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A Note from Our Editor: Boa & Bowman's Faith Has Its Reasons; the "Open Theism" Debate

Cynical definition of a ‘bore’: ‘someone who continually talks about himself or herself when you want to talk about yourself.’ Does the present issue of the GLOBAL JOURNAL suffer from this problem? Why has the Editor had the effrontery to create a ‘Montgomery’ issue?

No nefarious planning went into this (really): the issue, like Topsy, just ‘grew.’ E-mails arrived from diverse sources expressing concern about criticisms of the Montgomery apologetic appearing on freethinking and atheistic websites; essays analysing the problems with presuppositionalism surfaced; and from as far away as Australia new support for the Editor’s unique juridical style of apologetic came into the JOURNAL'S hands. Suddenly, the pieces coalesced and the result is, we believe, a remarkable themed issue.

But might this effort still fit the perverse definition with which we began? Is the subject matter all that important? We think so, and our reasons are not egotistical ones.

Firstly, the proper defence of the faith remains a critical problem for the church. Without a satisfactory ‘reason for the hope that is within us,’ Christianity descends to the level of the cults, sects, and other world's religions, which have only personal experience and subjective claims in their support. Only a sound apologetic can counteract the endemic problem of the non-Christian who is convinced that all religious claims, including the claims of Christ, are no more than a question of inner ‘faith’--which, conveniently, he or she does not happen to possess. Illustration: Last September, my wife and I, inveterate Sherlockians that we are, participated in the Sherlock Holmes Society of London’s Baltic cruise to St Petersburg. On the ship, there was time for some religious discussions. When we returned home, I received a letter from one of the other participants. It reads it part:

‘No matter what is put forward it all comes down to faith in the end. In the Bible we are dealing with another language, another culture and another era and this to some extent has a mysterious supernatural aura about it which undoubtedly appeals to some folk. The whole idea of creation/religion is fascinating but I regret that in my case the faith eludes me.’

Only a meaningful apologetic can possibly deal with this kind of reaction to evangelical proclamation, and we believe that the essays to follow offer great assistance along that line.

Secondly, ‘metapologetics’ (the discussion and determination of which defences of the faith are good, bad, or indifferent) is gaining, not losing ground. Postmodernism has by no means rendered such analyses otiose. A good example of the high interest in this area is the recently published, exceedingly useful work, Faith Has Its Reasons: An Apologetics Handbook, by Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, Jr. (NavPress, 2001). This book is not really what its subtitle suggests (‘an integrative approach to defending Christianity’), but an effort to set forth objectively the nature of the various apologetic approaches presented within the orthodox, Bible-believing church. This Editor's evidentialist method is very fairly presented, and unlike many who have treated it, such as those critiqued in the essays comprising this number of the JOURNAL) B & B have actually read and assimilated most of the author’s central publications on the subject. (But not all: the literary and mythopoeic side of his apologetic receives no treatment, and Myth, Allegory and Gospel is nowhere cited. And his mentor C. S. Lewis is put in the same bed with Norman Geisler (p. 543)!

We mention Faith Has Its Reasons because its publication confirms the utility of devoting a full issue of the GLOBAL JOURNAL to metapologetics in general and to a specific style of apologetics in particular. But it also gives us the opportunity to make a few critical comments (how could we avoid it??).

B & B present Martin Luther as a fideist, in company with Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, and Donald Bloesch! This is a travesty of historical and theological analysis, and shows no acquaintance with my essays, ‘Lutheranism and the Defense of the Christian Faith’ (special whole number of The Lutheran Synod Quarterly, XI/1 [Fall, 1970]) and ‘Christian Apologetics in the Light of the Lutheran Confessions’ (Concordia Theological Quarterly, 42/3 [July, 1978]) The incarnational nature of Luther's theology would have made it impossible for him to hold, as Kierkegaard did, that ‘truth is subjectivity,’ or to engage in any ‘metahistorical’ speculations concerning the miraculous, saving events of Scripture, as Karl Barth did.

As with most evangelicals, B & B understand only Calvinism and Arminianism: if one isn't the one, one must be the other. Since this Editor is not an Arminian but engages in evidential apologetics, he is characterised in the following terms: ‘John Warwick Montgomery, a conservative Lutheran, is actually closer to the Reformed tradition than most other contemporary evidentialists’ (p. 188)! Had the authors understood and appreciated the centrality of the incarnation in Lutheran theology (as compared and contrasted with the central Calvinist stress on God’s sovereignty and divine decrees in eternity and with the fundamental Arminian emphasis on man's freewill), they would have seen that to be an evidentialist in no way entails an Arminian theology‹and that rejecting Arminianism does not make one a crypto-Calvinist!

