Dear Dr. Frame: When Will the Presuppositionalists Clarify Their View?

Cody Libolt
Mar 14, 2020 · 15 min read

At FTNCI, we firmly believe that the risen Lord Jesus sees Presuppositionalism (and every other variety of fideism) as a black scourge upon his Bride.

Jacob Brunton has pointed out: “The mind of the church has been atrophied to the point of near death because of this despicable rot.”

Nevertheless, we do hold our Presuppositionalist friends and acquaintances as brothers in the faith. Though they are perhaps misled, and though they are certainly misleading others, we aim for a real, substantive discussion when that is possible.

The FTNCI team (including a behind-the-scenes group of advisors) worked today to attempt a discussion with prominent Presuppositionalists Dr. John Frame and Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin. Dr. Frame is one of the leading interpreters of Cornelius Van Til. Dr. Sandlin is the founder and president of the Center for Cultural Leadership in Coulterville, California.

The discussion can be viewed in full at this link on Facebook.

I have excerpted the discussion below, omitting only those comments that I thought were peripheral to the main discussion. I present this material in order to lay out the essentials of the discussion and controversy as it now stands.

Today’s interaction reveals an unhealthy state of discussion between Presuppositionalists and Classicalists. There is much mistrust. There is much condescension. You can review the material to decide which direction the condescension flows. At FTNCI, our goal is to ask Presuppositionalists the kinds of questions that will help them identify and clarify their actual view, which no amount of tomes has yet enabled them to do.

As you read, ask yourself whether the authors at FTNCI and other students of Classical Apologetics and Philosophy are justified in calling for more communication and dialogue. Ask yourself whether the kind of views advocated by the Presuppositionalists seem defensible. And keep in mind that even though the discussion may seem simply academic, it is not. Ministries are founded on truth. If the idea of truth itself is understood incorrectly, the consequence will be rotten fruit.

As a context to this discussion, I will offer some excerpts from a new article by Josh Sommer. He pointed out the following:

“This discussion is between historical, classical Reformed orthodoxy (a la. the Puritans & every Reformed Confession) and those who have, mostly inadvertently, adopted post-Enlightenment thought into their philosophical and theological frameworks (a la. Van Tillian & Bahnsenite types).”

“…the lion-share of FTNCI’s argumentation, in terms of apologetic substance, are simply those of Reformed Scholastic antiquity. All people know God, but they know God through inference — by what is made. All knowledge begins at the senses through which it ends up in the intellect.”

“I would love to see more dialogue on this point, especially with White and some other larger influences. This discussion in particular has a lot of far-reaching corollaries which take us all the way into the social justice controversy with its standpoint epistemology; the great divide between the rationalists and the empiricists; pre-modernity v. modernity and post-modernity; realism v. nominalism, etc.”

The discussion began when Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin posted a comment that, in the context of our recent interactions together, strongly suggested he had FTNCI in mind.

Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin:
In our time of manufactured theological controversies, it might be helpful to mention five legitimate ones:

1. Biblical gospel versus therapeutic moralism (“The gospel is designed to improve my self-image”);

2. Biblical sexual ethics versus same-sex “marriage” and -“attraction”;

3. Sanctification versus antinomianism;

4. Christian individual responsibility versus Cultural Marxism, including Critical Theory and Critical Race Theory;

5. Orthodoxy versus Gnosticism.

Cody Libolt:
Link: The Fight Against Presuppositionalism: Why It Matters
By Jacob Brunton

Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin:
Cody Libolt: not even close.

Cody Libolt:
The Bible vs. Van Tillianism (Fideism)
Natural Theology vs. Biblicism (Solo Scriptura)
Orthodoxy vs. Theonomy (and Theonomy-Light)
Biblical Sexuality vs. SSA Compromise (ie Butterfield)
Positive Christian Anthropology vs. Negative
Personal Interest vs. Pathological Altruism
Individual Rights vs. “Christian” Socialism or Collectivism
Discernment vs. Group-Think / Popularity Gospel
Honesty and Frankness vs. Partiality Toward “Friends” in the same camp
Masculine Polemics vs. Coyness / Indirectness / Weasel Words / Evasion

Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin:
Cody Libolt: this is mostly sophomoric sectarian gobbledegook. A wide acquaintance with church history, historical theology, the development of doctrine, and ancient catholic orthodoxy would remedy it.

