Review of K. Scott Oliphint’s ‘Covenantal Apologetics’

Over on The Calvinist International, my friend Joseph Minich has written a long and thoughtful review of K. Scott Oliphint’s recent book, Covenantal Apologetics. Within the review Joseph engages critically with presuppositional apologetics in the Van Tillian tradition. Here is one passage:

It may seem quite strange to find a sort of secularism in Covenantal Apologetics, but something very much like that is at work. In many places recorded in the above review, Dr. Oliphint makes it very clear that two distinct actions occurred in creation: creation and condescension. For instance: “Now, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, once this God creates, he also condescends to relate to his creation” (190). It is possible that this move from creation to revelation is an issue of logical sequence rather than temporal sequence, but the problem remains the same. Revelation seems to be an additive to an otherwise non-revelatory cosmos.

But how can this be the case if God is Reality Himself? He is the “I am,” pure Being. Everything else is only insofar as He is related to it by virtue of its suspension in His own free act. Now, Dr. Oliphint would agree with all of this, we are sure, but it stands to fact that he has a noticeable habit of speaking about God’s creating and then His revealing Himself. One gets the impression that revelation is not rooted in being as such, but is a sort of supplement to objective reality in our subconscious that forces us to recognize God in “the things that are made.” And while we do not want to deny this mechanism at work in some regards, surely it falls far short of explaining that the heavens really objectively do (and can be shown to) “declare the glory of God.” There is an objective demonstrable reality which corresponds to our subjective awareness of it. And any failure to see this is not merely a failure to submit to “biblical authority” (though it might be that), but also a violation of all modes in which we know reality, whether it be our immediate experience or our theoretical reflections.

All of the above problems are implicit in this one, wherein we discover a functionally “neutral” creation (at least for the intelligent mind) after all—which is then given “meaning” by special revelation. Perhaps this only obtains in light of sin, or as a theory which the sinner uses to govern his thought, but then we have actually constructed an objectively impotent created order—which has no ability to to manifest itself to reason and experience as such. It does not act upon the mind, but rather is acted upon and interpreted, and that action obtains its meaning.

Read the entire thing.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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5 Responses to Review of K. Scott Oliphint’s ‘Covenantal Apologetics’

  1. whitefrozen says:

    I see a lot of the ‘atheism can’t make sense of the world’, in presuppositional circles. This to me seems patently false, and ends with what is effectively the presuppositionalist saying, ‘even if you think you can, you can’t, and you aren’t’. That, to put it crudely, is dumb. However, I did read a review Oliphint did of a philosophy text (I forget the name) in which he stated he’s a foundationalist (I remember he said this specifically in response to Wolterstorff’s thesis that foundationalism is dead), theologically and philosophically. That’s part of the problem.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      I strongly disagree. There are actually some serious problems with trying to make sense of the world from an atheist perspective. Which is why philosophically sophisticated atheists tend to end up defining the problem away or studiously ignoring uncomfortable parts of reality.

      Pragmatically, yes, you can be an atheist, but pragmatically you can be just about anything.

      • whitefrozen says:

        I’m not sure. I’m aware of a decent number of sophisticated atheists who have no problem making sense of the world, and don’t define the problem away or ignore certain parts of reality. I don’t really see any way in which one is required to be a theist or a Christian to make sense of the world, but then again, I don’t think Christianity is really something which is supposed to make sense of the world.

  2. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    While I appreciate much of Minich’s critique, I will repeat my charge (from my comment on his Smith essay) that Minich does not adequately deal with the faculties of perception and imagination. Everything is about reason and will. For all their flaws, the presuppositionalists (apparently, I haven’t read much of them, hence my request for Van Til recommendations) are at least groping towards an adequate understanding of how and why unbelievers and believers often perceive and imagine the world in very different ways. (And they do. We don’t get reality raw.)

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