promulgated by men.

Bahnsen: Are they material in nature?

Stein: How can a law be material in nature?

Bahnsen: That's a question I am going to ask you.

Stein: I would say no.

Moderator: Dr. Stein, you now have an opportunity to cross-examine Dr. Bahnsen.

Stein: Dr. Bahnsen, would you call God material or immaterial?

Bahnsen: Immaterial.

Stein: What is something that is immaterial?

Bahnsen: Something not extended in space.

Stein: Can you give me an example of anything other than God that is immaterial?

Bahnsen: The laws of logic.

Moderator: I am going to have to ask the audience to hold it down please. Please. Refrain from laughter and applause. Can you hold that down please?

Wilson's Conclusion

"Now I know that if you have read this far, it is probably because you are just "indulging the preacher.' But I do want you to know that I know that this sounds like gibberish to you. As an argument, I know that is seems beyond strange. "A Jewish carpenter was executed by the authorities of Jerusalem two thousand years ago, and this happened so that our sins could be forgiven?" So why do I repeat it then, knowing how strange it sounds to you? Well, the answer is that God has promised to transform the entire world--a multitude beyond all counting was promised to Abraham--as people listen to this particular story being told. And for two thousand years He has been doing exactly that. And so Christians will continue to tell it until He stops fulfilling His word, which means that this is the story that will be told to the end of the world. May the Lord call you to Himself, on the basis of this kind gospel. But whether He does this or not, if we ever meet, I wold love to buy you a beer."

Why Are We Moral?

This week’s time cover is a whopper. Its an article written by Jeffrey Kluger called “What Makes Us Moral.” As soon as I checked the mail and saw the cover I said, “Oh boy, here we go.” My expectations were confirmed after reading it. It continually amazes me how often pure speculation passes for science, whatever science means these days. The subtitle says, “Humans are the planet’s most noble creatures—and its most savage. Science is discovering why.” Now unlike many Christians, I am all for science, and if fact only a Christian worldview can support even the doing of science. For example, ask an atheist scientist how she accounts for the uniformity of nature, when in their worldview we live in a chance random universe. According to the atheist (or materialist, naturalist, Darwinist, etc.) this universe started by some material process, and nothing in the world goes beyond the physical world. There is nothing outside of matter. No mind, only brain. “Nature is all there is, was, and ever will be.” But the atheist runs into trouble when they start trying to do science, but especially when they try to speak of morality. This article is a prime example. As Greg Bahnsen writes, “Atheism is philosophically unable to argue ethically, scientifically, or logically against the Christian faith.”

Of course the article is filled with naturalistic presuppositions, with no less than three comments to the effect that the thought that humans are unique among animals is arrogant. In effect, it says that humans are “equipped with moral programming” (just like other animals) but our social environment will shape and acquire the appropriate moral categories. An implication of this view is that we have no right to condemn the Muslims who took down the twin towers. After all, they are a product of their culture, and who are we to say that our culture’s morality is better than theirs? Jeffrey, who are you to say that Hitler was wrong? According to whose standard?

This is the heart of the issue. According to the atheist, there is no objective standard by which to measure good or evil. We are all just matter in motion. When is the last time you made a moral pronouncement on a chemical reaction in the lab? You would never say that it is right or wrong, it just is. A consistent naturalist never has “ought”, but only “is.” On the atheist worldview, to make a moral judgment is to presuppose a Theistic worldview. The question that must be asked is “What are the necessary preconditions for morality?” Not every worldview has the rational grounding to make a moral judgment. You must have an objective standard by which to measure what is good or evil. Christians have no problem with morality. God’s will and character revealed to us in Scripture is our objective standard. We make moral pronouncements because He has made moral pronouncements.

Kluger also ironically speaks of human responsibility. Again, on his own terms, why should humans be responsible? Theoretically, we are no different than an ant, just a little more evolved. The Christian has no problem with human responsibility and dignity.

Another interesting omission from the article is the fact that those who have turned out for the worse (Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot) were philosophical materialists. The problem with humanity is not their environment, but their fallen nature. Christianity has a viable answer to why the world is so messed up: Genesis 3. Humanity has devolved, not evolved. We also have a viable solution: The seed of the woman (Gen 3.15) has come and won the victory and guaranteed the restoration of all things. He will restore the created order.

Finally, contra Kluger, humans are indeed unique among creation. We alone are created in the image of God. To think otherwise is a natural response though without God’s Word. When one looks at the utter vastness of the universe, we are indeed a very small part of it. This is why the Psalmists says, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him?”