Start here: https://www.secondsale.com/series/the-christian-tradition/1775518

Steve Watkins:
P. Andrew Sandlin : He just waltzed right on in and demonstrated your entire point. Good boy.

Cody Libolt:
P. Andrew Sandlin, did you mean to say that my list of important errors to combat in the church today is mostly sectarian gobbledegook?

To paraphrase your words from a different context, “We are certainly not just going to take your word for it.”

Neither do I plan to review five church history books before pointing out that a reading recommendation is not an argument, and what you have done here is both unkind and unhelpful.

To say that something is “mostly sectarian gobbledegook” ought to be an easy claim to explain and demonstrate.

As regarding your dismissal of Jacob Brunton’s article, I would like to remind you that you had intended to publish a response to Keith Mathison’s article:

https://tabletalkmagazine.com/posts/christianity-and-van-tillianism-2019-08/

Other readers who happen to witness what Dr. Sandlin is doing here should check out Mathison’s article.

Also check out this from Josh Sommer, which accurately reports on the state of the discussion:

https://joshsommer.org/blog/lets-talk-dr-white-classicalism-or-presuppositionalism

I don’t know if Sandlin would call Jacob Brunton’s article “mostly sectarian gobbledegook” or something similar.

(https://christianintellectual.com/presupp-consequences/)

But the pattern here is familiar to those who attempt to reason with Van Tillians. Almost without fail, they will:

1. Beg the Question
2. Upbraid/Dismiss/Point to More Books

It is poor form to continue over and over again to claim a view has been misrepresented without ever being willing to take a moment (personally) to define the claim or to show how it has been misrepresented.

Those who have upheld the traditional Christian position on “evidences” and natural theology (for instance John Calvin, the writers of the WCF, RC Sproul, or many of us today) would agree with Jacob’s views as expressed in his article.

So would the Apostles. I leave you the following comparison so that all willing to read it will be able to understand who is “not even close” to biblical fidelity.

(Here, I reproduced a number of quotations.)

Peter: “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.”

Greg Bahnsen: “The apostles were certainly not afraid of evidence; yet we notice that they never argued on the basis of it.”

Paul: “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Cornelius Van Til: “The God spoken of in Scripture cannot be proved to exist by *any other method* than the indirect one of presupposition.”

Paul: “Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

John Calvin: “God was shown by natural arguments [evidences].”

Cornelius Van Til: “The true method for any Protestant with respect to the Scripture… and with respect to the existence of God… *must be* the *indirect* method of reasoning by presupposition.”

John Calvin: Paul “showed by natural arguments who and what God is.”

Greg Bahnsen: “God makes a radical demand on the believer’s life which involves never demanding proof of God or trying Him.”

John Calvin: “Paul’s drift is to teach what God is. Furthermore, because he hath to deal with profane men, he draweth proofs from nature itself; for in vain should he have cited testimonies of Scripture.”

Greg Bahsen: “They did not attempt to prove it by appealing to the facts.”

Paul: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Greg Bahnsen: “They preached the resurrection without feeling any need to *prove* it to the skeptics…”

Paul: “I am not insane, most excellent Festus… What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.”

Jacob Brunton: “I firmly believe that the risen Lord Jesus sees Presuppositionalism (and every other variety of fideism) as a black scourge upon his Bride. The mind of the church has been atrophied to the point of near death because of this despicable rot.”

Cody Libolt:
Dr. John Frame, you know I respect you and your work. Your books made a Calvinist out of me, and for that I am deeply thankful.

I noticed that you clicked “like” on Andrew Sandlin’s comment (“this is mostly sophomoric sectarian gobbledegook”).

Dr. Frame, do you agree or disagree that Jacob Brunton has accurately summarized your view in the following statement from his article?

“So, they allow for the use of theistic arguments, but only insofar as one is not “reasoning their way to God without presupposing God.” In other words, they insist that all theistic arguments must start with belief in God, such that they end up being circular.

“The presuppositionalist will then go on to defend this circularity by insisting that all reasoning is ultimately circular, and they are just “being honest” about it.”

Jay Cothren:
Cody Libolt I am a graduate of The Master’s Seminary and have generally considered myself a “leaky Presup.” I appreciate following this subject matter and the work you guys are putting in. I must say I’m disappointed with some of the attitude coming from the Presup side. I do not find it helpful but illuminating as it seems to reflect the same type of response I used to get from Arminians. You guys keep it coming and I’ll keep reading and pondering. Thanks.

Timothy M. Barrett:
What “attitude”?

