Episode 14 – A Presuppositional Apologist Becomes Catholic

Aug 25th, 2010 | By | Category: Podcast

Tom Riello interviews Marc Ayers on the topic of his conversion to the Catholic Church. Marc was a ‘disciple’ of Dr. Greg Bahnsen. Hear him tell how his presuppositional apologetic method helped him see the need for a divinely instituted authority, namely the Catholic Church.

 

To download the mp3, click here.

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  1. I will be listening to this at home – at work now.

    I was a disciple of Rushdoony’s, Bahnsen’s, Jim Jordan, Van Til – and almost moved to Tyler to be near the Tyler Vatican :-) Thank God for them all – they led me to the Catholic Church.

    Something I wrote about it here.

    jj

  2. Thanks for posting this interview.

  3. That was awesome and so inspiring. We’re starting RCIA this coming Sunday, and this interview was just the little spark of excitement I needed as we get going. Thanks!

  4. Marc – I couldn’t wait until I got home :-) Listening to it whilst I work – I am working! But listening. And I was so stunned by the parallel between your history and mine. I was dead-on Van Tillian – I read the whole of the Prolegomena to Systematic Theology (is it called ‘Prolegomena’? – something like that) to my poor wife at table :-)

    But the first real break for me was in 1984, talking to my then-pastor. And I asked about the canon.

    “Oh,” he said, “it has to be presupposed.”

    I didn’t quite gasp. But, my word, I was really, really kind of upset.

    It took nearly ten years from then, and a lot of other questions, before I hit the horrifying possibility that it might not just be that the Catholics were right about this, or that – it might be that the Catholic faith was true!

    God be thanked!

    jj

  5. PS – Marc, I would enjoy talking with you off-list. If you are interested, you can e-mail me at:

    j /dot/ jensen /at/ auckland /dot/ ec /dot/ nz

    jj

  6. What a day! I was greatly blessed to be able to go to the Manhattan Declaration-inspired Catholic/Protestant “New Mexico Biblical Worldview Conference,” featuring Charles Colson, Michael Novak, Os Guinness, and Joseph Bottum. It was wonderful. Bottum’s address, “21st-century Catholics and Evangelicals Together,” was particularly stirring and passionate. Then, I come home to find this podcast! I am also a former Van Tillian. In my case, I am a Catholic “revert” to the Church. I simply cannot wait to hear this episode!

  7. Just listened to the podcast while watching the Yankees lose. It made the game much easier to tolerate!

    Incidentally, Christopher, I wish I could have been at that conference. I worked on contract for Joseph Bottum from September 2009 to March 2010. I still do things on occasion for the First Things website.

  8. Hello all-

    Thank you for the encouraging words. Our journey into the Church was truly remakable for us (although not really novel, as I have come to find out), especially given our background as TRs. And with me having been so deep in the Christian Reconstruction-Bahnsen/Van Til camp, it was quite shocking for many of my friends. But looking back on it now I am still surprised that I did not see things more clearly then. I think it was more like I just did not want to see any defects in the system. Once I began to study Church history – particularly concerning the development of our doctrines and the Canon – it was over. [Insert quote about getting deep in history]

    I feel truly blessed to have come across this website, and I certainly plan on sending it around to all of my still-TR friends. As I told Tim, I feel as though I have found my long lost brethren.

    John – I will be happy to email you to discuss things. In fact, I am happy to discuss anything with anyone that wishes to. My email is mayers@babc.com.

    Christus Vincit, Christus Regnat, Christus Imperat!

    Marc

  9. Very interesting interview. I’m familiar with presuppositional apologetics at a surface level, but over the last 18 months I’ve also been struggling with canon, authority, succession and the like. I have received numerous recommendations from some at my church to read Van Til’s work on defending the faith!

    I also recall a discussion long ago when I was first joining a reformed church, asking a pastor how we could be sure what to base our faith on. Same answer…it must be presupposed. It struck me as a little over-reaching then, and I now realize what i think had bugged me for so long under the surface: there is a qualitative (and maybe quantitative!) difference between presupposing the authority of the *revealed word of God* and presupposing a certain collection of books, and not others, to be that *revealed word of God*.

    I’ll continue to study this in earnest. My wife and I appear headed down the road of Orthodoxy, but it’s certainly been interesting to read the early forays into the discussions between authority in the East and West. Still, the thought processes are exactly the same when considering the knowledge of what constitutes the canon and who has the authority to pronounce that.

  10. Outstanding!

  11. BT-

    I greatly appreciate the presuppositional method for what it can do. It is primarily effective in closing the mouth of one’s opponent by undermining the epistemological foundations of his worldview. But where it is not particularly helpful is in “in-house” debates between religious believers – if what must be “presupposed” is the truth or completeness of a religious text. However, I have found that, rightly framed, the presuppositional method – which utilizes the “impossibility of the contrary” approach – can be quite helpful on this front. I can know, defend, and define the Faith with confidence only if we assume is that there is a living, speaking authority that I know a priori has the “right answer” (i.e., the authority to speak for God). Some would call that a fideistic leap, but it is not for all the reasons given by the Van Tillians – it is a transcendental proof, but a proof nonetheless. It is simply an exercise in “the impossibility of the contrary” argumentation: If my worldview does not assume (1) a concrete, earthly seat of God’s authority that (2) is identified, and (3) can speak through the ages on matters of the Faith, then I would argue that it is impossible to know, defend or define the Faith with any confidence whatsoever. It would all devolve into “I think this, but he thinks that” and so on. And God has left us precisely what we need: A speaking Magisterium in the line of the Apostles and with their authority, with the Chair of Peter at the center – as the philosophically-necessary “firm peg” (see Isa. 20-25, quoted by Jesus in giving Peter the keys of the kingdom in Matt 16) – holding the keys and ensuring “the right.”

    May God bless you in your studies!

    Christus Vincit

    MJA

  12. Marc,

    Powerful stuff. I loved listening to your story, especially the way your intellectual journey to Catholicism led to awe and greater worship of God. You have a real gift in communicating clearly. As a recent convert to the Church and as a current student at RTS, I am still wrestling with the value of presuppositionalism in a Catholic context. I didn’t hear you directly address the question in your interview, but I’d be interested in hearing whether or not you still use a presuppositional apologetic in sharing Christ with nonbelievers.

    Peace in Christ, Jeremy

  13. My own history in becoming a Catholic is involved, but what pushed me over the edge was Ronald Knox’s “Belief of Catholics.” In particular, he points out there that there are certain things that, in their very nature, cannot be matters of faith – and I take that to include presupposition, which is a kind of fideism:

    Let me then, to avoid further ambiguity, give a list of certain leading doctrines which no Catholic, upon a moments reflection, could accept on the authority of the Church and on that ground alone.

    (i.) The existence of God.

    (ii.) The fact that he has made a revelation to the world in Jesus Christ.

    (iii.) The Life (in its broad outlines), the Death, and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    (iv.) The fact that our Lord founded a Church.

    (v.) The fact that he bequeathed to that Church his own teaching office, with the guarantee (naturally) that it should not err in teaching.

    (vi.) The consequent intellectual duty of believing what the Church believes.

