Presuppositional Dispensationalism, Part 1
Republished with permission from Conservative Theological Journal, 10:29 (May 2006)
Admittedly and without apology, this approach begins with circular reasoning. Specifically, it begins with the defining circle of self-authenticating truths upon which the system is (and will be) developed. While this might cause some to discount the approach, it must be realized at the outset that at issue here is not one option beginning with circular reasoning as opposed to another option which does not. Any approach to worldview necessarily begins with an application of circular reasoning. That is, a worldview must by very definition begin with its own self-authenticating pronouncements of truth. Whether or not the pronouncements of the defining circle are valid is the question to consider, not whether such pronouncements are in fact made. The Biblical worldview claims exclusivity in its validity, never presenting an apologetic for its own validity, but rather assuming it as necessary and foundational truth. The positive assertions that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov. 1:7) and wisdom (Prov. 9:10) provide the epistemological base for any effective theological method. In this presuppositional dispensational approach, the Solomonic epistemology will be adhered to.
Pillar I: The Existence of the Biblical God
As first principal, the God of Scripture exists. Not merely as a deity, but as the One who has divinely disclosed Himself through means in which His exclusivity is decisively pronounced. If there is any other existent deity, then He cannot be one (at least not an honest one), for He consistently claims uniqueness in bearing this attribute (i.e., Deut 4:35; Is. 45:5; Joel 2:27; Rev. 22:13, etc.). He exists exclusively as the Truth in contradistinction to any and every other proposed foundational or fundamental truth.
He is holy, holy, holy. This is the most emphasized descriptive of God in Scripture (Is. 6:3; Rev. 4:8). The triplicate emphasis acknowledges the superlative nature of the holiness of God, and also seems to emphasize the perfections of the Trinity, identifying the holiness of the Three.
The holiness of God is not a singular attribute, but rather a descriptive of all that God is, in His character and His working. As it is the only descriptive used of Him three times consecutively in both Hebrew and Greek, and as such provides evidence of the centrality of holiness as God’s self concept as His own superlative description of Himself. We thus understand that by very nature God is infinitely and utterly incomprehensible (Is. 55:8-9).
To begin the task of proving or demonstrating the existence of God, it must necessarily be assumed that there is (or needs be) an objective ground of empirical or rational neutrality whereby there abides a framework of characteristics or rules to which God must Himself submit in order to provide verification of His own existence. If there exists such a ground, then the author of that ground (who would be by necessity superior to God) or even the ground itself must then be the true deity, with God as subservient and bound to it. If such a mythical scenario were to exist, then His existence would be summarily dismissed. Hence the effort to prove God’s existence proves faulty in motivation (there exists no epistemological reason to seek proof of the existence of God besides that of the primal desire to deny it) and in methodology (there exist no tools for accomplishing this task, and if the task is commenced it must utilize improper and inadequate tools). It is not insignificant that the Biblical writers provided no apologetic for the existence of God; rather His existence is stated, assumed, and necessary throughout the Biblical revelation as the reality-defining circle of foundational truth (Gen. 1:1; Ps. 14:1 etc.).
Therefore, the task here lies not in the realm of proving, demonstrating, or even defending His existence empirically or rationally, but rather in beginning with the Beginning: building upon the presupposition of His existence as the foundational and defining truth of reality. Belief in His existence is warranted due to His own self-authentication (in general, special, and personal [in Christ] revelation), and the knowledge of His existence is inescapable.
It (His existence) is the necessarily foundational truth of the defined epistemology (Biblical theism, per Prov. 1:7; 9:10), and as such is the necessary element of preunderstanding for further examination of the system.
In short: If the positive assertion of the existence of the Biblical God is an untrue assertion, then there could be no grounds for the legitimacy of the Biblically theistic system (or any system for that matter, for what would any absolute be based upon?), but if the legitimacy of the system as a whole be logically warranted then belief in His existence likewise must be warranted, and therefore must be altogether acknowledged. Thus, belief in His existence is required as the basis for all human predication. If He exists, then He is the definer of epistemology. If He does not, then there can be no absolute definition of anything, let alone a coherent approach to epistemology. Van Til represents this truth cogently:
All of the theistic arguments should really be taken together and reduced to the one argument of the possibility of human predication. Intelligent predication about anything with respect to nature or with respect to man were impossible unless God existed as the ultimate reference point of it all.
