10 April 2007

The resurrection, apologetically

by Dan Phillips

Preface. On the subject of apologetics, two statements in beginning: (1) I started out (three-plus decades ago) as an evidentialist, moved through Schaeffer to van Til, and now am pretty much a modified van Tilian; and (2) if you don't know what any of that means, it's okay. Really. Please read on.

Apologetics is the reasoned defense of the Christian faith. Evidentialism is the approach to apologetics that focus presents facts, builds a probability case for Christianity, and bids people make a leap (or, to some, "hop") of faith the rest of the way to Christ. Folks like John Warwick Montgomery and Josh McDowell (and a million others) represent this approach.

Cornelius van Til, late professor at Westminster Theological Seminary, constructed a Christian approach to apologetic that... would really hard to describe briefly without someone jumping all over me. I think a fair way is to say that van Til mounted a Biblical attack on the idea that fallen man can autonomously construct a truthful Weltanschauung.

Clear? Oh. Sorry. Let's try that again.

We are creatures, living in a created world. We, our world, and every fact we touch is created, and thus endowed by our Creator with a meaning which He defined by that very created design (cf. Psalm 104:24; Proverbs 3:19; 8:21-31; Romans 11:36). Therefore, there is no such thing as a "brute" fact. Things mean what God says they mean; any other idea is a misapprehension. Constructing other ideas is an act of intellectual rebellion growing out of autonomy, "self-rule" — the demand of being little gods creating our own little universes.

But our problem is sin. Sin isn't just something we do, it is what we are, and that without choice (Romans 6:20). Sin does not merely affect our actions, but our very way of thinking and reasoning (Ephesians 4:17-19). Our problem is not that we have no access to the truth about God. We are surrounded by truths about God, everywhere we turn (Psalm 19:1-6). We have plenty of access. Our problem is that we naturally pervert and distort every truth we meet when we meet it (Romans 1:18ff.), until we are liberated by the sovereign grace of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).

What does any of this have to do with the resurrection of Christ?

The resurrection. The resurrection is an essential component of the Gospel, beyond all sane debate.
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, 2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.... (1 Corinthians 15:1-4)
So, if we prove the resurrection to an unbeliever, he will believe in the Gospel, right?

Not necessarily. For instance, I believed in the resurrection long before I was saved. It made sense, it was well-attested. I had no argument about the brute fact of the resurrection of Jesus. I just didn't believe that it meant what Jesus-freaks wanted to think it meant. It was just a demonstration of that principle of life that the Christ within all of us seeks to express. Jesus did it better, but anyone can do it. (That no one yet had managed to was weird, but it's a weird world.)

I affirmed the event, but not its meaning.

Van Til himself captured this pretty brilliantly in his dialogue between Mr. Black (an unbeliever), Mr. Grey (an evidentialist), and Mr. White (not Famous James, but an archetypal "Calvinist" as described by van Til).
[Mister Grey:] I want to deal with simple facts. I want to show you that the resurrection of Jesus from the dead is as truly a fact as any fact that you can mention. To use the words of Dr. Wilbur Smith, himself a ‘moderate’ Calvinist but opposed to the idea of a distinctively Reformed method for the defense of the faith: ‘The meaning of the resurrection is a theological matter, but the fact of the resurrection is a historical matter; the nature of the resurrection body of Jesus may be a mystery, but the fact that the body disappeared from the tomb is a matter to be decided upon by historical evidence.’ The historical evidence for the resurrection is the kind of evidence that you as a scientist would desire.
Sound familiar? I imagine that would sound pretty good to many good brothers and sisters. But listen to Mr. Black's response:
[Mr. Black:] Now as for accepting the resurrection of Jesus...as thus properly separated from the traditional system of theology, I do not in the least mind doing that. To tell you the truth, I have accepted the resurrection as a fact now for some time. The evidence for it is overwhelming. This is a strange universe. All kinds of ‘miracles’ happen in it. The universe is ‘open.’ So why should there not be some resurrections here and there? The resurrection of Jesus would be a fine item for Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Why not send it in?
Oh, ouch. That didn't go very well, did it?

Perhaps we've had similar dialogues. We think that, if we can make a strong historical case for the resurrection, our friend will be compelled to repent and believe. Yet nothing of the sort happens. Why?

Here's where we need to listen a bit more closely to Paul, I think. Let's ask the apostle to raise his voice a bit for emphasis:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.... (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
Paul does not adduce the resurrection as a "brute fact," but as an interpreted fact, as a fact freighted with specific assigned meaning. The resurrection means neither nothing nor anything, but something.

Here's where I also think of the words of Solomon:
A wise man scales the city of the mighty
and brings down the stronghold in which they trust (Proverbs 21:22)
We need to take aim at the wrong presuppositions that underlie our friends' thinking, as Paul did in Athens (Acts 17). Often demolition must precede reconstruction (Jeremiah 1:10; 2 Timothy 3:16; 4:2).

Then we bring to bear the evidences—but as God's facts, not brute facts.

(FWIW, I try to do this very thing in Why I Am (Still) a Christian.)

Dan Phillips's signature

112 comments:

Kevin said...

But Dan, aren't you forgetting the audience whom Paul is addressing "according to the scriptures"? In Athens, he used a very different apologetic, didn't he?

DJP said...

Differing audiences may call for differing specific approaches, but not differing objectives nor goals. Athens is a perfect example. Paul did not expressly cite one Scripture, yet his whole address is an assault, bringing Biblical cosmology and theology in a crushing onslaught against the prevailing philosophies of his audience pretty much from first to last.

Kevin said...

I don't understand how it is that evidentialist apologetics have different goals than presup's. At the end of the day, the Holy Spirit can use either approach to redeem lost sinners. I'm not even an amateur theologian, so I'm asking for guidance here.

david rudd said...

hurrah for van til! my philosophical grandfather...

(van til begat grier; grier begat rudd...)

DJP said...

Oh, no doubt the goal is to point the sinner to Christ. But the philosophy and methods have points of difference. The evidentialist can approach the sinner as if they have common ground in facts, for instance. But while it is true that we are looking at the same facts, we are looking at them entirely differently. Evidentialists often tacitly affirm man's right to interpret facts for himself, and proceed as if it were possible to view them as "brute facts," unattached from an entire epistemology and world-view. However, it is not possible to do so. There are no brute facts.

Which was what the post was about.

Kevin said...

How does the presuppositianilist escape from ciruclarity? Couldn't an Islamist make the same claims, using the Quran as his point of reference?

DJP said...

I'm starting to get the feeling that you haven't read the post, nor the article I link to, Kevin. Could we maybe start with them? Was the post circular? What did the other article say or show about circularity?

ajlin said...

Looks like Paul used both. I mean in I Cor. 15, he did present several eye-witnesses evidences along with his scriptural interpretation of the evidences.

JSB said...

Dan, John 20:8,9 seems to be along the same lines you suggest:

"Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)"

A belief in the resurrection, but not yet a full understanding.

DJP said...

AJLin—do you read me, either in this or the other article, as being opposed to the use of evidence?

Kevin said...

I haven't time to read your linked article in detail-just a quick scan. Forgive my obtuseness, but could you briefly reiterate your point. Are you arguing for presup apologetics or ...? As far as I understand presup, which isn't tooo far, it must be circular. Does it not begin and end by presupposing God's existence and nature based on the bible's testimony?

SB said...

Hip Hop Dan

well said
you should go on Gene Cook's program The Narrow Mind Broadcast I think it would serve the body of Christ for him to pick your brain exegetically on the foundations of vantillian apologetics from the scriptures. Thanks for your greek blog and thanks for your preaching ministry-I love what God is doing at your church.

madhatter said...

When someone says, "I haven't read your post and don't really have a clear understanding of the underlying terms, but I think you're wrong anyway," doesn't it make you want to stick a fork in an eye? I'm not saying whose eye, but doesn't it?

Kevin said...

Madhatter,

I did read the post and scanned the linked article. I mentioned earlier that I'm not as experienced as many of you are. Perhaps you could refer me to a sandbox where I might gain an understanding of the 'underlying terms' before attempting to join in this discussion again.

DJP said...

Madhatter—yes, it is a pet peeve of mine.

Kevin—I bet there are good sites that define, compare and contrast. I'll try to find one; maybe someone else in the meanwhile?

SolaMeanie said...

I tend to think that we focus too much on the labels "evidentialist" and "presuppositionalist." I use elements of both, recognizing that the Holy Spirit is the One who draws people to Himself when His Word is proclaimed. That doesn't preclude me talking about evidences. People of good faith tend to waste a lot of time arguing about this.

centuri0n said...

The irony of Kevin's objection is that the church in Corinth was a church Paul founded among the gentiles with some Jews coming across. Acts 18 tells us that Paul's 18 months in Cornith were spotted by being thrown out of the temple and then winning gentile converts, which of course made the Jews angry.

My point here being that when Paul wrote 1Cor 15:1-4 and demanded that Christ did these things "kata tas grafas", he was talking to gentiles. That is, the faith which we are declaring does not depend on whether you think the Scriptures are God's word: God's word is what it is, and you have to get with the eternal program.

That said, this is a brilliant post, Dan. It's exactly right. The Scriptures had declared from Moses forward that the savior was coming to save in a specific way, and then this man Jesus did all of it, and just to demonstrate that it wasn't a coincidence of a fraud, Jesus rose from the dead like the Scripture said he would, too.

The Scripture points to the resurrection; the resurrection testifies to and verifies the authority and truth claims of the Scripture.

And here's why the Muslim cannot make the same claim: the Koran makes no predictions but the end of the world and the judgment of Allah. The Koran makes no claims for its own evaluation.

You should look at it this way: Let's say that I make the claim that I am in complete control of a gumball machine. (God forgive me for comparing His sovereignty over all things to a gumball machine) To prove my claim, I tell you that I can predict all the colors that will come out of the machine in sequence, especially tomorrow morning which is of special consequence because one of those gumballs will cure cancer.

"Yeah sure," you say. "You and the magic 8-ball."

Fine, I say. I'll write down what time you should start looking for gumballs, and then the sequence of gumballs from that time to the time and color that the cancer-curing gumball will come out of the machine. I give you a list of 50 gumballs in sequence by color, and I tell you that the 46th gumball will cure cancer.

Well, you don't believe it, but because you're a blog reader you want to blog what a jerk I am, and you wait by the machine tomorrow morning and start checking my list at the appointed time.

You get a little edgy after the first 20 are right, especially when I wrote down that gumballs 16-20 would be all reds. But suddenly you start to believe the list has some correspondence to what is happening in the machine.

21-30 turn out exactly right, so my list is 30 for 30. But then you see that the list says that the next 15 gumballs will all be green, and the cancer-curing gumball -- number 46 -- will be yellow-and-purple striped.

Now, my list has gone 30-for-30, so the gumball machine has proven that the list has some merit, but you admit that you can't see any green gumballs in the machine, and you don't see any striped ones, either.