    This was enormously helpful to me as I had been told I was not allowed to find reasons for these things – replacing, of course, his step (v.) with something like “He produced the inerrant [Protestant] canon of Scripture and told us it to find doctrines”

    And of course, as Marc says, a book cannot be an authority. How do you ask it whether artificial contraception is moral??

    jj

  14. Dear Marc,

    I appreciate your words, as well as your answer to BT, which I will quote, in part:

    “However, I have found that, rightly framed, the presuppositional method – which utilizes the “impossibility of the contrary” approach – can be quite helpful on this front. I can know, defend, and define the Faith with confidence only if we assume is that there is a living, speaking authority that I know a priori has the “right answer” (i.e., the authority to speak for God). Some would call that a fideistic leap, but it is not for all the reasons given by the Van Tillians – it is a transcendental proof, but a proof nonetheless. It is simply an exercise in “the impossibility of the contrary” argumentation: If my worldview does not assume (1) a concrete, earthly seat of God’s authority that (2) is identified, and (3) can speak through the ages on matters of the Faith, then I would argue that it is impossible to know, defend or define the Faith with any confidence whatsoever. It would all devolve into “I think this, but he thinks that” and so on. And God has left us precisely what we need: A speaking Magisterium in the line of the Apostles and with their authority, with the Chair of Peter at the center – as the philosophically-necessary “firm peg” (see Isa. 20-25, quoted by Jesus in giving Peter the keys of the kingdom in Matt 16) – holding the keys and ensuring “the right.” ”

    I guess I am not seeing the leap that places the Catholic Church at the centre of “(1) a concrete, earthly seat of God’s authority that (2) is identified, and (3) can speak through the ages on matters of the Faith, then I would argue that it is impossible to know, defend or define the Faith with any confidence whatsoever”

    The Orthodox Church, as I am sure you know, points to the same Seven Ecumenical Councils that the Catholic Church does. In that sense, the Orthodox fit your parameters, above: an earthly seat of God’s authority, identified, and speaking to us through the ages on matters of Faith.

    The seeming redundancy of Orthodox Bishops does not, necessarily, discount the Orthodox Church as these Bishops are, as well, a concrete, earthly seat of God’s authority in that they teach that which has been believed always, everywhere, by all. In Orthodoxy, so much of the doctrine of the Church is in the Divine Liturgy and, as such, can be learnt regardless of whether one is Russian, Antiochene, or Greek (or others…). So I can attend Liturgy under the jurisdiction of these various Bishops, and still be hearing the exact teachings that every other Orthodox is also hearing across the Globe as well as across Time. Not to mention that the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, used universally on the majority of Sundays, has remained the definitive Liturgy since he “wrote” it in the 4th C. So not only am I worshiping with my fellow Orthodox, I am worshiping across History with those who have gone before; that great cloud of witnesses which is still be added to even in this day.

    You wrote, “A speaking Magisterium in the line of the Apostles and with their authority, with the Chair of Peter at the center…”. Again, Orthodoxy has this insofar as the Bishops speak synodically and with one voice recognising Christ as the True and Only Head of His Church. And where two or three are gathered in His Name, He is there in their midst.

    The testimony of Peter as to Jesus’ Messiah-ship, if you will, is the Rock upon which the Church is built: “You are Messiah, the Son of the Living God”. For if one truly tries to tie Peter to place, he was Bishop of Antioch, before he was Bishop of Rome…

    So…I suppose, my question is really, with your delight in Catholicism: isn’t it really because you had a preference for the manner in which the Catholic Church used their God-given, Spirit-breathed authority? It is, of course, different from how the Orthodox use theirs, but, isn’t it preference, really, that determines these things? Unless, of course, you have foundational understanding of Christ’s charge to Peter which differs from that which was taught by the majority of the Apostolic Fathers…

    What I am really trying to say as nicely as possible is this: as Reformed and Protestant, your presupposition was that the Final Authority on all things was Scripture; as a Catholic, your presupposition is that which you have decreed for yourself: a concrete, earthly seat of God’s authority that is identified, and can speak through the ages on matters of the Faith. You are, once again, your Final Authority having chosen Catholicism by this criterion. That Catholicism meets this criterion is personal to you and not something inherent in Catholicism, since it also exists in the East, in Orthodoxy. From where I am reading, there really is no basis on this, alone, to reject Orthodoxy since it is, in this, equal.

    In the interest of full-disclosure, I am a cradle-Catholic and well-versed in the doctrines of Catholicism, thanks to the Nuns and the Jesuits by whom I was educated. As an adult, I spent 30 years in the PCA/OPC…reading Van Til, Bahnsen, Boettner, Machen, et alia. Now, I am Orthodox for many of the same reasons you converted: the question of authority, the emptiness of the TULIP presuppositions read through an historical grid, and so on.

    But the Orthodox understanding of and living within the understanding of ancestral sin, the work of Jesus in His death and resurrection, the focus on the Mysteries (sacraments) and living a sacramental life were the tipping point. And, yeah, the candles, the icons, the incense and the spiritual disciplines (fasting, praying, alms-giving) as part of a Real Life in the Real World.

    Unlike the Shorter Catechism which states that the chief end of Man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, Orthodoxy teaches that the chief end of Man is to become holy…Christlike…to conform our wills to the Will of the Father in a life marked by ever-increasing victory over our sinful natures.

    Thank you for your time in reading this!

    May God continue to bless you in the work of your hands.

    Laura.

  15. Jeremy-

    I do use it when discussing things with nonbelievers, but it all depends on the context. If my friend is just throwing out incorrect historical points or questioning the interpretation of some passage of Scripture, I am not going to jump straight to “Yes- but what are your presuppositions? Prepare to be brought to epistemological self-consciousness!” Most of those types of things are just distractions that they have had dumped on them that need to be swept away. However, if I am in a more in-depth discussion with someone who, for example, is attacking theism but unknowingly assuming a theistic worldview in order to do so, then we may need to pull the rug a bit so that they can see what they are doing.

    And, of course, I use the method in my discussions with my Protestant brothers and sisters, to show them what I believe is necessary in order to talk meaningfully about “Christianity.”

    Christus Vincit

    MJA

  16. Laura-

    Thank you for your comments. Actually, as part of our journey we looked closely at Orthodoxy. I read a lot of the excellent work of Fr. Alexander Schmemann and others, for example. It was at the point where we had come to an understanding of apostolic succession, the Sacraments, etc. that we knew we could not stay where we were (notwithstanding all of the wonderful things we had been given in our Reformed days). We had to be where the succession could be found, which meant either Catholic, Orthodox or Anglican. But it is there where the issue of the “center,” the Papacy, arose.

    I don’t think my going Catholic was just a personal like, in fact, there was a lot I “liked” more about the high-church Anglican or Orthodox practices than I liked about many local Catholic services. It was the same question of authority and – driven by the presuppositional method again – the need to be able to know and identify that authority that ultimately drove me. Again I came at it from the apologetic “what is necessary to know” from one end and the historic “what actually happened in history” from the other end. I believe that the difficulty with the Orthodox framework is that lack of a center – a seat to which we can, without knowing anything about the person in the seat, know for sure will be preserved from error in determining matters of the Faith.

    From my perspective, the Orthodox system suffered from the same problem as does the Anglican system. Who is the final authority? Or is it just a matter of doing our best to select among competing bishops concerning the teachings of the Faith? I think of the controversy that led to the Nicene Counsel, and of the many competing Synods and Councils, many of whom rejected Athanasius as being heretical. How can one know that those Synods were not correct? And how do we know that any particular council is “ecumenical?” Ultimately, I can know because I can point to those Synods and Councils that are finally ratified by the holder of the Seat of Peter (no matter who that is). This is very similar to the ecumenical discussions that occur today, wherein some will argue that the Church is wherever the “essentials” of the Faith are taught. But who gets to decide which are the “essential” parts of the Faith?

    Ultimately, it seems to me that one’s system must have a singular voice that must be assumed (in a priori fashion) to be protected by the Holy Spirit as a philosophical precondition to be able to know, defend and define the Faith, and to avoid it devolving into simply competing likes and dislikes. That does not prove the Roman Catholic Papacy, it just proves that you must have something just like the Roman Catholic Papacy. That is where I was left by my apologetic, so then I turned to history to see what was out there. And, in fact, I found that God had left such a “singular voice” – a singular office – that was looked to from the earliest times as the ratifying voice. I found the Biblical and historical evidence for the Roman Catholic Papacy to be somewhat overwhelming (I found Steve Ray’s book “Upon the Rock” to be very helpful on this point), and even many Orthodox priests and bishops admit that the See of Peter has a primacy of sorts (but they would just disagree on the extent of his authority).

