By Eli Ayala
What does Greg Bahnsen and Tupac Shakur have in common? Not much. Shakur, a famous and controversial hip hop artist, and Greg L. Bahnsen, a noted Christian philosopher and apologist couldn’t be further apart in their careers, lifestyles, and interests. Yet, two interesting similarities are that they both died in the 90’s (Bahnsen in 1995, and Tupac in 1996) and that they were producing material years after their own deaths. This of course is all tongue and cheek. Shortly after Tupac was shot, albums were released based upon music that he was apparently working on prior to his death. Decades after the death of Greg Bahnsen (who already had a large body of work left behind through books, lectures, debates and articles), to my surprise and to my joy, a series of books were released by American Vision which featured the work of Greg Bahnsen, one of which will be the focus of this present article that you are currently reading. The book is entitled, Against All Opposition: Defending the Christian Worldview.
Of course, Bahnsen never wrote a book entitled “Against All Opposition”, however, this book which American Vision has released is based upon a series of lectures that Dr. Bahnsen gave on the topic of presuppositional apologetics prior to his untimely death. We can say that this book is a transcription of sorts of those lectures. And to that end, I highly recommend the book to anyone interested in the topic of presuppositional apologetics as Dr. Bahnsen was an excellent teacher and had a knack for making complicated concepts simpler without dumbing down the content. In this present article, I do not intend to provide a review of the book, but rather point readers to the very helpful portion of the book which are the chapter study questions. My intention here is to provide those chapter study questions and my expanded answer to them. Hopefully this will help readers think about the various important themes that are often covered when studying presuppositional apologetic methodology.
1. What really separates the believer from the unbeliever? Is it faith? Explain.
(My Response): This is an important question because it allows us to see the real issues with respect to the differences between the believer and unbeliever. The difference is not that one has the facts and the other does not. The difference is not necessarily that one has more evidence for their position than the other. It is not that the one has faith (the believer) and the other doesn’t (the unbeliever). The important thing to recognize about what separates the believer from the unbeliever is that they are both operating under different worldview perspectives. As Bahnsen notes, “What separates you are the underlying worldviews. It’s the philosophy, not the facts.” (Against All Opposition, pg. 5).
The believer and unbeliever have the same data to work with. The key difference comes in the intellectual context through which the data is interpreted. This is key in understanding the presuppositional apologetic methodology as it is a distinctly worldview apologetic. It places a great emphasis not simply upon the facts of the matter, the data, the evidence; but forces us to come to grips with the framework under which we and all men are operating on while investigating the facts, the data, the evidence. This is significant because contrary to popular opinion, the facts don’t speak for themselves. Facts must be interpreted and the interpretation is always done within the context and framework or a worldview.
2. “To have faith” often means what to unbelievers?
(My Response) Space does not provide me the opportunity to delve into the countless misrepresentations of what “faith” means within the Christian context. However, to stay grounded in the context of the book, Bahnsen points out that “Unbelievers think that to have faith means to let your emotions run wild and turn off your brains” (Pg. 8). Again, faith here is taken to be anti-intellectual. We see this often in apologetic encounters in that we often hear the distinction made between “faith & science” or “faith vs. reason” implying that faith is this weird thing over here in which the brain and sound reasoning have nothing to contribute. Faith is believing something without evidence or faith is believing something you know ain’t true. These definitions of course are completely alien to Christian thinking and do not function according to legitimate biblical categories. The Bible sure doesn’t define faith in any of these ways.
If I could provide an apologetic nugget here. Faith is defined within a context. So as Christians, the concept of faith must be defined in a way that reflects the biblical conception and not the imposed unbeliever’s definition of what he thinks faith is supposed to mean. Don’t let others foist a definition of a term or concept on you that you reject. The unbeliever does not get to define what faith is and then provide his critique against the straw man that he has erected. Stand firm and put forth proper definitions which accurately reflect what the Bible has to say with regards to the terms and concepts we are debating.