But then a line of 10 kids come to the machine and each one gets a green gumball. The machine is still verifying the list, and there are only 6 balls left to the cancer-curing gumball. So you pull out all the change in your pocket, and you start taking out gumballs.

Green. Green. Green. Green. Green.

45 items on the list are exactly right, and you drop your last quarter in to see what's next.

Out comes a gumball with yellow and purple stripes.

Now listen: the list has proven itself exactly right. The gumball machine has behaved exactly according to what was written. And the last part of what is written on the paper I gave you -- after the sequence of the next 4 gumballs -- is the words, "that striped gumball will cure cancer".

Now, you're out of coins, but you figure that to make sure this wasn't some kind of massive fluke or lucky guess, you'll wait to see what the last 4 gumballs will be. But as you're standing there, the gumball machine company comes and takes the machine away -- so you don't get to see the last 4 gumballs.

You have a choice at this point: you can affirm that the list was right about everything else it claimed and you can now have some conviction of things not seen and some assurance of things hoped for, or you can throw the cancer-curing gumball away.

That's not to be flip about the relationship between Christ and Scripture: that's to point out that it is not circular to say that Scripture declared and prophecied Christ, and then Christ came and in doing so verified Scripture.

The only disconnect to the analogy is that God pins the authority of Scripture on the truth of prophecy. That is, if the prophecies are true, the moral laws and the calls to obedience and such are all established with authority by the one who declares that something will be, and then makes it happen.

Does that make sense?

And save that gumball until you are sure you need it, bro. :-)

donsands said...

The ressurection has meaning because of the Cross.

I was thinking how after the Lord Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, that the religious leaders wanted to kill, not only the Lord, but Lazarus as well.
This 4-days-dead man, who now was alive meant nothing to the Jewish leaders.

And Abraham tells the rich man in hades that even if a dead man was raised, they wouldn't believe.
If they don't believe the Bible then ....

Nice deep post for me. I may be thinking down a rabbit path, but that's how your thoughts hit me.

The gumball tale was a nice read also. Also deep for me. Hard to say a gumball tale is deep.

david rudd said...

an evidentialist cannot accept a presupposional viewpoint, because he is not yet willing to relinquish autonomy.

that sounds harsh. but it is what it is.

'tis the heart of modernism.

evidentialist apologetics begins by reducing God to a definable (read created) entity and then proceeds to attempt to prove something that is unprovable through evidence.

you cannot prove something that exists outside of our reality, it must be revealed. hence, apologetics (i prefer coffee talk) must begin with a question of authority.

we either look to revelation as authority or to ourselves...

autonomy.

LeeC said...

What evidences will convince the fallen mind that is incapable of reason?

The Pharisees admitted that Christ could only do the things He did if He was from God as Don pointed out.

1 Cor. 2:14

" 14But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."

Eph 4

" 17So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. "



So how are we to make this natural man accept the things of God?

Eph 4
" 20You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."



" Hebrews 4:12
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."

Col 2
"8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. "

The evidentialist invites the unbeliever to weigh God and His Word in the scales of the non-Christians "reason". Unfortunately the unbeliever is not reasonable, and God is not to be weighed so by us, He sits in judgement of us, not the reverse. Yes God can use just about ANYTHING to draw someone to Him, but that does not mean that all ways are equal.

Chris said...

don, i hate to be contrary, especially since i have never commented on here, but i think you have it backwards. the cross has meaning because of the resurrection.
it is wonderful if jesus paid for our sins, but if the resurrection did not happen, then we will simply die absolved from guilt. however, if the resurrection did happen, we can die absolved from guilt and then have hope that there will be a new creation for us to enjoy.

the other resurrection accounts you mention are completely different from jesus. none of them walked through walls, and they were all recognizable as the person they formerly were. jesus was the firstborn of the new creation. im sorry, but i think you ahve it completely backwards.

donsands said...

"if the resurrection did not happen, then we will simply die absolved from guilt."

I see what you're saying Chris.

And if the Cross never happened, there wouldn't be a ressurection as well.

The Gospel is both. The Cross gives meaning to the empty tomb, and the empty tomb to the Cross.

That's the whole point I thought. We can believe in both and not be saved.

They are both essential truths of the faith and for the Gospel to have meaning.

That's was my point, and that's how I see it.
Neither are more important than the other.

centuri0n said...

Amen. The Gospel is both -- but Paul says plainly that without the resurrection, we are the most pitiable of men.

Think about that.

Coram Deo said...

To those scratching their heads right now I recommend you start your reading with Greg Bahnsen's "Always Ready: Answers For Defending the Faith" and then progrress to Bahsen's magnum opus, "Van Til's Apologetic".

I highly recommend reading Bahnsen FIRST before digging directly into Van Til.

Just my .02 worth.

Coram Deo said...

Kevin said...
But Dan, aren't you forgetting the audience whom Paul is addressing "according to the scriptures"? In Athens, he used a very different apologetic, didn't he?

5:13 AM, April 10, 2007


Paul's Mars Hill Discourse was precisely presuppositional in method.

The irony of the moniker of emergent Mark Driscoll's church isn't lost on me.

God must have a profound sense of humor.

Kevin said...

"Whereas to use any other methodology is not only ineffective but even sinful to the extent that the person must ignore and/or contradict the clear mandates of the very Scripture he would hope to show to be very truth itself by adopting the philosophies and/or methodologies of the unbelieving world. To many today, these may seem like a very narrow view and unloving at that. But the question that should be asked first is if the Scriptures support this view. And if so, then we are to accept it without question regardless of how many people dislike the idea."

I took the above quote from a review of Dr Bahnsen's "Aways Read.." Is it correct to characterize any other apologetic as 'not only ineffective, but even sinful'?

donsands said...

"Paul says plainly that without the resurrection, we are the most pitiable of men."

Amen.

And Paul said, God forbid that he would boast [glory] except [save] in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It's both. No way around it.

Is the ressurection more important do you think than the cross?

DJP said...

Keith, here's a brief article.

TheBlueRaja said...

Just for giggles, and to annoy Dan, I think it's interesting to point out the similarity of presuppositional apologetics with postmodern structures of theology, particularly the category of "narrative". The idea that there are "no brute facts" is the point made by those who'd contend that the lens of interpretation is the only access we have to reality, and that "facts" only make sense, or maintain significance within the larger framework of the story they inhabit. Thus "evidences" are only sensible arrangements of data within a narrative. Presuppositional strategies try to show how facts are the least awkwardly arranged within the Christian narrative and that the places in which they appear to make sense in other narratives are only because of their borrowing from the Christian story.

If there are no brute facts without interpretation, aren't self-professed postmodernists closer to Dan than they are to Josh McDowell?

But this opens the door to the same criticism that you fellas have for the whole postmodern Christian crowd, namely that they have given away any objective standards for truth, and have thus cut off the branch they're sitting on.

Once you admit that there isn't any truth without interpretation, you enter the postmodern spiral: "whose interpretation should I believe, and why?" Why should I believe that your religious views are any less "autonomous" than my own views? What privileges YOUR interpretation of the facts over mine? Why does your version of reality in general, and your version of God in particular, get a free pass as a "brute fact", which no one else enjoys?

Presuppositional apologetics depends on the one self-evident, autonomously available brute fact, the one supposedly "suppressed in unrighteousness". In the meantime postmodernists wholeheartedly accept the notion that there aren't any brute facts, but they're more consistent than presuppositionalists, since they include the supposed brute fact of God and the Bible's inspiration.

Postmodernism, then, is a presuppositional argument against Christianity. Deconstruction is to Derrida what "ripping off the iron mask" is to Van Til.

david rudd said...

blue raja...

what you say here is why i am far more tolerant (icky word) of the emerging/pomo crowd than i was when i was into eviedentialism...

i do believe that it is possible to be a presuppositionalist and still have some elements of pomo thought...

i think intellectual honesty demands that we wrestle with the paradoxes of thought being presented by the emerging philosophy of the world.

of course that starts with trying to truly understand... i'm still working on that part.

Chris said...

don,
did not say it was more important, that is impossible with two things that are so closely related. but i did say that the cross has meaning because of the resurrection. without the resurrection jesus would have been just another failed messiah. and paul says to boast in the cross, but he doesnt say that without the cross we are the most pitiable of all men.

the resurrection is of central importance in christian theology, the cross is important because of the resurrection.

David said...

Blue Raja

You said, I thought it.

But the more i thought about it, the more I decided that it was incomplete, and I wasnt sure how.

So instead of sticking my finger in the pot, I decided not to post.

But since you brought it up, I am curious as to what the three horsemen have to say.

Phil Johnson said...

Coram Deo's earlier comment somehow messed up the formatting in the comments, so I deleted it. Here it is again, reformatted so that the blog isn't italicized from here to eternity:

Coram Deo said...:

Whereas to use any other methodology is not only ineffective but even sinful to the extent that the person must ignore and/or contradict the clear mandates of the very Scripture he would hope to show to be very truth itself by adopting the philosophies and/or methodologies of the unbelieving world.

Note the context of the quote and the BOLD portion. Within that context there can be no answer except for, Yes, it is sinful to ignore / contradict scripture, even (or perhaps especially) to press home a point on an unbeliever.

Phil Johnson said...

TheBlueRaja: "I think it's interesting to point out the similarity of presuppositional apologetics with postmodern structures of theology."

Touche.
.
.
.

Well, not really. Raja isn't the first to make this argument, of course. Andrew Sandlin, who once looked as if he would be heir to Rushdoony, has embraced the general drift of postmodern epistemology with apparent enthusiasm, and if I understand him correctly (but, then, who does, these days?), Sandlin seems to think postmodernism was the logical next step after Vantilianism.

At the exact opposite end of the spectrum, Gordon Clark's hard-core aficionadoes at the Trinity Foundation would likewise no doubt point out that Clark (himself a presuppositionalist, but of a wholly different stripe) warned decades ago that Van Til's ideas would lead to irrationality. They've been saying "I told you so" for at least a decade and a half.

...all of which is prolly why Dan describes himself as a "modified Van Tillian." I can't speak for Dan, of course, but I would agree that there were strange ideas in some of Van Til's arguments (his treatment of the "Persons" in the Trinity, for instance, where he departed from standard Trinitarian language and said that God is both one Person and three Persons). Aspects of Van Ti's rationale always sounded to me like they might be used to justify irrationality. Some of Van Til's erstwhile followers appear to have drawn that very conclusion.

I, like Dan, would describe myself as a modified Van Tillian. Greg Bahnsen's book on Van Til was helpful, I think, in marking out and clarifying the more obvious pitfalls of some of Van Til's most controverted statements.

Anyway, I would argue that presuppositionalism and postmodernism aren't really bedfellows. If you want to be real annoying about it, though, Raja, just for giggles, you should take it up with Steve Hays.

ajlin said...

re: Blue Raja's "but they're more consistent than presuppositionalists, since they include the supposed brute fact of God and the Bible's inspiration."