    So from an examination of “what must be the case” to “what actually happened in history,” I determined that I must become Catholic. To be clear, however, I love the Orthodox churches, and their grand, ancient and beautiful traditions. I have learned much from those in the Orthodox tradition. But on the issue of epistemology, I think it has difficulties.

    Am I addressing your points?

    Christus Vincit

    MJA

  17. Laura,
    You said:
    “For if one truly tries to tie Peter to place, he was Bishop of Antioch, before he was Bishop of Rome…”
    As a Catholic I don’t think we try to tie Peter to Place, as you say. We tie his confession to his person. While it is true that his confession is the rock, we can’t seperate the confession of Peter from the person of Peter. They go together; not to be seperated.

  18. The solid, logical, Christian thinking in this podcast is, in my view, absolutely devastating to Protestantism. I really think that this podcast should be posted more prominently, in an easier-to-find place on the main page. If I had heard this interview, as a Reformed Baptist, late last year, or early this year, it might have considerably shortened my time of “re-investigating Catholicism.” I don’t see how I could have easily remained a Protestant after hearing it. Thank you so much, Marc and Tom!

  19. Thanks, Christopher! Your kind words are a great encouragement.

    MJA

  20. Michael (re:#7),

    From what I understand, the talks given at the New Mexico conference that I attended will eventually be available on CD and possibly other formats. I would definitely check into it. All of the presentations were very good, but Joseph Bottum’s was for the ages. I was riveted during the entire talk. I’ve always liked First Things, but now, I want to seek out as much of Bottom’s writing as possible.

  21. And, by the way, Steve Ray’s book is “Upon This Rock,” not “Upon the Rock,” of course. Sorry about that.

    MJA

  22. Laura / Marc

    I just posted a very detailed, enumerated argument within the recent “Orthodox” thread here at CTC. An argument whose core is VERY similar to the overview which Marc gave in response to Laura above. I followed the argument with responses to objections posed by another Orthodox brother who comments here at CTC. In case you are interested, here is the link to the “argument post”. The response to objections follows in the post just after this one.

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2010/08/i-love-the-orthodox-too-much-to-be-orthodox-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-atomic-bomb-of-holy-orders/#comment-10996

    Pax et Bonum,

    Ray

  23. Thank you, Marc and others, for reading my post and responding so thoroughly to it. I shall have to get the book you mention, Marc, and see what comes… In the meantime, I believe we can all say in one voice:

    Χριστός Ανέστη! Αληθώς Ανέστη! (Christos Anesti! Aleithos Anesti!)
    Christ is Risen! Truly Risen!

    (kiss-kiss-kiss…as they do in Russia) ;)

    Laura.

  24. Amen!

    MJA

  25. Wonderful!

    I heard the Bahnsen/Stein debate 6 years ago and loved it. The “laws of logic” line that Bahnsen pummels him with is classic. I had already been steeped in the traditional apologetics of RC Sproul however and could never bring myself to embrace presuppositionalism. It seemed like giving away the farm to me. (I see now that perhaps I was suspicious of the inherent fideism without being able to articulate it as such)

    I really identified with what you said about sacramentals. After I gave in to Catholicism, I could not wait to get my hands on some holy water to bless my kids with before bed and some icons and statues. I am in the process of dedicating a room of my house to be our “chapel”. I feel as if I have been starved to death as a Protestant of these physical ways of experiencing the Faith. We are flesh and blood after all. We need to meet God with our senses and not only our mind.

    David Meyer

  26. Marc,

    Thanks so much for sharing your story with us. This is an excellent interview, and as someone said above, you are a very gifted communicator. It was also very interesting to hear how the presuppositional method backed you into the Catholic Church. Fascinating!

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  27. Why isn’t the podcast on iTunes anymore?

  28. This is fantastic – wish we could get a transcript of the text! I drifted out of the Church into a born-again scenario, which led to non-denominational church planting. Church planting led me back to school, which led to a Bible degree, which led to more historical study, which led to Anglicanism, which led…right back to Rome. This detour took 20 years, but now I know why I’m a Catholic and not Protestant anymore.

    Once you take in the full vista of the unresolvable issues, and there really are only a handful, Protestantism becomes unworkable. In a sense, it removes the rational basis for hope in a Protestant system of doing “church.” The best you can hope for as a Protestant church planter is to build a sand castle that you know will taken back into the sea in your lifetime, or shortly thereafter. This kind of pessimism lurks in all Protestant theology but is largely unnamed, like an undiagnosed psychosis. I think the sheer horror of the futility of Protestant church work, in the temporal sense, is too much too bear, and prevents a rational assessment of Church history by many well-meaning Protestants.

    This doesn’t remove ultimate culpability, but maybe it lessens it for being in error. However, fears have to be confronted, and the price to convert must be paid at some point – in this world or the next for those written in the Book of Life!

  29. Everyone-

    I have recently discovered that Dr. James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries has criticized some of my comments on this Podcast. Dr. White played portions of the Podcast and then offered his critique to those portions in two episodes of his radio show “Dividing Line.” If you are interested, you can listen to his comments here: http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=4159 (this is the first episode), and here: http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php?itemid=4170 (the second).

    I appreciate Dr. White’s comments, as I made many of the same criticisms when I was first confronted with the issues upon which he focuses. And I always appreciate any of my Christian brothers who are seeking for truth, and I invite their correction. I also respect Dr. White’s background and education, and could learn much from him, I am sure (I am particularly interested in hearing of his debate with Bart Erhman). Here, however, I do not think that Dr. White’s criticisms concerning my points about the presuppositional method are sound or accurately reflect the points I was (perhaps poorly) trying to make in the Podcast.

    I looked on his A&O website for a page wherein I could respond so that his listeners could see my response and I could perhaps dialogue with them, but I did not find one. Therefore, I will try to respond to Dr. White’s main criticisms here when I can get a chance in the next few days. I have been in the middle of a appellate litigation whirlwind recently at work, and I am just now starting to come up for air.

    Christus Vincit

    MJA

  30. White says of Called to Communion that it is a “blog of apostate Calvinists who have jumped in the Tiber river and swum accross and are saying ‘hey! It’s cool over here!’”

    He then says if you go into the city there are just empty facades over there (on the other side of the Tiber). On the contrary Dr. White, there is a building you should see over here. Not much to look at from the outside sometimes, but it is a building made without hands, the Church of the living God. And it has the apostles as the foundation.

    It IS cool over here dude! Come on over.

    He also makes reference to the anachronistic perspective of the medievals (paintings of King David living in a castle and riding a horse) and does his best to slam giants like Aquinas. I almost choked on my pancakes this morning when I thought of the irony of someone whose view of history as far as ecclesiology (sola scriptura) is the definition of anachronism accusing these giants of the same.

    I am sure if I just really dig into the church fathers I will see the truth that they were all Reformed Baptists. Yeaaah.

    -David Meyer

  31. The last time I checked, James White does not allow comments (discussion) on his site.

    I personally challenged James White and his colleague, “Turretinfan,” to step up to the plate and answer the canon question (the article Tom Brown wrote here on CtC in January), and neither of them accepted the challenge. Turretinfan made a comment on my blog saying he was working on a response, but I have not seen any comments by him on the article.

  32. Marc Ayers, Tom Riello and CTC – thank you for this podcast. I didn’t know what the term “presuppositional apologetics” meant until I listened to the podcast. Excellent interview, keep up the good work!