How then to escape the charge of methodological fideism?
This approach does not advocate faith as the sole or final source of dependence in the ascertaining of truth. Rather it simply finds its epistemological base defined in Scripture (i.e., the divine definition in Prov. 1:7; 9:10; and the human response in Rom. 1:18-21, etc.) and submits itself consistently to that definition, just as any epistemology must be founded upon principals of definition which must be maintained consistently throughout its application (again, a defining circle is found here, just as will necessarily be in any approach to epistemology).
The foundationalist approach that a proposition must be either fundamental to knowledge or based on evidence in order to be rationally justifiable will generally conclude that the existence of God does not fit qualifications as foundational truth, and therefore must be demonstrated by evidence. However, if the Biblical God exists, then He has defined that which is fundamental to knowledge – precisely His own reality, and thus the first pillar is not a fideistic pillar, but an epistemologically presuppositional pillar. Accusations of fideism here are unjustified.
Van Til has been criticized for developing a theology rather than an apologetic, and with this assessment I partially agree: The presuppositional apologetic (perhaps best stated by Van Til) is an epistemological beginning to theological method. It never presumes to make a defense of the existence of God. The Biblical mandate of apologia is in context of the believer’s hope (1 Pet. 3:15) with specific reference to the gospel (Php. 1:7 & 16), but never in reference to the existence of Yahweh, God.
Importance to the Dispensational System
The existence of the Biblical God is the foundational truth whereby reality is measured. Any legitimate attempt at human predication and interpretation of the universe must be founded upon this premise, and as a result, the myth of an empirical neutral ground becomes apparent. Any theological method which depends on a non-existent empirical or rational neutrality is ultimately flawed at the base and thus wholly unfit for the epistemological task of theological development.
The logical necessity of belief in the existence of the Biblical God as the starting point for theological method is demanded by Kuyper as he identified faith in the existence of the object to be investigated as the conditio sine qua non of investigation. One would not begin any course of study without a basic understanding of certain ground rules from presupposition. Without the positive assertion of the existence of the Biblical God as the primal foundational truth, what are the basic ground rules in theological method? And who determines them? An approach so subjective as to operate from any other starting point than that of God’s reality would hardly be efficacious for producing a legitimate result.
Pillar II: Divine & Authoritative Self-Disclosure
God has divinely and authoritatively disclosed Himself, for the purpose of His own glorification, via creation of and action in history (general revelation), by communication through language (special revelation), and by sent representation (personal revelation).
God continuously makes Himself known in general (natural) revelation (Acts 14:14-17) divinely by  the initial creative work itself (Is. 40),  by other marvelous divine activities using that which has been created (Ex. 15:1-21), and  within the creation itself (Ps. 19:1-6; Rom. 1:20).
Solomonic epistemology recognizes God’s self-disclosure in this manner and the resultant imprint on the hearts of men: “He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that man will not find out the work which God has done from beginning even to end.” (Ecc. 3:11). Pauline epistemology also recognizes the function of general revelation as resulting in the universal understanding of God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature (Rom. 1:18-20).
With these divinely inspired epistemological descriptives Calvin agrees, citing man’s innate sense of deity as stemming from an act of implanting on the part of God:
There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. This we take to be beyond controversy. To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of ignorance, God has implanted in all men a certain understanding of His divine majesty.
Van Til also acknowledges the efficacy of general revelation to the end that natural man knows that he is the creature of God, knows that he is responsible to God, and knows that he should live to the glory of God.
One accomplishment then of general revelation is man’s inescapable awareness of God, as impressed upon him by God, resulting in man’s awareness of man’s responsibility to God. Yet despite the profundity and efficacy of general revelation, it possesses intrinsic limitation in that it is sufficient to provide only enough revelation of God to present every man without excuse (Rom. 1:20). It is intentionally incomplete and ineffective for the task of presenting the content necessary for application of grace resulting in regeneration. This is no inherent flaw, but rather a designed feature facilitating the need for and provision of further revelation, thus representing the first processive step in the execution of God’s methodology for self-disclosure.