Isn't this like Richard Dawkin's argument about how Christianity is 'atheistic' about the pantheon of other religions, and how he is just more consistent in his atheism?

centuri0n said...

Phil:

Are you saying that apologetics can be a stumbling blog -- that is, and unnecessary stumbling block -- to the Gospel?

Before I make any comments, I just want you to say "yes" or "no".

Phil Johnson said...

Centuri0n: "Before I make any comments, I just want you to say 'yes' or 'no'."

Gladly:

"Yes" or "no."

Phil Johnson said...

All kidding aside, I'd say yes. Apologetics—especially badly done apologetics—can be an unneccessary stumbling-block to the gospel.

DJP said...

...[van Til] departed from standard Trinitarian language and said that God is both one Person and three Persons

Gordon Clark said that. Did van Til, too? I remember thinking, "Yikes. Dude."

Or words to that effect.

Phil Johnson said...

DJP: "Gordon Clark said that. Did van Til, too?"

No, Van Til said that, and Clark objected. Every committed Clarkian holds it against Van Til to this day, and some of them consider Van Til a crypto-modalist because of the unique language he employed about the Trinity. See James Anderson's article about this over at Triablogue.

However, Gordon Clark had his own unique perspective on the Trinity. He defined "Person" in a completely idiosyncratic way and in effect taught that Jesus was two distinct Persons, one divine, one human. Clark's critics sometimes label him a crypto-Nestorian.

The Clark-Van Til controversy was a sad chapter in 20th-century Reformed theology, and its ramifications continue today. I think the polarization of those two men fueled and exacerbated the polarization we see today between the so-called TRs and their pomo critics.

Despite what a few of those pomo critics insist, both sides disgust me just about equally.

And anyone can see what an embittered person the whole thing has made me.

david rudd said...

trinitarian language:

once again the utilitarian nature of english (particularly the american version) leaves high and dry...

"persons" -- so cold and unimaginative...

"homoousios"
"homoiousios"

mmmm. yummy.

centuri0n said...

Phil:

That's brilliant. If we could do a podcast, I'd love to make that the topic of the first TeamPyro podcast.

Your point about badly-done apologetics is so over-the-top good that I'm going to leave it at that and make that the topic of my TeamPyro post tomorrow.

donsands said...

Okay Chris we can leave at that.

We can be encouraged that the Lord died for our sins on the Cross, where He became sin for us, and His blood washes us clean. And that His rising on the third day is a forever testimony to His divine forgiveness that we have in His substitutionary death.

"For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, less the Cross of Christ should be made void.
For the preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness: but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness; ... He that glories, let him glory in the Lord." 1 Cor. 1:17-18,23,31b
We are surely to glory in the risen Lord. He is risen indeed!

C.H.H. said...

I remember reading van Til's Apologetic and saying to myself, "this guy beat the postmodernists to the punch!" Jacob Hale has written a very helpful piece comparing van Til's and Derrida's critique of Western thought, as well as their answers to the problem:

Derrida, van Til and the Metaphysics of Postmodernism.


Chris

Matt said...

As to the blueraja's comment about the similarities between pomo and presuppositionalism: it may well be that both agree that there is no such thing as a brute fact. Yet both have to act and live on the basis that truth exist and that facts must have meaninng when properly interpreted. The difference is how they would handle the interpretation of said facts. The postmodernist would be forced to say that "I" am the locus of meaning and interpretation (causing obvious difficulties and impossibiliities), while the preusuppostionalist would say that the locus of interpretation is revelation from God. The former makes "me" the arbiter and judge of truth, while the latter reserves that place for One more worthy than me.

As to circularity - isn't this a problem at the bedrock of ANY system of thought? The modernist would say "it's true because it's logical, and it's logical because it's true"? Once one is at the bedrock of truth, they have to admit that there is no higher court of appeal to decide their case. To "prove" the Bible using reason is to actually place reason on a higher plane than the Bible. One cannot "prove" something without making that "something" inferior to the proof.

Am I too simplistic in my assertions? Do they need further refinement? I'm also a relative newbie to apologetics and want to learn from any of you who can offer insight on this topic.

david rudd said...

matt,

i think you're on track... particularly with the presupposition of the postmodern being the "i".

this is why i think it is not useful to argue the nature of the truth with a pomo thinker. it is much more useful to "argue" the notion of which is a better "properly basic belief"...

revelation or autonomy?

SolaMeanie said...

David,

An evidentialist cannot accept a presupposional viewpoint, because he is not yet willing to relinquish autonomy.

that sounds harsh. but it is what it is.


I think that is unduly harsh and paints with too broad a brush. No one I know who uses elements of evidential apologetics is hung up on "autonomy." Perhaps we're talking about two different things, but the evidential apologetics I have known simply takes the biblical view that there is evidence of God in His very creation, and we point that evidence out. We also deal with logical problems with the arguments of unbelievers. Of course, the Holy Spirit is the only One who can open the heart and mind and draw people to Himself. He acts through the proclamation of His Word. But both evidence and presuppositional arguments can work together. They need not be mutually exclusive depending on WHAT IS MEANT by the terms. I for one do not make such a category as "our reality" because I view God as being part of our reality, whether we acknowledge Him or not. Your "either or" is way too narrow. It's not "either or," it's "both and."

JoeMartino said...

The author Hebrews would seem to be a presuppositional apologist, when he says, "By faith we believe that God spoke all things into existance."
Hebrews 12:3

TheBlueRaja said...

Phil:

I, like Dan, would describe myself as a modified Van Tillian.

Just out of curiosity, what are the modifications you've made to presuppositionalism to escape the accusation of subjectivity?

And, for the record, can I take Dan's silence on the subject to mean that he's conceding the fact that his post is totally pomo?

Really my point was that postmodern approaches have a lot in common with the Reformed tradition, which can serve to bridge the real concerns of the self-proclaimed "postmodern Christians" into a deeper and more stable expression of their faith (a point other have doubtlessly made before me which I've nevertheless made here and here - and really everything I've said under the label postmodernism).

centuri0n said...

Raja:

I have no idea what Dan and Phil would say about this, but there is a wide gap between the false affirmation of objectivity (and thus "brute facts") and the affirmation that the world does not exist inside my head but actually apart from my perceptions and my cognition (thus "brute facts").

I wish I could attribute you to my own over-indulged imagination, but the (ahem) fact is that you exist. The question is if you exist because you are created by God or if you exist for no reason but chance. If it is the latter, we tread on the pomo ground of seeking to objectify our own opinions with nothing to stand on; if it is the latter, the ground on which to stand is holy ground, and I'll thank you to remove your shoes.

I'll bite and say that meaning is subjective, but what I mean by that is all meaning must be grounded on something. On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sining sand.

All other ground is sinking sand. Don't pick a sinking subjectivity. Pick a subjectivity ontologically based on the creator of all things.

centuri0n said...

And I'd clown you for making me talk like that, but this is TeamPyro and not my own blog.

Matt said...

Thanx, David Rudd,

I would agree with your strategy for pomos. I remember in one instance like I was banging my head against a brick wall while trying to argue about the nature of truth with a pomo in my denomination. I found I finally had an entry point when I made a comment to the effect that "revelation trumps reason and non-reason (ie - experience)". This was a point we could agree on and proceed from there (Wait a minute - did I just evaluate the validity of presuppositionalism on experience? Maybe I'm a pomo after all! I'll have to go take a bath in boiling bleach and scrub with steel wool - I feel so dirty). That is why I think Kevin's question early on was a valid one, for I faced the same question - once we agree that revelation is the ultimate standard, how do we evaulate the revelation of God in the Bible with the revelation of Allah in the Qu'ran? I think Centuri0n's comments were helpful here.

Another question I was asked was how we prevent "revelation" from becoming "lazy obstinancy" among fellow Christians? And I agree with solameanie that evidentialism and presuppositionalism need not be mutually exclusive. I think both may be useful depending on the audience. I'd love to hear further feedback as I too am trying to sharpen my view of apologetics.

Thanx for the original post, Dan!

david rudd said...

solameanie,

perhaps i am painting with too broad a brush, hence the disclaimer that it sounds harsh...

but, as a recovering evidentiary buff, i really do think that the foundation (yucky word) of evidential apologetics is the ability of ME to properly interpret the EVIDENCE.

maybe i'm too simple, but that seems to make ME the authority...

hence, my statement about autonomy.

maybe i'm wrong. it's where i am in my journey, and perhaps my pendulum has now swung too far.

sorry if i came off as overly dogmatic.

TheBlueRaja said...

Matt and David - but wouldn't they respond by saying that the only difference between their "i" and your "i" is the fact that you say God is standing next to yours? And isn't that the claim of everyone who you're calling "autonomous", i.e. that their claims have the endorsement of ultimate reality while yours don't?

Can't he say that your claims to be free from autonomy are actually autonomous and that your citing of revelation is dodgy an appeal to a "brute fact" which doesn't exist outside of your autonomous reconstruction?

I think those who don't hold to Christian theism would say that if Christian belief doesn't ultimately rest on rational grounds (such as empirical evidence or the laws of logic), and if it instead depends on an experience (i.e. of rebirth/conversion) it's using the postmodern means of justification while bashing postmodernity for it's irrationality.

PRCalDude said...

"How does the presuppositianilist escape from ciruclarity? Couldn't an Islamist make the same claims, using the Quran as his point of reference? "

He doesn't escape circularity. It is a dependent circularity: dependent on the Word of God. Neither can the unbeliever escape it: he is dependent on his sinful and faulty judgment.

Bahnsen refuted Islamic presuppositions quite easily using Van Til's approach: http://lionofjudah.squarespace.com/journal/2007/2/16/van-tils-appologetic-applied-to-islam.html

TheBlueRaja said...

Cent,

I wish I could attribute you to my own over-indulged imagination, but the (ahem) fact is that you exist.

Aw, don't be like that, baby . . .

I'll bite and say that meaning is subjective, but what I mean by that is all meaning must be grounded on something.

Now you're getting it!

Der Fuersprecher said...

Kevin said:

"How does the [sic] presuppositianilist escape from [sic] ciruclarity?"

I'm surprised Touchstone hasn't yet attempted to weigh in on this. He made a similar claim months ago on another blog and I followed up with him on this at his own blog.

As I pointed out to him in our brief exchange, all appeals to an ultimate authority involve circularity (and this becomes evident when the foundations of the ultimate authority are probed).

For those who wish to make conformity with rationality the final criterion of evaluating the truth value of knowledge claims (as touchstone does [and RC Sproul does as well]), I am curious:

By what means would one justify establishing rationality as the criterion for evaluating the truth value of knowledge claims?

If anyone can answer that question sans an appeal to reason (or an appeal to a new ultimate criterion, which then needs to be justified) I would be most interested in it.

Sproul certainly wasn’t able to provide an adequate answer to this dilemma in Classical Apologetics, nor was Touchstone able to rise to the occasion in our brief exchange.