    After listening to the interview, it struck me that there is much material in C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity that a presuppositional apologist could use in a debate with a moral relativist. For example, on Atheism and the Question of Evil, C.S Lewis writes this:

    If a good God made the world why has it gone wrong? And for many years I simply refused to listen to the Christian answers to this question, because I kept on feeling “whatever you say, and however clever your arguments are, isn’t it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by any intelligent power? Aren’t all your arguments simply a complicated attempt to avoid the obvious?” But then that threw me back into another difficulty.

    My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.

    Mere Christianity

    Marc, it seems to me, that in some ways your path into the Catholic Church is similar to that of CTC’s newest contributor, Dr. David Anders. It seems to me, that you both had to struggle with what was presupposed by Protestants to be the foundation of the Christian faith.

    In an EWTN episode featuring an interview of Dr. Anders by Fr. Mitch Pacwa, (at minute 40:36), Dr. Anders is asked a question from the audience. The questioner notes that the further Dr. Anders pursued his religious studies, the more he was led to the Catholic Church. The questioner asks, short of getting a Ph.D in theology, what advise would Dr. Anders give to someone teetering on the edge of deciding on whether or not to become a Catholic.

    Dr. Anders gives this response:

    (minute 41:33) I think that there is one core doctrine – one core idea – that every Protestant ought to answer for themselves. Once you raise the question, I think it points you inevitably to the Catholic Church: “How do you know what the Christian faith is?” Now instantly the Protestant says, we will know because the Bible tells me. [To that response, one should say] – Well, who told you that is where you should go to answer this question? Who told you? Did Jesus tell us that the bible is our rule of faith? Once you raise the question, instantly you know that, no, he didn’t. No, he didn’t.

    Jesus said that he was the final authority; he frequently invoked his own authority over against that of the Old Testament: “You have heard that it is written, but I say to you … ”. And then when he ascended into Heaven, he gave that interpretive authority to his Apostles. He said, “I have all authority, you therefore, go into all nations and make disciples, whoever hears you, hears me. Whoever rejects you, rejects me.” The very earliest Christians understood that to as referring to the apostolic succession of bishops. St. Ignatius of Antioch in the second century – quoting the Gospel of Luke – says we have to hear those who Christ sent as Christ himself, namely the bishop.

    The question is: “How do you know what the Christian faith is?” … You know, by looking to the rule of faith that Christ gave us. He gave us the teaching church – the magisterium of the teaching church – to answer that question. All you have to do is ask, “Did Jesus tell us, the bible alone?” You can search the scriptures from cover to cover – you will never find Jesus saying that if you have a doctrinal question, go to the bible alone. No, he pointed us to the teaching church.

    I would tweak Dr. Anders question just a tad. I would say that the question to ask is, “How do you know with certainty what the faith is?” The Protestant presupposes that his bible is an inerrant source of authority. That I would grant as a given. But the Protestant also presupposes that the bible is the ONLY inerrant authority to which a Christian has access.

    Marc, how would you use the method of presuppositional apologetics to get the Protestant to address why he believes that the bible is his ONLY source of inerrant authority?

  33. This board has seen far fewer impressive protestants join the discussion in recent months. I hope that changes. Guys like James White can sneer that the arguments are empty facades. But Protestants need to actually come and try and demonstrate that by interacting with the arguments people here are making. We are all about truth. It is more important to know God’s truth than to win an argument. If people believe that then why not come and deal with these issues? Time? We can always say that. But is there something deeper? Fear of getting embarrassed? Fear of losing your faith? We don’t need to be afraid of God.

    I know I prayed for many years for unity and truth. That all Christians would be one and that God’s truth would come clear. Then when God began to answer that prayer in my life I reacted with horror. The impulse to avoid the matter was pretty strong. God could not possibly be asking me to consider THAT.

    Partly I am just being selfish. I know I would learn a lot more and be more entertained if there are some good arguments being presented on the other side. The arguments presented here are not only strong but they are beautiful. I love to read them.

  34. DR wrote:

    I personally challenged James White and his colleague, “Turretinfan,” to step up to the plate and answer the canon question (the article Tom Brown wrote here on CtC in January), and neither of them accepted the challenge. Turretinfan made a comment on my blog saying he was working on a response, but I have not seen any comments by him on the article.

    I have not made it much of a priority, but yes – the response is still in the works. I don’t have a fixed publication date in mind.

    -TurretinFan

  35. David Meyer:

    You wrote:

    I almost choked on my pancakes this morning when I thought of the irony of someone whose view of history as far as ecclesiology (sola scriptura) is the definition of anachronism accusing these giants of the same.

    Pastors King and Webster have done an excellent job of showing that sola scriptura is both an historical and Biblical doctrine. As for Aquinas and other scholastics – do some research. You will find that Aquinas was seemingly unaware of the spurious nature of many of the works that he cited. Find a modern annotated copy of his Summa, for example, and you will find examples galore of him citing pseudo-graphic sources.

    One area where Aquinas is undervalued is in the area that was most dear to him, the exegesis of Scripture. While he spent a lot of time and effort on the Summa and on the Commentary on Lombard’s Sentences, its archetype, his true love was studying the Word of God – the rule of faith – the canonical Scriptures.

    -TurretinFan

  36. Mr. Ayers:

    You wrote:

    I looked on his A&O website for a page wherein I could respond so that his listeners could see my response and I could perhaps dialogue with them, but I did not find one. Therefore, I will try to respond to Dr. White’s main criticisms here when I can get a chance in the next few days. I have been in the middle of a appellate litigation whirlwind recently at work, and I am just now starting to come up for air.

    I suspect that I could get you on Dr. White’s show, if you would be interest in a dialog with him about some discrete topics. I cannot promise anything, since I’m just a friend of Dr. White’s.

    In any event, I will be on the look-out for your response. I am glad for your sake that your work is busy, and I wish you the best.

    -TurretinFan

  37. Great talk, Marc. Your comment about not wishing to call us the “Roman” Catholic Church reminded me of Taylor Marshall’s talk at a recent Association of Hebrew Catholics conference that we attended. Always wondering about why we were called “Roman”, we were especially attentive! His talk is available through the AHC website and I am sure you could contact him for information through his own site/blog. Basically, he zeroed in on the book of Maccabees and the establishment of a friendship, alliance, and a treaty with Rome (chap.8). There is a lot more to this but I hope this helps! I love knowing we belong to the Roman Catholic Church! Welcome Home.

  38. Thanks for the podcast. I love the theonomists and was a “disciple” of Rush, Bahnsen, North, Chilton, etc. for 20+ years. I have several grad degrees in psychology, history, historical theology, economics (including a M.Div.), taught at Azusa Pacific U 10 years, and few other evangelical universities, as was Public Policy Research manager at Focus on the Family before their move to Colorado Springs. But I realized that Catholics had been applying the Bible to public policy and church discipline for 2,000 years, with synods and church councils. The Catholic Church has always been applying the Bible to civil and canon law. I became Catholic 15 years ago, and have loved the Church ever since.

  39. TurretinFan-

    Thank you for the reminder! I apologize to everyone, but I have to confess that after getting swamped over the last several weeks I just forgot about my promise to respond to Dr. White’s comments. I will try to remedy that very soon. I have been traveling for arguments more than usual, and that has made things particularly difficult. I will now need to go back to listen to Dr. White again. And perhaps, as you suggest, I might be able to talk to Dr. White about this core matter of epistemology sometime soon – I would really enjoy that, and to further hear his perspective.

    Mateo- You asked:

    “I would tweak Dr. Anders question just a tad. I would say that the question to ask is, ‘How do you know with certainty what the faith is?’ The Protestant presupposes that his bible is an inerrant source of authority. That I would grant as a given. But the Protestant also presupposes that the bible is the ONLY inerrant authority to which a Christian has access.

    Marc, how would you use the method of presuppositional apologetics to get the Protestant to address why he believes that the bible is his ONLY source of inerrant authority?”

    First of all, Dr. Anders is a good friend and a member of my parish (Our Lady of Sorrows) here in Birmingham. A tremendous thinker, teacher and father.

