Posted in theonomy

That Dirty Word Called Theonomy

Theonomy is a dirty word. For the uninitiated the term is the combination of two Greek terms: Theos (God) and nomos (law). “So then,” you might be wondering, “how is it a dirty word?” How indeed!

Sometimes I’m a bit naive and I make assumptions of others that I learn later were in error. Over a decade ago I did this in two different settings. The first was in a secular setting on a job I was running in Columbus, OH. The second was in a local church where I served as pastor. My subject matter was different in each situation, but I assumed too much on a commonality that I believed was sufficient grounds for civil conversation.

Let me share with you what happened in the secular setting first and then move onto the ecclesiastical one. Afterwards I will tie in the subject of Theonomy. I believe you’ll understand the connection without much effort.

Secular setting…

As I mentioned earlier I was running a job in Columbus, OH. It was on a new construction project, a rather large L-shaped building, that was to be an assisted living facility. My position was the HVAC foreman, and I was responsible for ordering, installing, and managing my team in the process. This type of job required that I become acquainted with all the other trades (e.g., electricians, plumbers, pipe-fitters, painters, etc.) as we were all expected to work together in a somewhat coordinated effort; so that, all steps of the building/finishing of the project were according to the schedule laid out for us by the general contractor.

The project was about two-thirds of the way done when my encounter with a window caulker occurred. I had returned from lunch and was heading from the rear parking lot towards one of the main entrances when I heard the man on his step ladder humming the melody of a well-known hymn. I thought, “Here is a kindred spirit that shares my faith,” and so, I attempted to start a conversation with him.

Now the day was warm and sunny, therefore my attire matched the elements. I had some worn jeans on and a sleeveless black shirt. About the age of 26 I began to enter into that stage of life that some men experience (male pattern baldness), and so, having been gifted with a nice dome from my Lord I began the ritual of cleanly shaving my head. My arms are tatted and my ears are pierced. So, I suppose outwardly I look anything but a Christian, least of all a pastor, nevertheless, I am both. Unfortunately, the man I struck up a conversation with. That fellow humming a familiar hymn. As soon as I spoke he looked me up and down arriving at the conclusion that the person speaking to hymn was a wolf pretending to be a sheep. He was anything but polite. Judgmental would be a better word. A very unpleasant encounter to say the least.

Ecclesiastical Setting…

My second encounter around the same time period happened after a lesson I’d given during a service. It was an election year and I used another dirty word (unknown to me): politics. What I had proclaimed from the pulpit is the universal nature of God’s Word. How it is intended to shape our thinking and acting in every area of life. No subject was forbidden. No matter is off limits as far as God is concerned, and this included politics. In particular, the way we ought to vote for a candidate. If the candidate is firmly planted on a platform that calls for the execution of the newly conceived, then any Christian worth his or her weight should not cast a vote for that individual. How could they in good conscience?

The individual in question, as soon as I was finished speaking, stood up with a Bible firmly gripped in one hand and a pointing finger on the other. On the verge of shouting, he explained to me that I was dead wrong. You would have thought I’d just finished blaspheming from the pulpit. His frustration was pouring from every facet of his being. His face was contorted with what I do not doubt was a righteous indignation on his part. Trying to reason with him went no where. Eventually, he stormed out of the sanctuary. His wife apologized for the spectacle. She told me that she doubted that he’d return. I kept my composure until after they left and then I hit my knees before the Lord praying for the man.

(Sidenote: Later that evening I received a call from the individual who attacked me, apologizing for his behavior. The following week he apologized to the church. The man is a solid believer. I believed this when he attacked me, and so I prayed for him. I told his wife as much when she left that service embarrassed. The Lord heard my prayer, and the believer repented. He became one of my strongest supporters before I resigned from the Nazarene denomination for issues pertaining to doctrine. I plan on seeing him and his wife in heaven one day.)

The Dirty Word called Theonomy

We have now come full circle. My point in sharing those experiences was illustrative. We sometimes make assumptions about people or teachings that are in error. Presuppositions are strong deterrents. This can be a good thing, if the presuppositions that we hold are correct. The first individual I spoke about made a judgment call about me because of how I appeared to him outwardly. He couldn’t reconcile what he believed a Christian should look like, with what actually makes one a Christian (the atoning life of Christ put upon those that trust in Him). The second individual struggled with seeing how his voting was an extension of His faith in Christ. The first individual never spoke to me again, even though I saw him for the a few more months before the job was finished. The second person did, and through consistent biblical teaching eventually laid aside his former convictions, adopting new ones.

I first encountered the word “Theonomy” in the writings of Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen. I had found a paperback copy of his book, By This Standard, while working on my Master of Divinity degree (2011-2015). After reading through it, I was convinced by the biblically based cogent arguments provided by Bahnsen that saturate every page. Here is the general synopsis that Bahnsen proves in this work:

“Fundamental to the position taken herein is the conviction that God’s special revelation—His written word—is necessary as the objective standard of morality for God’s people. Over against the autonomous ethical philosophies of men, where good and evil are defined by sinful speculation, the Christian ethic gains its character and direction from the revealed word of God, a revelation which harmonizes with the general revelation made of God’s standards through the created order and man’s conscience…

by this standard, 2

“Indeed, the Bible teaches that we should presume continuity between ethical standards of New Testament and those of the Old, rather than abbreviating the validity of God’s law according to some preconceived artificial limit…

by this standard, 2

“The methodological point, then, is that we presume our obligation to obey any Old Testament commandment unless the New Testament indicates otherwise. We must assume continuity with the Old Testament rather than discontinuity.”1

by this standard, 3

In other words, God has revealed to His people and through them to the world, the manner in which He intends for His creatures to live righteous lives. This ethic applies to all, including even the civil government over us, who are in reality, according to the testimony of the apostle Paul, God’s ordained ministers for good (Rom 13.1-5). A little later, Bahnsen continues,

“Christ said that the attitude which is genuinely godly recognizes the moral authority of God alone, does not question the wisdom of His dictates, and observes every last detail of his word. This is man’s proper path to God-likeness…[Moreover,] those who are not striving to become rivals to God by replacing His commands according to their own wisdom will rather endeavor to reflect His moral perfection by obeying all of His commands.”

By This standard, 47, 48

To be an image bearer means to reflect the One in whose image you’ve been created to mirror. According to Christ, says Bahnsen, God is concerned that our mode of operation is to submit to His divine word as an ethical standard that cannot be deviated from. So far so good?

One would think that all Christians would find commonality in this standard of ethics revealed in Scripture and proclaimed by Bahnsen (among others of his ilk). Yet, that is not the case. In fact, much to my own astonishment (initially at least) there are many who, bearing the name of Christ, kick at every jot and tittle laid before them from God’s Law-Word. Much of the angst seems to be based on misunderstandings as to what has changed between the Old and New covenants. A direct equivalency is not what Bahnsen or other theonomists (like Gary North, David Chilton, or Gary DeMar) argue for.2 Bahnsen even notes this in the beginning of his work:

“The aim of those studies is to set forth a case in favor of the continuing validity of the Old Testament law, including its sociopolitical standards of justice. It is advocated that we should presume the abiding authority of any Old Testament commandment until and unless the New Testament reveals otherwise, and this presumption holds just as much for laws pertaining to the state as for laws pertaining to the individual. As already noted, such a presumption does not deny the reality of some discontinuities with the Old Testament today; it simply insists that such changes be warranted by Biblical teaching, not untrustworthy personal feeling or opinion.”3

By This Standard, 7

That being said “Theonomy” is still a dirty word in many Christian circles. Bahnsen had his critics. He wrote an entire book answering them in the follow up to this work entitled, No Other Standard. I have encountered the same sort of criticism since adopting this theological branch of study into my own Christian worldview. Regardless, I have found that when investigated at a foundational level the critics are the one’s standing on shifting sand. Not the other way around.