Cody Libolt:
Timothy, there has been a touch of incivility in this discussion so far. Not from you, though. I appreciate your comments.

But the concern over “attitude” isn’t mainly about incivility. It is a concern about how people understand the parameters of a productive discussion. (For instance, what counts as a “good faith” answer to a question.)

Here is how I think about the topic:

When a Presuppositionalist is challenged by a Classicalist, the challenge will often be something like this:

“Logically, your statements about “the necessary circularity of worldviews” would seem to imply subjectivism. Do you agree? Have we misunderstood your claim?”

To this objection, a Presuppositionalist will often answer, in effect:

“Hold on. I will ask the questions around here. On my own (so far, unsubstantiated) premises, your Classical viewpoint implies logical problems X, Y, and Z.”

At this point, the Classicalist does well to point out:

“You haven’t yet given us a reason to take seriously your objections about our implications. You are basing your objections on premises that you have neither clarified, explained, nor proven.

“You may continue all day to claim that, hypothetically, granting your premises, our view implies an unacceptable conclusion. But we are trying to understand what your premises are. Why do you seem so unable to clarify them and to defend them? Why, when asked about your own premises and their purely logical implications, do you keep changing the subject?”

What we are attempting to do here is not the same as what you are attempting to do. We want to know the positive basis of your claims and meaning of the implications thereof. You seem to want to reject our questions and move straight to presenting your perspective on what is wrong with our view, granting all of your premises. Please show us what your premises are in the first place and show us why we should believe them. We are through with giving you the benefit of the doubt each time you change the subject.

Dr. John Frame:
Cody Libolt I’ve advocated presupp in three books and many articles. I don’t want to carry on that debate. Every Christian is a presuppositionalist in that he holds Scripture to have epistemic priority. Every Christian is an evidentialist in that he treasures the facts placed by God in creation.

Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin:
John Frame: Every evidentialist has presuppositions, and every presuppositionalist believes in evidence.

Cody Libolt:
John Frame here I register what has just taken place.

When an opponent said our understanding of Presuppositionalism was “not even close,” you seemed to agree.

When he said our claims were “sophomoric, sectarian gobbledegook,” you clicked like.

Yet when offered the chance to say “yes, you have summarized our view accurately” or “no, and here is why your summary is not accurate,” you have declined to comment on the question, instead saying “I don’t want to carry on that debate.”

No one asked you for a debate. We asked you for a clear yes or no statement identifying your position.

This situation is unfortunate.

Perhaps some other well-respected Presuppositionalist will see the value in answering clarifying questions directly.

Presuppositionalists, is there one among you who will answer?

Do you affirm or deny that all worldviews are necessarily circular?

Do you affirm or deny that all theistic arguments must start with belief in God, such that they end up being circular?

Do you affirm that your view is different from both Classicalism and fideism, and if so, then how so?

Sam Nelson:
Cody Libolt I have no idea what you guys are talking about…but it is pretty clear from your interaction on this thread coupled with the vileness in your own page that you are a lover of dissension. You operate out of prideful arrogance and hubris. You have demonstrated not one lick of Christian charity. I presuppose sir that you need Jesus and until I see evidence of such transformation will continue to pray for you.

Cody Libolt:
Sam, your comments are registered and evaluated according to their merit.

Dr. John Frame:
Cody Libolt The following is my last word on the subject. (1) “Circular” is confusing. The only point important to presuppositionalists is that any world view must make its final appeal to a principle consistent with itself. (2) All theistic arguments must presuppose epistemologies consistent with theism. (3) I don’t use the term “classical” for an apologetic which rests on Aristotelian philosophy. (4) I don’t think I’m a fideist, because I believe there are valid and sound reasons for faith.

Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin:
Cody Libolt: If you can’t be respectful of your elders, and John Frame certainly is that, please don’t post here. I don’t mind rigorous disagreement and debate, but don’t include disrespect.

Let me help you: here’s how you disagree.

“Professor Frame, I disagree with your argument, and let me explain why ….”

Cody Libolt:
Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin, no offense was intended. Dr. John Frame, you can be assured from this point forward I will reiterate your credentials not merely on first mention of your name, but on every mention thereafter, as required by Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin.

Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin:
Cody Libolt: Credentials aren’t the fundamental issue; an attitude of respect is.

Cody Libolt:
Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin I can assure you I had no intention of communicating disrespect toward you nor toward Dr. Frame, and I can also assure you that it was my conscious intention to show respect throughout this discussion.

