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Presuppositional Apologetics Applied to Hebrew Israelism
What does the presuppositional apologetic method look like employed against the false ideology of Hebrew Israelism?
Submitted 7/7/23 by Vocab Malone of Street Apologist Media
In 1 Peter 3:15, there’s a bombshell phrase there, often translated as “to give a defense” or “to give an answer”. The Greek word behind these English phrases is apologia, which means a “reasoned defense”. Apologetics is a Christian ministry wherein practitioners seek to defend, explain, and clarify Christian truth. Here are a few things every Christian apologist should aim for while making a reasoned defense:
Present the Christian worldview with the Bible as the foundation (Proverbs 26:4)
Work to clear up any misconceptions about the Christian worldview
Understand the other person’s worldview and the way the unbeliever thinks
Run internal critiques on the non-Christian worldview (2 Timothy 2:25)
State when an unbelieving worldview is arbitrary, inconsistent, absurd, borrowed
Keep the Gospel front and center, always point people to Jesus and God’s Word
Apologists defend by faithfully answering questions. They are also to disarm by going on the offense. This is done by attacking the very foundation of your intellectual opponents, in line with 2 Corinthians 10:5.
2 Corinthians 10:5
“We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God,
and take every thought captive to obey Christ”
Offensive apologetics removes the critic’s foundation by exposing the faulty or unjustified assumptions in your interlocutor’s worldview. In short, you are going after their faulty starting point. This is the method of presuppositional apologetics.
On page 69 of How Do We Know the Bible is True? Volume 2, Ham and Hodge describe presuppositional apologetics as a “method by which apologists ‘go on the offensive’ to confront false worldviews”. A presuppositional apologist is one who “makes adherents of other worldviews” such as “cults, and the like, try to defend their worldviews so they can show the problems within their professed view”. Presuppositionalists aim to “point out clearly where these other religions borrow from the Bible to make sense of the world”.
THE EMPHASIS OF PRESUPPOSITIONAL APOLOGETICS
Presuppositional apologetics heavily emphasizes that the Bible is the first and final look at all things. Presuppositional apologetics emphasizes the following:
The Bible is THE absolute standard for logic and ethics
The Bible is the sole basis for a worldview that makes knowledge possible
Other worldviews borrow from the Christian worldview to make sense of the world
Some influential presuppositionalist names include: Cornelius Van Til (the originator), Greg Bahnsen (the populaizer), Michael Butler, Jason Lisle, K. Scott Oliphint, and James N. Anderson. Some apologists who have endorsed a variation of presuppositionalism are Gordon Clark, Francis Schaefer, Edward Carnell, Ronald Nash, Vern Poythress, and John Frame (my personal favorite).
Many apologetics junkies are familiar with presuppositionalism. If so, they’ve usually seen it in action against atheism or variants of secularism. Think of the many James White, Jeff Durbin, and Sye Ten Bruggencate debates on YouTube, for example. These are generally aimed at lay audiences (some observers criticize the latter two as being truncated examples of presuppositionalism, but that’s another conversation).
But how does presuppositionalism operate against a worldview which is much closer to Christianity? For example, what does presuppositionalism look like contra Islam or modern Judaism? Or, what about lesser known, but important ideologies … specifically, what does a presuppositional apologetic look like employed contra Hebrew Israelism?
A WORD ABOUT HEBREW ISRAELISM
Hebrew Israelism is an ideology which arose in the 1890s in the American South. It has seen a boom in the last decade, being spread on both physical and virtual corners, from Times Square to YouTube. The essence of the religion is that black Americans, at the least (some factions add other ethnic groups in the mix as well), are the true biblical Israelites and therefore, modern Jewish people are impostors. The Christian church is viewed as a primary enemy of the true Israelites, as its been the most effective tool in hiding knowledge from people.
There are many varieties of Hebrew Israelism, some moderate and some militant, but all are ethnocentric. All embrace an ethnic hierarchy (some soft, some hard), all embrace an alchemy of works and a mutilated understanding of “grace” for entry or reward in the Kingdom of God, and all are antisemitic in some way or another (many add other ethnic groups to their hate list as well).
Almost no Hebrew Israelites believe in the Triune nature of God, the full deity of Christ, or the Personhood of the Holy Spirit. Some reject Jesus as the Christ, many have a problem with the writings of the Apostle Paul, and most never get around to talking about the Good News about Jesus Christ (in fact, most don’t believe or understand even a basic gospel message). These are only some of the problems with Hebrew Israelism.
I’ve only surveyed some theological issues. When we turn to fields such as history, logic, and science, it’s a whole new can of worms. Most Hebrew Israelites embrace all sorts of lunacy and conspiracy theories; from Flat Earth to chem trails to the Illuminati running the show. Most reject genetic science. Again, that’s just the iceberg’s tip.
PRESUPPOSITIONALISM AND OTHER FAITHS, LIKE HEBREW ISRAELISM
So the question is, how do we, as presuppositional apologists, deal with a proponent of Hebrew Israelism? Dr. Greg Bahnsen answered in an article, Presuppositionalism and False Faiths. We deal with false faiths such as Hebrew Israelism this way:
By internally examining “the worldview” which is offered by whatever religious devotee is having the dialog with him. The formal fact that the opposing religionist speaks of “god” (or “gods”) is not a difficulty here, for they must define their specific concept of deity. Remember here the example of Scripture: “for their rock is not as our Rock” (Deuteronomy 32:31); recall the devastating prophetic critique of the heathen’s “lifeless” idols which are (contradictorily) under the sovereignty of those who bow down to them. The use of religious vocabulary and appeals does not change the applicability of the indirect method of disproving your opponent’s presuppositions.
