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Presuppositional Apologetics: A Summary

As I implied yesterday, there are various different methods, or schools, of apologetics, or defending the Christian faith. One such school is called presuppositional apologetics, which I hope to describe today. Though my goal is to save evaluation for tomorrow, it will probably be easy to figure out that I think favorably of presuppositionalism. But my goal today is to simply give a summary description of what presuppositionalism is.

Like other approaches, the presuppositional approach to apologetics attempts to make a case for the reasonableness of Christianity by defending the faith against objections (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) and by refuting the claims of other worldviews and religions that are antithetical to Christianity (cf. 2 Cor 10:5). Although presuppositionalism may place more emphasis on the active refutation of contrary belief systems than other schools of apologetics, all schools of apologetics agree on these basic tenets.

 

Two Myths Busted

Two main principles, however, distinguish presuppositionalism from other schools of apologetics like evidentialism or “classical” apologetics. The first is that the notion of neutrality is a myth. Because God is the Creator of the world, nothing falls outside the realm of His Lordship. This means that nothing—not even facts or knowledge—is neutral. All things are either (a) in submission to or (b) are hostile to Christ’s Lordship.

The second principle is that the notion of human autonomy is a myth. Again, because God is the Creator and man is the creature, man has neither the right nor the true capability to evaluate reality (i.e., to reason) independently from his Creator. This is especially the case in light of the fact that humanity’s fall into sin has corrupted all aspects of our being, including our ability to reason. Because man is created in the image of God (Gen 1:26–27) with the law of God written on his heart (Rom 2:15), he instinctively knows that God exists as his Lord (Rom 1:19–20). But because of the effects of sin on the heart and mind, man suppresses that truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18). Whereas before the Fall Adam rightly relied entirely upon God’s revelation for his knowledge of the world, after the Fall man begins with himself and his interpretation of reality as the starting point for knowledge. Non-Christians believe that their opinion, rather than God’s revelation, is the final court of evaluation of the world. Yet the presuppositionalist stresses that God’s Lordship and man’s sin destroys all “neutrality” and renders everything—including reason and the laws of logic—dependent on God Himself.

Presupposing the Truth

Because of these principles, a key distinctive of presuppositional apologetics is that the apologist must presuppose (hence the name) the truth of the Bible and the Christian worldview. We should not, even for the sake of argument, concede that reality might be any other way than it actually is. This too sets presuppositionalism apart from other schools of apologetics, which seek to find some neutral common ground with an unbeliever by which to reasonably evaluate Christian claims.

For example, an evidential apologist may provide archaeological evidence, which can be evaluated from an empirical point of view, Cosmologicalin order to argue for the reliability of the Bible. Or, a classical apologist may employ a logical argument (like the Cosmological Argument) to argue for the existence of God, which the unbeliever can judge to be reasonable or unreasonable. In either case, the unbeliever is presented with evidence and the apologist “demands a verdict.”

These methods seem legitimate on the surface, but in reality they presuppose that unbelievers think, reason, and evaluate evidence from a neutral perspective. But because (a) God is the Creator and Lord of the universe, and (b) in reality, the truth revealed in the Bible is actually true and not just potentially true, and (c) the unbeliever sinfully evaluates evidence from his own presuppositions and not neutrally, therefore (d) the apologist should not surrender the presuppositions which underlie the Christian faith. We must presuppose the truth of Christianity as the proper starting point in our apologetic encounters.

What Makes Our Truth Better than Their “Truth”?

When I speak of “the truth of Christianity” as our proper starting point, it’s important to clarify that such truth is known from God’s revelation alone. As I mentioned above, even before sin had corrupted the human mind, man’s knowledge depended upon God’s revelation. Thus, a Christian, who has been redeemed from the power of sin and now has the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16), must also depend on God’s revelation for understanding the world. We know things to be absolutely true not because we are omniscient. Nor do we claim to be inherently smarter than anyone else. Rather, One who is omniscient has graciously revealed Himself in a way that can be understood to the one who has faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, in our various apologetic encounters with unbelievers, we should make clear that the truths claimed in the Bible are absolutely true, but that our certainty comes not from our own knowledge or capabilities, but from God’s knowledge clearly and graciously revealed to us.

Arguing Transcendentally

Further, a hallmark of presuppositionalism is to argue transcendentally. This means that the reality we live in—meaning, thought, fact, knowledge, etc.—logically presupposes that the God of the Bible exists. Said another way, In Him All Things Hold Togetherpresuppositionalists argue that the Christian worldview must be true because of the impossibility of the contrary, given the world we live in. No other worldview can account for why the laws of logic exist, or why most human beings have an instinctual moral sense of right and wrong. Without the God of the Bible, argument, reasoning, morality, and natural order are all impossible.

Therefore, a major task of the presuppositional apologist is to demonstrate the failure of opposing worldviews to consistently account for what we see in the world. For example, without the God of the Bible as the personal, absolute, sovereign moral lawgiver, one cannot account for why we are horrified by the crimes of Nazi Germany. It’s why we can agree that those acts were objectively evil, and not merely “right for them, but wrong for me.”

Apologetics and Evangelism

Finally, we must remember that our apologetic encounters are inextricably linked to the preaching of the Gospel. Our ultimate goal is not merely to win arguments, but souls. Remembering that the unbeliever’s problem is not a lack of evidence or information but the fact that he is blind to the glory of Christ as revealed in the Gospel (2 Cor 4:4), we must preach the Gospel from the Word of God in hopes that God will grant faith and repentance by means of the preached Word (2 Cor 4:6; Rom 10:17).

This does not mean that the presuppositionalist is against giving evidences for Christianity. We must certainly “make a defense” to everyone who asks (1 Pet 3:15). We simply realize that this evidence must be presented in accord with the presuppositions of biblical revelation, and that the giving of evidence is not decisive in changing the unbeliever’s heart. In other words, since the unbeliever’s problem is not intellectual, but ethical, we must argue, persuade, and preach as if we know that only the Gospel can solve the ethical problem.

Summary

In summary, presuppositionalism emphasizes that because God is Creator and Lord, humanity is not free to reason apart from God, and there is no neutral ground from which to reason with an unbeliever. All knowledge depends on God’s revelation, and thus as we engage unbelievers we must presuppose the Triune, redeeming God of the Bible, rather than lead the unbeliever to suppose he is free to believe or disbelieve. Presuppositionalism also argues transcendentally—i.e., that Christianity is true because of the impossibility of the contrary. Finally, the presuppositional apologist seeks to be consistent with a biblical anthropology, and recognizes that it is only the Spirit’s regeneration through the preaching of the Gospel that can change the unbeliever’s heart.

How did I do? Do you think this accurately represents the teaching of presuppositional apologetics?