Tag Archives: Greg Bahnsen

You Twist the Bible!


Each year I teach young people in my pre-confession class how to defend their faith.  I’ve long been convinced that they need to know not only what they believe, but why.  They should be able to give good reasons for their faith — in line with 1 Peter 3:15.  So I teach a unit on apologetics.  Ever since starting, I’ve used Richard Pratt’s Every Thought Captive (ETC) as the textbook.  There are a lot of things I like about ETC, but especially the last few chapters are weak in some respects.  I’ve been on the lookout for something to replace it.

I’m just about finished Tactics by Gregory Koukl and I think I’ve finally found something better than ETC.  I was a bit skeptical at first about whether it would be compatible with a Reformed approach to apologetics, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised.  It’s more focused on the practical side of engaging unbelievers and their arguments, and so far I’ve found little to quibble with.

Here in Australia, things are heating up for a plebiscite later this year regarding same-sex marriage and there are those wishing to silence the voice of Bible-believing Christians.  Koukl has something to offer believers as they face hostility from “progressives.”  Australian Christians may face the kind of scenario described here and Koukl shows a good way to respond.   This extended quote comes from chapter 6:

Once in a dorm lounge at Ohio State University, a student asked me about the Bible and homosexuality.  When I cited some texts, he quickly dismissed them.  “People twist the Bible all the time to make it say whatever they want,” he sniffed.

I don’t recall my specific response to him that evening.  I do remember, though, that I was not satisfied with my answer.  On the drive back to my hotel, I gave the conversation a little more thought.  I realized it made little sense to argue with his comment as it stood.  It was uncontroversial.  People do twist Bible verses all the time.  It is one of my own chief complaints.  Something else was going on though, and I couldn’t put my finger on it at first.

Suddenly it dawned on me.  The student’s point wasn’t really that some people twist the Bible.  His point was that I was twisting the Bible.  Yet he hadn’t demonstrated this.  He had not shown where I’d gotten off track.  Rather, he didn’t like point, so he dismissed it with a some-people-twist-the-Bible dodge.

I quickly wrote out a short dialogue using questions intended to surface that problem.  I also tried to anticipate his responses and how I would use them to advance my point.

Here is what I came up with:

“People twist the Bible all the time to make it say whatever they want.”

“Well, you’re right about that.  It bugs me, too.  But your comment confuses me a little.  What does it have to do with the point I just made about homosexuality?”

“Well, you’re doing the same thing.”

“Oh, so you think I’m twisting the Bible right now.”

“That’s right.”

“Okay, now I understand what you’re getting at, but I’m still confused.”


“Because it seems to me you can’t know that I’m twisting the Bible just by pointing out that other people have twisted it, can you?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that in this conversation you’re going to have to do more than simply point out that other people twist the Bible.  What do you think that might be?”

“I don’t know.  What?”

“You need to show that I’m actually twisting the verses?  Have you ever studied the passages I referred to?”


“Then how do you know I’m twisting them?”  (Tactics, 94-95)

Koukl’s approach here is helpful in exposing ignorance.  A lot of people have been told that “fundamentalist Christians” twist the Bible to support their views on homosexuality, and because a professor, teacher, media figure, or some other authority said it, it is automatically accepted as true.  Many people have never studied the matter for themselves and we should call them on coming to the table with that basic failure.

However, it may happen that you will meet someone who claims to have studied the passages in question.  In this post from 2014, I describe my experience as a university student in the 90s.  These days, more than ever, you do need to be prepared to face people who claim to be Christians, but have no qualms about homosexuality and the entire LBTQ enterprise.  You will meet liberal revisionists who believe that they can be Christians and affirm sexual perversity.  They’re often familiar with the passages and they think they know how to square a circle.  To prepare for answering them, read (and then bookmark) this helpful essay by Dr. Greg Bahnsen.   Bahnsen will give you what you need to answer back, “Who’s really twisting Scripture here?”

Confessional Conferences for Reformed Unity

Reformed Meeting

Back in the early 1990s, a unique effort was made to address several  pressing issues facing Reformed and Presbyterian churches.  The issues of concern were primarily egalitarianism (leading to women in ecclesiastical offices) and evolution.  This period saw a mass exodus from the Christian Reformed Church over these very issues and ones related to them.  From concerned CRC and ex-CRC churches, an organization developed which eventually became known as the Alliance of Reformed Churches.  The ARC was approached to convene a series of conferences aimed at developing a confessional approach to the above-mentioned issues of concern.  The hope was that confessional documents could be developed which would provide the basis for doctrinal unity between various Reformed and Presbyterian churches in North America.  The ARC agreed to take this on.

