The Same Tired Assertions

Jeff Downs posted in regard to J. Warner Wallace’s comments in response to a review found on The Gospel Coalition, authored by Gustav Pritchard. He doesn’t supply the link to the review in his post, but it was easily found by a text search. Once I read the response, I went to the “Cold Case Christianity” facebook page and asked a question of Mr. Wallace. First, let’s take his comments in.

I authored a book, Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, which takes an evidential approach to Christian Case Making (apologetics). That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone purchasing the book, given its title. I am, after all, a homicide detective. But I occasionally receive a challenge or objection because I take an evidential approach to Christian Case Making. One critic recently wrote:

“…Cold-Case Christianity places far too much emphasis on the role of extrabiblical sources. No doubt there is a legitimate role for biblical archaeology and extrabiblical writing from antiquity. Christianity is, after all, a faith firmly rooted in human history. But there is a grave danger when truth is suspended because of an apparent lack of corroboration from extrabiblical sources. And Wallace, I’m afraid, wanders too close to this dark side of apologetics… Wallace seems to suggest we cannot affirm the truth of the Gospel accounts without the stamp of approval from archaeology and other extrabiblical sources. Such reasoning is dangerous, not least because it cannot affirm the inerrancy of the Bible. But also, it places the final court of appeal in the realm of extrabiblical sources rather than of God’s all-sufficient, all-powerful Word.”

Granted, the critic in this case favors presuppositional apologetics, so it’s clear that any evidential approach (such as might be offered in books like The Case for Christ or I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist) is likely to come under fire, but I thought I should at least explain why evidentialism has been so powerful in my own life. First, let me begin by saying that I have repeatedly affirmed the role that God plays in first removing the enmity that all of us have in our natural, fallen condition. I’ve never argued that humans begin from a position of neutrality. I think we are, instead, aligned against God until he does something to remove our hostility. But once that has occurred, I do believe the role of evidence is critical. Let me share my own personal story. My father was, and still is, an atheist. But his wife, my stepmother, is a Mormon. I have six half-brothers and sisters who were raised in the Mormon Church.

Now, as I have supplied the link to the review, it is apparent upon reading it why Wallace answers it the way he does. The review is not especially favorable. What is not readily apparent is what he thinks covenantal (or presuppositional) apologetics really teaches. Let’s read further.

When I first became interested in the things of God (after God removed the enmity I had toward Him for 35 years), I began to investigate the gospels, as I have chronicled in my book. But I also began a parallel investigation; Mormon missionaries “coincidentally” visited me during these early days of interest (I’ve always suspected that my sister called them). As I read through my $6.00 pew Bible, I also began to read through the Book of Mormon given to me by the missionaries. To be honest, the two books initially seemed to share many characteristics (from my theologically uneducated perspective), until I began to take the approach of an evidential investigator. The same kinds of evidence that corroborated the Bible as a reliable record of Jesus, betrayed the Book of Mormon as a piece of fiction. As a result, I had lots of questions for the missionaries when they returned. I asked them about the complete lack of support for any of the claims of the Book of Mormon.

Now, while all this is indeed interesting, note the other interesting thing he does in the next section. He takes what is a particular critique of his methodology, and turns it into an apologetic argument. Further, by what he says, I’m not sure if he has a grasp of what it is that our methodology teaches, either. It’s very hard to get a real “feel” for his level of research from this short, almost throwaway assertion, but it almost seems as if he’s saying that Mormonism can use Sola Scriptura! Here’s the section – let’s look it over, then compare it to the matching section from the review.

Imagine, if they responded in the following fashion:

“…Jim, don’t place too much emphasis on the role of sources other than the Book of Mormon as you are examining the Book of Mormon. No doubt there is a legitimate role for archaeology and non-Mormon writing from antiquity. Mormonism is, after all, a faith firmly rooted in human history. But there is a grave danger when truth is suspended because of an apparent lack of corroboration from sources other than the Book of Mormon. Jim, don’t wander too close to this dark side of apologetics… You’re seeming to suggest we cannot affirm the truth of the Book of Mormon accounts without the stamp of approval from archaeology and sources other than the Book of Mormon. Such reasoning is dangerous, not least because it cannot affirm the inerrancy of the Book of Mormon. But also, it places the final court of appeal in the realm of extra-Mormon sources rather than of God’s all-sufficient, all-powerful Word, the Book of Mormon.”

