Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen, Dr. R.C. Sproul, Dr. John Gerstner: reformed Presbyterians all
In my last paper on this topic of (Calvinist / Reformed) presuppositional apologetics, and whether I have a clue as to what that is about, I showed how my view was pretty much identical with well-known Calvinist author R.C. Sproul's opinion. I also documented how Sproul is one of James White's heroes. Applying logic, then, it follows that if White excoriates me for my supposed profound ignorance of presuppositionalism, then he ought to be consistent and direct the same scorn to R.C. Sproul. But of course he won't do that. Hence, his logical dilemma and ethical double standard. White had written about my analysis:
The entire post is a classic example of missing categories and utter epistemological confusion . . . Sadly, Armstrong truly has no concept of what he identifies as presuppositionalism. Anyone who has spent any time at all with Van Til or Bahnsen cannot help but shake their head at Armstrong's wild swings at a phantom far removed from the truth.In the updated version of White's reply, he keeps up the condescending mockery:
Dave Armstrong continues to beat himself in the head over his utter lack of understanding of the issues involved related to his very confident claims regarding presuppositionalism. To prove his great and in-depth study, he has now told us that RC Sproul is a critic of presuppositionalism! Shocking! I am so glad to learn of this! Oh...wait! I used Classical Apologetics as a text book in my Christian apologetics class I taught at Golden Gate Seminary at least six years ago! How could I have forgotten? Oh, I remember now! I was lecturing on the methods of apologetics and was providing my students with material from both sides! That's right! I even referred them to the Bahnsen/Sproul dialogue on apologetic methodology! So, Armstrong has a book I have assigned to my students! And what does this mean? That despite having such a book, he still couldn't understand what I was talking about and properly follow the categories!As usual, White indulges in his usual methodology of talking about people and insulting them, rather than interacting with their arguments. (do you see anywhere in his post where he takes some argument of mine and examines it in context, and provides a superior alternative explanation?). He seems to think that this is how one does apologetics (or any purportedly intellectual discussion).
I also ran across an earlier statement by White in which he again lies about whether non-presuppositional apologetics accepts the certainty of the biblical apostolic proclamation. I already showed in my previous reply how this is a ludicrous caricature of Dr. William Lane Craig's position (that he was trashing) and my own. White wrote:
I point out yet again what I have said so many times before: the great apologetic divide goes to a simple question: has God spoken with clarity or not? Sadly, the largest portion of the academy today, Christian or non, says, "no." If you believe God has indeed spoken with clarity and force, you are in a minority. And you know how you can discover the strength of the foundation upon which a gospel presentation is based (or, at least, how consistent the person is in their presentation)? It's pretty easy. The Apostles did not present the resurrection and the call to repentance and faith as probabilities. "It is highly probable that if you weigh the evidence in an unbiased fashion that you will come to the conclusion that there is a better chance Jesus rose from the dead than there is He didn't." Is that how the Apostles preached? No. They presented not only the existence of God as a certainty, but the resurrection is presented as a reality that demands of every man, woman, and child, the response of repentance and faith. That kind of preaching requires the highest view of Scripture, and sadly, when people say, "Why don't we hear powerful preaching any longer?" the answer is not difficult to find. Few believe they any longer represent God as an ambassador with a certain message with divine authority. That's why.Now the plot thickens and it has become even more interesting (and comical), because another hero of White's, Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen (1948-1995), the late reconstructionist Calvinist apologist, also had some pretty choice words in describing what he thought was Sproul's profound ignorance of presuppositionalism. So I am in good company. White's two heroes and role models slugged it out years ago, and Sproul was painted as a clueless dunce by Bahnsen. So apparently it is the ignorant Sproul and myself in one camp vs. the intelligent, ultra-informed experts Greg Bahnsen and His Eminence, the Right Reverend Bishop "Dr." White in the other.
