Interview with a Dispensational Presuppositionalist: Dr. Christopher Cone of Tyndale Theological Seminary
From The Domain For Truth, September 21, 2012.
Dr. Christopher Cone is the President of Tyndale Theological Seminary. It turns out that he is a Dispensationalist and also Presuppositional in his apologetics! From the faculty page of the seminary’s website, one finds his education background listed (with three doctorates):
Undergraduate Studies, Moody Bible Institute
BBS, Tyndale Biblical Institute
MBS, Scofield Graduate School
ThD, Scofield Graduate School
MEd, Regent University
PhD, Trinity School of Apologetics & Theology (India)
PhD, University of North Texas
Dr. Cone has written books and articles that would interest those who are into theological method, hermeneutics and Christian epistemology. I plan to review one of his book, Prolegomena on Biblical Hermeneutics and Method in the near future (hopefully before this year ends–and I can’t help it, before the Tribulation =p). One of his doctoral dissertations has the most interesting of titles: Prolegomena: A Survey and Introduction to Method in Theology, Beginning with Presuppositional Epistemology and Resulting in Normative Dispensational Theology. That definitely interests me as I enjoy the relationship between theological method, epistemology, hermeneutics, Presuppositionalism and eschatology.
He also blogs at his personal website so be sure to check him out.
1.) Describe your current ministry to the Lord.
Well, hmmm…He keeps me busy, that’s for sure. First, he has given me a wonderful bride, partner, and friend. We try to honor Him together. Then we have two amazing daughters who we enjoy teaching and watching them grow in godliness. Also, for nearly the last seven years I have been serving as President of Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute (www.tyndale.edu). The school is about twenty-five years old, and is committed to preparing people to learn, do, and teach His word. Because of our operational model, I spend little to no time with fundraising, and instead am able to focus on developing people, writing, and classroom teaching. I am thankful for the freedom I have in that role, and am especially thankful for the many faithful men and women who labor so diligently at Tyndale. I am also blessed to serve as a pastor, along with two other godly men, of Tyndale Bible Church in Hurst, Texas. We are a small local body, casual in alot of ways, but very serious in how we handle the word of God (teaching verse by verse).
2.) How did you first became acquainted with Presuppositional apologetics? Who was your big influence?
I was blessed to have been raised by parents who taught me to love the Lord and to diligently study His word. So from an early age, and by applying a grammaticalhistorical hermeneutic (without realizing there was even such a thing, of course) I was able to arrive at a few important theological conclusions. First, I became convinced that God, as the Creator was completely sovereign, and that there was nothing out of His control. Second, I perceived that there were different economies in the outworking of God’s plan, and that even though the way of justification has always been the same in every economy (always by faith in Him), I could see that there were some key distinctions – for example, between Israel and the church, between law then and law now, and between covenants God made with Israel and promises God made to everybody else. So without really understanding the full implications, I was basically dispensational in my understanding before I understood that there was a thing called “dispensationalism.” Even though there are a few areas that I believe dispensationalism has gotten things wrong, overall, I am comfortable with the term. Third, I understood that thinking properly about God was really the basis of wisdom. Romans 1-3 was clear enough that our problems are not merely mental problems, but they are spiritual problems that manifest themselves in epistemologic (and every other kind of) rebellion against God. For better or worse, early on I didn’t pay much attention to apologetics as a discipline, for two basic reasons: first, I leaned on the sufficiency of Scripture and felt like if I knew His word, I would be prepared; second, I was uncomfortable with (classical) apologetics’ appeal to the fallen mind, not seeing that as entirely consistent with what I was reading in Scripture. Much later, a good friend introduced me to Cornelius Van Til. Through Van Til I discovered other presuppositional thinkers, but primarily in Van Til’s writings I found much more than presuppositional apologetics – I found the roots of a Biblical epistemology. Though there are many aspects of Van Til’s understanding that I would disagree with, he remains a key early influence in my process of working through a Biblical model for epistemology.