The first Confessional Conference was held in July of 1993.  Christian Renewal reported on it in the September 13, 1993 issue.  Attendance was not all that impressive.  Some of the noteworthy individuals in attendance were Dr. John Byl, Dr. Margaret Helder, and Dr. Nelson Kloosterman.  Attendees came from Orthodox Presbyterian, Christian Reformed (and ex-CRC), PCA, Canadian Reformed, and other churches.  The 1993 meeting reviewed a document prepared by the organizing committee on hermeneutics.  Several speeches were also presented on the subject of creation and evolution.  The intention was that a confessional document on creation would be prepared and presented at the next conference in 1994.

I have been unable to find much about the 1994 conference.  It was scheduled to be held July 13-16.  From this report, it appears that it was held, but the attendance continued to be disappointing.  Another conference was supposed to be held in 1995 to discuss ecclesiology, but because of the attendance issue, it was scrapped.  One never hears about the Confessional Conferences again.

From one perspective, the Confessional Conferences could be regarded as a failure.  However, it was not a waste of time or effort.  Today we still have two important documents that came from these conferences.  These documents should receive more attention.  The first is a Reformed Confession Regarding Hermeneutics.  The second is a Reformed Confession Regarding Creation.  These are both drafts primarily written by the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  Both are precise and faithful summaries of biblical teaching on these important issues.  They feature affirmations of the correct teaching and denials of various false teachings.  They are well-worth reading and studying.

Why did the Confessional Conferences fail?  Obviously the attendance was an issue, indicating a general lack of interest in North American Presbyterian and Reformed churches.  Worse yet, there was especially a lack of interest from the membership of the Alliance of Reformed Churches itself — the very organization which agreed to organize these conferences.  Moreover, the ARC was the vehicle engineering the launch of the United Reformed Churches.  That took place in 1996.  Much time and energy was being directed towards establishing a new federation and, understandably, there seems to have been little appetite for a broader outlook on unity.

Could an idea like this be revived today?  For example, could NAPARC be the vehicle to convene a new series of confessional conferences?  We have to be realistic.  I rather doubt that the appetite would be there any more today than it was in the early 1990s.  Just observe that, since then, there have been further developments in various NAPARC churches.  For instance, on the issue of creation and evolution, the URCNA took a position at Synod Escondido 2001.  The RCUS has also taken a firm position, as have others.  While it sounds like a good idea on paper, the reality is that the desire for developing a common confessional approach to these matters is going to be weak.  Churches faced with some of these contemporary theological challenges today are going to be best off investing their time and energy with an “in-house” approach.

Book Review: Popologetics (1)


Popologetics: Popular Culture in Christian Perspective, Ted Turnau, Phillipsburg: P & R Publishing, 2012.  Paperback, 346 pages, $20.89.

It was 1992 and there was a lot of time to spend on the bus between home and university.  From time to time, one of my good friends from high school would be on the same bus and we would get to talking about all kinds of different things.  On one occasion, we got into a rather intense debate about whether Christians should watch movies.  There is this phenomenon known as the “cage phase.”  People, mostly on the younger side, discover the Reformed faith and they become intolerable – they should be put in a cage, hence “cage phase.”  I had been a rather worldly young man in my teen years.  Having finally become serious about my faith, I was going through my own cage phase.  It seemed to me that a true Reformed believer must abandon popular culture completely.  Hence, no movies, no rock music (I threw out hundreds of tapes), no TV, no worldly books, absolutely nothing that smacks of the world.  It must be all or nothing.  My friend on the bus disagreed, although from what I remember his reasons were not particularly Christian or well thought out.

It took a few years for this cage phase to wane.  Along the way, I began to develop a more balanced and biblical view of popular culture.  I can look back now and see how it happened step-by-step.  I discovered the writings of Cornelius Van Til and Reformed apologetics.  I read some essays by John Frame applying Van Til’s teachings to popular culture.  I had to take a fine arts option in university and art and music were definitely out, since I’m neither artistic nor musical.  That left film studies.  In Film Studies 200, I learned that film is not merely entertainment, but also art in its own right.  By the time I graduated from university, I could again appreciate various aspects of popular culture.  I began writing cultural critiques for Reformed Perspective magazine, critiques of movies like Star Wars and musicians like Tom Cochrane, Bryan Adams, and Shania Twain.