As of yet, I have hardly begun to answer the question, “Why is Theonomy viewed in such a negative light?” This will be a topic returned to at some future date. Until then….

For those interested I would recommend the following works:4

Bahnsen, Greg L. By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. 1985.

_____________. No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. 1991.

North, Gary, ed. Theonomy An Informed Response. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. 1991.

____________. Was Calvin a Theonomist? Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. 1990.

ENDNOTES:

1Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), PDF e-book. All emphasis in these quotes (throughout) are what Bahnsen stressed, not the particular whims of the current writer.

2An easy example for the reader to consider is found in Deuteronomy 22:8, which reads, “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, that you may not bring the guilt of blood upon your house, if anyone should fall from it” (ESV).

A couple of things may be said about this verse. First, taking it as stated and trying to apply it exactly as written is not what a good theonomist would do. The reader would need to consider what a parapet is (a boundary marker or “fence” or “rail”) and what the historical setting entailed (flat-roofed homes were commonplace in the Middle East [and still are], first before attempting to apply it. The concern is to discern the direction and purpose of God’s Law-Word here. The Law-Word of God is meant to demonstrate the love of the image bearer; primarily for the Creator, secondarily for the neighbor (i.e., fellow image bearer). Secondly, the underlying principle would need to then be applied to the current cultural setting. An example today would entail building a rail around one’s deck. This would be set as a guard for the guests life. Notice that the law does not say that the railing or fence needs to be impassible, for it invites the conclusion that one might still fall and die, but it does state that if the individual in question does this kindness in submission to what God has revealed, then, if something undesirable does happen (like injury or death) the individual in question is innocent before the eyes of the Lord.

3The emphasis in this section is of my own doing.

4Anyone may get these books free of charge in their PDF version here: https://www.garynorth.com/public/2649.cfm

Posted in Worldview Analysis

War and Violence, Peace and Unity: What Do These Four Terms Have to Do With the Christian Worldview?

Since I was little I have been a fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s writings. As a kid I only had access to “The Hobbit,” but when I was in my early twenties I purchased the three volume set entitled “The Lord of the Rings.” Within Tolkien’s writing there are quite a bit of hidden nuggets of truth inserted from a biblical worldview. One clear line of thought that Tolkien grasped that our Post-Modern society would do well to consider, believe and cling to is that governmental powers can be exceedingly evil, because they are being led by evil persons. One of my favorite lines from the Two Towers is a discussion between Theoden king of Rohan and Aragorn rightful king of Gondor on the prospect of joining the war with Sauron, lord of the Dark Tower…the one who wanted to enslave and dominate all creation to his twisted will:

Theoden: I will not risk open war.

Aragorn: Open war is upon you whether you would risk it or not.1

A Call for Peace and Unity...

In my last post I noted that here in the United States there is a clarion call for peace by many political leaders, media pundits, celebrities and Evangelical Christians2. Take for example popular Pastor Tony Evans statement that he made after signing a call for peace in November of last year:

“I signed this statement because I want to see Christians unified and to bring healing to our nation, to restore love, peace and harmony for all people.”3

Citing Psalm 89:14, which speaks of the “righteousness and justice” as the foundation of God’s throne, Evans then said,

“When a nation and a government hold these standards in esteem as the Lord intends, that nation is strong and for the most part peaceful. But when these two pillars are misused, abused, or destroyed, the nation cannot stand and peace will not exist.”4

Let us just say for the moment that I agree with Pastor Evans statement. When a nation has a mind after God’s thoughts (here in terms of righteousness and justice), then that nation will be strong, it will have peace, and it will stand. But when the opposite is the case “peace will not exist.” But what is the underlying assumption being made? That those things exist to some degree in a nation that murders her offspring, robs from her citizens, calls it blasphemy when one dares condemn what God labels an abomination! How’s that possible?

Let’s take a step back for a moment and consider the following terms: war and peace, violence and unity. Which are biblical terms that should be associated with the Christian worldview? Is it ever righteous for a Christian to pursue war and violence, rather than peace and unity? Or, is it the Christian message (i.e., the gospel message) that requires we must always choose peace and unity?

The way some Christian leaders’ talk, I would think that their overarching assumption is that “peace and unity” is always preferable. Now I can understand why the world will cite Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”

Matthew 5:9; ESV throughout

But I struggle deeply within myself when I hear Christians spout platitudes of peace. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the desire. No one likes conflict. We prefer to live our lives in the shadow of relative ease and comfort. In this way we are akin to the hobbits in the Shire who prefer to eat, drink and be merry without a thought to what is going on in the world around them. Current president of the SBC, J. D. Greer appears to unknowingly reflect this mindset in a blog post he wrote last September entitled, “When Peace and Unity Seem Impossible.”

After noting that we may share different cultural and political perspectives he then says we should,

“…pursue peace, [so that] our love for others is more than just surface-level platitudes…[for] one of the chief causes of disunity is a bunch of people strutting around assuming they’re right about everything. Seeking unity means practicing humility and being open to being wrong and having your perspective changed.”5

As a closer, he then opines,


“These may feel like evil times. Unity may feel impossible. Peace may feel like a pipe dream. But there is a way to love life and pursue peace: Trust like Jesus; respond like Jesus; live like Jesus; love like Jesus.”6

Peace and Unity on what Grounds?…

Noble pursuits I agree, but to what end? More importantly peace and unity based on what? Oh…to be like Jesus…. Because Jesus was always about peace and unity, right? Peace and unity based on what grounds? Peace and unity with who?

Jesus of Nazareth bears many titles that demonstrate the greatness of His Name. One of those titles is “Prince of Peace” (Isa 9.6). But what does the title mean? One thing that it does mean is that He gives His own, peace (cf. John 14.27; 16.33; Luke 24.36).

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.”

2 Thessalonians 3:16

Likewise, Jesus calls for unity or oneness as seen in John 17:11, 21, 22. But the question that must be answered is “On what grounds?” Obviously, peace and unity are to be desired if possible, but what is it that makes them a reality?

Sadly vague…

I just want to add at this point that the world loves it when Christian’s speak of these things in a very general, vague way. That way no commitment is being illustrated. No “Right” way of thinking is being demanded. I’m not sure if this type of mindset is to be blamed on the Evangelical’s ignorance of the Old Testament canon or a plain on laziness on their part. For the fact remains that you cannot have peace without first waging war, and you cannot have unity without an established standard of Truth. This is why it is laughable when varying Christian leaders offer these sweet sounding words of “peace and unity” in a bouquet of decaying flowers. Meant to sound sweet to the masses, but rotten to the core in light of truth.

