Isaiah 44: I Am the First and I Am the Last! Apart from Me, there is NO GOD!
Lots of big words in this title, eh?
“Apologetics” is the art of rationally defending the Christian faith from “rational” objections (at least: from objections that purport to be rational).
“Presuppositionalism” is a particular method of going about this defense. More specifically, it’s uniquely Calvinist in its approach, since it operates on the notion that God is LORD (shout it!) over EVERY (shout it again!) area of life! At no point in our defense of Christian beliefs, do we yield this premise. To do so is to dishonor Him whom we serve.
In short, the Presuppositionalist says Christianity is exclusive:
If Christianity is true, all other positions are false.
All other worldviews, philosophies, religions, conceptual schemes, and paradigms, are FALSE, if Christianity is true.
We go on to argue that if Christianity were NOT true, then human experience would be unintelligible; we wouldn’t be able to make sense of anything at all. There could be no science, no logic, no math, no poetry, language, or music; no beauty, no art, no nothing!
So, in order for us to make sense out of our experiences, Christianity must be true.
Enter the Fristians
Over time, an objection to Presuppositional apologetics arose from among fellow Christians.
For the sake of argument, they agree that if Christianity were not true, then human experience would be unintelligible. Or, to state it another way: Christianity is the necessary precondition for human intelligibility.
But this is to make an exclusive claim for Christianity. Christianity, on the Presuppositionalist view, has to be NECESSARY for all human experience.
These critics don’t think Christianity is necessary. As a cute little trick, they have posited a worldview called “Fristianity” which is supposedly identical to Christianity in every possible way, except instead of a Trinity, we have a Quadrinity (four members of the Godhead, instead of three).
This Fristian system would also provide the preconditions of human intelligibility, they argue, thus making the exclusivity claims of the Presuppositionalist, false.
(Choi cites David Byron’s summary of the history and subsequent development of the hypothetical Fristianity at web.archive.org/web/20000118153717/http://www.ccir.ed.ac.uk/~jad/vantil-list/archive-Jul-1999/msg00049.html )
Presuppers Strike Back
Dr. Greg Bahnsen was one of the greatest proponents of Presuppositionalism, but unfortunately, passed away before giving us a systematic treatment of Fristianity. Thus, the job of addressing the argument fell to his student, Michael Butler. And Butler was able to gather bits and pieces from Dr. Bahnsen’s work, expound on them a little, and provide a response to the Fristians.
He wrote a famous article addressing many criticisms of Presuppositionalism.
Butler responds by noting that one cannot simply change one small aspect of Christianity, without doing damage to the entire system. In fact, positing a fourth member of the Trinity would, in effect, cause a chain reaction of changes in systematic theology, rendering a Fristian system incoherent.
“It is necessary, therefore, that the advocate of Fristianity spell out how this one change in doctrine affects all other doctrines. But once this is done, there is no guarantee that the result will be coherent.
Thus, without providing the details of Fristian theology, this objection loses its punch. It can only be thought to be a challenge to Christianity if it, like Christianity, provides preconditions of experience. But without knowing the details, we cannot submit it to an internal critique. Until this happens, we can justifiably fall back on the conclusion that there is no conceivable worldview apart from Christianity that can provide the preconditions of experience.”
There is a sermon series on Presuppositional Apologetics presented by Michael Butler, available for free on Sermon Audio. In lecture 22, he expounds on what he means here, and reiterates that, unless the hypothetical Fristian worldview can be demonstrated to hypothetically provide the preconditions of human intelligibility, then we’re not obligated to consider it.
Fristians Return Fire
Philosopher of religion and Fristian advocate Sean Choi, replies to Butler’s defense in his essay on Transcendental Arguments (found in “Reasons for Faith: Making a Case for the Christian Faith”, edited by Norman Geisler and Chad Meister, pg. 242).
Choi denies that Butler’s defense has done any real work in refuting the Fristian illustration. He claims that the Fristianity illustration successfully demonstrates that the Presuppositionalist has not proven that Christianity is exclusively (necessarily) true, since Fristianity might be hypothetically possible.
Maybe it will reduce to incoherency (as Butler suggests) or maybe it wont.
Choi claims that it is the Presuppositioanlist’s job to show how Fristianity fails, and Butler didn’t even attempt it.
The Fall Out
Unfortunately, it’s generally considered that Choi has defeated Butler. Many would-be Presuppositionalists have given up a faithful practice of the methodology in favor of more tentative positions. I’ve talked with many apologists who admit as much. They suggest that Van Til, Bahnsen, and Butler offered too strong a position, and what’s needed, instead, are arguments more narrow in scope.
Additionally, many of the hell-bounders have heard rumor of this intramural discussion and present “Fristian” type arguments when debating with me.
There are some still faithful to Bahnsen’s formulations, however. For instance, Chris Bolt of Choosing Hats fame, in a podcast on the Fristianity problem, offers a unique answer. (I have the mp3 of this podcast, but can no longer find a link to it on their website. If you’d like a copy of the discussion, contact the Choosing Hats guys, and request it).