It did not cross my mind that I would be crossing a line of etiquette. You have my sincere apology. I consider both of you to be friendly acquaintances and I wish to stay on good terms.

Cody Libolt:
Dr. John Frame I appreciate you.

I respect that you want the above to be your last word on the subject at this point.

I will offer my take on what Dr. Frame wrote, showing where I disagree with him and why.

When asked whether it is true that Presuppositionalism requires that “all theistic arguments must start with belief in God,” Dr. Frame did not directly affirm or deny.

Instead, Dr. Frame reframed the statement in a way that Classicalists would generally affirm.

With Dr. Frame, Classicalists affirm that any worldview must appeal for its epistemic justification to a principle that is self-consistent.

With Dr. Frame, Classicalists affirm that, in order to be a good argument for theism, an argument must be built on premises consistent with theism.

If this is all Dr. Frame has said, this is a nonstarter.

But it is not clear that this is all that he has said. In what sense is Dr. Frame asking us to “presuppose epistemologies”? What does that mean?

Perhaps Dr. Frame is saying that all theistic arguments must start with a belief in God.

After all, Dr. Frame has elsewhere claimed that “human faith is the rational basis for human reasoning.”

So it doesn’t seem like too much to ask, that Dr. Frame would simply affirm “Yes. I do believe all good theistic arguments must start with belief in God.”

But that level of openness in regard to circularity is not something Dr. Frame seems comfortable expressing.

To be generous, Dr. John Frame’s choice to decline to comment on that question could simply suggest he found it to be an unclear question. But if so, why not say so?

Or the choice could suggest that it would seem undesirable to him to offer a clear answer.

Clear answers are hard to find. Consider the answers Dr. Frame did offer. They are not actual answers.

When I asked if he differentiates his view from mine, Dr. Frame expressed his concern with the name I used for my viewpoint, but he did not offer an answer, except to imply there is something wrong with Christians relying on ideas found in Aristotle.

When I asked if his view is not fideism (and why not), Dr. Frame pointed out that he believes “there are valid and sound reasons for faith.”

This is a frustrating response. We know that Dr. Frame believes “there are valid and sound reasons for faith.”

The question we are potentially differing on is this:

Do you allow that a man should base his beliefs on reason and arguments? Do you base your belief in God on valid and sound reasons?

There is a difference between offering a post-hoc rationalization for a claim vs. saying “I am choosing to believe because I am following the evidence where it leads.”

Is it right to base our beliefs on evidence, reason, and arguments? That is the question we Classicalists are attempting to discuss.

If the answer is no, then we have concerns about the substance of Dr. Frame’s claim and about the implications.

If the answer is yes, then we plead with him to clarify so that people will stop misunderstanding him.

If the answer is “that is a poorly formed question,” then please, Dr. Frame, honor us enough to show why.

But if, as it now appears, Dr. Frame does not understand the question, or if he is choosing not answer it (these are the options at which we seem to keep arriving), then all we can say is:

“Observers, take note.”

Addendum (3/14/20):

Steve Watkins:
‪The problem is (ironically) that he arrogantly presupposes that he’s right before engaging in his so-called quest for clarification. The true goal of the New American Narcissist (by which I refer to a category, and not just an individual) is not to clarify important theological matters so much as to attempt to show up established scholars and present himself as their superior, but without earning the credentials. Wasn’t there a Rocky movie that played this same trope? Only Dr Frame isn’t undignified enough to step out into the gutter and start throwing haymakers.‬

T‪his ilk would do well to recognize that if their theological questing isn’t leading to new heights of humility, then whatever “intellectual” artifacts they stumble across along the way are worth less than the dirt they scrounged them from.‬

Cody Libolt:
‪Steve your hasty words are noted and documented. You will someday stand before God to answer for them.‬

Cody Libolt:
‪Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin you have some responsibility for the level of incivility you are allowing on your online space toward others. To not chastise Steve Watkins for his words above would be to make a statement.‬

Dr. John Frame:
Cody Libolt I unfriended you yesterday. Write me again when you have developed some additional intellectual and spiritual maturity.

Dr. P. Andrew Sandlin:
In all my FB years I’ve unfriended a whopping total of 5 or 6 people, but I’ve just added Cody L. to that list. I can abide rigorous disagreement but not unrepentant, youthful disrespect. Again and again godly individuals have admonished him the last few years, but to no avail. Proverbs has a description for this sort of individual.

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