Wilson on Evil

I really enjoy most of the writings of Douglas Wilson. His stuff on marriage and family is excellent for the most part, although I disagree that one needs a beard in order to be a real man but that's another story! He is a great writer, but I definitely have some concerns about his views on justification, the covenants, and the nature of the church (Federal Vision stuff). Having said that though, if I were Presbyterian, I would probably be in his camp. Wilson and the other guys are more consistent than most covenant theologians. Anyway, I say all that to share a quote from his response to Sam Harris' book "Letter to a Christian Citizen." Wilson's book is called "Letter from a Christian Citizen" and concerning the problem of evil, Wilson writes:

Those who are nicknamed Calvinists do not have any unique problems with the "problem of evil." They just get more attention than other Christians on this point because they are willing to speak directly into the microphone. "Yes. God did this thing. And do you think that those on whom the tower fell were greater sinners? Unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:5).

Good Lookin' Out: Keller Book

I thought it might be useful to post about forthcoming books every month or so. The first is due out on Valentine's Day 08'. It is by Tim Keller and its called 'The Reason for God: Belief in the Age of Skepticism.' I cannot speak highly enough of Tim Keller. He is a very able and insightful preacher to postmodern people. I providentially visited his church while in NYC a couple of years ago. Up to that point, I had never heard of him. He is partly why we are now at the church we are at. Our elders have learned much from the elders at Redeemer. Anyway, I am sure the book will be excellent, and may be the 'Mere Christianity' of our time. Here is the table of contents:

Introduction – All doubts are leaps of faith
PART 1 - The Leap of Doubt
1. There can’t be just one true religion.
2. A good God could not allow suffering.
3. Christianity is a straitjacket.
4. The church is responsible for so much injustice.
5. A loving God would not send people to hell.
6. Science has disproved Christianity.
7. You can’t take the Bible literally.
PART 2 - The Grounds for Faith
8. The clues of God
9. The knowledge of God
10. The problem of sin
11. Religion and the gospel
12. The (true) story of the cross
13. The reality of the resurrection
14. The Dance of God
Epilogue – Where do we go from here?

Read his own thoughts concerning the book here.

Plantinga Coming to Southern

For all those who live in or around the Ville, Dr. Alvin Plantinga is coming to Southern Seminary on Oct. 23-25th. This man has done more than any philosopher since Aquinas in gaining a hearing from those with a Christian worldview. His work has been extremely significant, especially in the field of epistemology. Here is the schedule:

Tuesday @ 11:30: Science and Religion: Why does the debate continue?
Wednesday @ 10: Divine Action in the World
Thursday @ 11:30: Evolution versus Atheism
Also, if you read this today, don't miss Mark Dever at 5pm in Broadus Chapel speaking on "The Marks of a Healthy Church."
If you live in or around Lexington, N.T. Wright will be there on Nov. 13-14. Here is the link.

The Challenge of Pluralism II

Earlier, I mentioned that Christianity is inherently exclusive. I thought it might be good to expand on this for clarity sake. I mentioned that today the common mindset is that no one religion is true. People use the analogy that we are all climbing the same mountain, and there are many paths that eventually reach the top. After all, even Oprah says there couldn't possibly only be one way! Sadly though, many Christians believe the same thing. Even Billy Graham has compromised the gospel. One wonders why he has used all the time and energy he has trying to convert people to Christianity, if their own religion or lack thereof would have been sufficient to get them to heaven in the first place. Billy, and Joel say the answer is in God's hands not ours. The only problem is that God has revealed himself quite clearly on this very issue.

Also today the popularity of the emergent church is ever increasing. I actually have a lot of agreement with some of the insights of the emerging church, but not the emergent movement (McLaren and the Emergent Village guys). This is really nothing new though. Friedrich Schleiermacher, the father of liberal theology, was doing the same thing 200 years ago: compromising Scripture in order to better engage culture. The difference is the new guys are no longer engaging modernism and now they sport goatees.

The fact of the matter is that the Christian faith is clearly exclusive. When you take Scripture on its own terms without imposing a foreign (usually man-centered) worldview on the text, you will see that God alone provides salvation and restoration and he does so through the person and work of Jesus Christ. He is the center of all history, and he will wrap it all up at the end and establish the new earth. Three texts are explicitly clear:

John 14:6: Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

Acts 4:12: And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

1 Tim 2:5: For there is one God and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus

Those who care more about pleasing men than pleasing God can try to twist them as they may, but it is very difficult to do so without having to do exegetical cartwheels around these texts. Faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for inheriting the new creation. Jesus does not save people without their knowing it, contra Billy Graham. People complain that this message is arrogant, and narrow but we cannot compromise the teachings of Jesus to please people. Jesus himself told us the way is narrow and those who find it are few (Matt 7:13-14). We must understand 'fairness' in a God-centered way. Will we take him at his word, or construe a Jesus in our own image who fits into the postmodern context easier? Christians, know the Christian worldview deeply and read the newspaper with a Bible right beside you. Master the meta-narrative that Scripture presents. This message must be taught, and shared, with fear and trembling, and with tears in our eyes.