Hebrew Israelism is a false religion. Every version of Hebrew Israelism is an errant copy of the true biblical faith. Hebrew Israelism is a parody of Christianity. When dealing with Hebrew Israelism, our approach is similar to what Paul said to the Athenians:
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said:
“Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.
Most Hebrew Israelites are “very religious” and “in every way”. Many wear fringes. Many partake in some form of Sabbath observance. Most abstain from pork and other foods forbidden for the Israelites under Mosaic Law. Most employ Hebrew or Hebrew-like phrases as much as possible. Many promote the concept of keeping the Laws, statutes, and commandments. Most celebrate the Feasts of Israel in some fashion. Most accuse Christians of idolatry for worshipping the Trinity and paganism for celebrating (if they do) Resurrection Sunday (Easter) and the Incarnation (Christmas). Ironically, most Hebrew Israelites do not consider themselves “religious” but righteous and will usually say these stipulations are part of their natural culture, not part of a religion.
Indeed, most Hebrew Israelites are “in every way … very religious”.
And yet, they are idolaters.
Because they do not worship the God of the Bible.
Let me briefly explain …
The God of the Bible has revealed himself as Triune.
If you reject the Trinity, then you are not worshipping the God of the Bible.
Jesus Christ is the Messiah.
He is also Immanuel, God with us.
He is the image of the invisible God.
He is the Eternal Creator who has always existed as God the Son and the Word.
If you reject who Jesus is according to the Bible,
then you have another Jesus - not the Jesus of the Bible.
The God of the Bible is not a racial supremacist.
If your version of God is a racial supremacist, then you are not describing the God of the Bible.
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THE IDOLATRY OF HEBREW ISRAELISM
Advocates of Hebrew Israelism speak of The Most High or another name or title. When they do so, they believe they are speaking of the God of the Bible. But they are not. They are talking about a God who is not to be found in the pages of Scripture. They are not describing the God who has revealed himself via divine revelation. They are talking about a different being altogether. Indeed, they are promoting their own vain imaginations of who God is. In essence, the God of Hebrew Israelism is an idol. As long promoters of Hebrew Israelism insist on promoting this warped version of Yahweh, they are promoting idolatry.
When a Hebrew Israelite stands on the sidewalk beside Morningside Park in Harlem, New York, beckoning others to join him in his religious community, he is seeking to multiply the number of idolaters in the world. Because the God of the Hebrew Israelites does not exist. There is no such god.
The god whom Nathanyel of IUIC talks about is not real. The god whom Ben Ammi wrote about will never be. The god whom Tahar of GMS makes videos about has never existed. The god whom Hulon Mitchell (himself) of the Nation of Yahweh lectured about (himself) is no god at all, but rather an idol. The god whom Edward Meredith Bibbins taught about on the streets is a god of his own design. The god whom General Yahanna of ISUPK shouts about is not god. The god whom Wentworth Matthew spoke about is not the god of the Tanakh. The god whom Ahrayah said gave him visions did no such thing, because he is not even there to communicate to Ahrayah. The god who FS Cherry used to scream about in Philly is not a god. The god who told Jermaine Grant he was the God Sent Comforter did not tell him that, because there is not a god there to speak to him. Hebrew Israelites have God wrong.
The Father of Presuppositionalism, Cornelius Van Til (and the presuppositionalists who came after him) posited that only the Christian God can account for the world as we know it. I agree, of course. Hebrew Israelism presents a version of God derivative of the one true God; a poor copy of the triune God. Hebrew Israelism is a religion obviously “influenced by the Bible” but it denies “the central biblical gospel”. (Apologetics to the Glory of God, 1994, p 38.)
THE USE OF EVIDENCE WHEN ENGAGING PRESUPPOSITIONALLY
Some people think presuppositional apologetics is anti-evidence. I can understand the confusion, as I’ve heard some presentations of the method which do verge on fideism. However, Cornelius Van Til, the origin point of presuppositionalsim, was NOT against evidence. I do not believe Van Til’s faithful interpreters are against the use of evidence, either.
At a certain point in any given apologetic engagement, the presuppositionalist can sound plenty like an evidentialist or classical apologist. The starting point, underlying approach/mentality, and certain curvatures that the presuppositionalist will take may be different, sure, but there are many times the presuppositional apologist will be talking like a faithful evidentialist apologist. That’s fine in my book, In fact, I believe that it is to be expected. I think Bahnsen would agree, as evidenced by page 152 of his The Impossibility of the Contrary (note: I have replaced the word “Muslim” from the original and added in “Hebrew Israelite” into the quote in the brackets):
“When we do worldview apologetics … We compare the actual content of our worldview with the actual content of the worldview presented by our [Hebrew Israelite] friends”.
As Bahnsen taught (again with the Hebrew Israelite variation added in): all the Christian presuppositional apologists needs to do in an apologetic encounter is to show the conflicts between what the Bible teaches and what Hebrew Israelism teaches. And, this, my friends, is a large part of what my ministry is all about.