As far as Raja’s claims (and Hays is, of course, welcome to make a reply of his own),

I’d suggest that attempting to simplistically link Van Til with “self-professed postmodernists” by noting alleged structural similarities at the epistemological level is unhelpful and misleading, especially since it neglects important differences that would sharply distinguish Van Til from individual postmodernists (most especially at the metaphysical level).

Van Til advocated a two-layered theory of reality and being (with God’s being as ultimate, primary, and necessary and all other being as derivative, secondary, and contingent), which cashes out in the end in some form of metaphysical realism. If Raja thinks he can persuasively link Van Til with individual postmodernists at the metaphysical level, I’d be willing to entertain such a discussion.

On the other hand, while one may indeed find similar epistemological concerns between Van Til & individual postmodernists (especially vis-à-vis their deep suspicion of abstract epistemological neutrality claims – and this is where the similarity begins & ends btw), Van Til advocated a two-tiered epistemology (which is expressed in his archetypal/ectypal knowledge distinction) which would substantially distinguish him from individual postmodernists as well.

Furthermore, probably more than a few of Van Til’s followers would object to Raja’s recasting of his methodology in postmodern terms.

If we’re to recast Van Til utilizing a postmodern register, it would be better to say that for Van Til, “facts” only make sense as they relate to the metanarrative that the Triune God alone provides, which provides an avenue of escape for the epistemological skepticism that necessarily obtains absent such a condition.

Needless to say, I think Raja has overstated the comparison b/w CVT & individual postmodernists.

Matt said...

Blueraja - that's why I say that presuppositionalism and evidentialism need not, in my view at least, be mutually exclusive. To your hypothetical objection, I would counter by asking who's view of truth actually corresponds to reality. And for obvious reasons, the postmodernists view CANNOT correlate to reality, otherwise it could not be true. The postmodernist is dependant upon something that he denies - correspondance theory. The Christian, while maybe a presuppositionalist, can still show how his view correlates to what actually is (i.e. - Centuri0n's analogy of fullfilled jelly-bean prophecy).

farmboy said...

theblueraja writes: "The idea that there are 'no brute facts' is the point made by those who'd contend that the lens of interpretation is the only access we have to reality, and that 'facts' only make sense, or maintain significance within the larger framework of the story they inhabit."

"Facts", "brute facts" and "reality" are three ways to refer to "creation". Creation exists because of the purposeful, intentional activity of the Creator. Everything in creation happens as it does and/or exists as it does because of the purposes and intentions of the Creator. Thus, it is reasonable or - to be stronger - necessary to understand creation from the perspective of the Creator.

Fortunately, humanity has the perspective of the Creator revealed in Scripture and Christians have the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit to help them understand the content of Scripture. Those that are still lost in their sins and blinded by sin lack the necessary means to understand creation from the perspective of the Creator.

There is a dichotomy, then, in how humans understand creation: 1) Because of God's sovereign work, regenerate humans understand creation from the Creator's perspective. 2) Because of the blinding effect of sin, unregenerate humans fail to understand creation from the Creator's perspective. Now, amongst unregenerate humanity there no doubt is a variety of understandings of creation. What these various understandings have in common, however, is that they all fall short from understanding creation from the Creator's perspective.

Given the above dichotomy, there is no effective common ground for the evidentialist approach. The regenerate Christian understands creation from the Creator's perspecive. The unregenerate lost person does not. Acknowledging this lack of an effective common ground, the presuppositionalist treats apologetics as another avenue for proclaiming the truth of God's Word, an avenue through which the Holy Spirit may choose to work.

Postmodernism gives a legitimacy to the variety of understandings of creation that one finds amongst unregenerate humanity. Given that these understandings fall short of the Creator's perspective, presuppositionalism gives no such legitmacy. Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life: The objective reality of creation is apprehended only from the perspective of the objective benchmark of the Creator.

TheBlueRaja said...

Der Fuersprecher,

For those who wish to make conformity with rationality the final criterion of evaluating the truth value of knowledge claims (as touchstone does [and RC Sproul does as well]), I am curious

I’m not sure what this means. Does anyone really make rationality a final criterion for evaluating the truth value of knowledge claims? I thought rationality spoke to the warrant a claim enjoys, not to its truth.

As for Van Til and postmodernism, I was just making an analogy along the lines of Van Til’s discontentment with “neutral facts”, nothing more exhaustive or extravagant than that. I know that Van Til’s metaphysics placed God and men on parallel lines as you suggested, with all other beings as derivative and secondary, and it’s that sort of thing that funds so much postfoundationalist theology – namely that our conception of reality is necessarily deficient and only analogically and relatively related to God’s own conception. The archetypal/ectypal knowledge distinction highlights the question of just how faithful the reproduction of God’s knowledge can ever really be. Some postfoundational theologians maintain a soft metaphysical realism, and others (most notably Merold Westphal) are emphatically anti-realist.

As for the comparison beginning and ending with epistemological concerns, that’s really where my comments began and ended as well.

If we’re to recast Van Til utilizing a postmodern register, it would be better to say that for Van Til, “facts” only make sense as they relate to the metanarrative that the Triune God alone provides, which provides an avenue of escape for the epistemological skepticism that necessarily obtains absent such a condition.

The problem, of course, with talking about a metanarrative that the Triune God provides as an escape for epistemological skepticism, is the total misunderstanding as to what a metanarrative is. A metanarrative, as defined by Lyotard, anyway, isn’t a “grand, unifying story of the world”. It’s the purported abstract, theory-neutral, purely objective explanation that stands behind all other narratives. It’s a non-narrative that isn’t dependent on any narrative. It functions for Lyotard not as God’s story (which is of course concrete, particular and in narrative terms), but what Van Til might call “brute facts”.

In any case, if I’d said the metaphysics of Van Til fits nicely with the metaphysical anti-realism of postmodern thinkers, or that Van Til was a skeptical cheese gulping deconstructionist, I’d heed the chastisement of overstating the case. But all I’ve said is that: a) construing knowledge as only ever analogical scratches a postmodern itch, and b) the fact that a wider framework is necessary to interpret “facts” comports well with postmodern preferences for narrative structures.

étrangère said...

I head towards presuppositionalism but haven't read Van Til to know whether it'd be strictly according to Van Til or modified! Some day... I've yet to make my way through Frame, never mind Van Til.

Don't we each modify our favourite author yet claim to walk in their footsteps? That way, we get to feel part of the tribe, yet still comfortable.

I've also observed that as soon as someone starts talking apologetics, with or without mentioning the -isms, people don't engage with what's said but with their own personal (mis)understanding of whichever -ism they think they can pigeonhole the speaker / writer into. Easier that way - you can regurgitate old arguments without first doing the hard work of understanding what's been said and engaging with it. That said, it's past midnight here so I'm not going to do that hard work either - for now :)

david rudd: (van til begat grier; grier begat rudd...) You intrigue me - which Grier, David?

Der Fuersprecher said...

I’m not sure what this means. Does anyone really make rationality a final criterion for evaluating the truth value of knowledge claims?

Is the following proposition true, and what criterion would you use to ascertain its truthfulness?

A is [concurrently] both A and non-A.

For rationalist proponents [to the extreme], see Gordon Clark & his contemporary disciples.

As for Van Til and postmodernism, I was just making an analogy along the lines of Van Til’s discontentment with “neutral facts”, nothing more exhaustive or extravagant than that.

It seemed that your intent was a bit more ambitious than this. In addition to attempting to needle DJP (a worthy venture in and of itself), you stated your intent well enough earlier when you said:

"Really my point was that postmodern approaches have a lot in common with the Reformed tradition..."

My own point was that I think you've overstated these similarities by seizing upon what is obviously similar to the exclusion of that which is rather radically dissimilar.

With respect to the definition of metanarrative, the term itself is not univocal. It's used in a variety of different ways by different writers.

Catez said...

Der Fuersprecher,
With respect to the definition of metanarrative, the term itself is not univocal. It's used in a variety of different ways by different writers.

Yes it is. And I'm wondering if Blue Raja and I read the same Lyotard - the Lyotard who projected his own dissillusionment with political totalitarianism onto the metpahyiscal and rejected metanarrative. Hardly Van Tillian.

DJP said...

theblueraja--And, for the record, can I take Dan's silence on the subject to mean that he's conceding the fact that his post is totally pomo?

Rule 1 doesn't apply in your case?

Phil--No, Van Til said that, and Clark objected

Aigh, I can't find my copy of Clark on the Trinity. I thought he said that. I'll stand provisionally corrected, and thank you.

Frank--looking forward to your post!

Touchstone said...

Der fuersprecher (et al),

Presuppositional apologetics, particularly in the vein of Reformed/van Til, are an expression of high-test anti-realism. In that, I don't think there's any controversy, and in that, Reformed presuppositionalism has an uncanny, unnerving resemblance to Derrida-esque anti-realism.

In short, they are both radical rejections of realism, differing only on the "brute facts" they subsume as the starting points for the interpretive frameworks they require.

In the short and vernacular, Reformed presuppositionalism is not just a bedfollow of pomo deconstructivism, it is its fraternal *twin* (Phil's referral to Steve Hays notwithstanding -- ugh!).

Sometimes, they look like identical twins.

Both presup and Derrida-esque deconstruction require a settled interpretive framework; Calvinists and other Christians call this one's "worldview". Secular deconstuctionists don't have such a catchy term they've adopted, but deconstruction on the secular side requires a comprehensive "worldview" of its own before it allows itself to proceed to process any input.

I believe Plantinga traced he chain from Heidegger to Wittgenstein to Derrida as the secular geneology of radical anti-realism, and on the Reformed side the lineage looks something like Augustine -> Kuyper -> Van Til (maybe add Schaeffer in there too?).

One path rejected the concept of objective truth in a nihilistic way (see the positivism of Stephen Hawking for example), and the other rejected the concept of objective truth in a religious way (Cornelius van Til being the poster boy here).

So, it always gets my brow furrowed when I read the assertions of Christian (Reformed) apologists who *simultaneously* lament the demise of "objective truth" in today's culture while they characterize themselves as "van Tillian presuppositionalists" -- modified or no.

That's a logical contradiction. If you are a presuppositionalist, then just like Derrida, you kick the concept of objective truth as an accessible reality right out the door from the very beginning.

That's what a "brute fact" means -- objective reality, sense data without (or with minimal) interpretive filtering.

If you endorse a Christian "worldview", you are declaring your antagonism to the idea of objective truth as an accessible commodity. That's why you *have* a worldview, so that you have the proper interpretive filter to make sound, faithful sense out of the external stimuli we encounter day to day.

That's not a problem at all by the way. Nothing wrong with having a Christian "worldview". But what is a problem is the systemic cognitive dissonance that gets projected from so many Christian apologists.

Here on this blog, frequently!

I don't want Phil or Dan or anyone else to abandon their "worldview", or attending presuppositions. But I do think it would be great if we could implement a bit of "truth in advertising" as to one's position on objective truth.