Also, see Bolt’s article, expounding on the argument, here:
He suggests that, since Choi admits he is merely stipulating the Fristian worldview, and furthermore, is self-consciously presupposing the actual Christian worldview in order to do his stipulating, then Fristianity must presuppose Christianity. Thus, Fristianity is not a defeater of the exclusivity claims of Christianity since it relies on Christianity to operate.
In other words, Christianity must be true for all human experience to be intelligible, including the experience of positing hypotheticals meant to defeat exclusivity claims.
While this is a brilliant attempt at overcoming the Fristianity objection, I’m not sure it works.
The Fristian is suggesting that “Fristianity” (hypothetically) provides all the preconditions of intelligibility, presumably including the positing of hypotheticals. The Fristian seems justified in claiming that the Fristian worldview, if presupposed, would account for the positing of hypotheticals, just as good as Christianity can (again: hypothetically speaking).
The Fristian might suggest that one must stand on a Fristian foundation in order to posit a hypothetical Christianity, and thus, Christianity, to operate, must presuppose Fristianity.
So, the exclusivity claim of Christianity seems to remain in jeopardy.
Shotgun deals with Fristianity
I’d like to offer my own criticism of Fristianity that builds on what both Butler and Chris Bolt have suggested, although mine will be much shorter and to-the-point.
First, for clarity’s sake, I think we should take a page from Michael Suddoth’s book “Reformed Objection To Natural Theology” and make a distinction.
Call it Fristianity A
Butler, Choi, and most all discussions on this topic I’ve read, realize the Fristian is not trying to defeat Christianity as a worldview. Many hell-bounders, however, do not realize this and attempt to utilize Fristian type arguments against Christian truth-claims.
So, Fristianity Alpha (FA) is – The attempt to defeat Christianity by positing a counter worldview, “Fristianity”.
I’m not concerned with Fristianity A, since as most Presuppositionalists, and even many Fristians have realized, Fristianity would be easy to refute. Most importantly, it has no actual revelation, and thus: no plausible epistemological authority. It would be reduced to mere arbitrariness and triviality by a competent Presuppositionalist, in no time. Further, the hell-bounder using Fristianity A, has presumably had his own position so thoroughly trounced he has given it up and moved on to a purely imaginary position in a last-ditch effort to save face. If he’s gone that far in the debate, he’s already lost.
Fristianity Bravo (FB) however, is not attempting to refute Christianity, rather, it’s aimed at defeating the exclusivity claims of Presuppositionalists.
As such, it is more interesting and deserves further investigation.
But what are Choi and the Fristians actually doing?
In my analysis, Choi hangs himself severely in his own writings. That no one else has (to my knowledge) pointed this out yet, makes me second-guess myself; yet, after thinking on it, I cannot see how Choi or any Fristian can recover. The one, glaring, sentence in Choi’s article, that I find so outrageous, is on page 246.
According to Choi:
“Fristianity has come to mean what it does precisely because in the course of offering a possible defeater to TAG, Fristianity was defined as a possible worldview that includes a quadrinitarian God. Voila!”
In other words, to defeat the exclusivity claim of Presuppositionalists, Fristianity is offered as a POSSIBLE worldview.
To defeat the exclusivity claim of Presuppositionalists, the exclusivity of Christianity is assumed false.
Well, of course it will be hard to defend the exclusivity claim of Christianity when an argument presupposes it’s false to begin with! The very fact that “Fristianity” is possible, is what is contentious in the first place!!
When we Presuppers ask for a coherent presentation of Fristianity, we don’t get it. Choi, on page 247 says it’s not necessary. “It’s YOUR job, presupper, to show why Fristianity is false!”. I don’t believe Fristianity is even hypothetically possible. Just like I don’t believe any number of infinite worldviews are hypothetically possible.
The Fristian, in my view, amounts to demanding the Presuppositionalist do the following:
“Assume hypothetically, that Christianity is not exclusive. Now prove Christianity is exclusive”.
No, I don’t think I will.
Of course, in that hypothetical scenario, where Fristianity ACTUALLY accounts for all the preconditions of intelligibility, the presuppositionalist’s exclusivity claim would not obtain.
The same is true for any religion or worldview. We could say the same for Islam, for example. If Islam, hypothetically, were able to account for the preconditions of human intelligability, then of COURSE Christianity wouldn’t be the only religion that could.
Again, no thank you.
I will presuppose the exclusivity of Christianity until the Fristian deigns to present a worldview that accounts for the preconditions of intelligiblity. Let them write a systematic Fristian theology that accounts for human experience. Please.
Come onto the court and let’s play.
We Presuppositionalists are within our rights, apologetically-speaking, to continue presupposing the exclusivity of Christian theism until we have reason (even if hypothetical) to doubt it – a reason other than arbitrarily supposing it’s dubitable for the sake of argument.