First, let's document White's opinion of Bahnsen:
Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen believed that to deal with the academics of the day and their arguments against the Christian faith, it is necessary to do battle with them at the highest levels of scholarship using their intellectual tools against them. He could quickly analyze and give direct and compelling answers to all their objections. Prior to his untimely death in 1995, Dr. Bahnsen delivered a series of lectures on apologetics at American Vision's Life Preparation Conference. These lectures . . . set forth the basics of the Christian worldview and the biblical approach to defending the faith. These lessons have been distilled and turned into a one-of-a kind handbook on apologetics.Now let's look at what Bahnsen wrote about the ignorance of R.C. Sproul, in the very book of Sproul's and John Gerstner's (Classical Apologetics) that I have cited in agreement with my views. This is from his article: A Critique of "Classical Apologetics", published in Presbyterian Journal 44:32 (Dec. 4, 1985) [Response to Gerstner & Sproul in defense of Van Til]. The bolded emphases are mine:
I would love to send him a t-shirt that says "Greg Bahnsen is my homeboy," but that's another issue.
And Greg Bahnsen will be fondly recalled as the man who could not only defend the faith at the highest level of philosophical discourse, but, as seen in that debate, could just as quickly give a warm, personal word of testimony to God's grace in his life.
The irony is that both TGE [Tim Enloe] and AtC [Paul Owen aka by White as "Alexander the Coppersmith"] posted comments that, if they are at all consistent, will force them to likewise ravage Dr. Greg Bahnsen's comments, which I link below. . . . I do wonder what ruminations will now appear as a result, or will the rC's [so-called "Reformed Catholics" who are really "Reformed Protestants"] ignore the citation? . . . there are folks who see through the smoke and mirrors to the reality. However, most telling are the "replies" to the Bahnsen quote. Telling, very telling.
(6-13-04 ; this proves that White comprehends the analogical arguments I have been making regarding Sproul and my own opinions on apologetic method, but will he be "consistent" and also apply his righteous indignation to R.C. Sproul? Don't hold your breath . . .)
. . . Dr. Bahnsen had contacted me and asked me to take his place in debating Matatics in Omaha, Nebraska, due to a schedule conflict (which I did).
. . . If the rC's have the courage of their convictions they will do what they must do: they have said I am wrong to say everything Greg Bahnsen said about Rome. Now, will they just have the temerity to come out openly and say, "Bahnsen, too, was wrong. He cooperated too closely with Baptists, and hence was part of the problem, just like those Presbyterians who cooperate with Baptists today. He clearly refused to give Mother Church the deference and honor she is due, so as to bring the blessings of God." Or is there division in the rC camp?
(7-24-04; another instance of the same force of analogy: White was pressing these folks to be consistent and condemn Bahnsen's view -- because they respected him --; likewise, I am pressing White to condemn Sproul's view on presuppositionalism -- just like he does mine -- because White respects him; but White is just as reluctant to do so as they were regarding Bahnsen; thus showing himself a hypocrite for the, oh, maybe 735th time)
On their chosen method of reasoning in defense of Christianity, though, we must agree much less. We must find it, actually, contrary to good reasoning.This is a gold mine of delightful analogy:
. . . In short, without analyzing and refuting the presupposition of secularism about what is knowable, the authors simply beg the question they set out to answer.
. . . A concept which has somewhere been lost by our authors is that of man's total depravity, including the noetic effects of sin. . . . our author's conception of apologetics is untrue to their Reformed theology.
Their book on apologetics is flawed by a number of philosophical lapses as well. When positions taken by philosophers are represented in the book, they are too often oversimplified, jumbled, or handled with little more than slogans (rather than analysis). Their discussion of the (allegedly) "non-negotiable" and "virtually universal" assumptions about logic, perception, and causality in the knowing process (pp. 77ff.) is painfully naive, interacting with none of the modern epistemological problems surrounding empiricism, induction, or the foundations of science and logic.
. . . In the last half of the book, our authors turn to a critique of the presuppositional apologetic, especially as advanced by Cornelius Van Til. Little of this discussion proves helpful or even relevant, however, because Van Til's presuppositionalism is so badly misrepresented.
. . . Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley have simply not taken the time to understand correctly what they have chosen to criticize. . . . he continues to force the good professor into the mold of his preconceptions. This is unreasonable - making a presupposition ride roughshod over the evidence!
