September 23, 2018

TRL, Presuppositionalism, The Christian Intellectual: Miscellaneous Remarks

By In Articles, Philosophy

This post consists of a variety of scattered thoughts and lacks a systematic character. I’ve yet to fully type out a post on a smart phone, so this will be interesting. By the way, such access to technology reminds me of something I recently saw someone say on Facebook: “I for one am glad Luther did not have Twitter.” Amen.

In any case, a few thoughts, perhaps more relevant to those who frequent the Facebook groups I also run in, God bless their souls.

For starters, The Reformed Libertarian has been through several “identities” over the years, sometimes I would emphasize the broad nature of the phrase, such that includes, well, anyone who was a Calvinist and remotely interested in limited government could be contributor. That didn’t turn out well.

My current frame of mind is that this site should pretty much reflect the thinking of myself and Brandon Adams, who is closer to all my positions than anyone I know a lot of that comes from the fact that he has read much of the same stuff, though he has a far better understanding of the justification crisis in Reformed circles, as well as the background and current battles over the nature of the Old and New covenants within the Reformed community. Of course the justification crises was in some ways an outpouring of the Covenant Theology debates. But that is for another time.

On this site, I have in the past expressed that I side with the “Presuppositionalists” in regards to the debate over the proper apologetic methodology. However, it should be made clear that apologetics, or “defending the faith,” is really a subset of epistemological methodology. This presents a problem; for when one thinks “Presuppositionalist,” one thinks Van Til and his disciple, Greg Bahnsen. But when it comes to epistemology, it would be hard to overstate my disagreements with Van Tillianism and in the years since I last wrote anything whatsoever regarding my disagreements with Van Til, I have only gotten more frustrated with his framework.

Recently, a new site has come up and it even has some authoritative Reformed folks sharing its content—Cal Beisner, a personal hero of mine, shared their social justice piece. The site is For the New Christian Intellectual, (TCI from here on) run by Jacob Brunton and Cody Libolt. I have not really interacted with the latter but with Brunton I have, privately and publicly. We are on great terms. TCI is clear about their adoption and integration of the thought of Ayn Rand. In this way, they are like John Piper: fans of egoism, rejectors of altruism. Additionally therefore, they are advocates of reason over against piously ignorant (and therefore religiously worthless) embraces of “mystery,” “paradox,” and a sort of propositionless faith. The conservative Christian community, they state over and over again, much to their praise, needs to rediscover the importance of reason!

Also though, like Rand, they are empiricists and hence (though obviously unlike Rand), they are classical apologists, promoters of Thomas Aquinas and the apologetic method/epistemological framework of the late, great, RC Sproul (for the record Sproul is another hero of mine, a defender of Classical American Reformed thought in an era of religious crisis).

This creates a situation for me wherein I am in agreement with some of their work, but in disagreement with other aspects. Their emphasis on reason is in qualified support (because we define reason differently), and their defense of capitalism, individualism, and egoism are all great. You will find, though, that I do not support their empiricism and their promotion of Thomas Aquinas. I prefer instead, as readers of this site know, a theistic apriorism/rationalism in the Augustinian tradition of Gordon Clark. Consider Clark’s comment on the meaning of reason (in which he implicitly dissents from both Aquinas and Van Til):

“Theologians and secularists quarrel over revelation and reason. The secularists boast about reason and charge the theologian with irrationality. The theologians, or some of them, boast about revelation and deprecate “mere” human reason and logic. Both are guilty of equivocation. Today when secularists praise reason, they do not mean what Augustine, Descartes, and Spinoza meant by reason. These three men meant an intellectual ability to argue. The secularists are (almost unanimously in this twentieth century) empiricists, and by reason they mean sensory experience.”

Now, per presuppositionalism, this is where it gets tricky. Gordon Clark is most often (or all the time, I suppose) categorized as a presuppositionalist. There are reasons for this. But let me state that I consider Brunton and Libolt’s FB attacks on Presuppositionalism as categorically leaving Clark unscathed. I often ignore them because to jump in with a defense of Clark would likely confuse the conversation– and if I have learned anything over the years, it is that a Facebook argument over philosophical theology is often the cause of anxiety. This is a personal problem, I do not blame the creepy Mark Zuckerberg.

In any case, I find TCI’s presence a fascinating one. I think they have helpful things to say. The social justice issue is a major one in evangelical circles and I do believe they think properly and rationally about that issue. They have properly called out the anti-reason sentiments of many Reformed christians. And in the near future, I hope to defend reason from the Augustinian/Clarkian camp and offer correction to their own position on such matters.

Because there are many presuppositionalists in the Reformed Libertarian group on Facebook, I have been asked on more than one occasion to comment on Brunton/Libolt’s anti-presup rants. Let me make it clear what I think of TCI, at least at the moment:

I think they are smart, and their hearts are in the right place. I think they are very right on some very important topics (capitalism, individualism, egoism, social justice, the necessity of reason) and wrong on others (empiricism, natural theology, natural law [in a Thomistic sense — as I embrace the term under a Augustinian reconstruction]).

And finally, to end all this, presuppositionalists can sit there and express anger at these two all day for lambasting their presuppositionalist system. But whether they are right or wrong, I will say this: I don’t think Van Tillian presuppositionalist advocates on social media are all that impressive. I’m not talking about the ones writing the books and leading the school of thought or who have big followings— people such as Joel McDurmon or James White. I’m talking about the ones who only know how to respond with “by what standard????” or “wow I can’t believe you don’t START with Scripture, why do you argue as the atheists?”

Shouldn’t we be better thinkers than this? Do not Thomas Aquinas and his 21st century followers deserve more intellectually fulfilling debate? Does not the Bible say, “Come, let us reason together?” Thus, if TCI is wrong about something, demonstrate it. Don’t declare it. I certainly plan to weigh in.

Written by C.Jay Engel

Editor and creator of The Reformed Libertarian. Living in Northern California with his wife, he writes on everything from politics to theology and from culture to economic theory. You can send an email to reformedlibertarian@gmail.com