Monday, July 15, 2013

Book Review: Covenantal Apologetics 5/5

Dr. K. Scott Oliphint has written a new resource entitled, "Covenantal Apologetics: Principles and Practice in Defense of Our Faith", which is on sale from the Westminster Bookstore for $8 - 60% off.

The Forward by William Edgar and book Introduction is available online here.

Anyone who has read my blog or attended church with me will know that I have pretty much always been skeptical about the methodology of presuppositional apologetics. Because the context in which I came to faith in Christ myself and in listening to and learning from Dr. R.C. Sproul and the fine folks at Ligonier Ministries, I've had severe and several reservations about presuppositionalism. Add to this the further clouded fact that so many of the most ardent adherents I've met personally tend to subscribe to a brand of reformed thought in the line of theonomy and Federal Vision, to which I am quite against.

So, I resolved to put aside my preconceptions and let the author speak to me on his own terms, translated into a common vernacular and devoid of the loaded technical jargon that tends to bog down discussions of principle and practice.

Anyway, having said all of that, I can honestly say that I was more than pleasantly surprised with this book. Not only did Dr. Oliphint address eventually every one of the objections that I have held against the presuppositional approach by describing the tenets in the manner he used, but he also showed me where some of my foundational understandings were not entirely squared up with the scriptures and the creeds of our faith. Granted, some of the objections to the line of argument were not directly answered at the moment in which they naturally occurred, but typically within a few pages, or perhaps in a following chapter, I found that these concerns were fully and repectfully answered. Throughout the book, for instance, I found myself continuing to disagree mildly with his notions of rationality and the use of evidences. By the end of the book, however, most especially the hypothetical dialog between the Muslim and the Christian, I found myself, finally, thoroughly convinced of the inability of rationality to arrive at ultimate Truth as worshippers of the Triune God understand it through His revelation.

Most appreciatively, the author has provided an engaging and gracious framework that, if followed, has huge implications for the advancement of (formerly known as presuppositional) covenantal apologetics. He models an approach that is gracious and merciful, but without compromising a crumb of truth on the alter of manners. He lays out key tenets for dialogs with "outsiders", while acknowledging that both evangelism and knocking down strongholds/false arguments are overarching movitvations in this approach, which resonated with me completely.

Additionally, this book clarified issues that for some reason, have not been effectively addressed to me in other discussions of presuppositionalism. One example of this is the proper use of the concept of general revelation. Every human being, created in the image of God, is implanted with the knowledge of their creator. Having come from a more Thomistic understanding of this doctrine, and even after having read the Institutes several times, I still held a false view of the general revelation concept. Previously, my assumption was that God gave mankind the ability to reason and think, so that they could perceive their Creator in what was Created. I've always assumed that's how it worked. The idea that we have all been implanted with the knowledge of God and His eternal attributes is a seemingly small distinction to some -- but let me just say that this distinction makes A HUGE difference and has been an unfortunate sticking point for me until now. The idea that all human beings, regardless of age or rational capability, actually have the knowledge of God implanted in their nature, because of the fact that we are all image bearers of Him, is a distinction that we should continue to be very careful not to forget or allow others to confuse. The implications of this truth are wide-reaching and help immensely in having a better concept of the Covenantal nature of our Lord!

Okay, this is getting long now; however, I must commend a particular portion of this book to every potential reader before ending my comments. If you are already acquainted with this style of apologetic and want to spend your time with just one chapter, you must read the one titled: "You Are Very Religious" including the hypothetical dialog between the Christian and the Muslim.  True, every chapter in the book has a great deal to commend, but from my perspective, the "Very Religious" chapter is becoming a much more relevant to the prevalent arguments coming from academia these days and in culture generally. The secular atheist, a la Dawkins, believe it or not is a declining category in these circles. The ability to address the theistic, oneist (often Eastern) philosophies will be our new frontier. This book, very graciously and theologically addresses some of the foundational arguments that we will be seeing more and more, as Muslim and Eastern philosophies advance in this country.

Thanks for reading this book review. And, thank you, Dr. Oliphint for taking the time to put these principles and this roadmap for apologetic practice into writing for all of us to read!


Seminole said...

That was a great book review. Just out of curiosity, does that implanted knowledge of God come with evidence for God's existence? Do people know God without being aware of the evidence for God's evidence?

Anonymous said...

1-The "implanted knowledge" is because we are made in God's image. Evidence is not irrelevant, but the knowledge of God is not contingent upon evidence.
2-From this perspective, Yes.

As an aside: I would have preferred the title or label to be Trinitarian Apologetics instead of Covenantal.