Ask Steve: Presuppositional Apologetics



Currently Reading:

Vanishing Grace: What Ever Happened to the Good News?

by Philip Yancey

Category: Christian Inspiration

2014, Zondervan





Question: Steve, I heard this guy in our church talk on and on about presuppositional apologetics. I never heard of this before. Can you explain presuppositional apologetics to me? Is this approach different than other approaches?

Answer: Presuppositional apologetics is an apologetical approach that presupposes the truth of what it in Scripture and reasons from that point. Like all the other apologetics methods, presuppositional apologetics is designed to defend Christianity against objections and attacks against the faith. Its advocates include Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and John Frame. Like all other methods, presuppositional provides a defense, offense, and proof for the existence of the Christian God. However, the way in which presuppositional apologetics aims to achieve that goal differs from the classical, evidential, cumulative case, and Reformed Epistemology method.

Presuppositional apologetics does not attempt to use rationality, experience, and/or empirical evidence as the starting point to reason for the existence of God and His word. Rather, it begins with the Bible as the starting point and foundation for which all truth is measured. God’s word is that standard from which all truths in life (logic, reason, morality, physical laws), derive from, whether people want to acknowledge it or not. From there, all other evidences are employed to demonstrate the reality of what has already been presented in Scripture. It shows that the whole world, including much of the actions, decisions, and thoughts of unbelievers, are governed by the truths in Scripture. Therefore, unbelievers cannot think, argue, or live without presupposing God. To take it a step further, the unbeliever’s worldview (ex. relativism, evolution, Islam, New Age) is inconsistent. They cannot explain their experiences of the world without the Bible. They unknowingly borrow from the Christian worldview in their appeal to deductive reasoning. Christianity alone makes sense of their experiences.  

Some would remark that presuppositional apologetics has major downfalls. One of them is the idea that because the Bible’s authority is assumed and binding on all people, every argument made out of it must be circular reasoning. Another objection to presuppositional apologetics is that it relies mainly on the Bible and does not bother to incorporate tangible evidences that could really bolster the Bible’s integrity and win over skeptics. However, this is a claim that is not true. Historical, scientific, and archaeological evidences can be, and are often, used in defending the Bible. The debate is whether the proofs are the starting point or whether the Bible is. Do proofs need to prove the Bible, or does the truth of the Bible presuppose what we see as true and evident in creation, morals, archaeology, philosophy, and history?

The first issue we want to tackle as it regards presuppositional apologetics is acknowledgement of the proper starting ground. Many skeptics who hold to other worldviews, such as atheism or agnosticism, claim that they are being “neutral” and demand that Christians do so in their attempt to prove God’s existence. In reality, there is no such thing as a “neutral” or “common ground” stance. Everyone in the world has an epistemological bias and presupposition that guide their thinking and living. Belief that there is no God or that the Bible’s veracity cannot be proven is a presupposition which is most clearly demonstrated when skeptics are hostile and unreceptive even after being presented with observable evidences of the Bible’s truth.

Because unbelievers have their presupposition in naturalism and rationalism (calling it “neutral”), the Christian likewise are to base their presupposition on theism. God, not human reason, is the ultimate authority on all matters of life. He is the standard. The ruler. The canon on all matters that exist in life. Without God as the starting point, a person cannot adequately explain life. He cannot explain where life came from, the meaning of life, where moral absolutes come from, why he can even reason autonomously (even if attempting to debunk Christianity). Because the Bible is the source of truth and objectivity, the unbeliever’s worldview is simply subjective, inconsistent, and morally destructive.

For example, Jesus says in Scripture that He is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6). He even says in John 17:17, “sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” We observe from Scripture that Jesus is declaring Himself to be the standard of truth. He is not a truth, but the truth. All of God’s word is true, unchanging, and absolute, which means that anything which contradicts it is erroneous. God is the author of truth, and not human beings.

If we understand this principle to be true, we should immediately see how that is binding in reality on both believers and unbelievers. Skeptics make moral judgments on Christians and even their book, but they cannot explain, through their own worldview, what entitles them to make such judgments. If there is no such thing as absolute right and absolute wrong, then what makes their judgment of Christians or “questionable” morals in the Bible to be wrong? They claim to believe that humans are the author of morality, yet why do they find child molestation, adultery, murder, or cheating to be wrong? Why do they find it to be absolutely wrong, even if an entire society (such as Nazi Germany) decides that killing Jews and handicapped people is beneficial and right? The only phenomenon that can adequately explain such a mysterious universal conviction on certain morals is the fact that this standard of morality is transcendent, and not by individual or ancestral descent. God is the ultimate standard of right and wrong (Ps 119:160; Jn 8:31-32), as revealed in Scripture. Without this as the starting point and standard, the origins or morality and moral judgments cannot adequately be explained. Therefore, the rationality of God leads to human faith which leads to human reasoning, and not the other way around.

Another thing to remember is that one cannot meet somebody on the grounds of common reasoning, no more than a Christian can meet someone on the grounds of an Islamic, Buddhist, or Mormon ground. Scripture tells us that human reasoning is fallen and corrupt because of sin in people (Rom 1:18-32), therefore they will not truly be able to “reason” properly and objectively, no matter how much they claim to be neutral. That is why God must guide humans by granting them a revelation of who He is and what He desires for humanity, and this serves as the basis for our reasoning and understanding of God, humans, and life. Even in the beginning, man knew some things about life, but not everything, which is why God needed to give His words of guidance to teach them how to live and obey (Gen 2). Only after men fell into sin did they start to stray away from God and depend on their own understanding, will, and emotions to guide them in life, which describes the tragedies of sin and destruction that came years later.

Presuppositional apologetics is important for Christians to follow because this is the system that most honors the inspiration, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture to speak to both Christians and non-Christians. If Christians feel that the Bible needs to be proved to others, it just shows that He does not fully trust in the power of God’s word alone to convict the unbeliever of his folly. Because if the Bible true, then it explains all matters of science, logic, and morality in the world, and Christians can have confidence in that. Anything that speaks contrary to the Bible is not only false, but intellectual suicide.

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