    As to your question, one driving force of PA is the use of transcendental argumentation, which probes whether the X is true because the contrary of X is impossible or irrational. In discussions with my Protestant brothers and sisters, we always end up talking about authority. I would maintain that without an identifiable, speaking body that can speak throughout the ages, there is no possibility of certainty as to any matter of the Faith. In my mind, ultimately the sola scriptura framework breaks down because one must go outside the Bible in order to (1) justify that the list of books and letters in the Bible itself is apostolic and complete, and (2) interpret those books and letters. So the question must be asked: “Is there a way to resolve theological disputes between sincere believers with any certainty and authority without first presupposing, as a matter of Faith, the authority and inerrancy of some identifiable body?” In other words, if one cuts off man from such an external authority, is certainty possible? I think the answer is no. Notice that this does not prove that the Catholic Church is in fact that body, but it does prove – through the impossibility of the contrary – the need for SOME identifable body. Then it is a matter of history as to whether such a body exists that can qualify. I believe that there is, and it was founded by Christ Himself.

    Christus Vincit

    MJA

  40. So…the 2 Samuel 6 and Luke (ark-Mary) connection. Need a little help. Not seeing the perfection of Mary argument (?)

    BTW, I am a Reformed dude.

    Thanks.

  41. Well – I must apologize again for my undue delay in fully responding to Dr. White’s commentary. Between a spike in litigation, teaching a series on the Crusades and dealing with various family issues, the weeks really did get away from me again. It has been a hectic time. And I now see that I have hurt myself, because I cannot seem to pull up Dr. White’s shows where he criticizes my CTC Podcast. I can find the blog links, but clicking on “Here’s the program” only sends me to the A&O main site. Does anyone know how to pull up the old programs (that are not that old)?

    Anyway, I will have to do my best from what I can recall of Dr. White’s shows. I will focus on the core point that was the focus of my Podcast, that being the central epistemological problem that the presuppositional method led/forced me to confront in my previous life as a Protestant. If my memory is faulty, and if I thereby misrepresent Dr. White’s positions, I apologize in advance. I will respond to the criticisms that I can remember.

    1) I believe that at one point Dr. White mentioned that there were various local councils and synods and/or disputes concerning the divinity of Jesus leading up to and following Nicaea. If he did assert that – I may be remembering this wrong – I would say that to say that there were disputes in other councils or among the “faithful” with regard to what is now considered to be infallible dogma proves my point rather than works against it. Either those disputes – what is the “canon,” who is Jesus, etc. – are still up for grabs, or they have been declared and defined with authority and are now set. And I put the term “faithful” in quotes because that term raises the related issue of how do you know when one is a member of the “Faith?” For example, Gnostics thought of themselves as the true “faithful.” This becomes important in many ways, including, for example, when some raise the point that the books in the NT Canon were generally recognized by “the faithful.” Given the disagreement as to various books and letters during the early years, which were “the faithful?” And we have many groups claiming to be “the faithful” today – to whom should I listen? They all claim to be listening prayerfully to “the Spirit,” reading “the Bible,” and following “the Gospel.”

    2) I believe that Dr. White challenged my background in presuppositional apologetics by wondering whether I was aware of Dr. Cornelius Van Til’s objections to the Catholic Church. I am fully aware of Dr. Van Til’s (and Dr. Bahnsen’s, and other presuppositionalists’) position on the Catholic Church. But that has very little to do with whether the presuppositional method itself leads to the necessity of an identifiable, authoritative, speaking body. In fact, I find Dr. Bahnsen’s debate with Gary Matatics (who has since left the reservation, as I understand) to be quite instructive. In my mind, Dr. Bahnsen was one of the top apologetical minds of our age (indeed, he was such a hero that my nickname in seminary was “Bahnsen”). He just did not lose debates. However, when pressed on this core epistemological issue of how one knows with confidence that the books and letters in the NT Canon are (1) apostolic and (2) complete, there was not a good answer. Dr. Bahnsen said, in essence, that we can know the true Word of God just as Jesus says that His sheep will hear His voice and follow Him. In other words, the faithful will just know. But that puts us right back to the core problems: who are “the faithful” to which we appeal and how do we know, and even if we assume that we are “the faithful,” how do we know that what we are feeling is inspiration by the Spirit or something else?

    3) Dr. White says that I make a mistake in characterizing the Protestant method of “knowing the Faith” as simply the result of an individual interpreting the Bible by himself in a vacuum. But that is not what I said, exactly. What is important here is the distinction between how one actually acts and what one’s guiding theory of knowledge allows one to act. Many Protestants do not actually act in the way criticized by Dr. White. Many Protestants have (like I did) shelves full of books, both modern and ancient, which discuss the Bible and the Faith. But the point is that the guiding, often-times unstated philosophy behind Protestantism – that each individual is solely competent to determine for himself how to interpret Scripture (and what should be included as “Scripture”, etc.) – means that there is no necessity to paying attention to what people in the past have said, because they could be wrong. The fact that Dr. White and others would have us pay attention to the Church Fathers, the Creeds, etc. is a good thing from my Catholic perspective. However, a good Protestant could just as easily say (as many, many have said and currently do say) “Why do I care what a bunch of dead people said? Those people held all kinds of crazy (often-times very Catholic) beliefs. I have the Bible and can learn Greek and Hebrew, and I can pray and listen to the Spirit just as well as anyone else.” I really do not know how one would adequately respond to that from the Protestant camp. Why is it necessary for a modern person who claims to be a follower of Christ to hold to the Nicene Creed, for example? Or to the current list of canonical works? They might do so, but that would be based on pure, ultimately arbitrary respect, perhaps stemming from their family’s beliefs. While many Protestants themselves will argue that things like the Creed and the Canon are “settled,” their guiding but perhaps unrealized epistemological framework does not allow for that. Under that framework, these things are still up for grabs as soon as people begin to realize what their framework allows – and we are seeing the fruits of that in the various denominations that are now second-guessing these previously “settled” matters.

    4) Dr. White said (I think) that I am attacking the “sufficiency” of Scripture (as do apparently all converts, as seen by Dr. White). I understand why Dr. White says this, but I would disagree, of course. Scripture is fully sufficient to do what it was intended to do in its proper and intended place. The books and letters of the New Testament were written by the Church, for the Church, usually in response to specific issues arising within the already-existent Church. The real question is whether the doctrines of the Church are self-evident from Scripture. I particularly appreciate Dr. White’s criticism here, because it really touches on what I see as the core issue.

    That core issue is, in my view, the one raised by a faithful following of the presuppositional method: What is necessary, as a precondition of intelligibility, in order to know, defend and define the Christian Faith with certainty, unity and authority throughout the ages? I maintain that what is needed is some identifiable, authoritative body that could speak and answer issues throughout the centuries – non-self-evident, highly controversial, and much debated issues like “What is Holy Writ?” and “Who is Jesus?” and “What is the Gospel?” and “How is salvation attained?” as well modern issues like “Is artificial contraception immoral?” I need to be able to point to that body (before I know anything of who is holding the offices within it) and say that I know a priori that the Holy Spirit is going to lead that body as the “Pillar and Bulwark of the Truth.” Otherwise, it is just me trying to make a decision about these eternal matters, perhaps with other individuals also trying to make decisions. If I choose to bind myself to a larger group just because they happen to hold to what I believe, I am still the final arbiter and the group has no real authority. When that group takes a position with which I disagree, I will either leave to find a different group or start my own group. It is inevitable.

    Presuppositionalists often defend their position by asserting the impossibility of the contrary, and I do that here. Without such an identifiable, authoritative body, how does one with any certainty, unity and authority know, defend and define the Faith? I maintain that that is impossible.