Presuppositionalism is the *epitome* of subjectivism. And that's OK. But please don't try to sell me your commitment to "objective truth". I know that many say "well, my subjectivism is the way to arrive at the objective truth". But that's nonsense too, sense once it has been tainted on the front end by subjectivism, it may be truth -- transcendant, "true truth" -- but it is not "objective truth". It can't be at that point.

As a matter of interest, I wonder if Phil or Dan would mind enumerating, just briefly, what their points of departure are from van Til?

Also, I agree that "meta-narrative" can and does have multiple meanings, but the typical Christian usage of the term is precisely *backwards* from what I was taught by my philosophy professors (see Blue Raja's comments on this above). Language is a consensus endeavor, so if that's how the Christian community wants to use the term, so be it, but it leads to a lot of confusion and talking past each other when secular philosophy gets invoked. The meta-narrative in that model is not the unifying "top down" abstraction that is often deployed as the meaning in Christian circles, but instead the bottoms-up aggregation of the ad-hoc narrative components.

In any case, most Reformed Christians I talk to are horrified to hear that I call them "anti-realists", even as they quote from the van Tillian play book. It's a very strange way things have developed, apologetically, in that quarter. Tell them they have committed to a kind of perspectivalism that disavows objective truth, and they get positively apoplectic.

Maybe Dan can straighten this out?

-Touchstone

DJP said...

Touchstone, I can't get near you in prolixity or highflown allusions. My response would be very brief.

Your criticism has substance only on the assumption that the Bible does not describe facts as they are, nor give their true significance.

Which, I believe, is the point at dispute.

Touchstone said...

Dan,

What criticism are you referring to? My last comment was about the terminology used, and the criticism given was that it's a contradiction to extol the idea of objective truth while saying that only through the interpretive filter of the Bible can the world around us be understood.

That doesn't suggest there's anything wrong with having an interpetive filter, or supposing we have unmediated access to objective truth.

I'm just saying you can't advance both ideas at the same time.

Is that the criticism you are addressing here?

And -- super briefly on your part if you want -- can you tick of the modifications you make to van Tillian presupposition. If you want me to promise I won't respond to that info, that's fine. I'm really just interested in what those mods are just now, not hashing them out.

-Touchstone

Catez said...

The meta-narrative in that model is not the unifying "top down" abstraction that is often deployed as the meaning in Christian circles, but instead the bottoms-up aggregation of the ad-hoc narrative components.

Yet for Lyotard the metanarrative was very much a top down abstraction. His projective disillusionment with totalitarianism - both the fascism he abhorred and his own misguided foray into socialism, led to his concept of top down metanarrative. dare I say it - ahem - some contextualisation may be in order.

Ad hoc aggregation? For metanarrative? That's a reversal of Lyotard's position as far as I can see. Since Lyotard would be the champion of ad hoc - provided it didn't aggregate too exclusively of course.

And ditto what Dan just said - because you just can't make Lyotard compatible with that - therein lies the problem.

To give Lyotard his due - he wasn't wishy washy. His rejection was outright. Unlike those who try to dilute his position because they try to balance a rejection of objectivity with their own reliance on it for the faith they hold.

TheBlueRaja said...

Der German fella,

Not really that ambitious, after all. Follow your ellipsis on that quote of my comments and you'll find exactly what I said they have in common - which are two very critical points of agreement. The post I linked about David Kelly Clark's JETS article about narrative illustrates my point further.

catez,

I didn't say that Lyotard was Van Tillian. That's clearly absurd. I was trying to clarify his definition of "metanarrative" and show how his suspicion of them is akin to Van Til's suspicion of brute facts. That's all.

DJP

Apparently not! Just a friendly ribbing for the terrifying sword-wielding pomo slayer!

Der Fuersprecher said...

As is no doubt evident to many beside myself, Touchstone has badly misrepresented Van Til and presuppositional apologetics in general (and your characterization of Derrida as an anti-realist would be disputed by Derrida himself).

In fact, one wonders whether Touchstone has actually read anything by CVT.

Van Til wasn't an anti-realist - he simply wasn't a naive realist, as Touchstone is.

Touchstone has had a strong aversion to presuppositional apologetics ever since Steve Hays employed some of its epistemological concerns to scold him for his naive realism (especially with regard to Touchstone's dogmatic empiricism - he actually seems to think he has unfiltered access to "brute facts").

Touchstone said...

catez,

I understand what you are saying, and will happily agree; Lyotard was brutally hostile toward the "classic" idea of the meta-narrative. It was inherently inclined toward embellishment and superimposition of artificial themes and abstractions, in his view.

If you asked Lyotard: so what is a meta-narrative, really? I think his answer would be either:

a) there is no meta-narrative, it's a non-starter conceptually in many cases, or

b) the meta-narrative is simply a reflection of the underlying chaos, turbulence and conflicts that comprise most narratives, as well as whatever harmonies or emergent themes are contained in it.

Which is basically two ways of saying the same thing.


In any case, in a post-moderning rendering the meta-narrative doesn't aim at *unification* or themed abstraction. Rather, simply a representative summary, complete with whatever chaotic "non-unifying" elements exist in the narrative.

That's what I meant by bottom-up.

All of which is really best left with the summary that the meta-narrative in many pomo circles is seen as just a means of imposing outside/artificial influence on the narrative. To the extent pomos indulge in meta-narratives, they don't engage in the "unification" part (top-down), as that's seen as corrupting, and instead lean toward "chaotic" (bottom-up) summaries.

Hope that squares things bit.

-Touchstone

Coram Deo said...

Discussions on apologetics always tend to bring out the best and shiniest fifty-cent words in everyone's vocabulary, don't they? The posturing, the chest thumping, the absurdity!

This is why, in my humble opinion, an apologist is called, not made. Men like Greg Bahnsen could take the most complex issues surrounding systematic theology, metaphysics, philosophy and science and break it down where the average person could not only grasp, but could actually understand the message.

And he would do this with a spirit humble boldness that completely glorified God and retained revealed scripture as the cornerstone of his message, which is of course precisely where it belongs.

Sadly it's comment threads like this which remind me that there is so much pride, and so little time.

Forgive us oh Lord for thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought.

At first blush I disagreed with Phil's comment earlier in this thread:
All kidding aside, I'd say yes. Apologetics—especially badly done apologetics—can be an unneccessary stumbling-block to the gospel.

But sadly even a cursory review of this comment thread has proven Phil correct.

Touchstone said...

der fuersprecher,

Well, let's start with this, from Dan's post: do brute facts exist, or not? I'm not suggesting that Reformed presuppositionalism == "creative anti-realism" (per Plantinga), or some such. Rather, just that this view eschews "brute facts" -- see Dan's post -- and requires an interpretive filter. That's a hallmark of anti-realism, at least as I learned it in college.

I went to a secular university, though, so there you go... ;-)

And it's not just a "correlator" as an interpretive filter, one which simply implements a light-weight form of anti-realism to account for the problems of sense and sense-data... The Reformed presuppositionalist brings an interpretive filter of the widest scope -- it's called a "worldview" for a reason!

Nothing wrong with that per se. As I said before, suggesting we only have *mediated* access to reality/truth (direct revelation notwithstanding at the moment) is entirely legit. It's just the conflation of this position with "objective truth" that strikes me as a problem. I realize there is a "retail" meaning to the term "objective truth" that means something like "true truth[sic], no matter what anyone says or thinks", and that's fine as far as it goes, but when we are talking about apologetics (which we are here, right?), some precision is in order, if only to keep interchange moving forward.

-Touchstone

Catez said...

Well thanks for trying to square things Touchstone. I think Lyotards answer on the metanarrative is th eone he gave, which you summarise as:
there is no meta-narrative

Exactly. Amd that is why all the attempted dilutions of his position shoot themselves in the foot. if "pomos" (never met one who could live up to the term) "indulge in metanarratives" then they aren't pomos at all. I just get a bit tired of the "Christians don't use metanarrative right" card when those claiming to use it correctly have so obviously taken license with it themselves.

Blue Raja:
That's clearly absurd. I was trying to clarify his definition of "metanarrative" and show how his suspicion of them is akin to Van Til's suspicion of brute facts.

Fair enough. You only insinuated by vague association that he was Van Tillian. :)

Coram Deo - Oh right. If you don't understand the words people are using then they must be full of pride. But you aren't of course... Your ever so humble and expect everyone else to limit their vocabulary in likewise show of pretend humility. While you act as the indispensable language police that we cannot please God without. Of course my next door neighbour wouldn't understand half of what you say - so maybe he's the most humble... Give it a rest. (To put it in nice short words for you).

Touchstone said...

catez,

Regarding who's mis-using the word meta-narrative, you make a fair point. It makes little sense to concede a term to the side that essentially want to nullify it.

However, there's more than just skepticism towards modern concepts of the meta-narrative at work here. I really don't recall doing anything but *dismissing* metanarratives, but others I've read have supplied meta-narratives along the lines of what they think would be a "legitimate" summary or reduction -- representational seems to be a key word there, rather than "interpretive". I'm corrected for using "modern meta-narratives" when talking with pomo (hardcores anyway). Humans need to summarize and provide abstractions to communicate and function, so it seems that the meta-narrative can't simply be euthanized, but must be reinvented in their framework.

-Touchstone

Touchstone said...

catez,

Sorry, this sentence above:
I really don't recall doing anything but *dismissing* metanarratives, ...

should have read:
I really don't recall Lyotard doing anything but *dismissing* metanarratives, ...


most of my typos one can figure out with a little consideration, but that sentence made no sense without the "Lyotard".

And possible makes no sense *with* it.

-Touchstone

Coram Deo said...

Coram Deo - Oh right. If you don't understand the words people are using then they must be full of pride. But you aren't of course... Your ever so humble and expect everyone else to limit their vocabulary in likewise show of pretend humility. While you act as the indispensable language police that we cannot please God without. Of course my next door neighbour wouldn't understand half of what you say - so maybe he's the most humble... Give it a rest. (To put it in nice short words for you).

8:43 PM, April 10, 2007


Thanks for taking the time to highlight my point, Catez.

I apologize if I struck a nerve; I was just calling it like I see it. No offense or "false humility" was intended or implied.

Thankfully my intellect - or lack thereof - weren't criterion or credentials for my adoption into God's family.

Yet I can't be thankful enough.

Catez said...

Coram Deo,
Given that no-one has either explicitly or implicitly stated that intellect or the lack of is a prequesite for adoption into the body of Christ, your faulty presupposition is glaringly obvious. Even though you have tried to rearrange it and say it was something else.

I was just calling it like I see it.

I recommend availing yourself of some eyewash.

Catez said...

Touchstone,
Yes, that bit about Lyotard does make sense. That is exactly my point.

On this:
Humans need to summarize and provide abstractions to communicate and function, so it seems that the meta-narrative can't simply be euthanized, but must be reinvented in their framework.

