Gordon Clark: The True Presuppositionalist
I just got the latest Trinity Review in the mail today. In this issue Dr. W. Gary Crampton reviews Greg Bahnsen’s posthumously published volume, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended. The review is intentionally limited to just the portion of Bahnsen’s book that deals with the Scripturalism of Gordon Clark and on every count Bahnsen comes up short. I have to say after wading through the complete horror show over at Wes White’s blog as people slog through the more than 160 pages of the Missouri Presbytery report exonerating false teacher Jeff Meyers, it was a singular pleasure to sit back and read this latest review by Dr. Crampton. It also is an excellent introduction to the presuppositionalism of Gordon Clark and will be an invaluable resource for those interested in understanding and furthering Clark’s Scripturalism.
Here is a small selection of Crampton’s review to whet your appetite:
According to Dr. Clark, this apagogic* methodology, consisting in a series of reductiones ad absurdum, is the principal method available to a Biblical apologist. The reason is that even though there is metaphysical common ground between believers and unbelievers, in that both are created in the image of God, there is no common epistemological ground. That is, there are no common theoretical propositions, no common “notions,” between Christianity and non-Christian philosophies. The ad hominem apagogic arguments are to be used against the unbeliever, who is a covenant-breaker and already in possession of the innate idea of the God against whom he is rebelling. The arguments are to be used in a fashion that will attempt to make him epistemologically self-conscious (and thus God conscious) of his covenant breaking rebellion.
After demonstrating the internal incoherence of the non-Christian views, the Biblical apologete will argue for truth and the logical consistency of the Scriptures and the Christian worldview revealed therein. He will show how Christianity is self-consistent, how it gives us a coherent understanding of the world. It answers questions and solves problems that other worldviews cannot. This method is not to be considered as a proof for the existence of God or the truth of Scripture, but as proof that the non-Christian view is false. It shows that intelligibility can only be maintained by viewing all things as dependent on the God of Scripture, who is truth itself. This is the proper “presuppositional” approach to apologetics.
Dr. Clark used the Augustinian “argument from the nature of truth” to reveal the systematic consistency of Christianity. Truth, he argued, must exist. That is, skepticism is false. Even to deny the existence of truth (that is, to say that it is “true” that there is no truth) is to assert that truth does and must exist. Further, it is not possible for truth to change. That which changes, by definition, cannot be true. To deny truth’s eternality (that is, to say that it is “true” that truth is not eternal or that it will someday perish) affirms its eternal nature. And since truth can exist only in the form of propositions, it must be mental (that is, being propositional, it can exist only in the mind). But seeing that the mind of man is not eternal and unchangeable, there must be a mind superior to the mind of man which is eternal and unchangeable: the mind of God. God, as Scripture testifies, and the Westminster Confession of Faith (1:4) (7) confirms, is “truth itself.” Therefore, if a man knows any truth, he also knows something of God, because God revealed it to him.
According to Dr. Clark, then, the defense of the Christian faith involves two basic steps. First, the Christian apologete must show the unbeliever that the axioms of secular systems result in self-contradiction. Second, the apologete should point out the internal consistency of the Christian system. When these two points have been made clear, the Christian will urge the unbeliever to repudiate the axioms of secularism and accept God’s revelation. This approach neither undermines the presupposition of Biblical revelation as foundational to a Christian worldview in general nor to apologetics in particular. Rather, it argues (ad hominem) from the standpoint of the unbeliever to show him the futility of his worldview and the consistent worldview presented in the Christian system. Dr. Clark’s “come now, and let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18) approach, however, is not looked upon with favor by Greg Bahnsen who prefers a more heavy-handed “dogmatic criticism” method (as will be noticeable below).
* Apagogic: proving indirectly, by showing the absurdity, or impossibility of the contrary.