Not so incidentally, in the ‘Openness of God’ debate presently occupying the attention of much of scholarly evangelicalism in the United States, the same myopic view of theological options is sadly prevalent. We are told (quite correctly as a historical fact) that Clark Pinnock carried his Arminianism to its logical conclusion‹since, if man has genuine freewill, God must not know the future results of human decision-making. The only alternative then presented is the Calvinistic view that an omniscient God must also be predestinarian. (Cf., for example, Daniel Strange, ‘Clark H. Pinnock: The Evolution of an Evangelical Maverick,’ Evangelical Quarterly, 71/4 [1999], 311-26.) In point of fact, both of these theological positions, Calvinism and Arminianism, are at root rationalistic: for them, systematic theology must reach tight, rational, logical conclusions no matter what. But just suppose that God's thoughts really are higher than our thoughts and that, as Lutherans hold, one is never allowed to draw inferences from one passage of Scripture that contradict the clear teaching of another Biblical passage. This would mean that even though we cannot reconcile (on this earth) God's omniscience and man's freewill both of which are clearly taught in Scripture we must nevertheless hold to both truths. (Thus Lutherans maintain that, though the New Testament clearly teaches that the saved are elected from the foundation of the world, this does not mean that the unsaved are damned because they are not chosen; Scripture is plain that the unsaved are in that category because of their refusal to believe, not because God doesn’t want them to be saved.) Note that this is exactly how one properly handles the question of the Trinitarian nature of God: how can there be three distinct persons in one Godhead? We do not, like Unitarians or Jehovah’s Witnesses, refuse to recognise that the Bible makes Jesus both God and man though it would be much neater logically if he were just the one and not the other. Such an approach involves no irrationality at all; it simply recognises how mysterious the universe is and that, when logic and fact come into conflict, one must go with fact and not force the facts to fit one’s logic. In the last analysis, this is precisely the scientific approach, as illustrated by the physicists’ use of the Photon (a wave-particle) to characterise the nature of light even though waves and particles are, by any logic, not the same thing at all.

B & B, in analysing evidentialism (pp. 241-44), do not seem to see that there is no ‘assuming the theistic worldview’ or ‘importing Christian presuppositions into the apologetic methodology’ when the evidentialist holds ‘that knowledge is possible, that the universe is structured, and that the senses can be trusted.’ These minimal assumptions must be made by the non-Christian as well‹or no efforts at discovering the meaning of things or truth in general could even be made! Indeed, without these assumptions, neither believer nor unbeliever could even carry on a meaningful discussion.

And for B & B to say that evidentialists ‘underestimate the human factor’ in that evidentialists think that unbelievers can arrive unaided at divine truth simply ignores the real issue: Has God spoken and acted clearly enough in history that those words and acts ought be attributed to him? We never claim that unregenerate, fallen man can build a true picture of universal reality under his own steam; but we certainly think that even sinners can be brought to face a limited range of historical facts and choose between interpretations that fit and those which do not fit those facts. Most people (Christian or pagan) think that Lincoln was assassinated in Washington and did not die from slipping on a banana peel in Peoria, Illinois. If one refuses to face the solid evidence for Christ's resurrection, it is not the evidence which is at fault but the willful refusal of the skeptic to face that evidence and its implications. As Luther said to Erasmus, if one will not admit that the town fountain is there because one stands in an alley blocked off from it, that is not the fountain’s fault: it is your fault for putting yourself in that position.

Finally, though B & B observe (p. 502) that typically ‘the apologist who claims to have integrated two or more approaches has simply expanded one approach to absorb elements (usually not the whole) of the others,’ they do not seem to appreciate the essential incompatibility of certain combinations. Is the evidence for the resurrection of Christ sufficient to compel belief? If you say Yes, you are an evidentialist; if you answer No that this requires prior faith (presuppositionalism or fideism) or that this requires prior proof of God’s existence (the Geisler/Sproul so-called ‘classical’ apologetics)--you are not. One cannot have one’s cake and eat it too. ‘There is a great gulf fixed . . . And much depends on being on the right side of that gulf. For if one doesn’t really believe that the evidence is all that good, or if one is convinced that the fall of man has cut the unbeliever off from it, the effectiveness of one’s witness to the non-Christian will inevitably be imperiled [as will the soul of that unbeliever].’

 

 

And so, what do the following pages contain?

Readers will benefit from distinguished apologist Gary R. Habermas’ treatment of the late Greg Bahnsen’s anti-Montgomerian presuppositionalism. (Professor Habermas, note well, will be teaching in July of this year at our Apologetics Academy in Strasbourg, France [www.apologeticsacademy.eu]; enroll early--only 20 places are available in toto each summer!) Craig Hazen of Biola University, also a regular member of our Strasbourg faculty, refutes a major effort to destroy the historical aspect of the Montgomery apologetic. Boyd Pehrson defends the juridical case, over against an unbelieving lawyer’s efforts to decimate it. All of this delightfully contentious material is followed by Australian lawyer-theologian Ross Clifford’s essay supporting the legitimacy of legal argument in the defence of the faith--as illustrated particularly by the fact that even the non-Christian cannot avoid it in ordinary life or in the courtroom. And extensive further illustrations of legal apologetic activity are provided by fellow Australian Philip Johnson (of the Presbyterian Theological Centre, Sydney), who has prepared, for the very first time anywhere, to our knowledge, a bio-bibliographical listing of four centuries of juridical apologists from 1600 to the end of the 20th century.

-- John Warwick Montgomery

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