Afterthoughts: My Discussion with Dr. K. Scott Oliphint
Allow me to begin this post by stating that I believe Presuppositionalism has a lot to offer non-presuppositionalist approaches. Perhaps more so than how it is currently being credited. Additionally, I believe that many non-presuppositionalists do misunderstand some of what the Presups are saying, which also leads me to think there is more common ground between the differing apologetic approaches than people think. However, there is disagreement on some fundamental issues. The following are some points from the discussion that I did not address or would like to make again regarding those fundamental issues. And though some (or much) of this post may seem like petty points, once you get down to the fundamental differences, there will be petty points to debate. I don’t have the time-markers or transcript available, so if one were to question my accuracy of expositing Dr. Oliphint, I’d be happy to provide the info for you. For those who have yet to hear my interaction with Oliphint, here is a link to it.
Oliphint stated that we both agree with Original Sin.
This is technically not true. I affirm what the Eastern Orthodox call Ancestral Sin. Essentially it is similar to Original Sin, except that it does not affirm inherited guilt from Adam nor does it affirm Inability. Perhaps the best and most recent work done on Ancestral Sin was by the 20th century Orthodox theologian John Romanides.
Oliphint clarified that we’re talking about Total Depravity, not Original Sin.
We’re both right. Inability is often brought under the label, Total Depravity. However, Total Depravity boils back down to Original Sin, because the Reformed believe that Total Depravity comes from Adam and is passed on to his posterity (which is what Original Sin addresses). So if one were to look at the aspects of Original Sin, there he/she would find Inability.
Oliphint stated, “If you speak more broadly in terms of Christendom, there are two basic options in Christianity. One is, what we call, a more Arminian approach to theology where you give some credence to a notion of what we call libertarian free will. And then the approach that I take is that we are dead in our trespasses and sins and because of that, the only way that people will move from raft to grace is by the power of God the Holy Spirit changing our hearts so that we can believe.”
This is the same false dichotomy I received in my undergraduate Bible courses at Biola University. The Calvinist-Arminian debate is a multi-lateral debate, not a bi-lateral debate. I disagree with both Calvinsts and Arminians that all men are totally depraved. I, like many Wesleyans, disagree with the classical Arminians in that I don’t believe humans inherit the guilt of Adam. Lastly, if we are speaking “broadly in terms of Christendom” we must include Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox who certainly are neither Calvinist nor Arminian.
Side note: I’m not convinced that it’s helpful to label your opponent, and then proceed to not label but describe your position with Bible verses. It gives an unfair hearing to the views in question since your Christian opponents, too, believe the truth of the Bible verses used. I think this tendency happens with people who are arguing that their view is the biblical one. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but we should let individuals decide if our views are true by showing why our view best describes the biblical data instead of using a verse as if our interpretation is the only possible one.
Oliphint said, “Would you preach to someone who has absolutely no capacity to even understand the terms or ideas that you’re communicating? Of course you wouldn’t. There is a capacity there but the problem is, those who remain in their sins, unless the Lord changes them will always twist and turn those truths of the Gospel into something that to them is something not believable.”
Oliphint here, without providing a more detailed nuance, appears to contradict himself. He says that nonbelievers have no capacity, but then corrects himself to say that there is a capacity. I also think he conflates Inability with Unwillingness, which I think is the reason why people reject the Gospel. The Scripture teaches that man is unwilling to believe (Psalm 10:4, Isaiah 7:9, Habakkuk 1:5, Malachi 2:2, Matthew 18:16, Luke 9:5, John 5:40, Acts 3:23, et al.), not that he is unable.
Attack against bare theism. (White also spends time on this issue.)
I’m delighted to agree that we can’t just stop at bare theism (I don’t know of any Christian that would disagree). But arguing for theism is a stepping-stone to get people to Christianity. If one rejects theism then they reject Christianity. So, arguments for theism are useful in leading some people to Christ. The Presuppositionalist attack against bare theism is a sort of straw man; they’re attacking a position non-presups don’t hold to.
All things considered, I enjoyed my discussion with Dr. Oliphint. I hope to have further conversation with him in the future, perhaps once I get around to publishing some articles or books. One of the goals that I have in my theological aspirations will be to illustrate that there are alternative biblical and theological ways of understanding the nature of man. Even if you would like to disagree with me, I hope that you can take that away; this is not a bilateral, Calvinist or Arminian debate.