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  • Don Walker

An Introduction to Presuppositional Apologetics (Part 2)


The irrationality of the unbeliever’s thinking is rooted in a “wicked, corrupt heart.” It ultimately is not the mind, which needs to be convinced it’s the heart that must be changed. The mind justifies what the heart has chosen. The unbeliever recognizes that to agree with the Christian concerning the claims of the Christian faith has implications he does not want to face.

Josh McDowell, an evidentialist in his approach, recognizes this reality. As he has stated, “Some people reject the clear evidence because of moral implications involved.” McDowell quotes the extremely revealing remarks of Aldous Huxley:

“I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves . . .

For myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.”

Huxley’s admission is what Clark Pinnock calls a “moral unmasking” of the pseudo-intellectual excuses the unbeliever maintains in order to justify his lawlessness. Pinnock, in his book entitled, Set Forth Your Case, says, “In Christian apologetics, as in theology, the law is preached before the gospel in order that the unregenerate man will be unmasked before the demands of a holy God. The scandal of the gospel is not its alleged immunity from proof. Its offense lies in its moral unmasking of the sinner, not in its supposed untruthfulness.”

The presuppositional approach does not deny the existence of evidence to validate the claims of the Christian faith. As Greg Bahnsen has stated, “There is nothing but evidence to support the Christian faith.” The historical, archeological, philosophical proofs and arguments supporting the rational basis for Christianity are all accepted by the presuppositionalist. The difference between the evidentialist approach and the presuppositional, rest on whether or not this evidence is sufficient as a defense of the faith. When is there enough evidence? To the fallen mind there is “never quite enough evidence.”

In dealing with the non-believer on the basis of evidence, he can present the philosophical arguments for the existence of God. He can demonstrate the scientific support for creationism. He can lay a case for the virgin birth, the resurrection of Christ, and the reliability of the Scriptures. He can show all the archeological findings, which validate the historical accuracy of the Bible. He can present what he believes to be an “air-tight” case regarding the claims of Christianity. But, in the final analysis, the unbeliever; like the jury who rejects all evidence on the basis of a “reasonable doubt,” casts these things aside because of a heart of unbelief (Mark 16:14; Heb. 3:12). As Van Til observed; “The apologist is exceedingly industrious. He shows all the evidence for Christianity, for instance, for the virgin birth and the resurrection of Christ. Let us think of his friend as absolutely tireless and increasingly polite. He will then receive all these facts and toss them into the bottomless pit of pure possibility.” I might add at this point, that the unbeliever does the same thing with “signs and wonders” which are given to attest to the validity of Christianity. He tosses them into the “pile” of unexplained (the X-file) and moves on. Besides the New Age movement and Eastern religions have supernatural experiences as well. If you bring up your testimony, or the testimonies of others that enjoy changed lives as a result of conversion to Christianity, he will “mark it up” to religious self-awareness. He can find the same thing in Buddhism, Scientology, and Islam (Malcolm X for example).

Neither is the presuppositionalist opposed to logical categories. He recognizes the value of logic to show the non-believer the inconsistency of his presuppositions. If the unbeliever were consistent with his presupposition of ultimate meaninglessness and chaos, he could have no knowledge. By God’s grace, however, no man is a consistent unbeliever. The legitimate knowledge he does have is “borrowed” from the believer’s presuppositional framework. In other words, they can know nothing if they remain consistent with their own unbelieving presuppositions. Cornelius Van Til illustrated it this way, by saying, “They must act like the little girl who must sit on her father’s lap in order to slap him in the face.” They must affirm God in order to deny Him.

The presuppositionalist seeks to show the fallacies within the non-believer’s worldview, and not merely lay out facts for his consideration. Van Til in addressing the issue of evidence stated his approach in this way: “Every bit of historical investigation, whether it be in the directly Biblical field, archaeology, or in general history, is bound to confirm the claims of the Christian position. But I would not talk endlessly about facts and more facts without ever challenging the non-believer’s philosophy of fact.”

The evidentialist approach may be represented by the motto, Intelligo et credo (“I understand and I believe”). This view is summarized by the following group characteristics:

(1) A genuine belief in the ability and trustworthiness of human reason in its search for religious knowledge.

(2) The effort to ground faith upon empirical and/or historically verifiable facts.

(3) The conviction that religious propositions must be subjected to the same kind of

verification that scientific assertions must undergo.

A major proponent of this methodology was Thomas Aquinas, Roman Catholicism’s primary medieval theologian. Aquinas sought a common ground between religion and philosophy insisting that God’s existence, revealed in the Scriptures, could be demonstrated by reason. His aim was to synthesize natural and supernatural thought, Christian and pagan thought, Augustinianism and Aristotelianism. Van Til argued that this approach of “going part way with the natural man and then leading him to supernatural truth” undermines the entire Biblical structure of one system of truth.

The presuppositionalist approach may be represented by this motto coined by Saint Augustine, Credo ut intelligam (“I believe in order that I may understand”). This view is summarized by the following group characteristics:

(1) Faith in God proceeds understanding everything else (Heb. 11:3).

(2) Elucidation of the system of truth follows faith.

(3) Religious experience must be grounded in the objective Word of God and the objective work of Christ.

(4) Human depravity has rendered autonomous reason incapable of satisfactorily anchoring its truth claims to anything objectively certain.

(5) A special regenerating act of the Holy Spirit is indispensable for Christian faith and enlightenment.

The presuppositionalist would view Scriptures such as; “If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak for myself” (John 7:17), as confirming the conceptual idea of faith proceeding understanding. Faith, expressed by obedience, opens the door to understanding God and His ways. I cannot stand “outside looking in” and understand the truth of Christianity. When we do God’s will, then we learn of His doctrine.

At this point, the practical implications of our apologetical methodology should be obvious to the reader. How we approach the non-believer with the truth of the Christian faith is determined by which method we believe most addresses the true condition of fallen Man. Is the sinner primarily in need of a “change of mind” or a “change of heart” (which brings about a change of mind)? The evidentialist and the presuppositionalist are aiming at two different “targets.”

In order to summarize this study, I have provided the reader with the following list of major conceptual ideas addressed:

(1) Apologetics refers to the branch of theology dealing with the defense and proof of Christianity.

(2) The two basic approaches to apologetics are evidential and presuppositional.

(3) The presuppositional approach is primarily concerned with the underlying “presuppositions” governing man’s ability to reason due to his fallen nature.

(4) The unbeliever’s wrong conclusions are a result of his wrong presuppositions.

(5) The presuppositionalist approach is not to “reason” with the unbeliever, but to “attack” the presuppositions that the unbeliever is arguing from.

(6) The mind justifies what the heart has chosen.

(7) The presuppositional approach does not deny the existence of evidence to validate the claims of the Christian faith.

(8) The presuppositionalist seeks to show the unbeliever the fallacies within his worldview and not merely lay out facts for his consideration.

(9) Belief must proceed understanding.

(10) When we do God’s will, we learn of His doctrine (John 7:17).

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