All of this is to say that the issues discussed in this book by Ted Turnau resonate with me.  I’ve been thinking about them for over twenty years already.  What should Christians do with popular culture?  Do we thoughtlessly embrace it as the background for our daily lives?  Do we reject it altogether, since it comes from the world and the world is given over to sin?  Or is there another way, a better way?  Ted Turnau is convinced that there is a better and more thoughtful way for Christians to engage popular culture, a way which will serve our neighbours best and also give more glory to God.

Ted Turnau is an American teaching cultural studies in the Czech Republic.  He has a Ph.D. in apologetics from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  That brings me to the first important characteristic of this book:  it is an application of Reformed apologetics to the field of popular culture.  Several times throughout the author indicates his indebtedness to Reformed apologists such as Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen.  Just like Jason Lisle applied Reformed apologetics to the question of origins in his book, The Ultimate Proof of Creation, Ted Turnau seeks to apply it to how we think about movies, music, TV, and other forms of pop culture.  As I mentioned, others (like John Frame) have done this before, but only in a limited way.  To my knowledge, this is the only book-length attempt.  Turnau lays out the book’s purpose in the Introduction:  “…this book is for those who want to be able to give an intelligent, warmhearted, biblical answer back to the worldviews presented in popular culture” (xvii).  Does Turnau succeed in what he sets out to do?

Click here for Part 2

Friends You Should Meet (5) — Greg Bahnsen

It’s no secret that I love books.  Here in my study I often feel like I’m surrounded by good friends.  In this series of posts, I’d like to introduce you to some of my friends, both the old ones from centuries ago and the more recent ones.  I’ll describe their strengths and, where necessary, their weaknesses.  The aim is to help you find good friends for yourself — in other words, to find edifying reading that will give you a better understanding of the Christian faith, a greater grasp of the gospel, and a deeper love for Christ.

Discovering the writings of Cornelius Van Til was a turning point in my spiritual and theological development.  However, as I mentioned earlier, Van Til was not a popularizer.  Moreover, his writings on apologetics didn’t include a lot of biblical exegesis and explicit scriptural support.  There were a number of students of Van Til who were better communicators.  John Frame is certainly one of those.  However, the best of Van Til’s students was without question Greg Bahnsen.

Dr. Greg Bahnsen was a graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  I believe he was the first (the only?) student to do his M.Div. and M.Th. concurrently at that institution.  He later went on to do doctoral studies at the University of Southern California.  He was an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  Bahnsen also founded the Southern California Center for Christian Studies (SCCCS, now defunct).  He was the author of several books, numerous articles, and a frequent lecturer, speaker, and debater.  He died suddenly in 1995 from complications following open heart surgery.

Why is Greg Bahnsen important? He was a gifted, charismatic communicator.  He was the rare man with great intellect, quick on his feet, and passionate for truth.  But most of all, Greg Bahnsen held the Word of God in the highest esteem and sought to consistently apply it to every area of life, including apologetics.

Where do I start? Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith is Bahnsen’s most accessible book on apologetics.  It’s written at a level that I think most high school graduates should be able to manage it.  One of the best features of this book is how it displays clearly the biblical basis of Reformed (presuppositional) apologetics.  The next step up would be Bahnsen’s Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and DefendedYou can find my review of that one here.  His magnum opus is without doubt Van Til’s Apologetic.  VTA is a massive volume of anthologized writings of Van Til with commentary and footnotes from Greg Bahnsen.  Everyone serious about apologetics needs to have this work.  Finally, I should mention that a lot of Bahnsen’s articles are available for free on-line.  You can find them here.

What to look out for? Bahnsen was at his best when writing and lecturing about apologetics.  Unfortunately, when it came to ethics he was a theonomist.  That means he believed that the Mosaic civil laws were binding upon contemporary magistrates.  I’m not going to give a comprehensive critique of theonomy here, I’m just telling you that this is where he stood.  Related to that, he was also postmillennial in his eschatology.  Notwithstanding those points, Greg Bahnsen was a minister in good standing in the OPC.