See the problem? Many of my Mormon family members could, in fact, make the statement I just quoted. I am a Christian today, because I took an evidential approach to my faith. I’m not a Mormon today, because I took an evidential approach to my faith. I’m grateful for my evidential detective inclinations because they guided me to the truth. God moved first, I responded with the evidence God provided. I’m at home with evidentialism because the evidence brought me home.

Now, here’s the section from the review.

First, Cold-Case Christianity places far too much emphasis on the role of extrabiblical sources. No doubt there is a legitimate role for biblical archaeology and extrabiblical writing from antiquity. Christianity is, after all, a faith firmly rooted in human history. But there is a grave danger when truth is suspended because of an apparent lack of corroboration from extrabiblical sources. And Wallace, I’m afraid, wanders too close to this dark side of apologetics. … In other words, Wallace seems to suggest we cannot affirm the truth of the Gospel accounts without the stamp of approval from archaeology and other extrabiblical sources. Such reasoning is dangerous, not least because it cannot affirm the inerrancy of the Bible. But also, it places the final court of appeal in the realm of extrabiblical sources rather than of God’s all-sufficient, all-powerful Word.

Basically, Wallace lifts two paragraphs from the review, and turns them into apologetic arguments in the mouth of Mormons. There are a few questions to ask, since this is what Wallace has done. First – Do they belong there, or, do Mormons argue like this? Second – Can they use these arguments consistently? Third – is it acceptable to change the context of the argument in this instance?

What needs to be noted, since this is, after all, a site dedicated to teaching the presup method, is that this is a form of Fristianity being presented. We have dealt with Fristianity in many forms over the years, and this bears all the hallmarks, whether Wallace knows this is the case or not. This brings us to the first point – do these arguments belong in the mouths of Mormons? As I am very prone to say, this methodology is Sola Scriptura in an apologetic context. The wording that Gustav Pritchard uses is entirely consistent with an adherence to Sola Scriptura, is it not? So this should cause us to immediately think – do Mormons believe in Sola Scriptura? Well, let’s take a very superficial look, specifically at what the name of their church is. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Since the author has dealt with the LDS, I’m sure he is aware that they have “latter day prophets”, and as such, cannot meaningfully hold to anything which might be considered Sola Scriptura. Since this is the case, this leaves us with a puzzling conundrum. Either Mr. Wallace is unaware that Mormons cannot hold to Sola Scriptura or it didn’t occur to him that this might be relevant. Given the typical evangelical attitude toward Sola Scriptura, it could be either, or both. Now, Mr. Wallace’s reply may be that he doesn’t think this is relevant – but since the idea is to critique presuppositional apologetics, I would respectfully advise him that it is, indeed, incredibly relevant should he wish his comparison to hold any water at all. We could go into more detail concerning this point – we could speak of the internal critique of the LDS Scriptures that any adherent of our methodology would undertake, as well as the internal critique of the theology brought forth from it – which inevitably leads to the BoM being shown to be utterly incoherent, and incapable of supporting an argument from the impossibility of the contrary – but that is almost overkill!

However, this does bring us to the second point. As I’ve been speaking of in my last few posts, the transcendence of God is central to trancendental argumentation. Given the LDS view on the nature of God and man, how on earth can they muster any semblance of a transcendental argument? One of the central focuses of my teaching has been the centrality of the character and nature of God – and the utter uniqueness which this gives us, as apologists – to the transcendental argument, and to the covenantal methodology as a whole. Mr. Wallace’s critique strikes me, unfortunately, as that of someone who simply has not done any research to speak of on the subjects he is speaking about. How on earth can a Mormon consistently affirm Sola Scriptura in an apologetic context, while offering a transcendental argument to show that Mormonism is true, by the impossibility of the contrary? Only if one thinks that presup is nothing more than a none-too-sophisticated fideism, or overlooks the centrality of Sola Scriptura and the rest of Reformed systematic to the method, can one make the sort of comparison that is made in Mr. Wallace’s comments.