“That’s a pretty bold claim,” you say “saying there can be no peace without war. Can you prove it?” Yes, I believe so. Rather easily, I might add, but first you need to understand that war and violence, like peace and unity are key component of the Christian worldview.

Knowing the Season…

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”

Ecclesiastes 3:1, 8

According to Scripture there is a season for everything, including peace and war. One must know the conditions of the season in question, before they can discern which is the appropriate course of action. Since the Fall, in the beginning, creation has been at war. Violence, then has been necessary since the beginning.

“I will put enmity [i.e., hostility] between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Genesis 3:15

This the Creator promised the crafty beast of the field, the serpent. With violence against God and His image bearer did he (the serpent) enter the garden, and from that day forward war and violence would follow. Thus we read in the Psalms from the prophet David,

“Blessed by the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle.”

Psalm 144.1

It is the Lord our God who trains us for war, who teaches us to wage violence in battle against our enemy (enemies). With such knowledge at our fingertips we should not be surprised to read that God, after giving Joshua great victory over his enemies in the land of Canaan, left a remnant in the land to teach the next generation what it was to fight:

“Now these are the nations that the Lord left, to test Israel by them, that is, all in Israel who had not experienced all the wars in Canaan. It was only in order that the generations of the people of Israel might know war, to teach war to those who had not known it before.”

Judges 3:1-2

Answers the Critic: “But that was in the Old Testament. That language is archaic. That was a different covenant era. Things are different now under Christ Jesus. God’s people are no longer called to wage war, to exercise violence, but to strive for peace and unity with all creation.”

My response: “Really, where then is this new charge dear son or daughter of man given to us in God’s Word, that I might apply it?”

Our War-Lord7

No the fact is that our own Lord not only demonstrated that we are to, at times, wage war and be violent with forces of evil. Jesus corrects the worldview of His hearers when He unashamedly declares,

“I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Luke 12:49-53; also see Matthew 10:34-36

What sort of fire is He speaking about? What baptism is He talking about? Jesus had ready the winnowing fork in His hands, so says the prophet John the Baptist (cf. Matt 3.10-12), to separate from each household those that serve God and those that serve the creature. This is the fire that Jesus brought to the earth, a fire of division, a fire of winnowing, a fire of judgment against those who refused to bow the knee to the rightful King over all. In order to finalize this, He waged a battle with Satan where the beast of the field, the serpent of old, struck a death blow at the Lord’s heel, but when the cross was driven into the ground it was there that the enemy’s skull was crushed (Matt 27.33; Mark 15.22; Luke 23.33; John 19.17; also see Psa 7.16). This is the death (baptism) that Jesus was baptized with, striking the final blow against that murder and liar from the beginning (John 8.44).

It is for this cause that we too continue the work of waging war, of extricating violence against all who stand opposed to the Truth of God:

“For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when you obedience is complete.”

2 Corinthians 10:3-6

Linguistic Sensitivities…

I thought it wise at this point to add this little caveat to the reader unless they assume that my rhetoric was calling for physical attacks against the enemies of Christ. The main difference between us and Israel, as they entered into Canaan, was that they were waging war as God’s sword. In this they played the role of the minister of God who does not bear the sword in vain (Rom 13.4). For this reason it was a just war, but the same could not be said of us who bear the Name of Christ. There are moments in life when an act of war or an act of violence are called for; one in particular falls under the heading “self-defense.” But, the Christian mandate is to wage war and violence against sin and an ungodly worldview not to personally attack someone just because they are servants of another.

Furthermore, I think that Christians, leaders or otherwise, that make the claim that Jesus was all about unity and peace and not about offending someone for believing something not based on the Truth of God’s Word have not done an adequate job of reading their Bible’s. Jesus purposefully stood in opposition to those who abused, changed, or thwarted the Word of God. One moment in particular comes to mind when I entertain a discussion on this subject matter with another.

Offering Necessary Offenses…

In Luke 11:37-54 you have Jesus invited to a Pharisees house to dine. In verse 38 we are told that the “Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not wash first before dinner.” This was not a thing about hygiene, but a law kept by those in Israel lest they become ceremonially unclean. The fear was that a person might come in contact with someone or something that might make them unclean and so they washed as a ceremonial ritual to prevent uncleanliness (i.e., impurity or unholiness) before the Lord God.

My experience at this point is that people just focus on the rebuke Jesus offers (see vv. 39-44). But what they should consider is Jesus’ knowledge of the facts before He comes to eat at the Pharisee’s house. He knew their customs and He ignored them. He refused to play along. In a sense He waged war on their traditions and violently opposed them.

I once had a fellow in church tell me, “You should never do anything to offend another…for to do so is a sin.” “Is Jesus a sinner?” I asked. The man was dumbfounded. I then explained this little passage as one of many examples of our Lord purposely causing offense in light of the Truth of God’s Word.

Absurdly Ignorant…

Pastor Evans and the slew of others that joined in the signing of some silly peace accord back in November of last year (it may have been earlier); along with other Evangelical leaders attacking and blaming Trump for what happened in Washington D. C. on January 6th are sorely confused individuals. I would add J. D. Greer to this confused state as well.

Peace and unity are only possible when both sides have an agreed upon standard of truth. Peace and unity are only possible when one side agrees to lay down their weapons of warfare. There is great unrest in this nation and people want some semblance of calm to return, even if it is a false veneer. I get it. But, I also understand that applying the hobbit’s worldview to a world filled with sin, to a nation that bathes in it religiously, is absurdly ignorant.

Peace comes when…

“True peace comes only when those who say Jesus isn’t necessary come to understand that they need Him, when they’re willing to say, ‘Blessed is the one coming in the name of the Lord.’”8

Jesus is the Prince of Peace, but peace that is only accomplished when you bow the knee to His gospel call—“Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” It is peace offered between God and man, not the offspring of the serpent (who is Satan and his people) and the offspring of the woman (who is Christ and his people).

“For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”

2Corinthians 6:14

To argue and to work for peace on any other grounds is to stand in opposition to the One you profess to represent.

ENDNOTES:

1Quotes.net, STANDS4 LLC, 2021, “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Quotes,” Accessed February 15, 2021, https://www.quotes.net/mquote/567

2Some of these calls for peace and unity came before the election results were tallied and others came after what happened on January 6, 2021 at the nation’s capital. Various leaders pointed to Jesus and His gospel and that which is contained within the Word of God (Holy Bible) to challenge voters on both sides of the aisle to move towards peace, healing, and unification. Here are just a few articles to establish my point:

Rev. Mitch Hescox and Rev. Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, “Evangelical climate activists call for an end to the violence and chaos,” Evangelical Environmental Network, January 7, 2021, accessed February 15, 2021, http://redgreenandblue.org/2021/01/07/evangelical-climate-activists-call-end-violence-chaos/; Kelsey Dallas, “Religious leaders call for peace amid election turmoil,” Deseret News, modified Jan 15, 2021, accessed February 15, 2021, https://www.deseret.com/indepth/2021/1/6/22217663/capitol-protests-donald-trump-christian-religion-2020-election-joe-biden-catholic.