Following general revelation, God also has revealed Himself (in non-continuous fashion), in many portions and in many ways (Heb. 1:1), through men moved by the Holy Spirit who spoke from God (2 Pet. 1:21), in special revelation by the cumulative progress of God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16) Scripture. This Scripture is inerrant (as the word of truth, 2 Tim. 2:15) in its original text and as such is necessarily authoritative for all aspects of life.
God’s chosen vehicle for this authoritative special revelation was language. God used language to communicate with Himself before man was created. He blessed creation (Gen. 1:22), thereby using language to reveal Himself to creation. He gave imperatives (1:24, etc.), and finally He communicated with man. Human language does not have human origin, but rather originates with God, and for His purposes. The whole earth spoke His language (11:1) until He confused the language (11:9). This basic argument for the origin of language is central to the issue of authority, relating to human origin, and ultimately to the authority of the revelation itself. Due to the divine origin of human language, Lockhart’s axiom stands: Language is a reliable medium of communication.
Insofar as God used language to communicate Himself to man it is evident that He intended His revelation to be cognitively understood by those to whom it was directed. The means of special revelation by way of language varied (as expressed in Heb. 1:1), but included theophanies, dreams and visions, direct interaction, miracles and signs, and prophets. In each methodological approach, inarguably God sufficiently made Himself understood in the cognitive sense.
Special revelation functions as furthering the glorification of God, particularly in communication of the reconciliatory plan with stated impact of restoring the soul, and bringing wisdom, joy, and enlightenment (Ps. 19:7-8), and more precisely directed as  giving the unregenerate man wisdom leading to salvation (2 Tim. 3:15), and  giving the regenerate man adequacy and equipping for every good work (2 Tim 3:17). In short, God’s revelation of this type makes possible the gnosis necessary for positional relationship with Him – the knowing unto salvation, and provides the hortatory means whereby one can properly walk in a manner worthy of that positional relationship. The Old and New Testaments together provide the special revelation of God to the sinner, without which a true ethical interpretation of life is an impossible proposition.
If the central purpose of special revelation is the glory of God, and the central theme of God within it is the reconciliatory plan, then the central Character is Jesus Christ. Thus, at the base special revelation points to God’s personal revelation (Jn. 5:39) in His Son, Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:18; He. 1:1). The Christ, as the personal revelation of God, is both representative (Col. 1:13-18; Heb. 1:3) in that He represents God as God (being very God) to man, and hortatory (Jn. 1:18), in that He teaches the means of rightful positional relationship with God – namely belief in Him. He is therefore both the Revealed and the self-disclosing Revealer.
As self-disclosing, God naturally speaks with absolute authority. Therefore the Bible does not appeal to human reason in order to justify what it says. It comes to the human being with absolute authority. It bears the mark of truthful self-authentication “as white and black things do of their color, or sweet and bitter things do of their taste”. As authoritative, all elements of His revelation require human response, and man is held accountable for his response.
Importance to the Dispensational System
Of particular importance here is the characterization of God’s revelation as authoritative. The mere presupposition of propositional revelation is necessitated by the first pillar. It is the worthiness of revelation that is at issue in the second pillar.
In all forms of revelation, that which God has communicated of Himself is done so effectively and accomplishing with certainty the result which He desires.
As authoritative, God’s special revelation (as that which is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness) demands human submission, and is never subject to any authority on the interpreter’s part ( 2 Pet. 1:20-21).
 Dabney succinctly sums up the centrality of His holiness to any accurate description of Him: “Holiness, therefore, is to be regarded, not as a distinct attribute, but as the resultant of all God’s moral attributes together. And as His justice, goodness, and truth are all predicated of Him as a Being of intellect and will, and would be wholly irrelevant to anything unintelligent and involuntary, so His holiness implies a reference to the same attributes. His moral attributes are the special crown; His intelligence and will are the brow that wears it. His holiness is the collective and consummate glory of His nature as an infinite, morally pure, active, and intelligent Spirit.” [RL Dabney, Systematic Theology, (Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth Trust, 1985) 272-273].
