Apologetics, as a theological discipline, has been practiced in a variety of ways over the years.
However, in order to paint with a broad brush, there are two overarching types: Evidential and Presuppositional.
The former is a plea to what may be called “natural theology”, and the discipline of using extra-biblical (outside of the Bible) evidence to make the case for a Creator. Usually, this involves building a case for Truth, Theism, and then the Christian God.
The latter still makes use of good evidence for God, but presupposes the authority of Scripture. In other words, it focuses more on the absurdity of non-Christian worldviews than on the rationality of the Christian worldview (though evidences for both are frequently in play). This can be seen clearly in my post about the bankruptcy of atheism.
“Presup” (as I will shorten it for purposes of this article) uses a line of argumentation called “the impossibility of the contrary”, and is characterized by this statement made by Dr. Greg Bahnsen–“The transcendental proof for God’s existence is that without Him it is impossible to prove anything.”
My journey into apologetics itself happened a few years ago, and I’ve written about that here. But now, I’d like to detail the next step I’ve taken in the journey, and give some good reasons (an apologetic!) for why I think you should too.
It’s important to be open to “Truth”. Truth, in this sense, is Biblical Truth. All Truth is God’s Truth! So when the Bible comments on an issue that is contrary to the view you currently hold, there are only two options–(1) obedience and conformity or (2) rebellion and willful ignorance.
I just going to come right out and say it: I switched from evidential apologetics to presuppositional apologetics because the Bible is clear on which is correct.
There are huge organizations who will disagree with me on that statement, and that’s okay. I’m not mad at them. I just think presup is faithful to Scripture and evidential is not. Disagreeing with me is one thing–disagreeing with Scripture is another entirely.
I changed because the Bible demanded it.
Now, before continuing on, I want to offer a challenge to any evidentialist who is reading this:
Please, if you will, find me Scripture in the Bible that either commands, demonstrates, or endorses apologetics where the authority of Scripture (and, by virtue, God) is not assumed in the conversation.
If my goal in writing this post is accomplished, I will actually do the opposite for you. I will show you where the Bible commands, demonstrates, AND endorses apologetics where the authority of Scripture (and God) IS assumed in the conversation.
Reason #1. The Nature of the Debate
Before looking at Scripture, I believe we should further highlight the debate between these two “camps” of Christian theology, and resolve some important misconceptions.
Misconception #1. The Chicken or the Egg?
Many evidentialists claim that we “presuppers” have a chicken and egg problem. They would tend to reason that a post like this one is silly because I am obviously using external arguments to make my case, proving that logic and rationality on their own are good enough to make the case.
But this simply isn’t true. My appeal to the authority of Scripture doesn’t have to come first in my argument in order for my argument to rest upon it. My next line of reasoning will highlight this fact! My argument is, in fact, based entirely upon Scripture being true.
But just because that is foundational to my argument doesn’t mean I have to start there. This a common misconception, and leads right into my next one.
Misconception #2. Presuppositionalists Don’t Use Evidence
This is a curious misconception, seeing as how one of the largest organizations giving good evidence for Christianity–Answers in Genesis–is a presuppositional organization!
There are many other large organizations doing this as well such as CMI, ICR, and the Biblical Science Institute. You may have noticed that these are all primarily creation-focused organizations, and we’ll discuss that in-depth in a moment.
Misconception #3. Presuppositionalism is Circular Reasoning
All ultimate authorities must be circular. Consider this logic: If God existed, He would claim to be God. God claims to be God. Therefore, God exists. This is a circular argument.
But if it is true, it does not matter if it is circular or not. It would be irrational to conclude anything else IF the premises (If God existed, He would claim to be God. God claims to be God) are true.
We can use external evidence to verify what we already believe. In this post, I directly address the question of if the Bible can prove itself. It can! I highly recommend you read that post–it will give you a better understanding of how and why this type of reasoning is valid and not “viciously” circular.
In addition, this short article by the team at AiG addresses this claim head-on.
Unfortunately, these misconceptions (and others) have led to an often heated debate between these two camps.
For a while, I rejected the notion of presuppositionalism because I thought we needed to give good evidence for belief in God. After all, 1 Peter 3:15 seems pretty clear. It says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”
The problem is that most evidential apologists graze over the first part–“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts”–and yet, it is the most important phrase in the whole verse! Christ must be first regarded as truth before He can be defended.
When they fail to use Christ as the foundation of their argumentation, they literally CUT their foundation out from underneath of them. Evidence, of its own accord, is not God’s chosen way.
Dr. Jason Lisle says in The Ultimate Proof of Creation, “people always interpret evidence in a way that is compatible with their worldview. Thus, evidence by itself will never settle the debate.” We’ll unpack this idea in a few moments.
Now–this does not mean that God does not use evidence to bring someone to Himself, or that He never will again. In fact, many who have become evidential apologists have done so because they themselves were persuaded by evidence.
Remember though, the problem is not with using evidence–it’s putting evidence in its proper relationship to Christ.
If we are going to do apologetics in a way that remains faithful to the Bible, we must do it God’s way–the way of His command and example.
