Wednesday, October 2, 2013

An Epistemological Example: Classic Presuppositionalism Versus Clarkian Presuppositionalism

In the great debate of how we know what we know, or in theology it is called epistemology comes the question about starting points or "presuppositions".
Whether we like or not, we ALL have a presupposition or starting point when it comes to belief...belief in anything, be it religious or scientific.  These presuppositions or assumptions often determine our unfolding conclusions or "logic" to next steps.
In Christianity, the "classic" presupposition is that ALL men believe there is some sort of deity(s) (except fools -- who aren't merely unwise people but actually people with mental problems).  This is apparent in every culture that has some sort of religious foundation.  Theologically, this phenomenon is called "semen religionis" or the religious seed. The Bible defines it many places but best in Romans 1:20:
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse
Paul further displays this presupposition in action during his interaction with the Athenians on Mars Hill in Acts 17:22-24:
Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription:
Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it...
Paul's starting point was the fact that these people had an innate awareness of God, but that they didn't know who/what God is.  Now, what would have happened had Paul just said, "the Bible is the Word of God written"?  It still did not answer the first question: Who is God?  Paul begins by declaring God as SOVEREIGN, as the Creator of ALL things.  This bold yet comprehensive claim would quickly counter the notion of lesser gods with lesser "sovereignty".  This immediately causes tension between multiple claims of deity and forces the audience to either acknowledge THE God or reject Him.  They cannot simply allow Him to be one among many.  This is the reason that during much of the Old Testament, the God of the Bible was constantly declaring Himself as the One God & that all others are merely idols -- fake gods.
This is the "classic" apologetic that Jews have used & Christians have used to declare God...presuppositionally. (see Shema)
You can see this in action in the comments of men like:
John Gill on Romans 1:20
“…they had some knowledge of the truth, but they would not profess it: and that they had such knowledge of it, he proves from the author of it, God, who showed it to them, and from the means of it, by which they must, and did arrive to some degree of it, namely, the works of creation; (ref)
John Calvin on Romans 1:20
“…he seems here to have intended to indicate a manifestation, by which they might be so closely pressed, that they could not evade; for every one of us undoubtedly finds it to be engraven on his own heart, By saying, that God has made it manifest, he means, that man was created to be a spectator of this formed world, and that eyes were given him, that he might, by looking on so beautiful a picture, be led up to the Author himself…God is in himself invisible; but as his majesty shines forth in his works and in his creatures everywhere, men ought in these to acknowledge him, for they clearly set forth their Maker: and for this reason the Apostle in his Epistle to the Hebrews says, that this world is a mirror, or the representation of invisible things. He does not mention all the particulars which may be thought to belong to God; but he states, that we can arrive at the knowledge of his eternal power and divinity” (ref)
Calvin further says, “We conceive that there is a Deity; and then we conclude, that whoever he may be, he ought to be worshipped: but our reason here fails, because it cannot ascertain who or what sort of being God is.”
Calvin continues: “But this knowledge of God, which avails only to take away excuse, differs greatly from that which brings salvation”.
Calvin follows: “He plainly testifies here, that God has presented to the minds of all the means of knowing him, having so manifested himself by his works, that they must necessarily see what of themselves they seek not to know — that there is some God; for the world does not by chance exist, nor could it have proceeded from itself.”
B.B. Warfield commenting on Calvin’s concept of humanity’s “natively endowed” knowledge of God
“The knowledge of God with which we are natively endowed is therefore more than a bare conviction that God is: it involves, more or less explicated, some understanding of what God is. Such a knowledge of God can never be otiose and inert; but must produce an effect in human souls, in the way of thinking, feeling, willing. In other words, our native endowment is not merely a sensus deitatis, but also a semen religionis (I. iii. 1, 2; iv. 1, 4; v. 1). For what we call religion is just the reaction of the human soul to what it perceives God to be. Calvin is, therefore, just as insistent that religion is universal as that the knowledge of God is universal. “The seeds of religion,” he insists, “are sown in every heart ” (I. iv. 1; cf. v. 1); men are propense to religion (I. iii. 2, med.); and always and everywhere frame to themselves a religion, consonant with their conceptions of God.” (ref)

This classic presuppositionalism was further articulated by men such as Cornelius Van Til & Greg Bahnsen & had become a mainstay in Reformed Seminaries. However, in the 1940s a man named Gordon Haddon Clark put forth a different presuppositionalism that started with the Bible.  Of course, many Christians would find this appealing since we often remark the motto: "The Bible Alone" (Sola Scriptura).  What Christian would not want to give honor to the Word of God?
But this issue ISN'T about who does or doesn't honor Scripture more than the other.  The classic presuppositionalist AGREES that the Bible is the "Special Revelation" of God.  Inverse, there is "General Revelation" which can only supply a person with an awareness of deity existence.  Clark opposed this & submitted that God could only be truly known through the Bible alone.  But the classic presuppositionalists agrees that revelation of the nature, character, & will of God can only be known through the Bible.  However, even with this a controversy exists between the "Van Tillians & Clarkians" (ref)
Below is a hypothetical example of both classic & Clarkian presuppositionalism in action.  This is a hypothetical exchange of a believer & a non-believer.  See the side-by-side comparison.

Classic Presuppositionalism Clarkian Presuppositionalism
Believer: God exists Believer: The Bible is the Word of God written
Unbeliever: It seems there is a God but what/who is God? Unbeliever: How do we even know there is a God?
Believer: Since you believe there is a God, do you believe God would communicate in some manner to humanity? Believer: Because the Bible says so.
Unbeliever: Maybe, but how would we know? Unbeliever: How do we know the Bible is true?
Believer: If God did not communicate in some effective manner to humanity does it even matter if there is a God? Believer: Because the Bible says so.
Unbeliever: I would suppose not. Unbeliever: But how do you know that the Bible is true?
Believer: So the question is how and where has God effectively communicated to humanity? Believer: Because God says so.
Unbeliever: I'm not sure. Unbeliever: Where?
Believer: First, God has revealed Himself through creation. All cultures have a concept of deity. Believer: In the Bible
Unbeliever: That is true Unbeliever: That is circular reasoning
Believer: I propose that the Bible is the ultimate revealing of God. Believer: No, it's not. It is a presupposition.
Unbeliever: Maybe, but how would we know? Unbeliever: But it presupposes without any merit that there is a God.
Believer: It would require a few things. First it requires reading the Bible. If you want to compare it to other deity claims we can most certainly do so. Next, it requires God actually revealing, "opening the eye" of the reader. Believer: That is correct. The Bible is the starting point.
Unbeliever: So, even if I read the Bible and don't conclude it is the communication of God, it might be because God has not revealed it to me? Unbeliever: But what if someone doesn't even believe there are any deities?
Believer: That is correct. God grants who will believe but all men appear to have an innate awareness of God. The issue is who/what is God and that can't be ascertained by creation alone. Only the Bible will reveal that and only God grants who will believe. Believer: The Bible says God exists.
Unbeliever: So, what happens to someone who has never read the Bible or doesn't have access to it? Unbeliever: That is still circular reasoning.
Believer: Well, since we already established the innate awareness of God, and we have proposed that it is God who grants true belief in Him, God will then Sovereignly bring it to pass to get the believer into the Word of God. Believer: That's because you don't believe the Bible.
Unbeliever: So it is all up to God? Unbeliever: Why would I? You have not yet established why I should.
Believer: That is correct. God is sovereign. Believer: Because the Bible is the Word of God written.
Unbeliever: Ugh!

No comments: