I just finished reading this book, written by one of my professors at WTS Philadelphia. It is a great read, and an important book.
A lot of people (myself included) have been longing to see what apologetics looks like in practice, not merely in principal. In particular, I have been longing to see what many people espouse and know as the “presuppositional apologetic” put into practice. What would it look like to share the gospel in a presuppositional way with a Muslim or an atheist? In this book, you will find some very well-imagined conversations of what that could look like. Oliphint is very careful to do two things in those conversations: firstly, he doesn’t make the unbelieving interlocutor into some kind of dummy, and secondly, he is always careful to make sure that we know that his conversations are only one way that even a presuppositional apologetic might take in the course of an actual attempt. These conversations were the highlights of the book for me, and I suspect will be for many others as well. In particular, I appreciated the conversation with the Muslim. I had long been searching for “the great contradiction” between the presuppositions and the life of the Muslim, and Oliphint nails it for us. More on that later.
Oliphint argues for a retirement of that phrase “presuppositional apologetics” in favor of a new term “covenantal apologetics.” By “covenantal,” Oliphint means the traditional Reformed understanding of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace, and how those two covenants affect our minds; in particular, he stresses the noetic effects of the Fall, and the image of God in man, and what has happened to that image both in the Fall and in salvation. It is another way of saying “gospel-focused” apologetics. That was always something I greatly appreciated about apologetics at WTS: it was not about winning the argument, but about sharing the gospel, and seeking to tear down barriers to the gospel that people erect in their minds. Apologetics at WTS serves the gospel message, as it always should. Now, whether Oliphint will succeed in convincing people to change the term “presuppositional” to “covenantal” remains to be seen. The former term certainly has a longer pedigree, and people have used it out of habit for decades now.
I want to share Oliphint’s insights into apologetics in a Muslim context, for that is what most excited me about the book. In the “covenantal” model, one searches for an underlying, architectonic contradiction between an unbeliever’s principals, or presuppositions, and their practice, or the life they build on top of it. We search for what makes the foundation incompatible with the building they lay on top of that foundation. The Muslim believes that God is absolutely free. Nothing whatsoever can possibly bind God. He is absolutely transcendent. In our terms, God has libertarian free will. The Koran is not a revelation of who Allah is, but rather a revelation of Allah’s will (that is a key difference with Christianity: we believe the Bible reveals who God is, and not just His will for us). For the Muslim, Allah cannot enter into a relationship with a person, because that would bind Allah, and Allah cannot be bound by anything. This has several implications. Firstly, Allah is not powerful enough to enter into a relationship and yet remain God. Allah cannot be both transcendent and immanent. Secondly, they have no assurance whatsoever that God will not, at the end of history, declare that all Muslims are wrong and all Christians are correct, or even declare that what Muslims believe and what Christians believe are exactly the same thing (they’re not, by the way!). The Koran does not bind Allah, and so they have no way of knowing whether Allah will always act as the Koran says he will. They further have no assurance that living the way of Islam, namely the five pillars, will guarantee any kind of favorable reception of Allah at the last. All they can have is a hope that is not based on knowledge, even though they claim up one side and down the other to believe in a rational religion (and they castigate Christians for believing in such “irrational” things as a Trinity and a God-man). If Allah were to reverse everything in the end that Muslims hold dear, would they still reply “Allah be praised”? The Koran sinks underneath the weight of a god so utterly transcendent (even to the point of being trapped by that transcendence to the point where he cannot relate directly to a single person in a relationship) that the Koran cannot be any kind of reliable indicator of what Allah is like.
This is only the barest bones of the already truncated version of what this apologetic looks like in a Muslim context, but it was extremely helpful to me to have that great contradiction pointed out. Take up and read. You will be glad you did.