3Dwight Widaman, “200 Evangelical leaders sign letter calling for peace following elections,” Metro Voice, November 4, 2020, accessed Feburary 15, 2021, https://metrovoicenews.com/200-evangelical-leaders-sign-letter-calling-for-peace-following-elections/;

4Ibid.

5J. D. Greer, “When Peace and Unity Seem Impossible,” Blog, September 21, 2020, accessed February 21, 2021, https://jdgreear.com/when-peace-and-unity-seem-impossible/.

6Ibid., final paragraph.

7“The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name” (Exod 15.3).

8James B. Jordan & Gary North. The Failure of the American Baptist Culture (Kindle Locations 6371-6372).

Posted in Musings

The Year 2020: “gods” Among Us

“The authority of any system of thought is the god of that system. If a national government establishes the will of the people, an elected elite, a law court, or an individual as the ultimate authority, that is the nations god… Too often…people decide who they want to be their authority rather than acknowledge the absolute authority of God. But in rejecting the one authority, they accept another authority. Either God is the ultimate authority or man is”

(Gary DeMar, God and Government, 63).

Some may wonder why we are where we are at socially, politically, culturally? The year 2020 A.D. has been very interesting. It has shed a lot of light on an underlying issue which has permeated nearly every facet of our American way of life. Years ago I noticed the path we were taking. I’m not alone. There have been others who have likewise noticed this down hill trend towards a totalitarian, communist styled state. Individuals who have experienced the blessings of our Lord and Savior to a larger extent than I have saw the proverbial writing on the wall. Now that things have transpired to the depth that they have down the rabbit hole, some of those closest to me have admitted that they were genuinely surprised I was spot on with many of the things I’d been warning about.

The civil government has in many sectors grown intolerant to the Christian faith and message. They have within their cross-hairs the biblical worldview. But who elects our governmental officials? Who chooses (from a humanly standpoint) our leaders? Who do those leaders ultimately reflect? The answer to such questions is not difficult. WE DO!

Culture is a religious driven expression of thought. The food, the entertainment, the art, the language, the mores, even the ethical standards adhered to are reflective of the guiding light behind cultural expression. It is the religion of the people that determines the cultural reality that confronts us. “Who is God?” is not an abstract question mulled over by various philosophers smoking pipes, cigars, and drinking scotch. It is THE question asked and answered by ALL.

Two Viewpoints…

God, from the Christian viewpoint is the supreme Being over and above all things. He is the absolute authority that gives to all other lesser authorities the right to rule in their various spheres of influence. This authority is not only given but is vicariously put on display for all of creation in the Holy Trinity. God is the quintessential Being.1

God, from the non-Christian worldview (there are many) is that authority in which the man, woman or child in question feels comfortable bowing down to. Whatever is viewed from the human point of view as authoritative that is what will be appealed to in an ultimate sense. In short, something will be god for all people, but that god will not be revealed until the authority submitted to in faith has been identified.

The late R. J. Rushdoony explains it this way,

“No man can escape the problem of authority. Every man will consciously or unconsciously appeal to some authority as basic and ultimate to life. Most authorities are revered by men today are human authorities: the individual, the people, the elite thinkers and planners, science, reason, or the State, these are all humanistic authorities.”

(Law and Liberty, 40).

Those authorities appealed to are the god(s) of the person in question.

Reflections…

I have often reflected upon what we read in the historical books in the Bible. Specifically, the accounts of the judges and the years of Israel’s kingly regime. During these periods of history you are given the above cited examples in revelatory Scripture. In nations like Egypt, Babylon, Persia and Rome (not to mention the much smaller city-state styled kingdoms) you have kings who are viewed as god-men; god’s in human flesh. What the king decided was in a sense divine fiat.

Remember that either God is viewed as the supreme authority or man is. We read in Deuteronomy what God required of the king who would rule under Him over His people:

“And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” (Deut 17.18-20; italics added ).

Lessons from Israel…

When we look at the history of Israel what we find is that they struggled along this very line. Long before 1Samuel 8 (vv. 5-9;, 18-20) the people wanted a king over them that looked like the rest of the people (i.e., the nations) surrounding them. For when they lived their lives they often lived as if their was no king over them (cf. Judg 21.25). Their king2 was their appetites.

The contrast in Scripture is identified as those who served the Lord and those that served the Baals. The Baals—various representations of false gods/goddesses—amounted to the worship of any created thing besides God (cf. Rom 1.18-23). Mixed worship (syncretism) was another way the people expressed false worship. Rather than swear allegiance to the One God of Creation, many preferred adding other idols to the religious mix (e.g., 1Kgs 18.21).

The point being, the people bowed down to one of either two realities: the gods of their own hearts (appetites, desires, etc.) or the God of Scripture. It was to the authority of others that they showed reverence and ultimately appealed to or it was the Lord of Life, the Creator of all things. This reality was present in the idols they surrounded themselves with. To be as clear as possible, the gods/goddesses of the people—that to which they offered their lives to, appealed to, reasoned from—were seen in the visible expressions of their perspective culture.

Back to Present Times…

The cultural war in our midst is the result of two very different standards. There are essentially two yardsticks at work; two ethical norms being appealed to. This leads to disagreements. It also is the source of much of the fighting we see in our present day. As Greg L. Bahnsen observed:

“Often we disagree with the actions of the state. All of life is ethical, but making ethical decisions can be confusing and difficult. Everyone of us needs a moral compass to guide us through the maze of moral issues and disagreements that confront us every moment of our lives.

To put it another way, making moral judgments requires a standard of ethics. Have you ever tried to draw a straight line without the aid of a standard to follow, such as a ruler? …Or have you ever tried to determine an exact measurement of something by simple eyeball inspection? As close as you may come by guessing [using either method], the only way to be sure and accurate was to use a proper standard of measurement, such as a yardstick.” .

(By This Standard, 14)

Who determines right and wrong? Who decides what is acceptable or not? The way one answers these questions will reveal the yardstick that they appeal to.

Our current dilemma politically—which speaks of the social issues of our day—is directly tied to the yardstick being appealed to. We have raised a few generations of young people now who have been taught that might makes right, that each individual is responsible for their own truth, that reality is best determined by emotions and personal intuitions, rather than logic and reason.

The resultant outcome is now before our eyes in the year 2020. My grandpa used to complain to me that politics is crooked business. “It doesn’t matter which side you are talking about they are all corrupt…they are all about the money.” There is some truth to this statement. But, it does not automatically mean that all politicians are guilty of this at the same level or in the same way, as some grand broad brush stroke might imply.

Closing Remarks…

In this short article I have avoided specific policies or issues present in our day. I’m sure that you are aware of some of them. You can probably even name a few. This does not mean that we will share the same convictions/conclusions regarding them, but you know that they are there. Lord willing, it is my intention to address some of those specifics in the weeks ahead.3

Until then I will give you a little food for thought and wrap up my musings. There is a popular video game entitled, Gods Among Us. It is a DC universe game that earned enough street cred among the kids that they came out with a sequel. I’d imagine that some find the title catchy (you may not and that’s okay), but I find it revelatory. There are “gods” among us, and they have been put on visible display, and their tenets are being screamed by the masses. Politicians greedy for power are appealing to them in an effort to silence the voice of those who dare declare: There is but One God in Heaven who rules the heavens and the earth and His Name is… I AM (Exodus 3.14). We are a culture at war, whose side will you be found fighting for? To which God among us will you appeal to, obey and lean on? The “gods” among us, or the God who is over all?