    Dr. White maintains, as he must, that these core doctrines of the Faith (and, apparently, which books should be considered “Scripture”) are self-evident. Respectfully, that is simply not the case, as history has demonstrated. Often times we will say things like “That conflicts with the Gospel/Scripture/Truth, etc.” But “the Gospel” or “the Bible” or “the Truth” or “Scripture” are simply not self-evident. People who were (or thought they were) sincere believers disagreed (and continue to disagree about): (1) the nature of Jesus, (2) what books should be in the “Bible,” (3) the Gospel and its meaning, (4) what is necessary to be saved, and on and on and on. We say these things reflexively because we all stand on the unchallenged authority that solidified these matters over the first 1500 years of Christian history. Had no authoritative “Body” existed from the beginning, there is no telling what “Christianity” would look like today, or if it would even exist.

    In my journey into the Church, I realized that I had accepted the Christian message that I had been given because the people who transmitted it to me were caring people who I trusted, and what they said made sense and rang true. This is simply how human beings behave and come to believe things, especially when they are young. I accordingly accepted their understanding of “Jesus,’ “Church” and “the Gospel,” just like everyone else. Then, when first confronted with Christian history, I quite understandably held onto the construct that I had, and worked backward through history to try to find some way to keep what I had, because I was terrified of the crazy Catholic beliefs. But finally I had to come to grips with the notion that the beliefs that I held were not self-evident, and that the reason things got “decided” in one direction rather than another is because the Church – the known, visible Church – decided them. Those decisions were either arbitrary power grabs (in which case we have no hope at all), or they were authoritative.

    I actually touch on these things in greater detail in my written conversion story, which now appears on the Coming Home Network site: http://www.chnetwork.org/Conversionstories/marcayers.html

    (Daniel – In my conversion story, I include some links to some resources concerning the connection between the Ark of the Covenant and Mary. It is a fascinating connection, as even Protestant scholars have recognized that Luke is virtually quoting – quite intentionally – the OT passage. There is more to be had on that front, of course. If you still have questions, let me know and I will hunt down some more information.)

    Again, I apologize if I have not represented Dr. White’s positions, not being able to again listen to the broadcasts on his website for some reason. If I have misrepresented Dr. White, someone please correct me so that I can properly respond. As for the few jabs that Dr. White throws – things that could be interpreted to be a doubt as to whether I am even a Christian – I assume that that is not what Dr. White meant. I respect him as a scholar and enjoy the chance to discuss these matters.

    Christus Vincit

    MJA

  42. Marc:

    That was good. I haven’t listened to White’s critique of you, because I have no use for any form of “presuppositionalism.” Why? Because to take the basic data of Christianity (whatever those might be) as “self-evident” is rationalism, not faith—and a pretty arbitrary form of rationalism at that.

    Best,
    Mike

  43. Hello Marc,

    James White’s comments about your podcast can be found here and here.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  44. Thanks, Bryan. Also – I noticed that you are at St. Louis University. Do you ever have the opportunity to speak to Prof. Thomas Madden? I teach a lot on the Crusades, and I use a lot of his material. He is a fantastic scholar.

    Christus Vincit

    MJA

  45. Marc,

    I see him occasionally at SLU, but last semester I taught at the seminary, and he was teaching Church history just down the hall at the same time I was teaching. So I saw him quite frequently last semester. We shared a table at lunch on a few occasions. I have a good friend who took his class at SLU on the Crusades, and loved it. He knows the subject very well, and I think he presents it carefully and fairly — something that is very much needed when the term ‘the Crusades” is frequently bandied about as though it is a self-evident demonstration of the inauthenticity of the Catholic Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  46. Marc,

    Can you recommend a good primer on presuppositional apologetics for a cradle Catholic? I work with several boorish atheists who have “attended the university”, and would like to study this method more.

    Thanks,
    Jim

  47. Jim-

    There are a few helpful, easy-read books on the presuppositional method, such as Dr. Greg Bahnsen’s “Always Ready”, Dr. Richard Pratt’s “Every Thought Captive,” some of Dr. Frame’s works, etc. These works come from the Protestant perspective but it is the underlying method that counts, and against atheists the method is particularly helpful. In fact many people use the presup method in debating with atheists, modernists, and others without really knowing it.

    Personally, I think the best and most entertaining introduction to the presup method by far is through listening to Dr. Bahnsen’s now-famous debate with “atheist champion” Dr. Gordon Stein (who had written books and pamphlets on “How to Debate with a Theist and Win”). Stein gets totally deconstructed and embarrassed, as even the fairly liberal student population acknowledged after the debate, as I understand. You can hear it online at several places. Here is one: http://veritasdomain.wordpress.com/2006/12/05/greg-bahnsen-vs-gordon-stein-the-great-debate/

    I was actually handed a tape of this debate when I visited Westminster Seminary in 1993, and I must have listened to this debate over 100 times shortly after that. The method is devastating, as you bring your opponent to “epistemological self-consciousness” and make them face the realities of their own worldviews. However, the problem (actually, the gift) is that, when turned inwardly to questions like “How do you know that the Bible is complete?” or “How do you know that Nicaea got it right?”, the method, in my opinion, forces one to the Catholic Church.

    Christus Vincit

    MJA

  48. Jim #46
    I am not sure what the contributors of C2C would think about this book, but I found it to be a very accessible and enjoyable to read. It came out fairly recently and focuses on presuppostitional apologetics from a Catholic perspective.

    The Godless Delusion: A Catholic Challenge to Modern Atheism by Patrick Madrid and Kenneth Hensley.

  49. Brian O:

    I believe that the presup approach is an overreach, whether Protestants or Catholics go in for it. One can and should show that theism is more reasonable than atheism, or that one version of theism is more reasonable than another; but one cannot show that all the major alternatives to theism are positively unreasonable, or that all the theistic alternatives to one’s version of theism are positively unreasonable. To pretend that one can show as much is to set oneself up for a shellacking by real philosophers.

    Best,
    Mike

  50. Dr. Liccione,

    Thanks for the comment. I benefit greatly from from all of the great interaction here.

    I am only in the process of learning about the various approaches to the dialogue that occur in forums such as C2C. I leave their implementation to others and just enjoy the fruit of the discussions. Do you know of any books at the lay level that introduce other approaches you alluded to? Thanks for any help.

    By the way, the great thing about not being a real philosopher is not knowing when you take a shellacking =)

  51. I think that the presup method is actually quite strong when dealing with materialistic atheism, which has certain inherent problems that cannot be shaken without adopting, even unknowingly, some form of theism. But I would encourage folks to investigate on their own, of course. It is helpful for silencing the hostile unbeliever (by imploding his worldview), but it is not the sole route I would take in defending my own worldview.

    Christus Vincit

    Marc

  52. Yes, thank you everyone for the book recommendations.

    Dr. Liccione,
    Assuming you’ve heard the Bahnsen/Stein debate, were there any flaws or loopholes in Bahnsen’s PA method that Stein could have exposed had he been a real philosopher?

    Thank you,
    Jim

  53. Jim:

    I’d rather not delve into the details of the Bahnsen/Stein debate. Unlike Marc, I’ve only heard it once, and not completely, because I lost patience with both of them. I’ll just say that the debate skated over issues about the relationship between language and the rest of reality that have been hotly debated in analytical philosophy for a century. I consider those philosophically more fundamental than anything Bahnsen and Stein were tackling, and there is no “knockdown” argument settling those issues. It’s a matter of which approach is more reasonable, given a wider set of rational aims humans generally have.

    Best,
    Mike

  54. [...] ought to be examined as well, and it has been raised both in the comments on that post and in this podcast over at CtC (which, serendipitously enough, I have been listening to over the last couple [...]

