Sunday, April 09, 2017

Rom 1 in Christian apologetics

i) I recently witnessed a lengthy exchange between Sye Ten Bruggencate and some evidentialists. Sye's entire apologetic appears to be reducible to quoting Rom 1:18-21. Now, maybe there's more to his overall position than that. I did review a book of his a few years ago:

ii) Before proceeding to my main point, I'd like to get a few preliminaries out of the way. To summarize my own position: I don't classify myself as a Van Tilian. There's too much baggage associated with that classification. And I'm more eclectic. 

Van Til espoused transcendental theism due to his interpretation of divine incomprehensibility. And it's a logical move to go  from divine incomprehensibility to transcendental theism.

However, you can espouse transcendental theism without espousing divine incomprehensibility–at least as Van Til defined it. 

I do think Van Til had some important insights of enduring value:

iii) I agree with evidential apologists against classical apologists that miracles in themselves are evidence of God. You don't have to use a two-step argument in which you first prove God's existence before you can appeal to miracles. That confuses the order of being with the order of knowing. Although God's existence is a metaphysical starting-point for the possibility of miracles, it doesn't follow that belief in God is an epistemological starting-point. To take a comparison, you can't have apples without apple trees, but apples are evidence for the existence of apple trees. I don't have to first prove the existence of apple trees before I can appeal to apples as evidence for the existence of apple trees.

iv) Apropos (iii), it isn't always necessary to begin with presuppositional issues. It depends on how reasonable or unreasonable the unbeliever is. Some unbelievers retain a lot of common sense. 

v) But in a broader sense, I'd classify myself as a presuppositionalist, because issues of possibility, impossibility, probability, necessity, logic, induction, rationality, counterfactuality, the rules of evidence, &c., are ultimately foundational philosophical issues. They concern what the world is like. What kind of world do we inhabit? 

vi) Approaching my main point: it's possible for a true believer to suffer a crisis of faith. A paradigm example is John the Baptist (Mt 11:2-3). That's quite striking because the Baptist had more direct evidence for the messiahship of Jesus than most Christians can hope for. But human beings are psychologically fragile.

vii) Which brings me to my main point: the appeal to Rom 1 is an argument from authority. And that's legit. But it's useless to a Christian who's suffering a crisis of faith, for at that point he may doubt the authority of Scripture. That's his problem. 

An appeal to natural revelation via Rom 1 is not a direct or independent appeal to natural evidence for God's existence, but an indirect appeal that's dependent on the inspiration and apostolicity of Paul. And, once again, there's nothing wrong with that. 

If, however, Sye were to suffer a crisis of faith, Rom 1 would be ineffective to assuage his doubts since an appeal to Rom 1 is predicated on the authority of Scripture, and if, like John the Baptist, you're going through a crisis of faith, then in that state of mind you lack certitude concerning the authority of Scripture. How does appeal to Rom 1 work for a Christian who's uncertain regarding the certainty of Scripture? 

Now it may just be a phase he's going through. It may resolve itself on its own. 

Or it may require additional evidence over and above bare appeals to the authority of Scripture. And there's plenty of evidence to choose from. But Sye doesn't seem to have any fallback. Indeed, he appears to scorn supplementary sources of evidence. But maybe there's more to his position than I'm aware of. 

viii) Finally, I'm concerned about a degree of posturing when some people invoke Van Tilian slogans. They themselves are not immune to a crisis of faith. We need to guard against Peter's prideful audacity. Not only did he say he'd never deny Jesus, but he drew an invidious contrast between himself and his fellow disciples: “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away” (Mt 26:33). His grandstanding made him ripe for the fall. 

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