ENDNOTES:

1 He is love. He is Holy. He is Good. The Father gives the Son, the Son lays down His life for those given to Him by the Father, and the Holy Spirit moves the called to embrace the Son and in so doing embrace the Father. All three persons do this in the One God of Creation. In so doing they exercise their love for One another and for those called by their Name. In this is the perfect display of holiness where sin is judged and yet righteous obedience is upheld. In this we find mercy (goodness offered to those freely who are not good) where the undeserving are granted pardon as if they deserved it.

2 Now David is set up as an example of one who desired to fulfill all the law of the Lord. He was a type or foreshadowing of the true Christ (the anti-type). It was the Lord’s authority that he desired inwardly to obey (cf. Psa 40.8); although, his own history tells the tale of a man that failed at this duty at many steps during his life. But this does not erase the fact that God viewed David as a man after His own heart. One that wanted to live righteously before a holy God, but due to human limitations failed as he walked along the way. (From his example and many others we ought to say, “Praise God for not basing our salvation on our weak efforts, but by His mighty hand.)

3 On a side note: My summer has been very busy. I haven’t been able to spend as much time as I would like reading and writing or even posting things on my site. This is not a complaint on my part. I consider it a blessing, for when others have been deemed non-essential the Lord has given me much work. As of right now my family is well taken care of. I am thankful for this, but I have not been hiding in a hole.

Posted in Apologetics

Review of “Apologetic Methods” by J. Brian Huffling, PhD

Over the past few posts I have been defending the idea of circular-reasoning, when it comes to ultimate standards/commitments. Originally, I had planned on closing this section of dialogue with a review of Paul’s defense of the Christian faith in Athens. However, something has been brought to my attention that I believe will be fruitful for you the reader. Recently, a fellow blogger posted a link to an article written by J. Brian Huffling, PhD entitled: Apologetic Methods and a Case for Classical Apologetics. The article concisely describes various apologetic methodologies, and then promotes what the author believes is the best method to use.  Along the way, he offers a critique of Presuppositional/Transcendental Apologetics of which I am an advocate.

I thought the article was excellent in that it supports what I have been saying all along—i.e. it is impossible to argue your position without appealing to the standard you trust in.  In other words, when it comes to ultimate commitments people argue in a circle. Now, I do not know Dr. Huffling personally and so I want to make it clear that this is not an attack on his character or a questioning of his professed faith in Christ. But I do hope to offer a helpful critique in intermural fashion.

Similar journeys towards Christian apologetics regarding motivations, not content…

My journey into Christian apologetics was not something I had originally sought. I was first introduced to the idea of defending the Christian worldview in 2005.  I found it extremely interesting and it stirred my heart, but I figured that this was only for those really smart people. During my sophomore year at Nazarene Bible College I was introduced to the writings of the early Church fathers. Men like Polycarp and Tertullian captivated my attention. I was enamored by the courage of Polycarp in his defense of the faith, and Tertullian’s argumentation against pagan thought. I also marveled over the statement by Tertullian that the “blood of the martyrs [i.e. Christian witnesses] is the seed of the Church.”

Similarly, I want to offer a cogent argument for my faith in the hope that people might be saved in Jesus Christ. The goal of the Christian witness is to present the gospel of our Lord in all its beauty so that Christ is glorified, repentance is granted, and a new life (eternally) is received. Being a Christian witness entails both our sharing and our defending the biblical worldview to a lost and dying world.

Differences in Christian apologetic methodology…

The question is how? How do we communicate our faith so that the message gets through? What is the proper method for answering the critique or edifying the fellow believer? Christian apologetics is committed to “…contend[ing] for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1.3).  Huffling thinks that the best approach for doing this is found in Classical apologetic (hereafter C. A.) method.  He defines this methodology in the following way:

  • “Classical apologetics has been called a two-stepped method. The first step is to prove the existence of God via traditional theistic proofs (the various cosmological arguments, design arguments, ontological, etc.). This method holds to the possibility of natural theology—the ability for reason to demonstrate God’s existence…The second step is to prove the veracity of Christianity by showing, for example (but not necessarily in this exact fashion), that miracles are possible, the Bible is reliable, Jesus claimed and proved himself to be God, etc.” (par 2; emphasis added).

This two-step process is seen as superior to Presuppositional apologetics (hereafter P.A.) because 1) it is believed that it avoids circular-reasoning, and 2) steers clear of the “impossibility of the contrary” (cf. par 12) argumentation which consistent P.A.’s use. Huffling also believes that C.A. provides the necessary framework for properly understanding “evidences for Christianity in a theistic context” (par 11). He states that C.A. “before arguing for God…starts with knowing reality and the absolute nature of truth” (par 10). You may wonder how C.A. is able to do this? By appealing to “natural theology” (par 8).  This is an interesting admission and we shall return to it, but first I want to make some quick clarifications.

What is meant by arguing from the “Impossibility of the Contrary?”

Huffling believes that when a P.A. argues in this fashion this is what they are doing:

  • “Those who hold to this method [P.A.] argue that we should argue for Christianity based on the impossibility of the contrary. In other words, since other worldviews and religions are show to be false, Christianity must be true” (par 4; italics added).

There are two things that immediately catch my attention when I read his definition. First, he couches the argument in a step-by-step fashion that reverses the order of our reasoning. The P.A.’s overarching position is not that we assume other worldviews are false, and therefore Christianity must be true. Rather, we assume Christ first (Jesus is not just our starting point, but our endpoint as well), and then demonstrate why Christianity is true.  This is not a unique approach as all worldview adherents do this. No one is bipartisan when it comes to their faith commitments. A position of neutrality is a false distinction that no one really believes or practices.

Secondly, he fails to accurately represent what is meant by this form of argumentation.  Apologetic debate/argument/dialogue occurs when two opposing faith-systems collide. The argument for the impossibility of the contrary is geared towards offering an internal critique of those two-opposing faith-systems.1 Asking the vital question of which worldview assumptions truly make knowledge possible.

In other words, which worldview provides the necessary preconditions that make knowledge possible? Which governing assumptions make my senses reliable? Which set provides the proper foundation for mathematics? Which makes scientific inquiry possible? What worldview provides the basis for language, communication, and logical argumentation?

A couple examples…

For example, the relativist assumes that truth is constantly influx, changing from one context to another and derived from a variety of environmental factors. They proudly assume that “What’s true for you is not true for me. You have your truth and I have mine.” The Christian believes all truth is rooted in our Creator and therefore absolute; not determined by circumstance, environment or the passing of time. By performing an internal critique of the person’s base assumptions of reality/knowledge derived from their worldview, the believer rightly points out, “If what you say is true, then it is false.” Your basis for knowing eliminates the possibility for knowing.

The same may be said of a materialistic atheist who believes that matter is all that exists. This view of reality teaches that immaterial things on nonexistent (in theory not in practice), and things that have happened in the past are products or chance, accident, or a universe in chaos.  If those things are true, then they are false. Logic, mathematics, science, the reliability of our senses, etc. are not possible based upon the presuppositional commitments of the relativist or materialistic atheist.  All that the impossibility of the contrary argument attempts to do is demonstrate the reliability or the unreliability of the person’s worldview by comparing them in light of what warrants the preconditions necessary for obtaining knowledge. If the Triune God of Scripture is in fact the creator of reality, then it will only be in reference to Him that all truth may be known.