Reason #2. The Authority of Scripture
Who or what is the ultimate authority in your life? In my life? If the Bible is true, God (and His Word) is the ultimate authority on ALL matters in everyone’s life.
A person who rejects the Bible is no less under God’s authority than the most faithful of Christians. The difference is that he who rejects will have to do so at the expense of a contradictory and incoherent life.
The core issue with evidentialism is that it cheats reality. It allows the unbeliever to decide, based on what looks most logical to Him, whether or not God is true (for Him). It is for this reason that two highly educated intellectuals see the world two completely different ways–one sees God, the other sees nothing but nature. This is because the person’s worldview–their presuppositions about reality–has blinded them from seeing the truth.
The bottom line is this: evidentialism places God on trial. Presuppositionalism places the unbeliever on trial. This is the approach Scripture would have us to take. Presuppositionalism is not so much about defending God as it is exposing the absurdity of a life without Him and attacking the presuppositions of the unbeliever.
The authority of Scripture is at stake when doing apologetics. This is revealed even further when examining what Scripture has to say about doing apologetics.
Proverbs 26:4-5 says this, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.”
To this day, I have never heard an evidential apologist reference these two verses of Scripture. Yet, they are the only two verses which give explicit instructions on how to do apologetics!
An important yet common-sensical question is raised by these verses–what on earth do they mean?
A fool, in the Bible, has a very specific description. Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.” And Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself.”
To paraphrase, when the Bible speaks of a fool, it is describing a person who (1) believes, in his “heart”, that there is no God and (2) isn’t interested in understanding the truth–he simply wants to do what feels right in his “heart.”
This person is plagued by the words of Jeremiah the prophet–“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
So, our verses in Proverbs 26 give us a clear understanding of how we ought to answer such a person. First, we should not answer the fool–in what way?–according to his folly. That is, the very thing that makes him a fool–his disbelief in God and disregard for Truth–are not to become the basis for our answer. Why? Lest we be like him!
However, the next verse, a seeming contradiction, tells us to go ahead and answer according to his folly. In other words, to use their argumentation as the basis for our response. But this time, we are going to approach it differently. We are going to expose this folly to him, “lest he be wise in his own conceit.” Meaning, we are going to follow his worldview to its obvious conclusion.
This sounds really confusing, but Dr. Jason Lisle has coined a very simple strategy for this. He calls it the “Don’t Answer; Answer” method.
Here is just one simple example of this in practice: Say you are witnessing to an unbeliever, and they claim that there is no scientific evidence for God. Your initial response might look something like this:
DONT ANSWER: “I reject your claim that there is no scientific evidence for God. In fact, there is some excellent research being done in the fields of Topography, Astronomy, and even Archeology which suggest and strongly support Biblical Creation. ANSWER: But for the sake of argument, let’s say there weren’t any “scientific” evidence for God. On your worldview, how do you suppose that “science” is supposed to work anyway, since it requires uniformity of nature, which is an impossibility given naturalism?”
Once again, you will gain a more thorough understanding of the methodology behind presuppositionalism by reading this post, but the gist is that logic, science, and morality are ALL dependent upon the existence of the Christian God. Therefore, when one attempts to argue against God, but uses notions only available because God exists, he is living a life of contradiction and absurdity.
This is a perfectly faithful application of Proverbs 26:4-5. Near the beginning of this post, I told you that I would show you where the Bible commands, demonstrates, AND endorses the presupposing of God in apologetic encounters. I have just shown you the Bible’s command.
The Bible’s endorsement of this notion has already been discussed when we looked at 1 Peter 3:15. We ought to be ready to give an answer, but only after we have sanctified God in our hearts.
The demonstration is found quite clearly in Paul’s discourse to the Areopagus found in Acts 17. We won’t look at the discourse here, but read this chapter, and notice in verses 23-25 how Paul starts with the God of creation. He is making is quite clear where his convictions lie. In verse 28, he even uses the “Don’t Answer; Answer” method to show how their own worldview points to God despite their rejection of Him.
There are other examples. Jesus, for instance, never gives a discourse without first assuming the authority of God and the Scriptures. In fact, He usually begins with them. And, He always asked questions that were meant to show the absurdity of an unbelievers worldview. The usual result, found in Matthew 26, was “And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.”
Jesus left them speechless! It was because He spoke the truth, and demonstrated to unbelievers that their own worldview made no sense. The Scriptures are full of this methodology.
In summary, the message is clear:
- The Authority of Scripture presides over EVERY person.
- The Bible commands, routinely demonstrates, and endorses the assumption of Scriptural authority in apologetic encounters.
- This assumption is practiced only in presuppositional methodology. In fact, I’ve had evidentialists tell me they purposely stay away from Scripture when making the case for God.
Here’s the problem, and this says it all: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” — Psalm 11:3
Reason #3. The Relationship to Creation
Though my second line of reasoning is, in my estimation, reason enough, there are still two more primary ideas that contributed to my “conversion” if you will. This third reason is seemingly a bit of a rabbit trail, but is, in a sense, the glue that holds the whole thing together.