3. When unbelievers charge that Christianity is irrational, what do they mean?
(My Response) When an unbeliever asserts that Christianity is irrational, you may want to ask what he or she means by that. Asking questions on that point will help clarify the issue so you can respond accordingly. Nevertheless, to keep in step with the book, Bahnsen highlights two important senses in which unbelievers assert the irrationality of the Christian worldview. When an unbeliever asserts that Christianity is irrational he can mean this in the sense that:
o Christianity is illogical (Violates the laws of logic): That is to say, that Christianity in one or more of its essential features violate the canons of logic. An example here would be to assert that perhaps the Christian idea that Jesus Christ is both truly God and truly man is a logical contradiction. Or, that the Christian conception of God as being Triune is a logical contradiction since God cannot be both 1 and 3.
Our response here will require us to be familiar with Christian theology. When one asserts that a Christian belief is logically incoherent, it will be incumbent upon the opponent to demonstrate the contradiction (He doesn’t get to simply stipulate something as a contradiction without demonstrating it). It will also be incumbent upon the believer to provide an exposition of Christian doctrine to show that these articles of belief are perfectly consistent within the Christian framework. This is why it is so important for the apologist to be well versed in basic Christian theology.
o Christianity is illogical (Lacks any evidence): That is to say, that when it is asserted that Christianity is illogical that means that it lacks any evidentiary basis. The problem with Christianity we will be told is that there is no evidence to support its truth claims.
Now, we need to be reminded here of the importance of worldview frameworks. Remember that the key thing that separates the believer and the unbeliever are not the facts and the evidence, but the interpretation of the facts and the evidence. When an unbeliever hears an evidential case for the truth claims of say, the resurrection of Jesus, the evidence can be easily cast aside not because the evidence is insufficient (although, that can be the case, depending on how the apologist marshals the evidence and argues for it), but because the unbeliever is going to filter the evidence you present through the lens of his unbelief. No matter how many appeals you make to the evidence for the empty tomb, or the fact that it was women who discovered the empty tomb and how unlikely this would have been legendary due to the degraded role of women in the 1st century or whatever, the fact of the resurrection will never be a reasonable and more probable conclusion for someone who sees the world through a materialistic and naturalistic lens.
This is not to say that these data points, evidences, and lines of reasoning are inappropriate. Its simply to point out that mere evidences will not be effective if we do not address the issue of the unbeliever’s worldview presuppositions. So, when the unbeliever asserts that Christianity lacks evidence to support its claims, we need to ask: What constitutes good evidence? Let them respond and listen carefully, as you will quickly find that the standard of evidence they provide will reflect their worldview bias, to which you must then point out and respond accordingly.
4. In what way are Christian dogma’s “logically consistent?”
(My Response) Well, we do not affirm that Christianity is illogical in any of the ways expressed above. Christianity neither violates the canons of logical thinking, nor is it devoid of empirical confirmation. We would only qualify that empirical data and evidence is going to be interpreted within the context of a worldview perspective. What we do reject, is the idea that empirical evidence simply speaks for itself and that’s all. Now to specifically address the question before us: To say that Christian dogma is “logically consistent” is to say “our various dogmas are logically consistent with our operating assumptions” (Pg. 12). But shouldn’t that be obvious? We have starting assumptions, and our dogma, our doctrinal beliefs are consistent with those starting assumptions.
The apologetic nugget that we should keep in mind however, is that it is the unbeliever who is being inconsistent. What he says with his mouth is not always consistent with what he believes in his heart. This is most obviously demonstrated when analyzing the issue of morality. On the one hand we will be told by many an unbeliever that there are no absolute moral norms that objectively hold. Yet on the other hand, the unbeliever often cries foul when mistreatment or some instance of moral degradation is observed. Well, you can’t have it both ways. If there are no moral absolutes, then what’s the big deal? Is the expressed anger at some morally deplorable action simply an expression of personal disdain towards the action in question? If so, then why should anyone care? Again, it is important that we are able to defend the consistency of the believing perspective and point out the inconsistencies within the unbelieving perspective when they arise. On the one hand, we should be able to demonstrate how our dogmas as Christians are in fact logically consistent with our operating assumptions, and on the other hand demonstrate that the unbeliever is being inconsistent with his operating assumptions; or, if he is consistent with his unbelieving operating assumptions, intelligible experience and knowledge are undermined.
