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Scott Oliphant – Around and Around We Go

Posted On April 2, 2015

Since we completed our discussion of the “Ten Tenets” last month, I thought it might be useful to comment on some of the common objections to a Covenantal approach to apologetics.

One of the most common objections against a “Covenantal” (or presuppositional) approach to apologetics is that it reasons in a circle, and thus provides no real argument for its position. Reasoning in a circle is a fallacious endeavor, so the objection goes; it cannot provide reasons for what it claims. Examples of this objection could be almost endlessly multiplied, but we will be content with just a couple. In a recent exchange between Covenantal and Classical apologists, one of the latter complains:
Presuppositionalists claim that the Word of God is self-authenticating. It needs no proof. It is the basis for all other conclusions, but it has no basis beyond itself. But what they fail to see is that while all of this is true of the Word of God, nonetheless, it is not thereby true of the Bible. For there must be some evidence or good reasons for believing that the Bible is the Word of God…

And furthermore,

…Presuppositionalists argue [that] the Word of God stands on its own, with no need of proof beyond it. …The fact is, that any such truth claim demands evidence and good reason — the kind provided by Classical Apologetics.

The objection here is somewhat understandable, in that it originates from one who is committed to an Arminian theology. One of the hallmarks of Arminianism is its rationalism such that biblical quandaries like God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are given explanations that nicely comport with our general laws of thinking. Thus, what is reasonable supervenes on biblical truth; reason is the master that biblical truth serves. It is consistent, then, that an Arminian would only accept what reason or evidence can prove. So, the Bible is accepted as the Word of God because there are reasonable, or evidential, grounds for it.

But objections of fallacious circular reasoning do not simply originate from Arminians; some Reformed, as well, remain troubled with what they perceive as the fallacy of circularity. After working through a mock dialogue on circular reasoning between Cornelius Van Til and a “Traditionalist” in apologetics, the authors of Classical Apologetics conclude:

Seriously, Dr. Van Til, you certainly see that you are proving neither the Word of God nor the Spirit of God by such a tactic. You are a reasonable person and you know as well as anyone that making the Bible’s inspiration rest on the Spirit and the Spirit’s testimony rest on the Bible’s inspiration gets you nowhere at all.

There are a number of frustrations associated with these objections to circularity, not the least of which is that the authors are either unaware of, or choose to ignore, the responses that have been given to them. The objections continue to be offered, without any reference to responses given.

Another frustration about this charge of fallacious circularity is that the contention of the Covenantal apologist regarding Scripture as a foundational presupposition is nothing new; it is embedded intractably in the Reformed theological tradition. Though the objections themselves might gain traction simply by mere repetition, scholarship requires both that responses to the objections be answered, and that the Reformed theological tradition be taken into account and acknowledged for what it is. It may just be that the Reformed “traditionalist” is not as traditional as he might think.

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