 Van Til communicates this skillfully: “Everything in the created universe therefore displays the fact that it is controlled by God, that it is what it is by virtue of the place that it occupies in the plan of God. The objective evidence for the existence of God and of the comprehensive governance of the world by God is therefore so plain that he who runs may read. Men cannot get away from this evidence. They see it round about them. They see it within them. Their own constitution so clearly evinces the facts of God’s creation of them and control over them that there is no man who can possibly escape observing it. If he is self-conscious at all he is also God-conscious. No matter how men may try they cannot hide from themselves the fact of their own createdness. Whether men engage in inductive study with respect to the facts of nature about them or engage in analysis of their own self-consciousness they are always face to face with God their maker.” [Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1955), 195].
 see Smith’s denial of God based on his argument against the necessity of first cause [George Smith, Atheism: The Case Against God (Amherst, NY: Promotheus Books, 1989), 223-225].
 Van Til, Introduction to Systematic Theology (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1974), 102.
 besides that of the necessary defining circle of faith as is required by any system.
 James Beckwith, “Philosophy and Belief in God: The Resurgence of Theism in Philosophical Circles”, Masters Seminary Journal 2, (Spring 1991), 61-77.
 “Foundationalism is the view that a belief is a rational belief only if it is related in appropriate ways to a set of presuppositions which constitute the foundations of what we believe. It assumes, from the outset, that belief in God is not among these foundational propositions.” [D.Z. Phillips, Faith After Foundationalism (London: Routledge, 1988), 3].
 Historically, dispensationalism, while not positively asserting the neutral middle ground, has seemingly done little to positively deny it. As a result, the system faces increasing epistemological challenges, particularly related to hermeneutic theory.
 Abraham Kuyper, Principles of Sacred Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book, 1980), 48.
 Here is present the 3rd element of Ryrie’s sine qua non of dispensationalism, namely that the underlying purpose of God in all of His creation is the glory of God [Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today (Chicago: Moody, 1965), 46]. This is in full agreement with the Biblical record as evidenced in: Ps. 19:1; 21:5; 97:6; 106:47; 115:1; Is. 6:3; 43:7; 49:3; Jer. 33:9; Hab. 2:14; Jn. 17:1; 2 Cor. 4:15; 8:19; Eph. 1:6, 12, 14; Php. 1:11; 2:11; Rev. 4:11; 5:12-13; 15:4.
This is the doxological center: The glorification of God as the understood purpose for all things.
 B.B. Warfield, The Works of Benjamin Warfield, Vol I: Revelation & Inspiration, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003), 5.
 For a thorough handling of the ramifications of Rom. 1:18-21 in presuppositional thought see David L. Turner, “Cornelius Van Til and Romans 1:18-21, A Study in the Epistemology of Presuppositional Apologetics” in Grace Theological Journal, Vol 2 GTJ 2:1 (Spr 81): 45—81.
 John Calvin, Institutes (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1940), 43.
 Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 111.
 W.G.T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Vol. 1 (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 1980), 63.
 Warfield, The Works of Benjamin Warfield, Vol I: Revelation & Inspiration, 7.
 non-continuous here meaning that at a certain point (that point identified in 1 Cor. 13:10, in this writer’s estimation), His special revelation was complete, and that beyond that point He has not added to it or altered it, nor presently does He add to it or alter it, nor will He ever add to it or alter it.
 It is vital here to understand clear definition: that the writings themselves were inspired, not the writers, rather the human authors were moved of God and spoke from the Holy Spirit, despite Turretin’s assertion to the contrary.
 For further definition, see the nineteen articles of The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978), with which this writer agrees.
 Terry says: “The origin of human speech has been a fruitful theme of speculation and controversy. One’s theory on the subject is likely to be governed by his theory of the origin of man. If we adopt the theory of evolution according to which man has been gradually developed, by some process of natural selection, from lower forms of animal life, we will very naturally conclude that language is a human invention, constructed by slow degrees to meet the necessities and conditions of life. If, on the other hand, we hold that man was first introduced on earth by a miraculous creation and was made at the beginning a perfect specimen of his kind, we will very naturally conclude that the beginnings of human language were of supernatural origin.” [Milton Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 69].
 Clinton Lockhart, Principles of Interpretation (Delight, AR: Gospel Light, 1915), 20.
 Rene Pache, The Inspiration & Authority of Scripture, (Salem, WI: Sheffield, 1992), 20-22.
 John Calvin, Institutes 1:6:1.
 Cornelius Van Til, Christian Theistic Ethics (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1974), 15.
 Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1969), 15.
 John Calvin, Institutes 1:7:2.
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