  55. I was hoping that you could allow people to actually download these podcast to their computer. This perticular mp3 “A Presuppositional Apologist Becomes Catholic” was one of the best articulated ones ive ever herd and i know some friends who could benefit listening to it via cd. Is there a way that i can download it and burn to cd to give out to people?

    thank you for all you do

  56. John,

    Assuming you get permission to make copies, all you’ll need to do is right-click the, “To download the mp3, click here” link and select “save link as” from the sub-menu or whatever is specific to your browser. The save-file-as dialog should open.

    Regards,
    JR

  57. Thanks for this. I have recently gone through a terrible crisis of faith— I have been Reformed since 2001 —where I was convinced that I wasn’t a Christian anymore. I was terrified and couldn’t find a place of reassurrance. I put my faith in Christ nearly thirty years ago and suddenly, because of Kant I couldn’t recognize God anymore. If I looked into myself, I found that there was the possiblity that all my prayers and comfort had been only my own internal dialog because now God couldn’t be known, or worse maybe He wasn’t even there. So I went to find the historical Jesus. I started with the resurrection using Habermas and Wright, and that was comforting, but I was convicted and angry that I would be looking for something outside scripture to help me. I had the Word of God, my presuppositional strength and I had to wander outside with Aquinas to get a grip on the God that created everything. Then I wondered if the Hebrew Scriptures concerning Messiah were really meant to be “God prophecie”s and not about a coming temporal king to kind of keep Israel united as a tribe, so I found a book by a Jewish convert to Catholicism that helped some. But oh my, Joseph Ratzinger’s two volumes, “Jesus of Nazareth” have been incredible to me. So much beauty is being revealed to eyes that had to blink through tears of unwanted doubt. So I continue on my journey that I have always desired. God is more than good and gracious.

  58. Alicia,

    From one former Kantian to another, may God bless you and keep you and guide you into all truth (yes, extra-mental objective truth :>)). It was first Aquinas (through his appropriation of Aristotelian epistemology) that brought me to philosophical sanity. It was the Catholic Church (and in no small part Aquinas) that finally brought theological sanity. I pray God grant you the grace to follow truth, goodness and beauty wherever it leads.

    Pax Christi!

    Ray

  59. Hi Marc,

    I may have you beat on listening to the Bahnsen/Stein debate. I had a similar reaction to the one you recount in the podcast. Our stories differ at many points, but it is true that we perceived a devastating argument in the presuppositional-transcendental approach. There are some issues and questions I hope you will address. Your commitment to this presuppositionalism (hereafter PRE) was very helpful in realizing the “inescapable conclusion to enter the Catholic Church”. In the PRE method, an internal critique of the opponents worldview is necessary in order to show inconsistency and impossibility. This too was helpful in realizing the impotence of the Protestant’s theological position. I can only assume that you agreed, or still agree, that Christianity can be defended and presented as a “philosophical system”. Bahnsen’s opening speech includes this. This causes me to ask the question about the “fideistic” charge against PRE from classical-evidentialist apologists. I will not try to compose a counter-PRE argument that parodies your papal PRE, even though your position is vulnerable to one. You are convinced of an absolutely necessary reason to have a living-speaking body to answer and teach with authority through the ages. The reason is an absolute necessity to have this body, even if we don’t know what it is. That reason may be related to faith-claims, but it doesn’t require you to hold any of the particular faith-claim necessarily. In light of this, it is clear that your reasoning reached a conclusion that faith-claims can build on. After searching through the theological world, you discovered a seemingly reasonable faith-claim that did justice to theological disagreements, your own reasoned conclusions and the canon issue.

    Questions:
    1. Is the Wilson-Bahnsen type PRE a fideistic approach to apologetics ?
    2. If not, then please explain why ?
    3. Since you used the transcendental argument to defend and justify belief in “the impossibility of the Papacy being in error”, then how do you escape fideism in favor of roman catholicism ?
    4. At what point did your mind see the inescapable link between “the necessary body” and ” rome is that body” ?
    5. Did you not simply adopt rome’s theological position as the answer before you discovered the “link” ?
    6. If you did this, then why is it not a fideistic leap in the dark ?
    7. What reason justifies the link other than an adopting rome’s postion in advance ?

    Thanks,
    Eric

  60. Eric-

    Thank you for your very good questions. I do not believe that the fideism charge sticks, because the transcendental method of argumentation is different in nature than the usual way that we reason. This is what Bahnsen called the “crackers in the pantry fallacy” during the Stein debate, as you probably remember. To answer the question “Are there crackers in the pantry?”, we can simply open up the pantry and look to see if there are crackers. Bahnsen used that example to show that arguing about transcendentals – such as laws of logic – is not like arguing about crackers in the pantry. That is where the presuppositional method (which utilizes transcendental argumentation) comes in handy. (And this method is not something that Van Til & Co. came up with; it is a method utilized by philosophers for some time.) The PRE method, as you call it, goes at the answer by the opposite route, so to speak. It asks what is necessary, as a philosophical precondition, to have knowledge about X?

    With that clarification, it is important to note that I am not saying that the PRE method answers every question. However, it is very helpful to shoot down certain alternatives from within a group of alternatives; i.e., as to certain epistemological questions, it is helpful in figuring out what is not the right answer because it cannot be the right answer. If there are three alternative answers, and we shoot down two as impossible using the PRE method, then the third is proven. That is not a fideistic “blind faith” leap in favor of the remaining alternative position, it is a method of proving that position by “the impossibility of the contrary.”

    I hope the above answers Questions 1-3. As to Question #4, I do not really know the precise time when that clicked. What I can tell you is that I was fighting against Rome the entire time. As my view of Christianity was being broadened through the study of the Fathers, Church history, and so forth, my position was: “Well, I see the problems (with authority, certainty, the nature of the Church, etc.), but whatever the answer is, it cannot be crazy Rome.” It was certainly a slow process, but a few things pushed me along. The first was that only the Catholic Church claims a “center” that could serve as what I see as the peg (to quote Isaiah, as Jesus does in Matt 16) necessary to hold His Church together in the manner I have described in my podcast and in the my comments: the continuing office of the Papacy. No other Christian system has such an office, and the biblical and historical facts concerning that office were just truly eye-opening once I really studied. Christ established several officers and offices to run His Church, but He also needed to – and did – establish one particular office to hold them all together when times were tough and when the need for certainty among competing voices arose.

    The second is the history of the Christian Church, which is the history of the Catholic Church and its break-offs. Even though I did not want it to be true, the reality was that, for all of the problems caused by this or that leader or follower in the Church, it is the Catholic Church that has been the light of the world; the city on the hill. The Church proclaimed the Gospel to the whole world; wrote, selected, compiled and protected the Sacred Canon; transformed society through art, science, education, medicine, law; took care of the widow, orphan, sick; etc. Other Christian groups now do those things as well, but the Catholic Church – with its roots beginning at the beginning – was the root of it all.

    As for Questions #5-7 – no, I did not jump at Rome’s positions though any kind of leap in the dark. That was a very long process. I had a lot of hostility to Rome’s position. Actually, I had hostility to what I thought Rome’s positions were. When I learned what they actually were, it was eye-opening, but I still did not immediately latch on. Ultimately, though, it all came back to the issue of authority. When I really asked the question: “Can I be the authoritative voice as to what proper Christian doctrine is, and how the Bible should be interpreted?”, I was forced by my PRE roots to answer “No, that position cannot stand.” I knew I needed an authoritative body, and I was at the same time learning that the real positions of the Catholic Church were actually quite beautiful, biblical, and ancient. The perfect storm was building, and, over time, it culminated with my coming home to the Church.