Dreaded Circular-Reasoning

Like most Christian philosophers today, Huffling puts and “X” on circular-reasoning. This is a known sin to many Christian philosophers/apologists. But as I have been saying in previous posts, when it comes to ultimate standards there is really no way around it.

Take for example the label “Christian apologist,” what is the implication that we ought to see, but sometimes fail to recognize? The very label identifies the circular nature of the defense.  We are being challenged (either politely or impolitely) for our faith commitments. We are being asked “Why do you have hope in the Christian faith?” From the outset our defense is geared toward proclaiming the Christ of the Bible.

Peter tells the Christians he was writing to in the first century to presuppose Christ—set Him apart as Holy in your hearts (1Pet 3.15).  In other words, Jesus is our primary commitment.  The Christian apologetic is hinged on Christ, the anchor of our hearts. Contextually, this means we do not think/reason as the non-Christian does (cf. 1Pet 3.14), while identifying how we are to respond when asked for the reason of this hope we cling to (v.15).

On what grounds? Do we provide the reason for the hope we have apart from what we have our hope in? Do we lay aside our hope in order to defend our hope? I hope not. No, Scripture is pretty clear that we start with Christ, reason like Christ touching on aspects of His truth along the way, in order to reason to (lead to) Christ.

Huffling identifies circular reasoning as one of the “many problems” with P.A. (par 12). He rightly points out that we appeal to the use of logic as one example of why not all circular reasoning is fallacious (false), but then says…

  • “such is not a circular problem, it is merely undeniable that reason is unavoidable in discussions or arguments. One is not using reason to prove reason; he is simply saying that it is unavoidable and undeniable” (par 12).

I’m not sure if Huffling realizes it or not, but he has just used a form of the impossibility of the contrary argument. He has stated that using logic in our reasoning is not circular, but axiomatic (i.e. self-evident truth). Essentially, he is arguing that without using logic/reason one could not argue; therefore, it is impossible to not appeal to logical reasoning when coming to the knowledge of the truth. But, that is precisely the point!

Without logic one cannot reason logically, but in order to do so we must use logic to validate our logical argumentation—i.e. a necessary circle—because if we did not do so, we wouldn’t be able to prove anything. In other words, logic is a necessary precondition. This is true with all axioms. They must be assumed. If we did not assume them (axiomatic truths), then it would not be possible to argue at all.2 Is it not therefore, logical to assume the chief axiom of all reality, the One who makes sense of all reality, the Triune God of the Bible? Is not Christ the chief axiom of all Christian thought—the treasure trove of all knowledge and wisdom (Col 2.3), and therefore rightly assumed at the outset when we defend our faith in Him? For apart from Him our faith—including all knowledge and wisdom—loses its savor and is fit to be cast under the feet of all mankind!

The problem is that Huffling uses the very thing that he seeks to deny. First, he assumes C.A. is the superior method of all Christian apologetics, most of all over P.A.  He begins his article with the presupposition of “…the superiority of the classical method” (par 1), then touches on aspects of it along the way (cf. par 2, 4), in order to reason to (lead to) the conclusion that “…the classical model is more comprehensive than the others, puts miracles and evidences in a theistic context, and avoids the problems of presuppositionalism. Thus, classical apologetics is the strongest, most comprehensive model” (par 13). The very definition of a subtly circular argument. I do not fault him or others for this, but merely point it out because all do it.

Another Circular Assumption C.A.’s Draw From…

Moreover, Huffling makes an interesting admission about one of the key tenets of C.A.; natural theology.  Without the assumption of natural theology, C.A. falls on its head. Again, I want to remind the reader that he denies circular-reasoning as a valid form of argumentation, but I must ask from where does Huffling draw the presupposition that “natural theology” is warranted? Where do C.A.’s get their justification for using or appealing to natural theology? The Bible. He cites Romans 1:19-20, which reads

  • “…For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (ESV; italics added).

Huffling believes that “the Bible says we can know about God through nature” (par 7). Therefore, arguments from natural theology are seen as justifiable in the C.A. mindset in order to lead people to the possibility of God (cf. par 8). Moreover, he claims that C.A. provides the necessary framework for “knowing reality and the absolute truth of nature” (par 10) so that the miracles of the Bible (I assume like the Resurrection) make sense. Of course, without being coy, I must ask “on what grounds” does the C.A. truly know realty and absolute truth. Does nature teach this? If so, from where is this observation made? If it is an observation from nature (i.e. natural theology), what context is it interpreted from that makes it absolutely true for all reality?

This has always been one of the inherent problems with “natural theology” when used in this way, because nature does not “prove” anything, because nature does not “state” anything, for nature must always be “interpreted,” and this in turn raises the question of “Who’s interpretation is the correct one?” A universal standard is needed in order to verify the truthfulness of an interpretation.  Yard-sticks that are not universally three feet long will provide varying measures depending upon the manufacturer and user. And, they are fit for the trash heap.

In any event, the grounds for much—if not all—of C.A. methodology is built upon a belief that is drawn from biblical teaching. And to be quite frank not very well. Here I will close with my final criticism of C.A.’s prized method.

Misunderstanding and Therefore Misappropriating the Biblical Text

It is often stated that “we can know about God through nature” (par 7; italics added), and then references to passages like Roman 1:19-203 are given. However, I wonder how much care is given when reading the text. The text does not say that “we can know about God” as if that is somehow up in the air. The text says that all mankind does know God because He has made “it plain to them,” having “shown it to them.” These attributes of God are “clearly perceived, ever since the beginning of the world, in all things that have been made.” This text is cited as if Paul only throws out the possibility of knowing God, rather than actually knowing Him.4

However, the apostle is very careful in the use of his language. He does not say that mankind “can know,” but that they “do know.” And yet they willfully “suppress the truth” (v.18) and are before the judgment seat of their Creator “without excuse” (v.20). Or more literally, “without an apologetic.” Unbelievers are said to have no defense before God’s judgment (i.e. wrath, v. 18) because they are fully culpable about His existence as their Maker, but they would rather hold the ball under the water, than let it hit them in the face.

Herein lies the chief problem with the C.A. method of witnessing to the lost. They refuse to start with Christ in order to lead to Christ. They prefer to assume that knowledge is possible apart from God, and argue in one circle in order to get others to jump ship to the Christian circle. Which as you know is logically impossible. Circles are made of an unlimited number of points, but they are closed circuits. To assume that you can lead a person to one closed circuit from another closed circuit is an extraordinary claim, to quote Bill Nye.

But, if unbelievers are functioning on a different circuit than the believer—i.e. their worldview/standard is different—how do we get them to our circle? By presenting the truth of the Christian worldview cogently, passionately, and unswervingly committed to Jesus our Lord, and then allowing the Holy Spirit to do the one thing that we cannot hope to do…convert them to our circle by changing their heart. Or course that raises the question of having a proper anthropology, but that is a discussion best served on another day.