3.) How many years have you been teaching apologetics, theology and the Bible?
God in His sense of humor has utilized me in teaching His word most of my life – even as a kid. But it wasn’t until 1997 that I fell in love with the seminary classroom format. Teaching at Tyndale and also at Southern Bible Institute (Dallas), I was able to see the broad impact that could be had there. For example, I might be teaching a class with forty pastors in it. Those forty pastors would go out and teach thousands of others. Great responsibility there for sure…
4.) I am fascinated with your doctoral dissertation through the Trinity School of Theology as it touches on Presuppositional apologetics and Dispensationalism. Can you tell us a little about what it’s about?
Well, that dissertation was titled Prolegomena: A Survey and Introduction to Method in Theology Beginning With Presuppositional Epistemology and Resulting in Normative Dispensational Theology. The project was the fruit of years of research and teaching in the areas of epistemology, hermeneutics, and theological method. In observing the connection between each discipline and their interdependence, it seemed reasonable that we should develop our theology with consistency from the ground up, rather than appealing partially to various traditions that are sometimes mutually exclusive. In doing that work I recognized that presuppositionalism was more epistemology than apologetics, and should have a foundational role in theological method. That work became the textbook that is now titled, Prolegomena on Biblical Hermeneutics and Method, and is pretty foundational in Tyndale’s curriculum. Tyndale and other schools use it as a hermeneutics text, but I think it is equally valuable for its emphasis on presuppositional epistemology.
5.) What led you to write your doctoral dissertation on Presuppositional apologetics?
As one who generally draws dispensational conclusions, I have observed that a good number of dispensational thinkers have built on foundations of other traditions, and often those traditions are not compatible with dispensational thought. I believed it was important for us to do our own work, and to be transparent about our methods and patterns of thought. By doing this kind of “self-examination,” we would be better able to identify inconsistencies and problems in dispensationalism.
6.) Are there other Dispensational Presuppositionalists or institution that advocate it from a Dispensational perspective that you are aware of?
Certainly. Probably the best known and most impactful is Dr. John Whitcomb and his associated ministries. He has been teaching preuppositionalism with such simplicity for many many years. His is a fine example of speaking the truth in love. There are many other dispensational thinkers, I would expect who would lean toward presuppositionalism, because it is both necessary for and most consistent with dispensational thought. But Dr. Whitcomb is a dear and faithful example, to be sure.
7.) Tell us about your book on Ecclesiastes, and how it touches on worldview and Christian apologetics.
Midway through my Ph.D studies in philosophy (University of North Texas), I was teaching through the book of Ecclesiastes at Tyndale Bible Church, and at the same time was teaching philosophy at UNT. I had never before considered those two disciplines concurrently, and in so doing I realized that Solomon was answering every philosophical system that would come after him. I couldn’t resist the temptation write this book, which is an odd admixture of expositional commentary on Ecclesiastes and introduction to philosophy. Essentially the book is an introduction to philosophy through the critical perspective of Solomon. The punchline is that Solomonic epistemology is presuppositional, that the other systems represented (primary readings are included in the book) are incompatible with the Biblical framework, and that in Solomon’s estimation, God’s way is just…well, better. Lots better.
8.) For those who wish to make a contribution towards advancing Presuppositionalism, what would you like to see a thesis written on?
I would like to see us focus more on presuppositionalism as an epistemology rather than as an apologetic. The scope of apologetics – at least Biblically defined –is very limited (e.g., 1 Pet 3:15), and sometimes it seems like we are halfheartedly doing philosophy in the name of apologetics. This “partial” work engages some areas of philosophy, but not others. In some ways, secular philosophy is more transparent and consistent in that it engages across disciplinary boundaries for a more comprehensive approach. Its time we put on our big boy pants, and move beyond apologetic boundaries. I believe the Bible presents a superior comprehensive approach, and I would like for us to engage every area of philosophy on the grounds of Biblical epistemology.