Friday, February 17, 2006

One more for the road


And heck, while you're at it, you might pull out C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea, or follow up on some of my suggestions here:

I'm the last one to suggest that "transcendental" arguments are bad! But if you broaden your definitions enough, then van Tilians start looking a whole lot like Kuyperians, if that.

# posted by Victor Reppert : 2/16/2006 3:55 PM


I guess the point of this statement is that if you broaden the definition sufficiently, presuppositional apologetics becomes indistinguishable from traditional apologetics. If that’s what Reppert is angling at, I’d just say the following:

1.One really can’t compare and contrast Van Tilian apologetics to traditional apologetics since there really is no such thing as traditional apologetics in general.

Any individul apologist or school of apologetics is going to be characterized by a particular package of theology, epistemology, ontology, and methodology.

So the degree to which Van Tilian apologetics is compatible or incompatible with “traditional” apologetics affords no general answer, but can only be addressed on a case-by-case basis.

2.I’m not arbitrarily expanding the definition. There is, in fact, a broader as well as narrower definition of what constitutes a transcendental argument in the standard literature. Depending on which definition you favor, that will directly affect your version of presuppositional apologetics.

It doesn’t mean that the definition is entirely open-ended. And if something can’t be worked into a transcendental argument, than it cannot be deployed in favor of transcendental theism.

3.More to the point, it’s a mistake to being with what differentiates one school of apologetics from another. Apologetics is a secondary discipline.

The duty of apologetics is not to be distinctive, but to generate sound arguments for the true faith.

Where you logically begin is with the theological tradition you are defending. That prescribes the content of what must be defended as well as proscribing certain methods and assumptions at variance with the belief system.

For example, Reformed theology cannot use the free will defense.

So the theological system you are defending supplies the frame of reference for your apologetic system. Your apologetic strategy is distinctive to the degree that it is keyed to the distinctives of a particular theological tradition.

It is indistinct from other apologetic schools to the degree that its own theology intersects with other theological traditions.

In addition, Scripture is silent on many detailed questions of ontology and epistemology. To that extent, the apologist is free to choose whatever options best commend themselves to his own way of thinking as well as the opponent or audience.

Van Tilian apologetics is specific to Calvinism. The doctrines of Calvinism prime the pump.

Although C. S. Lewis said he was only defending “mere” Christianity, yet the version of the faith he was defending bore a startling resemblance to the via media of the Anglican tradition!


  1. I don't want to discourage Dr Reppert's dissection of the Wilson-Drange debate, since I'm sure it will prove valuable in indicating how AFR can be argued more rigorously, but I would suggest that this particular exchange is really a red herring with respect to an evaluation of the cogency of presuppositional apologetics. I don't know of any philosophically competent Van Tilians (and I know a number from both the 'left' and 'right' wings) who would hold up this debate as a good example of presuppositionalism in action.

    Wilson is a wonderfully gifted writer, whose fertile mind brims over with useful insights, but frankly I don't rate him as a philosopher. (Witness, for example, his poor treatment of realism with respect to propositions -- see also comments and follow-up posts.)

    Wilson's philosophical outlook, it seems to me, is strictly pre-modern. Bahnsen and Frame, on the other hand, are clearly conversant with contemporary analytical philosophy and are happy to plunder its riches in the service of Van Til's apologetic project (all in the name of a robust doctrine of common grace, of course).

    Incidentally, I recently taught a seminary level course on applied apologetics from a presuppositionalist perspective and C. S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea was one of the dozen or so books I recommended as supplementary reading. Dr Reppert's formulations of AFR are very much in the spirit of Van Tilian apologetics.

  2. Actually, I was holding it up as an example of how NOT to do presuppositional apologetics. Wilson makes the mistake of emphasizing presuppositionalist distinctives when he should have been simply debating.

    First of all, it is really important for a presuppositional apologist to do his or her homework on epistemic circularity. Van Til's writings on this matter have apparently confused not only his enemies (ro whom it looks as if they can easily refute him) but his followers as well.

    Second, I am not sure that the transcendental argument from reason supports specifically Christian theism, or whether if your opponent is, say, a unitarian theist of some kind, there is some other transcendental argument that applies. If that's true, you should probably avoid saying that the TA from reason actually establishes trinitarian theism.

    It may be that Lewis's apologetics as a whole supports an Anglican-Arminian understanding of Christianity, but that AFR strikes me as pretty neutral between that view and the classical Reformed theology that underwrites presuppositional apologetics.

    I also think that the Van Tilian emphasis on suppressing the truth is a respectable and intelligent position for which biblical support can be given. I do not think that the rhetorical statement that there are really no atheists is equally respectable. I think people who say the latter are really trying to say the former; if so, just say the former and avoid embarrassing your own message by saying the latter.

  3. Dr. Reppert, i thought the more accurate claim was that "there were no strong atheists"...given the lack of perfect knowledge and the existence of so many forensic unknowns such as abiogenesis, first cause, first matter, beginning and ending of the universe, etc., with strong atheism being inherently illogical given the above.