_______________________________

ENDNOTES:

1 Well, that is a bit of an overstatement. The argument for the impossibility of the contrary is one of the three legs that we analyze for determining whether or not the chair of the other person (the worldview and its interrelated presuppositions) is seated on can actually hold up under scrutiny. The other two legs, which work in coordination the one already mentioned, is arbitrariness and inconsistency.

2 Joe Boot, Why I Still Believe—Hint: It’s the Only Way the World Makes Sense (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2006), 85. He writes, “In all argument we must take for granted the authority of certain ideas/principles (presuppositions) as a starting point, in order to evaluate the assumed authority of another person’s basic assumptions (i.e. theism and humanism, respectively). Given this circumstance—that we cannot argue at all without these presuppositions [axioms]—there is an inescapable circularity involved in argumentation.”

3 See Psa 19:1-6 which is often cited as further proof for the use of natural theology with unbelievers, but a wise person would compare such passages with Psa 92:5-6 which reads, “How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep! The stupid cannot know; the fool cannot under this” (cf. Jer 10.10-15).

4 It should be noted that this does not pertain to salvific knowledge, or a right relationship with the Creator of all things. The knowledge is plain and evident to all in the sense that it is wrong to deny God’s existence for all of creation testifies (proclaims the glory) of Him.  Often Christian philosophers seem to struggle with this distinction (I am not saying this is true of Dr. Huffling, I do not know), between knowing God and not knowing Him.  How can they both be true, for they appear to be a contradiction.

Let me answer that in the simplest way I can, by appealing to Scripture. Throughout Jesus incarnated ministry He was surrounded by those who knew Him but did not know him, and those who knew Him completely. This is demonstrated in a number of places in the gospels, but the testimony of Peter is appropriate.

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Matt 16.13), and then a variety of answers were given. Then the Lord poses the same question directly to His disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16.15). Here Peter answers confidently, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matt 16.16). There were those who knew the Lord, but did not know Him. They knew His origin, son of Mary and Joseph the carpenter, the Nazarene. They knew of His power in teaching and in His control over creation, but knowing him they did not know Him (John 6.36) and Jesus said they would die in their sins (John 8.24). This line of thinking is what Paul applies when he writes Romans 1.

Posted in Apologetics

Arguing in Circles: Part I

Eaves dropping on a Realistic Hypothetical…

“How do you know we landed on the moon?” asks the skeptic.

“Well, we have the reports from NASA, and the testimony of the astronauts.  There are also various media sources that validate the event” answers the believer.

“Yeah, but I don’t accept those claims.  I don’t believe what the government or the media tells us…you can’t trust them” the skeptic responds.

“You don’t believe them…you don’t trust them? Are you serious, the evidence is pretty…well…evident!”

“Now you know as well as I do,” starts the skeptic “that the media outlets and the information that the government gives are often filled with various inconsistencies, and yes though you may want to deny it…contradictions. All either really care about is money and power anyway.  Look at how much money the IRS takes from the people as they pass around the tax forms for us to fill out. And since the media is in bed with the government, most of what they report is fake news anyway,” he finishes triumphantly.

“Hold on a minute! What about the testimony of the astronauts, surely you can’t dismiss them.  Not only did some of them orbit the moon, but men like Neil Armstrong actually got out of the spaceship and stepped on that rock, planting the United States flag on it.  Why would they lie? Why would they make it up? Surely all those witnesses wouldn’t fudge the record!” proclaims the believer (just a wee-bit aggravated).

The corners of the skeptic’s mouth begin to inch toward an upward arch before he confidently says to the believer, “People lie all the time.  Some people are willing to die for the lies they told.  I’m not necessarily calling all the witnesses liars, some may have been duped by what they saw and heard, but that doesn’t mean what they have become convinced of is the truth. Self-deception is a real thing. Haven’t you heard of people who believed that their arm wasn’t really their arm and so they cut it off? Or the mother that drowned her children, convinced that she was doing what was for their benefit…not murder, but a peculiar gift?

Men like Neil Armstrong worked for the government. Don’t forget NASA is a governmentally led agency. Not just that, but look at the notoriety that he gained through the media. People like that tend to crave power, and what greater prestige could be gained when the whole world thinks you’re this great hero of a movement (the future promise of space travel and the possibility of living on other planets).  I’m not surprised that someone like him would cover up the truth, when he had so much to gain.”

…if you really want to prove to me that we’ve been to the moon, you’re going to have to prove it to me some other way, because I don’t trust the source(s) your giving me.”

**With that the skeptic wishes the believer a good day and departs, leaving the believer a bit dumbfounded.

Arguments over Truth and the Apologetic Response…

When we look at truth (we don’t actually look at it by the way since it’s an abstract concept of reality) we see things propositionally. Those propositional truths are then given meaning by way of analogy. In other words, we often use illustrative forms that people can relate to in order to better instruct what those propositional truths convey. This is not done as a slight of hand, but by way of drawing out the practical applications of those truths at play in real life scenarios.

In my former post, I pointed out how some Christian apologists prefer to leave the Bible out of the discussion when speaking to unbelievers because it is supposed that the skeptic will not accept its claims. Therefore, in order to avoid uncomfortable discussions and to steer clear from the dreaded fallacy of begging the question (a.k.a. circular-reasoning) many Christian apologist prefer philosophical argumentation regarding evidence, divorced from the Bible, as the preferred method of approach. How well do you think that works in the real world?1

Uhm…it doesn’t.

Regardless of the subject one attempts to tackle, opposing sides of the argument will argue.  And when they argue they will naturally appeal to that which they hold as ultimate. You can take the above scenario that I presented and put anything you desire into it, and the result will be the same. Whether it be sports, politics, forms of entertainment, financial planning/budgeting, etc. name the topic, identify the source, and watch the sparks fly. The issue is the person in question and what they identify as authoritative.

There are still people out there that believe the earth is flat not spherical, that vaccines are the products of pharmaceutical companies and the health profession intent on hurting rather than helping humanity (they’re all about the money!). You can show people evidence and pile it to the ceiling, but they will always appeal to that which they view as an authority in their life.

If someone argued against the earth being a sphere, or the benefits of vaccines, or the fact that we have orbited the earth, built a space station and have sent people to walk on the moon, to what would you turn as your authority? What would you cite? You would point to the source of the claim. You would point to the one source that made sense of the evidence. And you know what…you’d be arguing in a circle; necessarily so.

What is Circular-Reasoning or the Fallacy of Begging the Question?

Circular-Reasoning known as the fallacy of Begging-the-Question, is “…when an unjustifiable assumption is slipped into an argument to support a conclusion that has not yet been established.”2 In other words, you presuppose what you are attempting to prove; the conclusion of the arguer is found at the beginning of the argument. Here is an example that is often cited and criticized (and I would add rightly so) in Christian circles: “The Bible is inspired by God, and the Bible says that God exists. Therefore, God exists.”3 Here the assumption “God exists,” which is the conclusion of the argument, is smuggled into the opening of the argument.  The argument is supposed to justify that God exits, but rather than giving warrant to the conclusion the opening statement presupposes it. Therefore, the reasoner has reasoned in a circle, but nothing was actually proven.

