I have had opportunity at times to speak on the subject of apologetics and evangelism. When possible, I try to offer up a time for questions and comments from the audience. Because I anticipate that at least one question will ask to explain the difference between what is called presuppositional apologetics and the classic-evidentialist apologetics, I pulled together the following, basic bullet-point response.
Classical/evidentialism and presuppositionalism represent two apologetic methodologies that attempt to make a case for the Christian faith in light of unbelief. As Christians, we should strive to make our apologetic case for Christianity God honoring, biblically based, and theologically sound.
Classical/evidentialism (C/E) is the apologetic methodology the average church going, “Red State” evangelical Christian is familiar with. In fact, I call C/E “popular apologetics” because it is the methodology presented in the popular apologetic books found in the typical Christian bookstore and is taught on Christian radio by talk show hosts and in various conference presentations.
As harsh as this may sound to some – perhaps even many – I think C/E is neither God honoring, biblically based, nor theologically sound. I say that because proponents who advocate C/E are merely attempting to prove the possibility of God’s existence and the viability of the Christian worldview, rather than proclaim the reality of God and the truth of Christianity. Such an objective dishonors the Lord, because proponents of C/E typically keep the Bible out of the discussion (they believe you have to prove its dependability first), and thus, that makes their overall apologetic theologically unsound.
Presuppositionalism, I believe, reflects more accurately the apologetic utilized by Christians in the book of Acts, and hence, it is the model we need to employ in our evangelistic and apologetic endeavors.
Using presuppositionalism as the focus, let me contrast the two systems:
1) Presuppositionalism defends the totality of the Christian worldview when engaging unbelief.
By unbelief I mean:
– Opposition to the Christian faith by either apathy or outright hostility
– Individuals who may claim some Christian “affiliation” but inconsistently live out their “faith” or religious practice.
– Religious faith outside biblical Christianity.
2) The presuppositionalist defends the totality of the Christian worldview by beginning with a most certain and unquestioned commitment to,
– The inspiration and infallibility of Scripture as a Divine revelation.
– The reality and existence of our Divine Creator.
– The acknowledgement and submission to Christ’s sovereign lordship over all areas of human existence.
– The supernatural work of God to convert the hearts of sinners.
3) A presuppositionalist seeks to engage the unbeliever by challenging the totality of his or her specific worldview. Such things as a person’s truth claims, dogmatism, fundamental convictions; how the person lives, interacts with the world; what he or she believes about reality, why we are here, where we are going, etc.
4) Presuppositionalism is distinguished from the C/E approach, what I personally term, “popular apologetics,” along two foundational disagreements:
– C/E proponents believe various lines of evidence are self-authenticating and sufficient within themselves as “proofs” for God’s existence, the veracity of Scripture, and the truth claims of the Christian faith.
– Though C/E proponents believe men are fallen and are sinners, they believe man still retains his reasoning faculties so that he can learn spiritual things about God. The Ratio Christi apologetic university network affirm this viewpoint under their basic belief statement under the heading, “Concerns about Apologetic Methodology:”
It is our belief, however, that the Scriptures testify to the fact that man, though corrupted by sin, is still made in the image of God and has been given reasoning faculties that can be used to gain important, though limited, data from nature about reality and theology.
5) Presuppositionalists, on the other hand, believe that men are created in the image of God, yet are completely fallen including their reasoning facilities.
That is what is understood as the “noetic effects of the fall,” (Rom. 8:6,7; 1 Cor. 2:14-16; Eph. 4:17, 18).
– That does not mean unbelievers are stupid and “unreasonable” and thus unable to function as people in a society. In fact, they can reasonably understand the truth claims of the Christian faith.
– Rather, it means their reasoning will always reject spiritual things and biblical truth apart from a divine work of regeneration. Their unbelief and rejection of the Christian faith is not one lacking “evidence,” or having it explained to them correctly, but is fundamentally a moral/spiritual problem. Hence, unbelievers will always seek to make excuses as to why biblical truth is untrue and why they should not submit themselves to Christ’s Lordship.
– In fact, The Bible tells us all unbelievers intuitively, by their nature as human beings, know God exists. Yet, due to their spiritual disconnect and heart rebellion against God, they suppress that knowledge of God and attempt to explain it away by the philosophical constructs of their personal worldview.
6) Therefore, presuppositionalists believe there is no “neutral” evidence. Meaning, evidence is NOT self-authenticating and sufficient within itself as “proofs” for the Christian faith. All evidence has to be understood and interpreted according to the “fear of the Lord.” (Prov. 1:7, 9:10) In other words, all evidence is God’s evidence, and we seek to understand it according to a comprehensive, biblically informed framework.
7) Unbelievers, in spite of how smart they may be, or “open-minded” to consider the “evidence,” interpret all evidence according to a set of unquestioned presuppositions (from whence “presuppositional apologetics” gets its name). Because unbelievers are unspiritual, and not submitted to God’s authority, they interpret any “evidence” contrary to belief in the revealed God of Scripture.
8) The strategy of the apologist, then, as noted under #3, is to engage the worldview of the unbeliever. What Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 10:4, 5 as “pulling down strongholds” and “casting down arguments.” The “pulling” and “casting” down involves challenging those unquestioned presuppositions that give shape to the unbeliever’s fundamental convictions and overall faith commitments, thus forcing him to “justify” or “give a reason” why those presuppositions should be trusted.
9) The goal of the Christian apologist then, is to:
– Challenge the validity of those presuppositions.
– Attempt to demonstrate, through personal interaction, how the unbeliever lives out his life inconsistently to what he knows in his “heart of hearts” is true about God and reality.
– Show him the sinful folly of trusting those presuppositions apart from the revealed God of Scripture.
– Show the unbeliever his rebellion against God, his just condemnation before God, and present the Gospel of salvation in Christ alone to make him right before God
– Trust that it is God’s Spirit Who is the one Who convinces the person of spiritual truth, not evidence or correctly presented philosophical argumentation.