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G. Kyle Essary

Did James actually say that, or are you implying its his stance?

By the way...I've been reading Alan Torrance lately (obviously a Barthian), and I'm not sure in the wake of an actual divine revelation that circular reasoning around such a revelation would be wrongheaded. In fact, I'm one of those people that think there's a point where we all run into circularity.

Of course, I get the parody above and wouldn't want to defend that type of apologetics either.


Hi Kyle,

No, James didn't say that.

I'm returning parody for parody.

On the other hand, just as you are not uncomfortable with the notion that a claim that something is divine revelation has no foundation outside of itself, that the proof is in the pudding to return to my formulation, I don't think James feels uncomfortable with an anti-constitutional reading of the Bible.

He's been busy developing such an a la carte reading for quite some time. I think he wants to claim that no one's interpretation of the Bible is constitutional in the strong sense. I think he wants to protect the right of the individual believer/congregation to take or leave what they find in the Bible with relative or even complete freedom. We'll see if he chooses to clarify.

Justin (koavf)


That chart is indistinguishable from presuppositional apologetics.



Hi Justin,

To be sure, Kurt Gödel's incompleteness theorem reminds us that there are statements about things that are unprovable within any given system of axioms.

At the same time, they cannot be proven based on evidence from outside of said system either.

In short, most if not all kinds of knowledge we depend on for making decisions are unprovable in the strict sense.

Epistemological humility is therefore in order. We see through a glass darkly. Job 28 is a great pointer to intellectual humility. But I see little of it, not only among apologetes, but among anti-apologetes.

Tim Keller does well to model a different way. He makes "irony" (his word) a source of epiphanic understanding.


You may find this weird to hear this from me. But I’ve always found dogmatic theology far harder to dispose of than philosophical theology. That doesn’t mean that I think dogmatic theology correct. It just means that the only thing do say in the face of it is, “No,” or in your case “Yes,” and that leaves little room for discussion.

Sherry Peyton

Thanks for the link. I agree, that trying to explain anything much to a fundamentalist is probably futile, but frankly, I try from time to time, since I'm rather tired of seeing God hijacked by this form of literalism, that serves nothing but the agenda of a type of personality.


Hi Duane,

I know what you mean. The philosophical theology easiest to run across is in the analytical tradition and shares the strengths and weaknesses of that tradition. Some people get all excited about proofs and disproofs of the existence of God. Then along comes one near-death experience, and A. J. Ayer, one of the most logical people in the world, loses his former certainties.

I think there is more substance to philosophy in the broad sense, from Plato to Kant and beyond. Once again, however, I imagine that, faced with Plato's phenomenal / noumenal distinction, you would say, "I know only the phenomenal without remainder," and leave it at that.



Nice of you to drop by. That's an interesting observation of a "type of personality." Of course, this cuts both ways.

Traditional forms of faith form a very large class in the world, and attract the widest range of personalities, whereas both the fundamentalist and the anti-fundamentalist stances appeal to people who are on "search-and-destroy" mission.

Movements whose focus does not go beyond a common enemy are tawdry and demeaning by definition.

G. Kyle Essary

Of course, you were just making a joke...and I don't find myself in the presuppositionalist camp often, but I personally think it's unfortunate how they have received such a bad name in some circles. John has basically already alluded to this, but some of their points are essentially correct. Particularly reading Van Til shows how radically different his more nuanced and intelligent views are when compared to those across the web doing "apologetics" in his name.

James is a Baptist and has been shaped to the core by such ideas as "soul competency" and the "priesthood of the believer. About thirty years ago, the Southern Baptists had a major split. Some refer to it as a Reformation, and others refer to it as a "Fundamentalist Takeover." Most of us see it as good but flawed. Of course, I was only a child when this was happening, but I felt the repercussions in many sermons and in my seminary days.

In 1991, the moderates (and the liberals) formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The conservatives (and the fundamentalists) remained in the Southern Baptist Convention. We stopped talking about soul competency as much and started talking more about our confessions. They stopped talking about resurrection as much (scratch that...I was just kidding). They kept talking about soul competency and have run into the typical doctrinal arguments of mainline denominations (gay marriage, women/gay leadership, etc.).

Unsurprisingly, the SBC has continued to grow (until the last two years) both financially, numerically and in terms of seminary enrollment. The CBF on the other hand, overestimated how many churches would jump ship and join them...found out that most of the people in the pews actually didn't agree with the stuff being taught at the seminaries and as such have had a few years now of financial cut after financial cut and are honestly struggling to survive as a convention.

From a non-theological standpoint (if there is such a thing), this shows that a constant focus on individual rights and freedom can be a very difficult thing to serve as the basis of any grouping of people. It's herding cats when there is no real confession to stand upon, and even the confessions you do adopt are always confessed with the caveat that they are non-binding.

