Last week I had the opportunity to teach presuppositional apologetics to a group of 25 university and college students in British Columbia. They were a great bunch of highly motivated, intelligent, committed young Christians. Obviously, I had a great time and I think they did too.
I would teach a morning and an afternoon session and then in the evenings they would do something a bit different. Mark and Jaclynn Penninga came by on Tuesday evening to speak about sexuality and college life. Jon Dykstra came by on the Wednesday and Thursday evenings to show a couple of films and lead a discussion. The Thursday evening film was Collision. I’ve heard lots about it, but I’d never actually watched it. And because of a family event elsewhere, I didn’t on Thursday night either. But after I came back to the retreat, Jon and I got to talking. We made a trade. I gave him Marilynne Robinson’s Home and he gave me Collision.
I watched it last night. Before I go on, I want to make a disclaimer. Greg Bahnsen was arguably the best second-generation Reformed apologist. He was probably more gifted than Van Til in terms of putting theory into words and definitely when it comes to putting theory into practice. I’ve learned a lot from Greg Bahnsen and for a time I was even enrolled in the Master of Arts in Apologetics program at the Southern California Center for Christian Studies (where he taught). But Bahnsen was a theonomist and I’m not. Similarly, Douglas Wilson is a gifted apologist. He understands and implements Reformed apologetics. Yet he is a signatory to the Joint Federal Vision Statement. Anything positive I might have to say about Wilson here should be not construed as support for all of his thoughts or endeavours outside of the area of apologetics.
Collision is a film documenting a series of encounters between uber-atheist (or anti-theist) Christopher Hitchens and Doug Wilson. Both are witty, intelligent, and deft communicators. The film takes place in different settings — a synagogue, a New York college, Westminster Seminary, and a pub. In between settings we follow a sort of “debate” that took place on a Christian TV station. The encounters all revolve around the question, “Is Christianity good for the world?”
One of Hitchen’s favourite strategies is to trot out God’s command to destroy the Amalekites. Hitchens views this as patently evil. Wilson’s response is that Hitchens has no ground to stand on when he calls something evil. Hitchens cannot account for good and evil from within his worldview. Wilson said on a number of occasions, “The universe doesn’t care what we do.”
Who won the debate(s)? It depends on the grid through which you view it. In terms of debating ability, Hitchens and Wilson were evenly matched. Both were well-prepared. Both are quick on their feet. Christians would undoubtedly chalk one (or more) up for Wilson, while atheists and skeptics would probably claim an obvious victory for Hitchens.
Generally speaking, the film reinforced what I had been teaching last week. Sometimes when I teach this material I use the Bahnsen/Stein debate to illustrate — though we usually don’t listen to the whole thing. I’m still not sure if Collision will replace it. At a certain point, Wilson speaks about Matthew 24 and he sketches at least a partial preterist interpretation. He asserts that Jesus Christ returned in 70 A.D. with the destruction of Jerusalem. I first encountered that argument in David Chilton’s Paradise Restored. I wasn’t convinced then, and I’m still not. He speaks about the parable of the prodigal son and tells Hitchens that it’s really about Israel wandering in exile. Such an interpretation doesn’t do justice to the context where Jesus offended the Pharisees by eating with tax collectors and sinners. I don’t recall any such misinterpretations of Scripture in the Bahnsen/Stein debate.
Sensitive viewers should note that the soundtrack is a mixture of metal, rap, and a bit of classical. Also, there is some coarse language.
As a final (less serious) note, as a lifetime member of the Red Green fan club, I couldn’t but help notice the resemblance with Doug Wilson. But I’m sure someone else has already beaten me to that observation.
Just a question about theonomy:
I didn’t know what that was until Wikipedia explained it to me as “God is the source of ethics”. That makes sense to me. There it also quotes VanTil that the alternative to theonomy is autonomy. That also makes sense. So I guess I’m a theonomist too? What does that make you?
Bahnsen and other theonomists argued for “the abiding validity of the law in exhaustive detail” particularly as it relates to the civil realm. Civil magistrates have a divine obligation to enforce the civil laws of the OT. It is one component of what is known as Christian Reconstruction. It usually goes together with postmillennial eschatology.
Van Til was not referring to God’s law in the sense of the Mosaic civil code, but as a general ethical commitment. Van Til was not on board with Bahnsen’s ethics. According to Muether’s biography of Van Til, he “regretted the publication of Bahnsen’s theonomy book, wishing instead that Bahnsen’s early work had focused more on apologetics.” (219)
I’ll admit I only scanned the Wikipedia article briefly but in as far as it says God is the source of all ethics I still agree. But in the modern sense in which theonomy is understood (as the article relates later) I too would not stand alongside.
Thanks for the help,
Glad that there is another brother in the LORD doing the work of ministry and employing presuppositional apologetics!
Wow, I never noticed the resemblance with Red Green!