Regrettably, much of what is labeled “Evangelical apologetics” these days fails in regards to two points. First, Christian apologetics has been separated into a philosophical category apart from being grounded in Scripture, and then secondly, apologetics is divided from evangelism as if it is a semi-related discipline. In my mind, apologetic methodology is pointless if it is not built upon the biblical text and doesn’t meaningfully engage sinners as to their need for Gospel salvation.
Furthermore, it has been my observation that ministries instructing Christians in the field of apologetics intentionally ignore those two vital points. In fact, a number of popular apologetic teachers will go so far as to tell their audiences that the Bible should be the last thing a Christian brings to the discussion with an unbeliever. Other teachers make apologetics dependent upon a Christian having to be familiar with complicated philosophical jargon or so-called empirical “proofs” for the existence of God and the Person of Jesus Christ.
Now: I consider myself to be a presuppositionalist. I believe presuppositionalism is a more biblically robust apologetic approach than what most Christians are familiar with. I would also like to think my presuppositionalism is immune from being entangled with philosophical snares, but it is not.
Presuppositionalism was the apologetic methodology developed by Dutch Reformed Calvinists in the 1800s and made known in the U.S. during the 20th century primarily by theologian, Cornelius Van Til, and a number of his students like Greg Bahnsen and John Frame. The methodology focuses upon defending the entirety of Christianity as a worldview and engaging unbelievers at the foundational level of their worldview.
Without getting into the specifics of all that pertains to presuppositionalism, the focus upon worldviews is what makes the methodology superior in contrast to the other popular views of apologetics. Rather than compartmentalizing individual arguments and calling the unbeliever to reason with the Christian as to validity of each one as “proofs” for the Christian faith, presuppositionalism begins by “presupposing” the truth of Christianity, the reality that ALL sinners without exception know the true God exists, and calls the sinner to repent of the erroneous “presuppositions” that suppress the truth of God and shape his unbelieving worldview.
However, even though I believe presuppositionalism to be the best approach for defending the Christian faith, there is a big tendency for presuppositional practitioners to become just as weighed down with philosophical baggage as their non-presuppositional counterparts. That is seen when they attempt to press their opponents to provide a justifiable reason, according to their chosen belief system, for such things like moral absolutes, the universal laws of logic, and other similar “truth claims.”
Conversations about logic and absolutes, while helpful for the most part, do require some understanding of philosophy and the intellectual ability to challenge unbelievers with that knowledge. Additionally, the whole evangelistic encounter can quickly become a quagmire of unnecessary, impromptu debate the Christian has to slosh through with the unbeliever. And additionally, the chest-thumping attitude often displayed by many young presuppositional proponents against folks who take a different apologetic approach doesn’t help with advancing their cause.
Now. Having stated all of that, let me make myself clear so that I am not misunderstood. I certainly believe there can be a place for presenting philosophical arguments when we share our faith with non-Christians if the opportunity so arises. Moreover, I appreciate how presuppositionalism places unbelievers on the defensive, moving the evangelistic encounter from haggling over how to interpret evidence to actually challenging them to defend their core “truth” claims about reality, life, and how people are to live. Presuppositionalism is especially useful in this area when talking with atheists. And let me hasten to add that I have personally learned much from hearing presuppositionalists, like Greg Bahnsen for example, engage unbelievers in discussions and debate. Listening to those interactions has helped me to sharpen my own skills as an apologist and evangelists.
What I am saying, however, is that our focus should not stay centered exclusively upon philosophical matters, and because of the emphasis upon philosophy, presuppositionalists have the habit of making presuppositionalism more difficult than it needs to be.
I can recall, many years ago now, reading Richard Pratt’s short book, Every Thought Captive, a book advertised as a high school level introduction to presuppositional apologetics. In spite of its claim as being for high school students, it took me a couple of times reading through it to get the basics of what he was presenting. Maybe it’s just me, but why should apologetic methodology be so hard?
The average church-goer in the pew is clueless about laws of logic and the transcendental argument for the existence of God. Granted, over time they can be taught about those things, but starting out in our evangelism by placing our emphasis on those areas is not only discouraging for the average church goer, it also shifts our presentation away from the pages of Scripture.
As I have interacted with my presuppositional brethren, read their books and listened to their lectures, I have become more and more convinced that a good many of them have overlooked the fundamental disconnect between methodology and actual, “street level” presentation. Such an attitude has been illustrated to me when young-gun presuppositionalists have dismissed certain criticism of their approach, waving them off as silly or outright stupid. Particularly when it comes to genuine practical application in the day-to-day lives of God’s people.
I believe we can do better than dismissing helpful, constructive criticisms out of hand. If we are serious about what Peter writes in his first epistle to set apart Christ as Lord, part of that sanctifying process must be molding our methodology and practice in apologetics. Hammering out bumps and smoothing edges. I want my methodology and practice to fit together in a way that honors the Lord. Our apologetic methodology needs to flow out of the biblical text and actually be meaningfully evangelistic.
Allowing this brief article to serve as an introduction, I want to provide an outline explaining what I have learned from presuppositionalism and show how I have personally made the methodology practical in my own Christian walk. That is what I hope to take up next.