Well that is very telling isn't it? Why must it be reinvented? Why do they need a metanarrative? Personally I don't think the metanarrative can be reinvented - and I see attempts at reinvention as nothing more than quixotic. But then I don't see the metanarrative as a product of modernism.

I think I understand the dialogical context you are referring to. Even so - reinvention is a long way from Lyotards dismissal - and there are all sorts of questions I could get into on that!
Blogger is being a pain in the neck so I am keeping this short. Appreciated your response and enjoyed tossing this around with you.

Coram Deo said...

Catez,

Are you for real or is this a prank?

Thank you again for portraying my previous characterization of pride almost to the point of caricature now.

In a matter of only a few anonymous blog posts you've managed to (incorrectly) characterize me as an anti-intellectual, self-righteous, blindly ignorant purveyor of false humility.

Wow! That's no mean feat!

Anyway, I don't have any hard feelings and I'm certainly not above introspection so I truly appreciate your willingness to play along.

TheBlueRaja said...

Catez,

Fair enough. You only insinuated by vague association that he was Van Tillian. :)

Comparing Van Til's use of "brute facts" to Lyotard's suspicion of non-storied universals (i.e. "metanarratives") isn't a vague association. It's a distinct and extremely limited comparison. If similarities on that score make him a Van Tilian than holding the Christian view of lust would make me a Buddhist and crying at movies would make me a woman.

Shut up, Cent.

TheBlueRaja said...

And by the by, Christianity isn't really a metanarrative because it's fundamentally storied (i.e. creation, fall, redemption, restoration). An example of a metanarrative, as I understand it, would be something akin to secularism!

SolaMeanie said...

In the course of doing my radio program last night, we were actually discussing the problems of Eastern Orthodoxy with our guest, Dr. Robert Morey. The subject of apologetics came up, as did the difficulties between the evidential and presuppositional approaches. Bob said something next that both my co-host and I thought pretty astute. He tends to dislike both approaches in their extremes, preferring instead what he calls an "exegetical" approach to apologetics. Perhaps that is the ultimate solution to this issue.

CalvDispy said...

Raja,
I am genuinely currious to see a positive succinct statement from you as to what you regard as a faithful Christian epistemology that encompasses the difference between believing and unbelieving thought.

I am getting ready to do a men's retreat on apologetics.

steve said...

IMHO, before anything more is said pro or con about Van Tilian apologetics, T-stone and the Blue Raja should be required to document their breezy parallels by direct quotes from the primary source.

centuri0n said...

What? I was just nodding my head!

"shut up"? What are you -- emergent that that qualifies as an argument?

shut up. You see what this blog has come to? We're prosecuting thought crimes now.

TheBlueRaja said...

Scott,

The difference between believing and unbelieving thought involves the different narratives they inhabit which frame everything they think, feel and do. In other words, believers see their lives as taking place within a story of God's creation, the fall's corruption of that work, God's activity to redeem it, and the ultimate promise of restoration. The climax of the story is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The consummation of it is in His return. The Bible, in all of it's different genres, is built around the spine of the story. Narrative projects that story, Wisdom gives wisdom for coping with the fall, prophecy exhorts people to live faithfully within the story, apocalyptic encourages people to endure to the consummation of the story, epistles "pause the tape" on aspects of the story in order to fill out their significance, theologically interpret events in the narrative, etc.

The entire enterprise of theology is essentially reflection on the overarching Biblical narrative.

Unbelievers, in all their varieties (secularists and Hindus, and Buddhists, and Muslims, and Mormons, and Oprah) have their own narratives which they inhabit, with their own creation story, their own historical and conceptual notions of sin, their own program of redemption and their own particular eschatologies. These stories have their own climaxes and generate their own doctrines, ethics and controversies. The degree of warrant a claim enjoys, the degree of persuasiveness an argument displays, etc. depends on how well it coheres with the overarching story.

These competing narratives are mostly incommensurable - that is one can't abstract, say, the Buddhist concept of sin from the Buddhist story and helpfully compare it to the Christian notion without distorting it. The significance of these concepts depend on the narrative structure which frames them. Christians experience this distortion all the time from secularists with the sayings of Jesus, the concept of "love your neighbor", etc. Conversion depends on a person swapping their own story for the Christian one.

But while these concepts depend on their narrative contexts, and are thus incommensurable, there are legitimate analogies that can be drawn between them. That is, one can talk about the Hindu concept of dharma and use it as a bridge to Christian concept of righteousness. But in doing that you must show how the Christian concept gets its sense from it's own narrative context (i.e. creation, fall, redemption and restoration). This will highlight as many differences as similarities and can also show how someone else's concepts have borrowed notions that their narratives can't fund. It'll also reveal how Christians, in some cases, have done the same.

Nancy Pearcey did a good job of summarizing it in her book Total Truth (pgs. 83-86), and Al Wolters did an even better job in Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview. Cornelius Plantinga has a book called "Engaging God's World" that does a great job of filling out the implications of the Christian narrative for education. Vanhoozer's "Drama of Doctrine" provides some very thought-provoking theoretical foundation and biblical justification for seeing it this way.

I think the idea is that the category of "narrative" becomes like a meta-epistemology that provides "plausibility structures" for thought.

TheBlueRaja said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TheBlueRaja said...

Steve,

I'm no Van Til scholar, I just have the tattoos in his likeness to show my affection. I don't think I've said anything controversial about him, though; at least I can't see what that would be. I'm not calling him a pomo, or even a proto-pomo (that's fun to say). I'm saying that his observations about the necessity of interpretation, and the naivety of "self-evident" truths bear some resemblance to the "incredulity toward metanarratives" which is the burr under so many postmodernists. Point out something that requires a defense there, and I'll try (though not very hard - these comments are snack breaks between real live work I gotta do) to defend it.

TheBlueRaja said...

Cent,

I just wanted to head off that ubiquitous eyebrow twitch at the inference that I cry like a girl at movies.

Phil Johnson said...

TheBlueRaja: "Unbelievers, in all their varieties (secularists and Hindus, and Buddhists, and Muslims, and Mormons, and Oprah) have their own narratives which they inhabit, with their own creation story, their own historical and conceptual notions of sin, their own program of redemption and their own particular eschatologies. These stories have their own climaxes and generate their own doctrines, ethics and controversies. The degree of warrant a claim enjoys, the degree of persuasiveness an argument displays, etc. depends on how well it coheres with the overarching story."

Yikes.

I wonder how you'd explain the difference between faith and unbelief if this were 1945 and you were trying to answer a guy who drives a moving van for a living. Pretend there's no one around to try to impress and take another stab at that.

steve said...

TheBlueRaja said...
Steve,

I'm no Van Til scholar, I just have the tattoos in his likeness to show my affection. I don't think I've said anything controversial about him, though; at least I can't see what that would be. I'm not calling him a pomo, or even a proto-pomo (that's fun to say). I'm saying that his observations about the necessity of interpretation, and the naivety of "self-evident" truths bear some resemblance to the "incredulity toward metanarratives" which is the burr under so many postmodernists. Point out something that requires a defense there, and I'll try (though not very hard - these comments are snack breaks between real live work I gotta do) to defend it.

**********

Among other things, you said: "“But this opens the door to the same criticism that you fellas have for the whole postmodern Christian crowd, namely that they have given away any objective standards for truth, and have thus cut off the branch they're sitting on.”

Quote us something from Frame, Bahnsen, Van Til, or James Anderson to justify your claim that, according to Van Tilian apologetics, there are no objective standards of truth.

BTW, are you someone who actually does apologetics, or are you one of those folks who simply attacks the way other people do it?

In your many criticism of Phil Johnson, I've never seen you present a constructive alternative. You like to talk about talking about talking about how something could be done better rather than leading by example. Care to give us some concrete examples of how to do a better job?

Der Fuersprecher said...

Well, let's start with this, from Dan's post: do brute facts exist, or not? I'm not suggesting that Reformed presuppositionalism == "creative anti-realism" (per Plantinga), or some such. Rather, just that this view eschews "brute facts" -- see Dan's post -- and requires an interpretive filter. That's a hallmark of anti-realism, at least as I learned it in college.

This helps explain the mischaracterization of Van Til and presuppositionalists in general as “anti-realists.”

As I understand it, there is some debate with respect to Van Til and realism (especially since he explicitly denied what he referred to as “Classic Realism” – which I understand to be naïve or “common sense” realism – i.e., any form of non-critical realism) and so some have categorized him as a non-realist in this respect (but not as an anti-realist).

The problem is one of categorization – and it is acute in Van Til’s case. To state the problem interrogatively, is it possible to borrow the language of secular philosophy to accurately categorize a Christian philosopher who may have beliefs that both overlap and contradict key tenets of a particular philosophical school?

This consideration led me to object to any sort of substantial linkage between Van Til and postmodern thought (even though Van Til’s suspicion of abstract epistemological neutrality coincides with postmodern epistemological concerns at this point).

To further illustrate the dilemma here, CVT was charged with being an idealist since he so frequently used the language of Hegel (esp. his repeated employment of the “concrete universal”), in spite of the fact that he explicitly disavowed Hegelian thought and sharply differentiated his use of idealist terminology from secular idealism.

So, back to the question of CVT & realism: since Van Til would affirm the independent existence of external objects to the creaturely mind, I think it’s safe to categorize him as a metaphysical realist (I think it’s safe to categorize his thought as consistent with alethic and ethical/moral realism as well).

On the other hand, since CVT posited a two-layered theory of being (the Creator/creature distinction was fundamental and served as a first-order commitment for Van Til’s metaphysic, which led to his archetypal/ectypal distinction in both metaphysics and epistemology), I believe he would argue that it is not accurate to say that objects have an independent existence apart from the mind/will of God (CVT argues that all of creation bears a derivative, secondary, and contingent relationship to the Creator – IOW, according to CVT, every created thing derives both its actuality and significance from God’s creation, plan, and providence).

So how to categorize CVT then with respect to realism?

Is he a realist or a non-realist?

I feel comfortable broadly labeling him as a metaphysical realist. Whether this is correct or not, however, I think it is safe to say he certainly wasn’t an anti-realist since he wouldn’t deny an actual given-ness and objective structure to the universe independent of his own perception of it.

With respect to your question: Do “brute facts” exist?

I can’t speak to Dan’s use of this terminology, so I’ll let him speak for himself. However, for CVT (again, given His two-tiered metaphysic) there are no “brute facts” – but not because there is no actuality or “given-ness” to “facts” apart from one’s perception of them (which would constitute an anti-realist position), rather because of the essential relationship every “fact” bears to God.

As CVT says, “Facts w/o God would be ‘brute facts.’”

CVT argues that it is God alone who gives meaning to any “fact,” and that without presupposing the God of the Bible one cannot interpret even one “fact” correctly.

Even the scientist studying the lizard in a laboratory is subject to this fundamental consideration. The lizard is not a “brute fact” that maintains some independent existence apart from God's plan and providence, but it is a creature of God.