The authors are quite harsh about Van Til's presuppositionalism. "The implications of presuppositionalism, in our opinion, undermine the Christian religion implicitly" (p. 184). They end their book by ridiculing it: "The emperor of the Land of Presuppositionalism where Van Til, Frame, Clar, Henry, and others live, has no clothes. Van Til is embarrassed" (p. 338). In fact, it should be the authors of this uncharitable and false representation who should be embarrassed. Anyone can knock down a straw man.
For this reviewer, the authors have not begun to interact meaningfully with presuppositionalism. They do not seem to understand it any better than we found them to understand the philosophical issues in constructing a theistic proof according to traditional natural theology. In contrast to their weak effort, as well as in contrast to their misconstrual of Van Til, presuppositional apologetics sets forth the intellectual challenge to all unbelief that "unless [Christianity's] truth is presupposed there is no possibility of proving anything at all" (Jerusalem and Athens, p. 21). This is the furthest thing from fideism. It is actually very Pauline (1 Cor. 1:20).
. . . College students cannot expect to respond to skeptical challenges with the kind of thinking found in this book and not suffer intellectual embarrassment. The argumentation is too easy to discredit, . . .
The authors admit that their traditional apologetic "is sick and ailing" (p. 12). Judging from the case made in this book, the diagnosis may be overly optimistic. . . .
Finally though, should you purchase a copy of this book? If your interest is the actual practice of defending the faith, you will be disappointed because reliable, logically sound guidance will not be found here. Even if our interest is the intramural, specialized study of apologetical methods, you can find more adequate examples of what this book attempts to do. And if you are interested in understanding or criticizing contemporary presuppositional apologetics, save your money for another day.
White on Armstrong (on presuppositionalism) I: "classic example of missing categories and utter epistemological confusion" . . .Particularly amusing is Bahnsen's observation that Sproul and Gerstner's book demonstrated that they had "lost" the Reformed Protestant doctrine of "man's total depravity, including the noetic effects of sin" and that Sproul's and Gerstner's apologetic is "untrue to their Reformed theology." How cute. Here is the man (Sproul) whose book Chosen by God "turned" White "from a reluctant Calvinist into a passionate one" (White on 3-26-07) yet Sproul, according to White Hero #2 Bahnsen doesn't even possess or understand the Reformed doctrine of total depravity (!!!): the "T" in the famous five Calvinist points of "TULIP"?
Bahnsen on Sproul and Gerstner (on presuppositionalism) I: "contrary to good reasoning . . . oversimplified, jumbled, or handled with little more than slogans . . . painfully naive . . . Little of this discussion proves helpful or even relevant, . . . intellectual embarrassment . . . easy to discredit, . . . reliable, logically sound guidance will not be found here.
White on Armstrong II: "Sadly, Armstrong truly has no concept of what he identifies as presuppositionalism."
Bahnsen on Sproul and Gerstner II: Van Til's presuppositionalism is so badly misrepresented. . . . Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley have simply not taken the time to understand correctly what they have chosen to criticize . . . the authors have not begun to interact meaningfully with presuppositionalism. . . . misconstrual of Van Til
White on Armstrong III: "Anyone who has spent any time at all with Van Til or Bahnsen cannot help but shake their head at Armstrong's wild swings at a phantom far removed from the truth."
Bahnsen on Sproul and Gerstner III: "he continues to force the good professor into the mold of his preconceptions. This is unreasonable - making a presupposition ride roughshod over the evidence! . . . it should be the authors of this uncharitable and false representation who should be embarrassed. Anyone can knock down a straw man.
And Sproul's apologetic method is "untrue" to authentic Reformed theology? How fascinating! This is the guy that White (on 2-15-07) decribed as "a genius, and everyone knows that" and he can't even get elementary aspects of Calvinist theology right? After all, Greg Bahnsen said it, and he can't be wrong.
These are the two modern Reformed thinkers (Sproul and Gerstner): the only two that White included in a list of such Calvinist luminaries as "Calvin, Beza, the crafters of the Westminster and London Confessions, John Owen, Francis Turretin, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Charles Hodge, William Cunningham, B.B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, John Murray . . ." (10-23-00) and they are this abominably ignorant? They have a profound Calvinist theology (or do they???) but can't defend it? The "genius" misses the most elementary and foundational aspects of proper Reformed apologetics? Something just doesn't add up here . . .