I never actually got to meet Greg Bahnsen, though I wish I had.  A few months before he died, we’d had a helpful e-mail conversation.  He was very willing to help this university undergrad in far-off Alberta.  Later I enrolled in the Master of Arts in apologetics program at SCCCS — unfortunately I didn’t finish it.  Nevertheless, I count Bahnsen among my mentors and teachers when it comes to defending the faith.  I remember the first time listening to his 1985 debate with Gordon Stein — I was blown away.  That brought together everything I had learned from Van Til and him.  To this day I still often use that debate when teaching apologetics.  It’s a classic which you can find here.  To this day, I don’t think there’s anybody who can rightfully be described as a successor of Greg Bahnsen.  His shoes are BIG.

Book Review: Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended

Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, Greg L. Bahnsen (ed. Joel McDurmon), Powder Springs: American Vision Press, 2008.  Hardcover, 296 pages, $34.95 USD.

It was early December 1995, the early years of the Internet.  Along with many others, I was prayerfully following the developments in a hospital in southern California.  A well-known Orthodox Presbyterian pastor by the name of Dr. Greg Bahnsen had heart surgery on December 5.  Soon afterwards life-threatening complications set in.  Colleagues sent out regular e-mails keeping everyone informed of what was happening.  Then, on December 11, we received the news that Dr. Bahnsen had been promoted to glory.  He was only forty-seven years old.  In life, he had been a prodigious author of books and articles, scholarly and popular.  However, it has only been since his death that we have seen the publication of his important works in the field of apologetics.  The volume under review is described by the editor as being Bahnsen’s magnum opus, his greatest work.

The book has a curious story behind it.  It seems that Bahnsen wrote this volume back in the 1970s and it somehow ended up being lost.  After his death, as his office was being cleaned out, an envelope was discovered behind one of his filing cabinets.  In that envelope was the manuscript for this book.  Thus it happens that we receive a brand “new” book from Bahnsen long after his departure.

Presuppositional Apologetics has two parts.  In the first, Bahnsen makes the positive case for Reformed presuppositional apologetics.  After an initial overview, he develops the contours first of all from Scripture.  The third chapter is more philosophically oriented, though Bahnsen would say that the argumentative considerations here are “functionally equivalent to the viewpoint of God’s Word or applications of its teachings that bear on knowledge, truth, etc.” (36).  In the second part, Bahnsen critiques the apologetics of three other figures who have sometimes been described as presuppositionalists:  Gordon H. Clark, Edward J. Carnell, and Francis Schaeffer.  While finding some elements of genuine commonality with Reformed presuppositionalism, Bahnsen argues that these men fail to consistently build their apologetics on the solid ground of God’s Word.  He summarizes his critique:  “All three men fail to be presuppositional in their argumentative method, and the presuppositions they do utilize during the course of their defense are not biblical…They have two final authorities: reason and the Bible; of the two, reason plays the paramount role…Where Scripture is introduced at the beginning of an argument it is presented merely as a hypothesis to be verified” (268).

In my view, the two major strengths of this work are its detailed presentation of the Scriptural foundation for presuppositional apologetics and the extensive critique of Clark, Carnell and Schaeffer.  However, the book also has some weaknesses.  There seems to be an inordinate amount of repetition.  It could have been more tightly written and I suspect that the older and more mature Bahnsen would have written it and edited it differently.  Also, there are a number of obvious typos remaining in the text and other editorial infelicities.  There is also the fact that this volume was written in the 1970s and so Bahnsen is interacting with figures who dominated apologetics in a previous generation.  At a certain point, Bahnsen brings in Antony Flew’s refutation of Schaeffer (258-259).  Of course, it would be unreasonable for us to expect Bahnsen to comment on this, but the editor might have noted Flew’s eventual abandonment of atheism and whether or not that changes the equation.  Finally, some of the existing editorial notes are…well…odd.  For instance, Bahnsen critiques Carnell for his “Christian hedonism,” noting that this is a “sorry phrase” (229).  However, in a footnote, the editor then extols Bahnsen for being “way ahead of his time,” in coming up with this phrase before John Piper, although the editor admits that Piper was using it in a different (positive) sense (230).

Presuppositional Apologetics would be a good introduction to the subject for someone with some philosophical and theological training.  It’s an intermediate- to advanced-level book on the subject.  It could be used for a seminary course or an advanced Bible college course.  Is it Bahnsen’s magnum opus?  No, I’m not convinced that it is.  I think that accolade still belongs to his monumental Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis (P&R, 1998).