    Your questions remind me of a point that always hit me during my journey. The Christian Church was the Catholic Church for 1500 years, before the Reformation. The first Protestants knew that the default position was the Catholic Church, and that breaking away in “protest” could only be justified as long as there was a justifiable, continuing “protest.” As soon as that protest ended – for example, if the person’s misconceptions about the Catholic Church’s teaching were cleared up – then it was incumbent upon that “Protester” to come home to the Church. In other words, “Protestantism” was, by definition, not a thing unto itself in any substantive way, it was instead a push against some aspect of the Mother Church. However, after many years passed following the Reformation, Protestant groups no longer saw themselves as “protesting” some aspect of the Catholic Church (because they grew up as Protestants and never knew any active “protest”). Instead, they see the Catholic Church as just one more denomination among many, including theirs. In essence, the word “Protestant” has no real meaning for them. They are just “Methodist,” “Presbyterian,” or whatever. But the injunction is still upon them to return home unless they have some justifiable grounds of protest, just like it was on the first Reformers. I would like to flesh this point out at length when I get a chance.

    I am sure that I have not “scratched where you are itching” in some respect, so please continue to ask questions.

    Christus Vincit

    MJA

  61. Thanks for your reply. I suppose the itch will never stop. It is the kind of agitation that prods each of us to aim for perfection in Christ. A little background is in order. I became a Christian at a young age in a Baptist church. Years later, I joined an OPC church and was introduced to their distinctive apologetic. Up to that time, the RCC was never on my radar, but that changed after engaging with a former co-worker/ friend about roman claims. My friend was a convert and planned to enter the priesthood. After long discussions and many years, I decided to enter the RCC. As a RC, I married (she converted from Judaism while married) and we had two children (baptized catholic). Where are we now ? We have parted company with rome and re-entered the protestant world (PCA church). Five major reasons caused this:

    1. Sedevacantism
    2. SSPX-Rome relations, especially about Tradition / Vatican II
    3. PRE apologetic
    4. Confession in light of God’s Law
    5. The Bible alone as the supreme authority

    Becoming a RC was like starting over in that Baptist church. I knew the issue was authority and revelation. Rome made many promises to those who believed in Christ and submitted, with filial obedience, to the magisterium. The fulfillment of those promises did not carry the weight of truth I expected. I appreciate your willingness to answer some questions, so please consider the following:

    1. How did you overcome Van Til’s criticism of RC apologetics ?
    2. What troubled you most about the Bahnsen/Matatics debate ?
    3. Issues pertaining to faith automatically include questions related to the nature and existence of God, revelation and providence. It seems that your search to know, defend and define the faith went beyond, consciously or unconsciously, inter-religious concerns among Christians. If your pre-conversion search and conclusions did not include submission to papal authority, then what standards were assumed during the search ? Reason ? Revelation ? Both ?

    I also welcome any questions. Thanks for your time.

    Eric

  62. Eric-

    I am interested in your comment, but I think you need to expand on your list of five before we can proceed because I do not fully understand. Can you explain what it was about each of those topics that pushed you, and precisely how it pushed you?

    Christus Vincit

    MJA

  63. Marc,
    I hope this will help in understanding.

    I. what
    1. Sedevacantists pose a difficult apologetic and ecclesial problem. Knowledge about them is necessary before anyone can understand the difficulty. The position sets the chair and successor in dialectical tension with no apparent synthesis. Problems increase when they continue claiming to be roman catholic and place faith over authority. This tension is not new to papal history. Many attacks have been made on either side of the tension, causing the authorities to respond in compromising ways. Usually, the invisible-interior aspects of the successor must be degraded (i.e., the pope can be foreseen to evil, wicked, or a private heretic). No compromise is made for the chair due to its founder. Nevertheless, a “wound” is inflicted on the chair. I think the sede position is a legitimate theory among roman catholics, which explains why authorities do not attempt refutation or condemnation. Lay catholics make attempts with silence from the hierarchy (the majority).

    2. Parts of VII exhibit, at least, material contradictions with previous church teaching. It should not go unnoticed how the SSPX resistance is forcing many in the church to clarify and reconsider VII. Eventually, or perhaps never, the discussions about VII will involve John XXIII and Paul VI. The SSPX is an excellent example of how disobedience plays a vital role in the church. The sede tension is revealed in the SSPX-Rome relation from a different angle.

    3. The what and how commingle. The force of the apologetic has many applications, but some
    classical critiques remain unanswered. Van Til’s critique of the roman apologetic and Thomas’s reliance on
    pagan greek philosophy was difficult to overcome. All of this really serves my convictions in 4 and 5.

    4. Commingled again. I was faced with many conscience-wrenching decisions about faith and personal sins that brought me to my knees. Cultivating confession was indispensable to understanding the primacy of conscience over ecclesial authority. No one is invited to my particular judgment.

    5. Christians have a supreme authority. He is the creator of the world and revealer of things hidden.
    The creator of the mouth is not wanting in speech. No clearer word can be spoken. It is the Lord who judges me and from Him I seek praise. Following Paul, I apply to myself these things so that everyone will learn not to go beyond what is written. I submit this to the Christian conscience.

    II. how
    1. Demons can mock virtue but never imitate it. How could I synthesis the tension without damaging compromise? It cannot be done. All ecclesiological tensions between visible-invisible aspects converge at the chair-successor point. Three solutions are possible (maybe more): First, we can admit that a synthesis exists but remains unknown to us. Second, we can deny any synthesis and reject the papacy in its supernatural foundation. Third, we can import a special grace rendering the successor free of mortal sin during his pontificate. I find the first one unacceptable because it amounts to irrational faith. The second is an option and the third has been refuted by the facts. No matter how you map out the problem, it always ends with the faithful obeying and trusting Christ, the founder of the chair, and tolerating (sometimes resisting) the successor. We submit in obedience to the pope for the sake of Christ regardless of the pope’s invisible-spiritual status. What’s wrong with that ? The visible principle of unity, in faith and charity, cannot unify if they lack the virtues expected to be unified. Lacking the theological virtues of faith or charity causes a member to be outside the “heart”, “body” or both. How can anyone like that be head of the church ? One sedevacantist has wisely called it a cardboard pope. It is either denying authority to the pope or denying the pope who has authority. This problem never exists when Christ is regarded as sole Head of the church.

    2. The tension is played out in the courts of rome. Because eternal rome is somehow connected to temporal rome, the SSPX must submit in the end. They know deep down that their judgments are fallible and subject to the judgment of the pope. I will not excuse the fact that modernism (with its many tentacles) has taken captive many in the visible hierarchy, including the conciliar popes. I refuse to shut my eyes with irrational faith.

    5. By adopting the reformed christian presuppositions and pre- method apologetics, I think rome can be answered in the same way as the atheist. After eight years of kicking-up theological and ecclesiological dust, the Bible alone emerged victorious in my heart. I confess to “believe the Catholic Church” and have regard for it as mother. The prevailing sin of roman bishops is the universalizing of what is truly particular.

    Thanks,
    Eric

  64. Is there a transcript of this interview by any chance?

  65. I do not know of any transcript, Andrew.

    MJA

  66. John P,

    I cannot agree more with your comments in 55. The “Presuppositional”interview brought me to CTC. I have shared it with students and professors and in some cases it has brought them back from the brink.
    In one case a brilliant young man facing jail time, who had lost all hope. He is at peace now, and told me that an abiding trust in the Lord and prayer, is sustaining him in prison. Please all pray for him.
    In another instance, a young man “oppressed,” by an angry fundamentalist father, who was forced into the arms of atheism, listened to the interview and has started attending Mass, albeit, periodically with me at Our Saviour’s in Manhattan. Pray for him as well, he was in a very bad place, and only now finding solace.
    There are so many lost souls that we meet every day and it is a crucial act of charity for us to send them a life line.
    A Blessed Easter to all!

  67. Thanks Marc,

    Have you written an account of your conversion highlighting the main reasons for your conversion and including how the Van Tillian apologetic got you where you are?

    If so, I’d love to read it!

  68. Andrew-

    The only written conversion story I have is on the Coming Home Network site: http://chnetwork.org/2011/01/marc-ayers/

    It may be of some help-

    Christus Vincit

    MJA

  69. Thanks!

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