Gary Simmons

Thank you for sharing Barth's model of the unveiling of God's Word. I like that illustration very much.

If reading Scripture were like a dance, one must first learn the steps. After the basic steps are learned, you don't have to constantly look at your feet. You can look your partner in the eye and see his/her expression directly to you. Even if the steps of the dance are the same each time you dance the Natanger Polka (a personal favorite), the face-to-face message to you may change.


"Soul competency" is a mind-boggling expression for someone - my case - who is Wesleyan by heritage but broadly creedal as in Luther, Calvin, and the Heidelberg Catechism by choice.

The priesthood of all believers seems a great emphasis to have in a context which honors the communion of the saints across the generations, but a recipe for disaggregation in a context which doesn't.

Since I'm in the upper Midwest, the American Baptists, and various black Baptist denominations, are familiar to me first hand. The flourishing congregations are, almost without exception, conservative but not rigid, open to innovation and a degree of pluralism rather than sectarian in the emergent sense. A *conservative* baseline helps make it possible for the center to hold.

That's what the emergent, progressive types often fail to understand: as soon as progressivism is made the baseline, the center no longer holds.

Justin (koavf)

G. Kyle,

I actually was not making a joke. I once attended a talk by Richard "Rick" Gamble--himself a Calvin scholar--whose entire presentation was literally, "The Bible is true because it says it's true and it's the Word of God, therefore it must be true." He was being tongue-in-cheek and used that as a means to start a more substantial discussion, but I think it was only marginally more substantial, honestly.

You are correct that Van Til is more nuanced (and frankly, smarter) than many who have appropriated his thought and he's infinitely better than Christian Dominionists/Theonomists/Kinists/Quiverfulls. That brand of fundamentalism is probably the scariest that I have ever seen up close.


G. Kyle Essary

Wow Justin,
Fortunately, I've never seen those movements up close! I've never read or heard anything by Gamble, so I can't comment, but it doesn't sound like much of a presentation.


Justin and Kyle,

Here is Richard Gamble's faculty page:

I would surmise that he is a capable Calvin scholar who articulates an anti-rationalistic defense of the Reformed doctrine of scripture.

That is, he is fighting the tendency, which remains strong in apologetics across the board - I could cite examples from Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and evangelical authors - to cherry-pick stuff such that it seems that the claim that the Bible is the Word of God is provable. But it's not. From the point of view of reason, the most one can say is that it is plausible, that is, coherent and non-self-contradictory, to so affirm along with contextual affirmations of equal or greater foundational weight.

As soon as the claim that the Bible is the word of God is treated as something less than a confession of faith and a doxology, it is denatured.

Justin (koavf)


You are correct (as best as I can tell), but there are a lot better ways of doing this and I don't recall him explicitly stating how this is an epistemic shortcoming and essentially a personal bias. Basically, he still approached the issue from an apologetic or evangelical point of view rather than a philosophical or Existential one, so it was basically the worst of both worlds. Then again, that's my faulty recollection and bias as well, so take it with a grain of salt.



Hey Justin,

I wouldn't be surprised if Gamble catches up with this comment thread at some point. Perhaps it will help him to emphasize better, and without apology (pun intended), that the historic teaching of the church with respect to Scripture is doxology, a confession of faith.

Tim Bulkeley

John, that Barth story "Jesus loves me..." do you have a source? I've wanted to use it, but have not found a source for it and wonder if it is an urban myth - or whatever the Christian equivalent is...

G. Kyle Essary

Although it's been quoted and published without reference in thousands of places, I don't think the quote is something for which you will ever find a source. Everyone quoting it is in agreement that it occurred during his US visit in 1962. All of those quoting it also say it came at the end of a lecture during questioning. He only lectured at two locations Princeton Seminary and Chicago Divinity. In both situations he lectured out of what became his wonderful "Evangelical Theology."

In a situation like that, you simply aren't going to find a source unless a news reporter was sitting in the room or you find the memoirs of a student who was there. I'm not aware of either. Of course, it definitely sounds like something Barth would have said, especially in light of his ET lectures.


Tim and Kyle,

I don't know where the report originally appeared. Here's a fuller version:

The year: 1961.

The place: The student lounge of the Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey.

The purpose: A press conference with the world's most-famous living theologian, Dr. Karl Barth of Germany.

The question: A NEW YORK TIMES reporter asks Dr. Barth, "What is the greatest theological statement ever made?"

The answer: After a long pause, with thoughtful reflection, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."

Tim Bulkeley

Thanks, both of you, it's just that this story is SO "good" that I am inclined to be suspicious of it, past experience shows that a very high proportion of such stories when they can be checked are not true. I'd love to hear of someone who was there who could verify it, or a copy of the newspaper report...

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