Third, there is the matter of context. Were Gustav Pritchard’s comments meant to be a re-encapsulation of our methodology, or were they meant to be a targeted critique of Wallace’s methodology? Further, is there any reason to believe that LDS missionaries would be critiquing Mr. Wallace’s methodology? Nothing that I have ever seen or heard from the LDS would ever suggest that they are interested in arguing presuppositionally. Nothing I have ever seen or heard from the LDS would ever suggest that they are anything but evidentialists. They are incredibly concerned with showing that all of the “historical events” portrayed in the BoM are true. Generations of students at BYU have spilled buckets of ink in an attempt to justify the flights of fancy it gives us concerning Lamanites, Nephites, and the like. On the other hand, what is their rather infamous method for demonstrating that the BoM is in fact true? The burning in the bosom! Does this bear any resemblance to the well-nigh bottomless amounts of material that the Reformers and their successors have written concerning Sola Scriptura? Now, of course, the evidentialist might attempt to say that “burning in the bosom” is a form of fideism – and perhaps it is. On the other hand, this is also a different topic, isn’t it? As Chris has taken great pains to show, there is a difference between proof and persuasion – and the LDS focuses on emotional persuasion here. There is a feeling that what they say is true. On the other hand, when it comes to logical persuasion, they are very much evidentialists, are they not? Even if burning in the bosom were a form of fideism, however, wouldn’t the evidentialist I mentioned have to demonstrate that we are fideists in order to make this comparison stick?

It is not at all clear that Gustav Pritchard was making an apologetic argument with his statements. It seems to be clear that he was critiquing evidentialism as presented by Mr. Wallace. It is not at all clear that the LDS would be at all interested in arguing presuppositionally. It is not at all clear that the LDS can even be used as a comparison in this instance! So, when we have broken it down, what exactly has Mr. Wallace demonstrated?

It seems to me that Mr. Wallace has demonstrated that he has not read any of the literature that deals with Fristianity attempts. It seems to me that Mr. Wallace has demonstrated that he is not very versed in the theological underpinnings of presuppositionalism, given his attempt to use the LDS to argue his point. I’d like to invite Mr. Wallace, once again, to show us what, exactly, his critique of presuppositionalism is. I asked him this on his facebook group wall:

You wrote: “If the missionaries had taken the approach offered by some of my presuppositional brothers, I might have trusted the Book of Mormon without testing.”

What is your actual objection which leads you to believe this would be the case? As it stands, you seem to have made an assertion without demonstration – or, to be blunt – without evidence. Can you specify what, exactly, presuppositionalists believe (or that you think they believe, at least) that would justify this assertion, please?

This was his response:

Cold Case Christianity Joshua I’m simply offering the statement made by my brother about the danger if my approach toward the claims of the Bible. If I reword the statement in terms of the Book of Mormon I think it illustrates the problem with the approach

My response was as follows:

What is the problem you are raising? That’s the question I’m asking. You say there is a problem. You don’t say what the problem is, or how presuppositionalism raises it.

His response was this:

Cold Case Christianity Simply the statement I quoted in the post. It could be applied to Mormonism in the same way the writer applied it to Christianity. When that is the case, we ought to think twice about applying that approach.

This struck me quite clearly – he made multiple claims, without any evidence being offered to substantiate them. Lets list them.

1) “If the missionaries had taken the approach offered by some of my presuppositional brothers, I might have trusted the Book of Mormon without testing.”
2) “If I reword the statement in terms of the Book of Mormon I think it illustrates the problem with the approach”
3) “It could be applied to Mormonism in the same way the writer applied it to Christianity.”

In 1 – I specifically asked him how this was the case, or whether it was the case – for an argument to justify this assertion. His responses seemed to be heavy on “simply.” It seemed to me that he was saying “it just is”. The problem is, he offers no reasons for this, or any evidence that it is, in fact, the case. Assumption is not argument. There is no explanation offered, after multiple attempts to elicit one.

In 2 – I don’t think this is the case. Why would LDS missionaries be interested in refuting evidentialism, or in championing Sola Scriptura? The words he puts in their mouth don’t belong there, and they don’t have the theological underpinnings to make it in the first place, even if they wanted to.