The funny thing about this particular fallacy (i.e. false-reasoning) is that the form is logically valid (the premise and conclusion necessarily agree), but what makes it false is the arbitrary nature of the argument. We are being arbitrary when our personal “preference or convenience rather than by necessity or the intrinsic nature of something…,” say a standard is being applied. Arbitrariness is unjustified reason; the mere opinion of the arguer.4 That is why reasoning in a circle can be false.

“Wait a minute…you said can be. What do you mean?”

There are circumstances when reasoning in a circle is not fallacious.  Take for example logic, how does one go about proving it? When we argue we assume (rightly so) that there are standards that our reasoning must submit to. Logic is immaterial.  You cannot touch, taste, see, hear or smell a law of logic, but you can prove them.  “How do you prove something that does not exist!” By validating the standard by which you appeal.  In order to argue cogently, you must do so logically.  In order to argue logically, you must use logic; a necessary circle.

Here is a wonderful example of what I just stated:

  1. “If there were no laws of logic, we could not make an argument.
  2. We can make an argument.
  3. Therefore, there must be laws of logic.”5

Stated another way…laws of logic are necessary for proper argumentation and we argue; therefore, laws of logic must exist.  This argument, as described by Jason Lisle “…is subtly circular. We have assumed in this proof that there are laws of logic; modus tollens is a law of logic and we have used it as part of the proof that there are laws of logic. In this case we had no choice; in order to get anywhere in an argument we must presuppose [assume] that there are laws of logic…But what makes this a really good argument is that any possible rebuttal would be self-refuting.”

That last sentence may have left you wondering, “how so?” In order to argue against the argument presented, you would have to assume what you are trying to disprove—i.e. laws of logic. In short, not only would you have to borrow what you are trying to say is not true, but you too would also be arguing in a circle.

The Tie-in with Ultimate Standards…

This is why understanding ultimate standards is so important. That underlying foundation of a person’s perspective worldview is always the final court of appeal.  All people argue in a circular fashion to some extent, because it is impossible not to do so. Greg L. Bahnsen offers a cogent argument for why this is the case:

  • Therefore, all argumentation over ultimate issues of truth and reality will come down to an appeal to authorities which, in the nature of the case, are ultimate authorities. Circularity at this level of argumentation is unavoidable…When that ultimate authority is challenged, the argument must necessarily become circular, for nothing is “more authoritative” or carries greater warranting power than the “ultimate’ authority.” The unbeliever, as much as the believer, has a final authority to which he appeals in order to defend the world-view that embraces his interdependent metaphysic [i.e. view of reality] and epistemology [i.e. source of knowledge].7

But, not all foundations are made the exact same, are they? Nor are all circles of reasoning the same. A foundation or a circular argument that is self-refuting, rather than self-attesting, is a vicious and therefore fallacious (false) standard to appeal to. A worldview standard that cannot attest for, or provide the grounds for knowledge is self-refuting. That ultimate standard cannot be arbitrary, inconsistent, or lack the foundation for making knowledge possible. If it fails in any of these areas, then it’s a standard we shouldn’t be using.

This is truly at the heart of every apologetic encounter.  A person asks you why you believe “x,” and then you offer a reasoned response in defense of believing “x.” How do you prove “x,” if you refuse to stand on the very soil that makes “x” possible? If you cannot truly understand “x” without your faith-commitment’s standard, then why would you propose to give an understanding of “x” in some other format?

Think of it this way… (Oh yes, another illustration!)

You claim to have access to and privileges to drink from the sweetest well in all the world.  The water from this well is the purest, the sweetest, the absolute best. Because of this well’s water you will never thirst again, your thirst will always be satisfied, your soul refreshed. This well provides living-water.8

Then someone comes along and says to you, “Why do you drink from that well? Why do you claim that the water from it is the purest, the sweetest and the best to meet your needs? Why not these other wells that have good water in them to, why do you refuse to drink from them?”

In response to the inquiry, you immediately begin to dip your cup in the water from the well you cherish above all others. As you turn to offer a drink the questioner says, “What are you doing? Why do you approach with the water from that well?”

You say, “Well, you want to know why I drink from it, why I claim it is the sweetest and the best to satisfy one’s thirst…you want to know why I am so confident that this water alone will satisfy your soul for all your days. So, I bring to you a cup of this well’s water so that you might taste of it and know its sweetness.”

“No, no not that water. I will not drink of it, you must first prove to me that this water is what you say it is. Then, I will drink,” the questioner replies.

“How do I prove it without drawing from it and giving to you?” you ask. “Easy,” the questioner says “show me it is the sweetest by drawing from these other wells.”

Herein lies the dilemma of the one who refuses to draw from the well that the Lord has given, preferring instead a different well, in order to prove what he testifies about the life-giving water is indeed Living Water.

To Be Continued…

We shall return to the subject of circular reasoning by examining whether or not the approach is biblically justified.

________________________

ENDNOTES:

1 No, I’m not a pragmatist; quite the opposite. I do think this ideology has seeped into the Evangelical Church and so Pragmatism will be—by way of necessity—the subject for a future article, but for now we will leave it where it lies.

2 Norman Geisler and Peter Bocchino, Unshakeable Foundations: Contemporary Answers to Crucial Questions about the Christian Faith (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2001), 145.

3 Joel McDurmon, Biblical Logic in Theory and Practice: Refuting the Fallacies of Humanism, Darwinism, Atheism, and Just Plain Stupidity (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2011), loc 3519, Kindle Edition. The problem with both premises in this syllogism is not that they are false. According to the Christian worldview they are both true. However, to use them to prove each other is not a cogent argument, but rather a viscous circle.  I would recommend not joining the two together to prove the point, from biblical grounds, that God exists and the Bible is His breathed-out Word.

4 Jason Lisle points out that “Arbitrary assumptions are not be used in logical reasoning because we could equally assume the exact opposite.” He gives the following example: “Evolution must be true because it is fact.” The evolutionist accepts this argument as valid, even though he has reasoned in a circle. However, one could likewise argue “Evolution cannot be true because it is false.” The form is valid, the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises provided, but the premises are assumed true without validation. Cited from: Discerning Truth (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2010), 16, Adobe Digital Editions.

5 Jason Lisle, The Ultimate Proof of Creation: Resolving the Origins Debate (Green Forest, Master Books, 2009), 145.

6 Ibid, 145-146.

7 Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, Joel McDurmon, ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision Press & Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, [2008], 2011), 89.

8From the Lord comes living water: “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7.38). In John 6, Jesus compared himself to manna from heaven when He declared, “I am the bread of life…” (John 6.35). Similarly, we do no violence to biblical teaching when we compare the Rock of our Salvation to those rocks that were struck in the wilderness that provided living water for in desperate need (cf. Psa 78.15; Isa 48.21; see Exod 17.6; Numb 20.10-11; compare Jer 17.13 and Isa 55.1). “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Psa 42.1-2a). Once our thirst drives us to the Lord, and His sweet water satisfies our soul (i.e. salvation), why would we put away that which has afforded us such a great gift. Let me put it another way: What is saved in Christ Jesus? The person in part or in totality? If in total, then does this not also include our very minds? If our minds, then why would we assume that there is some other way, some better way, to lead someone to this Living Water other than the source from which it springs?