Interpretations of this fact which neglect this concern are fundamentally erroneous, even though they may otherwise be right in the main.

And it's not just a "correlator" as an interpretive filter, one which simply implements a light-weight form of anti-realism to account for the problems of sense and sense-data... The Reformed presuppositionalist brings an interpretive filter of the widest scope -- it's called a "worldview" for a reason!

The significant questions really aren’t whether one should bring an “interpretive filter” to the intelligibility of experience enterprise, but 1) are you self-consciously aware of the interpretive filter you do in fact [innately & inescapably] bring to make sense of your existence, thoughts, and experiences, and 2) which interpretive filter allows one to apprehend justified true beliefs?

Whether you’re self-conscious of this fact or not, you yourself have a priori metaphysical and ethical commitments that inescapably influence your epistemological commitments, and your epistemological commitments reciprocally influence your metaphysical and ethical commitments. All of these are coordinated (again, self-consciously or not), and together they form your own “worldview.” And there is no “neutral” worldview either. Your worldview is either informed by biblical concerns or by concerns that are antithetical to biblical concerns.

Nothing wrong with that per se. As I said before, suggesting we only have *mediated* access to reality/truth (direct revelation notwithstanding at the moment) is entirely legit. It's just the conflation of this position with "objective truth" that strikes me as a problem. I realize there is a "retail" meaning to the term "objective truth" that means something like "true truth[sic], no matter what anyone says or thinks", and that's fine as far as it goes, but when we are talking about apologetics (which we are here, right?), some precision is in order, if only to keep interchange moving forward.

If you acknowledge that you actually only have mediated access to reality, I’m curious then with respect to the proposition that you can in any way be in a more “objective” epistemological position than “Reformed presuppositionalists,” which seems to me what you have been implying.

TheBlueRaja said...

Phil,

In fairness, Scott asked a question about epistemology, not about how to lead someone to faith in Christ. I think I've been around here long enough to know that if I wanted to impress someone, that wouldn't have been the way to do it! Faith in Christ is relinquishing any sense of moral, mental and relational control to the Lordship of Jesus and unbelief is the refusal to do that.

Steve,

I didn't say presuppositionalists CLAIM that they don't have any objective basis left for truth, but that according to their critics, they, in fact, don't. That has to do with the fact that presuppositonaism is built on beliefs which are not epistemically justified (hence the need to "presuppose"!). In other words, it's not foundationalist in its epistemology and it doesn't adhere to a strict correspondence theory of truth. Evidentialists typically believe in not only a correspondence theory of truth but in a particular variety of internalism with respect to epistemic justification. In other words they believe that you have to have a defense ready for holding such a belief in order to be rational.

BTW, are you someone who actually does apologetics, or are you one of those folks who simply attacks the way other people do it?

I don't go looking for fights, that is, except for when I come here (and that's because, regrettably, I often like the posts here) but I do hope to be able to give reasons for why unbelieving friends and family should believe. I've had some wonderful interactions with my family, for instance. I've corresponded with a few professors at the local university and am trying to get to know my neighbors better (particularly a family whose daughter recently died after the father accidentally ran over her when she ran out to greet him).

Care to give us some concrete examples of how to do a better job?

Wasn't this post really more about apologetic method than an example of doing apologetics? That's what I was responding to.

TheBlueRaja said...

Hey Steve, have you ever read Total Truth? She actually does a "worldview analysis" according to these categories of "creation, fall, redemption and restoration". I thought it was a pretty good example.

Catez said...

Coram Deo,
No prank.
In a matter of only a few anonymous blog posts

No idea what you mean. My nam eis on my comments. I may be wrong but I think Coram Deo is your pseudonym - yes? So are you being anonymous here?

It's getting a bit silly - I was strong in response to you because you came on pretty strong yourself. But if there's no offence then how about we let it drop?

Catez said...

Blue Raja

And by the by, Christianity isn't really a metanarrative because it's fundamentally storied (i.e. creation, fall, redemption, restoration). An example of a metanarrative, as I understand it, would be something akin to secularism!

Then we have different understandings of metanarrative. Why would as metanarrative be akin to secularism? Isn't that like saying logos is only akin to Greek philosphy, i.e. that it has no higher meaning and import.

Is there not the metanarrative which no human can completely grasp due to our finitude. I find it interesting that the word metanarrative which in itself is simply a neutral description can only be given a secular meaning - yet isn't the very reason for this discussion, in part at least, because of the rejection of the metaphysical metanarrative?

Is the metanarrative not contained within Christ himself?

Comparing Van Til's use of "brute facts" to Lyotard's suspicion of non-storied universals (i.e. "metanarratives") isn't a vague association. It's a distinct and extremely limited comparison.

If "non-storied universals" is what Lyotard meant. I'm not convinced that he accepted "storied" universals either. As for the limited comparison - ok. So what is the relevance? One is suspicious of one thing, and the other suspicious of another. I may be hearing you wrong but all I'm getting from that is that two men had two different suspicions.

Catez said...

I've read Nancy Pearcey's Total Truth - she uses a partly Kuyperian model - but she isn't rejecting metanarrative in that book. If anything she's saying certainn things are part of the metanarrative - that we need to see them as part of it and not try to compartmentalise them or dismiss them.

She says in the book (p.313)
"One hybrid was proposed by Francis Schaeffer, who showed how evidentialist and presuppositionalist elements can actually work in tandem in practical evangelism". She spends some time discussing that with examples.

CalvDispy said...

Raja,
I appreciate your unique way of expressing the Christian Worldview (narrative) vs. various non-Christian worldviews (narratives). I have read "Total Truth" and enjoyed it very much.

Let me take the question 1 step further. How does one jusitfy the Christian claims to truth (i.e. the narrative) over against non-Christian claims to truth? If the various non-Christian narratives are destructive to true knowledge (I speak strictly in terms of creation, fall and redemption) and the Christian narrative engenders true knowledge; how in your estimation is this justified?

BTW, I am a little rusty in philosophic language since TMS days, maybe a little closer to the 1945 "moving van" guy these days - the guys I am getting ready to talk to.

TheBlueRaja said...

Hey Catez.

Calvin College philosophy professor James K.A. Smith wrote an article for Faith and Philosophy (“A Little Story About Metanarratives: Lyotard, Religion, and Postmodernism Revisited,” Faith and Philosophy 18 (2001): 261-276) which demonstrated that definition in Lyotard's coinage, i.e. metanarratives as rationality which is not rooted in some particular narrative. In other words, it's a distinctly modern phenomena that characterizes secular Reason (with a capital 'R') as the judge of all. He would say that everyone ultimately grounds their rationality in an overarching story of stories.

And that's quite the point of postmodern thought - to reveal that your claims to objective knowledge/truth are really references to tradition dressed up in the clothes of objectivity. All truth claims are grounded in myth/narrative/story/tradition, not in some abstract uber-Reason.

They of course acknowledge that different people have these different global, overarching, grand narratives. The problem (and this is where the relativism really kicks in) is that they have no purely rational way of selecting one over the other. If they try to create criteria that stands above ALL narratives, they're guilty of establishing that non-storied supposedly objective grounded in nothing "brute fact" driven positivist metanarrative. Making some default neutral Reason the arbiter of all reality is what postmodernism is chiefly criticizing. That's where all this emphasis on "the life lived" and the "proof of authentic communities", etc. come from.

Phil Johnson said...

TheBlueRaja: "In fairness, Scott asked a question about epistemology, not about how to lead someone to faith in Christ."

Yeah, I take your point. It's just I think that pericope might have stymied your average reader's interpretive desideratum.

TheBlueRaja said...

Hey Scott. I was on my way out the door, but shoot me an email and I'll try to respond. I'd just quickly note that your question sort of highlights the fact that pomo's and presupps have the same challenge when it comes to epistemic justification. I don't really have a lot of answers there. But I'd say a helpful way toward the answer might be something along the lines of Plantinga's notion of warrant.

Catez,

About metanarrative, see my comments above - but as for Total Truth, I was just pointing out how Pearcey uses these narrative categories to evaluate other worldviews. But explaining other stories in light of your own is what everyone does and what postmodernists try to demonstrate. Of course the fact that everyone does this is the reason why truth is indeterminate for them - there's no rational grounds to choose one over the other.

TheBlueRaja said...

Phil,

I REALLY need one of those eyebrow tweaks.

Catez said...

Blue Raja,
Thanks for that.

They of course acknowledge that different people have these different global, overarching, grand narratives. The problem (and this is where the relativism really kicks in) is that they have no purely rational way of selecting one over the other. If they try to create criteria that stands above ALL narratives

I don't disagree. I'mkeeping this simple partly because I have stuff going on offline right now which is making it hard to think :)

Anyway - what I am trying to get at here is that there is a metanarrative that does stand above all the humanly created/interpreted narratives. I think the reeal question is not whether or not such a metanarrative exists - but how much of that metanarrative do we comprehend?

That brings in Dan's comment from way back on this thread - regarding biblical truth. As I see, in simple terms, the real debate is how much of that truth can/do we comprehend, i.e. is there mystery? Or, how much mystery is there? I know it sounds a bit absurd to try and quantify mystery - but being hinest my observationn is that that is what the debate often revolves around. Is such and such a mystery or not, i.e. do we have objective propositional truth form the metanarrative on this or is it beyond encapsulation? If you see what I mean.

I think the other difficulty, also mentioned previously in this discussion by some-one, is that we don't have a univocal description of metanarrative - although I wouod argue that Lyotard was not that obtuse. So there will be these different spins on it. But I'm trying to get aboive that - (and I really liked your point about how relativism kicks in) - to the Greater - meaning that any definition of metanarrative should come from focusing on the person of Christ - he is the Logos - and I think it would be reasonable to say that the Logos must therefore contain the Metanarrative. Which is essentially what Pearcey was saying too. I hope this makes sense. :)

farmboy said...

theblueraja offers the following: "your question sort of highlights the fact that pomo's and presupps have the same challenge when it comes to epistemic justification. I don't really have a lot of answers there."

As a Christian, a redeemed child of God, based on the warrant of Scripture, I have a responsibility to "always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you." Using a presuppositional approach for discharging this responsibility, here's my epistemic justification: Based on the removal of sin's blinding effect and the enlightening power of the Holy Spirit, I can understand creation from the Creator's perspective. For the same reasons, I can understand the content of Scripture from the Author's perspective.

When it comes to epistemic justification, that's the sum total of my justification: I'm confident that I know creation and know Scripture because the Author of creation and Scripture has opened my eyes and enlightened my mind. If that's a circular justification, so be it. If that's a justification that's comprehensible to your average, garden-variety moving van guy, so be it. After all, I spent my formative years as an average, garden-variety farmboy. If that's a justification that's totally lacking in trendy academic jargon, so be it. After all, I've spent enough years in academia to know that virtually all trendy academic jarjon it totally devoid of value.