In 3 – This is a simple assertion, with no argumentation whatsoever to support it. It’s a Fristianity variant, and nothing more than fiat. I offered quite a bit of argumentation above to refute this claim.

All in all, unfortunately, it seems to be yet another case of the same tired assertions. For an extensive look at similar assertions see a search for “Fristianity” on this site.

Mr. Wallace: If you’re going to make the assertion – please provide some argumentation to back it up. Maybe even some evidence. Thanks!

Addendum: Mr. Wallace has offered his comments on this post, and I’ve responded. They are reprinted below.

Cold Case Christianity Joshua it’s truly not my “idea to critique presuppositional apologetics”. I’m simply trying to explain my own evidential journey in response to someone critical of me. I’m very happy that so many good Christian Case Makers are presuppositional (see my post on Monday about MMA). I don’t think I’ve taken quite the tone with you that you are taking with me. I think you’ve mis-read my effort here brother. And I think you’re trying to pick a fight over a non-essential methodology. That’s not my intent.

Joshua Whipps Whether that was your idea or not, a critique is: “a criticism or critical comment on some problem, subject, etc.” Your assertion was that presup had a problem – thus, it was a critique. My issue was not with your intent, however – it was with what you *said*. As a Christian teacher you have the responsibility to be accurate concerning that which you teach. What I would like to see is not whether you *intended* to critique presup or not, but either a defense of the statement you made, and an answer to my arguments – or a retraction. As I explained in the post, whether or not your methodology adheres to Sola Scriptura or not is indeed essential – and part of the difference between my methodology and yours is that very consideration. So, baldly stating that this is a “non-essential” is only valid under your methodology – not mine. When you make statements in public concerning issues of theology, public statements will be made in regard to them. I said the things I said because I care for the truth, and I am opposed to error – and your statements concerning presup were very much in error. I exhort you to carefully examine the issue further before you address it again. You had two of the largest presuppositionalist sites respond to your assertion within 24 hours, and both said that your assertion was dead wrong, and improperly represented what we believe on the subject. This should make you concerned about whether what you said was accurate or not, not about what your intent was. The intent is irrelevant – the accuracy of your assertions is very relevant.

Cold Case Christianity I’m comfortable with my position relative to Evidentialism and whether it not it is Biblical. I think I’ve said enough on this issue but I will continue to reference it in future posts and podcasts. Thanks brother.

Joshua Whipps I’ll be listening.

Note – Mr. Wallace does not address any of the factual issues raised in this post, does not address his own accuracy regarding Presuppositionalism, yet promises to “continue to reference it.” Why doesn’t this strike me as a positive thing?

4 thoughts on “The Same Tired Assertions

  1. Matthias McMahon

    I’d be interested to know if he is Calvinistic in his soteriology, and how he’d say that squares with his #1. Because he’s certainly not thinking presuppositionally at that point, in entertaining the possibility that anything other than what has happened, has happened, due to a mere difference in method.

    • Hi Matthias, J. Warner Wallace does identify himself as Calvinist or Reformed regarding election. I don’t claim to be in this camp myself so I will leave it to you to determine whether or not he is the real thing or just RINO (Reformed in name only) :) He does devote some podcasts to how his evidentialism is consistent with Calvinism so perhaps you might want to research those. As quoted in the above article he argues that once God has initiated grace upon an individual then the supporting evidence becomes useful in the process. This would perhaps be non-persuasive to those who might hold that irresistible grace must be an instant, all or nothing, event, but I’ve seen some Calvinists acknowledge that the process can extend over time.

      Note also that Wallace doesn’t trash Presup as a method and he even claims willingness to apply the method on occasions when the conversation with the skeptic leads in that direction. Many presuppositionalists might say that all apologies should only follow the presup method, but Wallace (and I) reject that exclusivity. It may or may not be interesting, but I (a non-Calvinist) can find many Calvinists with a lessor respect for presuppositionalism than I hold.

      • First, what does being a “one point Calvinist” have to do with anything, even were this so? If asked if you’re a Calvinist, it refers to adherence to Calvinism as a soteriological system, not something else entirely, or even to just a shadow of it. Secondly, you didn’t answer the question he asked, let alone the entire question he asked. How does even this supposed adherence square with what he says about possibility? I address this in my podcast, as well.

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