Monday, September 23, 2013

Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith by K Scott Oliphint

Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our FaithCovenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith by K Scott Oliphint
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Apologetics.  Epistemology.  Thomism. Van Tillian Presuppositionalism.  Terminology can be a beast sometimes.  Labels, which are designed to communicate substantial amounts of truth in a word or few, are less than helpful when a person is unfamiliar with them and can become detrimental when either the meaning of the label is debated or the label itself is misunderstood.

I still remember at a church where I was on staff that I found out through the grapevine that I believed only 144,000 people would ever be saved.  It seemed that because I had been labeled a "Calvinist" and thus believed in "election" then it was the case that I believed in only the salvation of the 144,000.  While I am sure it shocked many in the church that I would believe such, none were as shocked as I was.  Labels.  They can be helpful.  They can be confusing.  They can be downright harmful.

Scott Oliphint makes the case in Covental Apologetics that this might just be the case with the label of "Presuppostional Apologetics".  Oliphint feels it is time to move away from the terminology "presuppositional" and move towards a label more representative of the method itself, and one without the negative connotations that "presuppostional" enjoys.

Although, for that matter, "apologetics" itself is a word that is a bit loaded in our common vernacular.  Oliphint does well to define "apologetics" and then offer an apologetic for its use.  While many, from Barth to Kuyper to Spurgeon, have expressed reservations in regards to the discipline of apologetics, Oliphint shows that it is a discipline that is shown in Scripture to be allowable and beneficial, while also being directly commanded.(and one in which all these men engaged, even if they did not do so in a way that they would label as "apologetics")

"Christian apologetics is the application of biblical truth to unbelief.  Really it is no more complicated than that.  But it is complicated by the fact that there are so many theological permutations of biblical truth and almost no end to the variations and contours of unbelief.  Not only so, but there have been, are, and will continue to be attacks of every sort that seek to destroy the truth of the Christian faith.  So as one thinks about and commences to defend the Christian faith, things can become complex."

Oliphint makes the case that the Christian apologetic is one that is distinctly covenantal, one that is based on the fact that all humans are in a covenant relationship with God and are either in Adam, as covenant head, or in Christ, as covenant head.

"(B)asic to everything else we will say, we should recognize that every person on the face of the earth is defined, in part, by his relationship to a covenant head.  That is, there are two, and only two, postions that are possible for humanity, and only one of which can be actual for each person at a given time.  A person is either, by nature (after the fall into sin), in Adam, in which case he is opposed to and in rebellion against God, or he is in Christ, in which case by grace a person is not guilty before God but is an heir of eternal life.  This is the covenantal status of humanity, and it assumes in each case, a relationship to God."

This is the crux of a covenantal (presuppostional) apologetic.  Using Paul's argument from Romans 1, Oliphint shows that God has made Himself known to all men and men either receive this and acknowledge Him, or they rebel against Him and suppress this knowledge.  As covenantal creatures we enjoy a sensus divinitatus, a "sense of the divine".  This "sense of the divine" influences how we form our arguments with unbelievers and how we approach the discipline of apologetics.

Oliphint offer ten tenets to guide the Covenantal approach to apologetics.  These tenets are:
"1.  The faith we are defending must begin with, and necessarily include, the triune God--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--who, as God, condescends to create and to redeem.
2.  God's covenantal revelation is authoritative by virtue of what it is, and any covenantal, Christian apologetic will necessarily stand on and utilize that authority in order to defend Christianity.
3.  It is the truth of God's revelation, together with the Holy Spirit, that brings about a covenantal change from one who is in Adam to one who is in Christ.
4.  Man(male and female) as image of God is in covenant with the triune God for eternity.
5.  All people know the true God, and that knowledge entails covenantal obligations.
6.  Those who are and remain in Adam suppress the truth that they know.  Those who are in Christ see the truth for what it is.
7.  There is an absolute covenantal antithesis between Christian theism and any other, opposing position.  Thus, Christianity is true and anything opposing it is false.
8.  Suppression of the truth, like the depravity of sin, is total but not absolute.  Thus, every unbelieving position will necessarily have within it ideas, concepts, notions, and the like that it has taken and wrenched from their true, Christian context.
9.  The true, covenantal knowledge of God in man, together with God's universal mercy, allows for persuasion in apologetics.
10.  Every fact and experience is what it is by virtue of the covenantal, all-controlling plan and purpose of God."

These tenets are fleshed out beautifully throughout the remainder of the book.

There were many outstanding moments in this book.  One of the more memorable for me was Oliphint's chapter on the role of persuasion in apologetics and how he moved from the classical, educational Trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) to the theological trivium (the principial nature of Scripture, the sensus divinitatus, and God's universal mercy)  to the trivium of persuasion (ethos, pathos, and logos).  The mixture of theology, philosophy, history, and Scripture applied so beautifully to the discipline of apologetics, specifically persuasion, and showing how critical the pathos of the apologist is, was wonderful.  Chapter 4 alone is worth the price of the book.

And if chapter 4 alone is worth the price of the book then the reader should be ready to receive much more than they have paid for.  This book is a great book. Oliphint deals with a broad range of subjects and he does so in a manner that will not easily lose his audience.  There are a few spots where it feels like the current may sweep the reader away, but Oliphint does a fine job helping the reader find solid, familiar ground pretty quickly in these cases.  The discussion on probability as it relates to a naturalistic worldview get pretty heady pretty quickly, but it is definitely worth looking at and was especially edifying to me.

Oliphint includes three model-discussions to see how a "Covenant Apologist" would deal with different worldviews.  These discussions are informative and challenging, and frankly, just fun to read.

If you have any interest in knowing what Van Tillian, or presuppositonal, apologetics proposes, this is the book for you.  I have to be honest, I get lost in Van Til quotes and have never been able to convince myself to dive into his work.  Frame and Bahnsen are good, but as far as clarity and an engaging style, Oliphint, to me at least, is head and shoulders above his peers.  This is a book that the reader will enjoy and learn from, regardless of whether or not you end up embracing this particular apologetic.


View all my reviews