Lastly, White has preserved an exchange in 1995 (a series of letters) between Greg Bahnsen and fellow Reformed Protestant P. Andrew Sandlin, in which Bahnsen again engages in his charge that his (fellow Reformed) opponent is abominably ignorant (gee, we see now the profound influence that he obviously had on White's own method of "argumentation"). The bolding is again my own:
Sandlin's piece represents not serious analysis (or even accurate discussion) but simply pontification. (When the argument is weak, pound the pulpit harder!) Notice as well the many inflammatory (and unargued) epithets: "modernistic invention," "knee-jerk reaction to baying hounds," "[Warfield] polluted Reformation bibliology," "pernicious theory," etc. This is a textbook example of the fallacious style of reasoning which should be shunned in any serious Christian scholarship. No case is strengthened by emotive language and name-calling -- especially when the rhetoric is irresponsible and false. For instance, Sandlin attributes views to his opponents which they simply do not maintain (e.g., the outrageous suggestion that they say the Bible is inspired if infallible -- or even worse, only if infallible in our human judgment). For his own integrity Sandlin ought to issue a retraction and apology for such misleading red herrings and unfair misrepresentations.How familiar. I don't know if Bahnsen is correct in his assessment or not. I didn't read the entire exchange; nor do I wish to. I am simply highlighting the fact that these charges were made, which is similar to what Bahnsen did in his book review above. I do know for a fact, however, that James White has been misrepresenting, butchering, caricaturing, lying about my positions for 12 years.
. . . I should also humbly observe in passing, as someone with a bit of background in epistemology, that Sandlin has simply wandered into left field when he tries to make the issue "a rationalist standard of supposed scientific accuracy" to which we are allegedly trying to conform. To think that is the issue is to betray a fundamental misunderstanding of what the debate is about in the first place. It is not just rationalists and modern scientists who say two conflicting texs cannot both be original. . . . Shame on Mr. Sandlin for this unseemly diatribe.
(30 May 1995)
It would be the course of wisdom for Andrew Sandlin to withdraw from perpetuating an unnecessary and sharply worded public squabble, and that I why I prayerfully decided to send a "last comment" and leave it to readers to do their homework, granting Andy the last word. Instead he has now sent along TWO missives, both quite lengthy. But even that would be alright with me, were it not for his continuing to misrepresent my view (and to misunderstand the nature of the dispute regarding the autographa). That is why I briefly and with regret re-enter the discussion with a "very last" comment. (I really have other duties I ought to be pursuing.)
In his second June 2 letter, Sandlin falsely attributes to me the notion that infallibility is lost in "the infinite regress of the lost autographa." He has no hesitation: "This search of infinite regress.. is EXACTLY what Greg contends in his essay." Sandlin claims to state my view "PRECISELY" that the "extant Biblical text" does not constitute the inspired word of God.
These MIGHT constitute public lies, except I do NOT for a moment suspect Sandlin of perpetuating falsehoods intentionally here. But the alternative is that he does not understand and/or is not careful to be accurate -- which only exacerbates his cutting pontifications ("pernicious," "rationalism," "devotees of IOA have miserably apostatized," etc.) and logical fallacies (guilt by association, hasty generalization, false cause, etc.). By not wishing to impugn his character, I was indeed forced to impugn his scholarship. He does not have a correct picture of his opponent's position (although insisting he is exact and precise) and presses unreasonable lines of thinking to reach a condemnation even of that.
. . . Hopefully the reader can understand, then, why I question Andrew Sandlin's scholarship. He has pinned on me nearly the opposite of what I actually wrote. I cannot appreciate being publicly and grossly misrepresented (by someone claiming he is "exact" and "precise" in portraying my view), especially as a prelude to publicly condemning it as pernicious apostatizing.
(2 June 1995)
I have no wish, like Dr. Bahnsen, to accuse White of "perpetuating falsehoods intentionally" either (even though he has stated that about myself, more than once), so I conclude that his anti-Catholic bias and personal animus against me seriously cloud and adversely affect his reasoning abilities. That's the most charitable take I can come up with. But misrepresent my opinions, he definitely does (i.e., to the pitifully small extent that he deigns to interact with them at all). There is no doubt about that.