In recent years, the notion of presuppositional apologetics has been almost inextricably linked with young age creation (the view that I hold).
I’m not the only one to notice this. In fact, this month, at one of the largest apologetics conferences in the nation (hosted by Southern Evangelical Seminary), Ken Ham (of Answers in Genesis) and Dr. Richard Howe (a philosophy professor there at the college and fellow young age creationist) will debate this exact subject matter.
The reason for this link is pretty clear—mostly in its power to explain the division we see in the sciences. When 97% of the world’s scientists believe one thing, and you believe another, a pretty sound line of reasoning is required to make your point.
It seems to me that, if one could come to the conclusion of the Bible’s age of the earth by relying simply on what “natural theology” seems to say, we would see a least a few more scientists holding to the young age view; but we don’t.
I’m going to make a statement that might shock you, but I will try to qualify it: There is good evidence of an old earth, the theory of evolution, and deep time in general. If there wasn’t, you wouldn’t see so much adherence amongst the scientific communities from different disciplines all around the world!
I certainly do not agree with their conclusions; but, to say that 97% of the world’s scientists are in some sort of mass deception tactic is harmful to the cause of the gospel—claims like this are the reason people think most Christians are flat-earthers!
The thing is, there is also good evidence of a young earth, the Biblical Creation narrative, and a young age in general! The unbeliever is simply unable to see it without “spiritual glasses” on.
See, the real problem is one of worldviews—not science/evidence. Presuppositionalism recognizes this. There are, obviously, two ways to see the evidence. I know this because there are some very smart scientists who firmly hold to the young age view. Thank God for them! But this means there must be something radically different between scientists who believe this way and the majority of mainstream scientists.
There is. Conversion to Christianity and the highest regard for the authority of Scripture!
Acceptance of the Bible’s truth allows a person to follow the evidence where it leads, but they have the added advantage of viewing the world through the proper lens—the lens not tainted by the deception of Satan, but rather, enlightened by the truth of God!
If you still don’t believe me, consider this: The overwhelming majority of evidential apologists hold to (at least some form of) the day-age view of Genesis. They’ve got to fit the millions of years in because their adherence to the authority of natural theology demands it. Folks like Dr. Richard Howe (mentioned above) are few and rare—most creationists hold to presuppositional apologetics because it has power to explain the radically different view of the scientists.
Does this mean it’s a crutch? Not unless you are willing to admit that belief in Christ is a crutch (in the intellectual sense). Now, I am not saying that someone who holds a different position is not a Christian. This is another falsehood that lends credence to the discrediting of young age creationists.
What I am saying is that, like or not, they have come to the Word of God with a presupposition about certain scientific conclusions that they just aren’t willing to let go, and therefore, must seriously stretch the meaning of Scripture to fit their a priori conclusions.
Good reason or not, my move to presup was, at least in some way, affected by its appeal to the young age creation position (which, I would argue, is the Bible’s position).
Reason #4. The Problem with Reason
Ironically, my fourth and final reason actually concerns the problem with reason.
This is where the rubber meets the road–the culmination of all points mentioned so far. Reason, on its own, is sufficient for condemnation, but not for salvation.
Romans 1 will make my point. Notice verses 18-21:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
In bearing this out, we find that God’s wrath is revealed. Against who? “…all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness…” This means they suppress what they already know to be true. Why? “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” and “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”
Put simply, their reason and rationality have led them to confusion and condemnation instead of enlightenment and salvation. And as such, they are without excuse on Judgment Day. Reason implies our ability to accumulate knowledge. But how is real knowledge attained? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).
Later in the chapter (vv. 22), we see this rhetorical question: “How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?” Remember–a fool is only so because he doesn’t believe in God. Reason–the ability to use the available knowledge to make a rational decision–is unavailable to the person who doesn’t believe in God.
This is why rather than “defending Christianity” we “upend all that is not Christianity.” It is intellectually dishonest by all parties to let anyone argue from a position of absurdity. The Christian presuppositionalist acknowledges this, and works on that basis.
In closing, I would like to restate my challenge at the start of this post to any evidential apologists who might be reading: “Please, if you will, find me Scripture in the Bible that either commands, demonstrates, or endorses apologetics where the authority of Scripture (and, by virtue, God) is not assumed in the conversation.”
However, to add to that, I think you will have to also have to provide evidence against the position I have argued in this post, for which there seems to be sufficient Scriptural support.
One final note is that presuppositionalism is also linked widely to Reformed Theology (Calvinism).
Though I disagree with many of their beliefs and therefore do not consider myself to be Reformed, I do firmly believe that a person will not come to Christ unless he is drawn to Him. We don’t go looking for God–He comes looking for us.
Consider this: When you witness, you are the divine appointment for the person God has put in your path. And when you do apologetics/evangelism, you must be faithful to God’s way. I believe His way is best characterized in the presuppositional method.
To reiterate my position from earlier, I changed because the Bible demanded it.
Recommended Further Reading:
- The Ultimate Proof of Creation by Dr. Jason Lisle
- Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith by Dr. Greg Bahnsen
Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!
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