When I first learned about the publication of Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended by the late Greg Bahnsen, I quickly put it on my “get list.” American Vision had a sale last fall and this book was one of the discounted items and so I couldn’t pass it up.
The story behind the book is an unusual one. Apparently, Bahnsen had prepared the manuscript for print and at some point either before or after his death, the only copy fell behind some cabinets in an office. No one knew what happened to it, and so the potential book was forgotten. Nearly 16 years later, however, when that old office was being moved, the long lost manuscript was finally found.
Joel McDurmon of American Vision ministries does the principle editing on the book, as well as writes a preface. Apart from some stylistic matters, he left the content as close to how Bahnsen had it before his death.
The book is broken into two major sections: Part one is called “Presuppositional Apologetics Positively Stated.” It is comprised of three chapters, an introduction, a study on the Christian mind and method, and an examination of neutrality and autonomy. The second section is a critique of three major personalities that Bahnsen claims are “incomplete” presuppositionalists, Gordon Clark, Edward J. Carnell, and Francis Schaeffer. According to McDurmon, a third section that provided a critique of non-presuppositional proponents was left unfinished, and thus was not included with this book. He suggests in the preface that the material may be worked up into a separate title.
I have to confess that having read the book, I was left a bit disappointed with it. I guess I was expecting much more than what it was. I mean, if this book is supposedly Bahnsen’s magnum opus, I was hoping for some soul-stirring material.
But regrettably, I found that reading it was dry and boring. Honestly, and maybe it’s just me, but I thought it needed to be edited better. I thought a lot of the book was tedious at times, with the occasional use of long, run-on, verbose sentences.
For instance, consider this whopper from page 125 under section 9 “Ethical Perspectives of Reasoning:”
An ethical consideration, however, gives us a further reason why a Christian ought to use a presuppositional apologetic rather than attempting an uncommitted methodology that uses alleged commonly interpreted “facts” in order to build up a “proof” that any self-respecting, “rational man” can recognize as “very probably” pointing to the possibility of Christianity’s reasonableness (if not its truth).
Wowzers! After a few read throughs, I understand what he is saying, but isn’t there a better way to tighten that up? At least break it up into a couple of sentences?
Bahnsen also has the habit of using big fancy philosophizing words and concepts and leaves them undefined for the uninitiated. I’m all for using philosophical words and concepts; I want Christians some-what “educated” in the matters of philosophical worldviews. However, it’s helpful to define and explain those concepts with better clarity and precision than what is offered in the overall book. Because if you couple esoteric philosophical ideas with verbose sentences, you have the makings of a tranquilizing cocktail that will lull even the most erudite OPC minister into a dreamy stupor.
But those two complaints of mine doesn’t mean the book is unprofitable. Bahnsen does have some excellent things to say as to the theology behind a presuppositional approach, as well as his evaluation of autonomy and intellectual neutrality. Just be prepared to labor through the content and re-read sections to solidify what it is he is saying.
Additionally, Bahnsen’s critique of Gordon Clark’s philosophy, in which he demonstrates his inconsistent presuppositionalism, is an excellent study, especially for those who are familiar with the particulars of the classic Van Tillian/Clarkian feud. It is too bad, as McDurmon opines in the preface, that John Robbins isn’t still around to offer his evaluation of the chapter.
Over all the book is okay. I definitely do not want people to go away thinking I am dismissing it. Like I said, Bahnsen does have good things to say. Unfortunately, he says those things in such a way that it may be unattainable for those not versed in his “language” and that paints presuppositionalism in an unnecessary corner.
On a recent podcast, Joshua Whipps, who contributes to Choosing Hats, a blog devoted to presuppositional apologetics and methodology, complained that certain critiques of presuppositionalism are mistaken when they frame the apologetic as sitting in “ivory, academic towers.” In other words, presuppositionalists are erroneously viewed as out-of-touch with common folks and is a “theology” for sophisticated intellectuals rather than an evangelistic methodology that will win souls for Christ on the “street level.” I too reject such charges as ignorant and unfounded. However, Bahnsen’s book doesn’t help with alleviating those concerns. It should have.
If you are a student of apologetic theology/philosophy, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended may be worth your investment, especially for the critique of Clark. Certainly there will be Bahnsen fanboys who will absolutely rave about it, but I think his massive book on Van Til is a much worthier candidate for the title of Bahnsen’s magnum opus. As an introduction to presuppositional theology and apologetics, I would recommend his classic work Always Ready.