As for those who subscribe to postmodernism, by definition, since reality is subjectively constructed and meaningful communication is impossible, why be concerned with epistemic justification?

As for you not having a lot of answers, though I believe that you mean well with your posts, "clarifying" and "simplifying" are not words that come to mind when I think of your posts. My hope is that a time will come when you will also fail to be enchanted by the latest in trendy academic jargon. If it's trendy it's most likely not timeless.

TheBlueRaja said...

farmboy,

I don't disagree with you. But you can hardly through cans of refried beans at postmodernists for saying, "I absolutely know that no one can know absolute truth, and if that's circular, so be it." You can't lay standards of epistemic justification on them that you aren't willing to apply to yourself. Special pleading and all that. And even if you CAN do it, what sort of apologetic value does that have to a postmodernist? In his mind you're just playing the same game he is. You see the problem? With or without jargon, it's not like these kinds of proposals are "clear" and "simple". Not only that, but criticizing someone for not being clear and simple when talking about Van Til is somewhat ironic, if you've ever tried to read him.

Catez,

I totally see what you're saying. And you're right about how these discussions tend to go. But I think the problem of trying to say that Christianity is a metanarrative and that somehow Jesus holds the key to accessing a metanarrative doesn't really make sense if the whole concept depends on a verifiability principle that is by definition available to all. That can't be the case when we're talking about Jesus. Those who didn't accept Jesus didn't accept him because they were sinful, not because they were irrational.

farmboy said...

theblueraja wrote: "You can't lay standards of epistemic justification on them that you aren't willing to apply to yourself."

I agree. While I want to understand how someone who subscribes to postmodernism thinks or goes about understanding reality, it's not a primary objective of mine to convince them to jettison their postmodern worldview. Similarly, I want to understand how Marxists think or go about understanding reality. Yet, I don't have a primary objective of convincing Marxists to jettison their Marxian worldview.

To the extent that postmodern and/or Marxist understandings of reality are the result of the blinding effect of sin, only God can clear away those understandings. Now, God may choose to do that through my interactions with postmodernists and/or Marxists, so in those interactions I do my best to listen to and respond to questions offered by postmodernists and/or Marxists. This desire to listen and respond is why I care about understanding the postmodern and Marxist understandings of reality. Understanding what only God can do is why I don't have a primary priority of convincing postmodernists and/or Marxists to jettison their worldviews.

As part of listening and responding to questions from postmodernists and/or Marxists I make a concerted effort to pierce through trendy academic jargon. When the words or phrases like "metanarrative" and "false consciousness" come up, I'll ask what the word or phrase means. Often times, the person I'm conversing with has picked up the term without understanding its meaning. Usually, if a person can't define a big word using little words, they don't understand what the big word means itself.

Regarding the clarity of Cornelius Van Til, I've found him no more difficult to understand than, say, John Owen. In cost-benefit terms, the benefit from understanding Van Til is such that it is worth investing significant effort to understand him. Growing up on the farm many formative days were spent doing such things as picking rocks, baling hay and forking manure, leaving me sufficiently tired that when evening came, I only had energy for reading and thinking. While the above tasks were physically demanding they didn't require much in the way of intellect, so my tired body still had a relatively sharp mind for such reading and thinking.

Touchstone said...

der fuersprecher,

You said:

The problem is one of categorization – and it is acute in Van Til’s case. To state the problem interrogatively, is it possible to borrow the language of secular philosophy to accurately categorize a Christian philosopher who may have beliefs that both overlap and contradict key tenets of a particular philosophical school?


I suppose so. Or, if it is going to work, it takes some preamble and setup like you are laying out here. As you are probably aware, a major hassle here is semantic disconnect, where lots of big words are thrown out in what ultimately ends up being an exercise in talk past one another. But in van Til's case, he really is a challenge in this area.

You said:
This consideration led me to object to any sort of substantial linkage between Van Til and postmodern thought (even though Van Til’s suspicion of abstract epistemological neutrality coincides with postmodern epistemological concerns at this point).

So here, it's a take-your-pick circumstance. There's certainly plenty to distinguish van Til from high-profile pomos epistemologically, but the hostility to objectivity is so basic and congruent with each other, that comparing them or contrasting them (van Til vs. pomos) ends up being nothing more than a clarification of which epistemological attributes *you* think are important.

Obviously, I think the salient feature is the hostility to objectivity. That binds van Til and Lyotard or Derrida together much more tightly than the other distinctions push them apart.

You said:
To further illustrate the dilemma here, CVT was charged with being an idealist since he so frequently used the language of Hegel (esp. his repeated employment of the “concrete universal”), in spite of the fact that he explicitly disavowed Hegelian thought and sharply differentiated his use of idealist terminology from secular idealism.

I don't have a quarrel with this. It's an interesting paragraph to comment on, but for brevity, I'll just nod, here.

You said:
So how to categorize CVT then with respect to realism?

Is he a realist or a non-realist?

I feel comfortable broadly labeling him as a metaphysical realist. Whether this is correct or not, however, I think it is safe to say he certainly wasn’t an anti-realist since he wouldn’t deny an actual given-ness and objective structure to the universe independent of his own perception of it.


I'll certainly agree that van Til would affirm the existential independence of the universe and its components from the created mind. In that sense, he's strongly realist, even in a physical sense. It should be evident by this point in the conversation, though, that theological contexts create a grid of sorts, where one must keep track of a proposition's "realismness" with respect to man, and also to God, and in terms of metaphysical reality and physical reality.

So it's no wonder we have these kinds of mind-numbing exchanges, because one party is talking about the "God-centric physical" square on the grid, and the other party is talking about the "man-centric metaphysical" square...

Suffice it to say that I don't dispute that van Til can fairly be painted "realist" in some squares of the grid (metaphysical, certainly, as you say). My goal was something much more pragmatic than getting a comprehensive classification of van Til established: I wanted to point out the strong parallels in terms of hostility to objective truth that van Til and Presups share with the most strident pomos.

Differences exist, yes, and arguably significant ones. But that does not change the salience of
the similarities to be found in Reformed apologetics and post-modern polemics. Derrida is a kind of doppelgänger to Phil Johnson (or maybe it's Dan here), epistemologically.


You say:

Whether you’re self-conscious of this fact or not, you yourself have a priori metaphysical and ethical commitments that inescapably influence your epistemological commitments, and your epistemological commitments reciprocally influence your metaphysical and ethical commitments. All of these are coordinated (again, self-consciously or not), and together they form your own “worldview.” And there is no “neutral” worldview either. Your worldview is either informed by biblical concerns or by concerns that are antithetical to biblical concerns.


I can agree with this, with one quibble: worldviews may indeed be intensely biblical, or intensely unbiblical, but it's not a polar choice. Lots of points of configuration in between.

But that's not the interesting point (to me) of this paragraph. Read that last paragraph, and tell me Lyotard could not have written that.

Or Rorty.

Or Quine.

This is classic assault on conceptual/emprical dualism. And I stress that I'm not disagreeing with what you wrote, but the pure-bred post-modern genetics of this paragraph are hard to miss!

If you were to begin the "no neutral worldview" movement, your biggest contributors in your fundraising would be your fellow churchmen and the postmodern set.

You said:

If you acknowledge that you actually only have mediated access to reality, I’m curious then with respect to the proposition that you can in any way be in a more “objective” epistemological position than “Reformed presuppositionalists,” which seems to me what you have been implying.


Well, I don't know if you mean "how can *you* as in "anyone" be more objective, or *you* personally -- Touchstone -- be more objective, but I think I can answer in a way that satisfies both cases.

Improved objectivity is attained through a different presuppositional starting point: the world does exist independently of our perception, and *is* knowable, at least in a positivistic sense. We may employ empiricism, and those things which are testable, repeatable and uniform to a significant degree acutally *reflect* the underlying reality.

Or, if we measure light speed at C, over and over in all sorts of contexts and intertial frames, we develop an epsitemic foundation for the understanding of C as a constant, a physical, "brute" reality. It doesn't matter if you are a Buddhist, atheist or Presbyterian, the empirical feedback is "presupposed" to correspond to the underlying reality.

That *is* a form of presuppositionalism -- it's essentially the positing of testing and empirical accountability as the interpretive filter. So it's not naked realism, unfettered access to brute reality. But it doesn't suppose that one needs a biblical worldview to measure C, or discover a great many other isomorphisms between what we perceive and what really is.

It's humble and limited in that respect though. The fact that this interpretive filter cannot even address the metaphysical leaves the whole of metaphysics up to the owner. Even much of physical reality is intractable in this model.

But, importantly, it does provide a common ground of understand from which people may work. It's not strictly, purely objective -- nothing is, as you rightly assert -- but it does allow (presuppositionally) that the rock you just stubbed your toe on is a "brute" rock, whether your toe was a Buddhist, atheist, Christian or Zoroastrian.

More than is probably warranted here from me on that, but hope that points you in the right direction as to my perspective.

-Touchstone

Catez said...

Blue raja,
One of the difficulties for me is that some coments are quite long - so I'm skipping stuff. Like Reason.
Anyway, here's some quick replies:
But I think the problem of trying to say that Christianity is a metanarrative and that somehow Jesus holds the key to accessing a metanarrative doesn't really make sense

I just cut it there to say that isn't quite what I mean. Jesus is the Metanarrative. Christianity comes from the Metanarrative. That's an important distinction.

if the whole concept depends on a verifiability principle that is by definition available to all. That can't be the case when we're talking about Jesus.

I'd say it can be the case. The metanarrative exists whether one belives it or not, whether one avails onself of it or not. i.e. The Logos exists whether you believe he does or not. Whether you avail yourself of him or not.

Those who didn't accept Jesus didn't accept him because they were sinful, not because they were irrational.

Sin is irrational. Again - we need to begin with the Logos - not man. The Logos is both perfect reason and perfect spirit. Sin is not rational - it's irrational. You see you are using what I suppose we could call secular definitions of what reason or rationality are. Those definitions are incomplete because they are disconnected from the source of perfect rationality. Sin is not rational in that sense.

Catez said...

Touchstone,
I thought this was worth thinking on:
So it's no wonder we have these kinds of mind-numbing exchanges, because one party is talking about the "God-centric physical" square on the grid, and the other party is talking about the "man-centric metaphysical" square...

Pretty close. Except they aren't two equal things (which I'm sure you know), and "the God-centric physical square on the grid" doesn;t really do Him justice I think. But I would agree that God-centric vs. man-centric is a factor, if not the real issue - and there's nothing new in that.

TheBlueRaja said...

Thanks for that, Catez. I think I'll let you have the last word on the subject, except to say that I'm not clear on how Jesus Himself is a "metanarrative" (?) and that your comment about rationality being defined in secular, not Christian terms (i.e. the two being incommensurable) sort of illustrates my point about the whole "universal verifiability principle" problem.

Catez said...

Blue raja,
I could tidy that up. I came back because I was going to say that it's been a good discussion with you guys but I need to pull out now. Looks like it's the same for you. :)