5. Explain what J. Gresham Machen means when he states that the “Christian faith is a thoroughly reasonable thing?”
(My Response) J. Gresham Machen was caught right in the middle of the fight with the Liberal Christianity of the 1920’s. He was one of the leading figures who wrote extensively in response to liberal claims and courageously stood for Christian orthodoxy in the face of growing and influential opposition. He did not agree that people should believe Christianity because it made them feel good. Nor did he accept the opposition that was erected between faith and knowledge. We would do well to learn from Machen on this point and reject the false dichotomies that are often presented before us in our culture today (example: faith vs. science). Machen believed Christianity to be true and in accord with the facts when rightly interpreted. In this sense he believed Christianity to be eminently reasonable and as such, had nothing to fear from the truth and the investigative process.
Now we can readily admit that the claims of the Christian faith may “appear” to be absurd to the world, but that is not because Christianity itself is absurd. The real absurdity is the rejection of the Christian worldview. “It is our job to show that what the world believes is in fact the true absurdity” (Pg. 15).
6. Does Neo-Orthodoxy teach that Jesus is God?
(My Response) Admittedly, Bahnsen does not go into an explanation of what Neo-orthodoxy is, so a brief explanation is in order. Neo-orthodoxy was a movement within Protestant Christianity that acted as a response to the liberalism that was seeping into the church during the early part of the 20th century. In one sense, it was seen as a return to a more conservative form of orthodoxy in light of the liberal rejection of key Christian doctrines. However, in this attempt to recapture orthodoxy in light of the growing heresies of liberal Christianity, many believed (as did Cornelius Van Til and others), that it failed in this regard in a number of key areas.
For example, the Liberalism of the nineteenth century sought to make the distinction between the “Jesus of History and the Jesus of Faith.” We as believers of course reject this distinction as we firmly believe that the Jesus of history is the Jesus of faith. The Neo-Orthodox correctly rejected this distinction and challenged the faulty presuppositions with which the Liberal theologians of the day brought to the scriptures. However, while repudiating the false views of the Liberal theologians, the Neo-Orthodox swung the pendulum to the opposition extreme. For instance, consider the view that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that God inspired it, but what that means in reality is that the Bible is not necessarily the Word of God in an objective sense. In fact, the Bible was for the most part a collection of merely man-made documents which God uses to create an “encounter” with the people reading it. Therefore, the Bible becomes the Word of God as we read it and encounter God through it.
So, the Bible is not in an objective sense, the Word of God. There could be genuine factual errors in the Bible and that’s all well and good according to the Neo-Orthodox. The real issue is whether we encounter God through our reading the Bible. On this point, I do not think the Neo-Orthodox are orthodox enough. The problems here spill into other areas of theological importance as well. With respect to the question of the deity of Christ, I believe Karl Barth, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, two noted Neo-orthodox thinkers held Jesus Christ to be God. However, given the problems with Neo-orthodoxy and the often ambiguous and redefinition of theological terms, I would encourage caution and discernment when engaging the work of the Neo-Orthodox.
7. What did the Apostle Paul mean when he wrote that if you don’t have faith, there’s no place for reason?
(My Response) The idea here is that reason must be grounded on “a” faith. Either the faith commitment will be rooted in the autonomous man and his own mental capacities or it will be rooted in the Triune God of Scripture, who has created the rational process itself. The Apostle Paul would have us rest our reason firmly within the context of God and his revelation which gives us a justification for trusting our reason. The man who rejects God and his revelation cuts himself off from the only context in which reason makes sense and provides a basis for trusting our reason. To take this line would be to rob oneself of the “riches of wisdom and knowledge” which are found only in Christ.
The bottom line here is that we all have faith, a trust if you will, in our ultimate starting points. However, who’s ultimate starting point provides the only basis for intelligibility, reason, and knowledge? Is it the starting point of the unbeliever (in whatever philosophical flavor he presents it), or is it the starting point of the believer (the self-attesting Triune God who has revealed himself in general and special revelation)? Without some faith commitment, reason has no place to stand. The question is, “What is that “place to stand?” I think for the believer, the answer to that question should be clear.