Introduction to Apologetics, Part 4: Presuppositional Apologetics
On day one of every Intro to Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Problem of God, or any other similar course the same thing occurs. Following all the necessary syllabus details there comes a statement like this:
This is an academic institution, as such, we are examiners of religious and philosophical questions. In this course, we are not practitioners of religion, hence appeals to religious texts are outside of the scope of this course. We will examine the topics with rigorous rational thinking.
Herein lies the perhaps the biggest bait-and-switch at the University. As a Christian you are now disallowed to bring any aspect of the Bible into the discussion. This is strange because it assumes that either A. The Bible is entirely irrational or B. to bring the Bible into an academic discussion makes us somehow practioners of Christianity. As an undergrad, I remember sitting there and thinking, there is something wrong about this statement, but lacking the ability to deconstruct the statement.
I think it is statements like the one above that have caused many apologists to battle only employing the tools of reason and rationality, largely leaving Scripture out of the discussion. This is sad and problematic as it virtually conceded a loss. Recall that presuppositional apologetics presupposes the existence of God and the truth of the Scriptures. Presuppositional apologetics seeks not to defend Christianity with rational evidences but rather attacks the false assumptions (presuppositions) of the unbeliever. Say, a non-believer believes that man is inherently good and does not believe in God or His Word… all the evidences in the world will do no good until his incorrect and inconsistent presuppositions are exposed. It also challenges whether rational arguments are any good at all being that all the reason in the world will do no good unless God regenerates their heart.
The sum total of all truth is that which has been revealed in the Scriptures (Special Revelation), plus that which is commonly revealed naturally (General Revelation). General and Special Revelation have a symbiotic relationship. We need to be able to read (general revelation) in order to understand the Scriptures (special revelation). We need the Scriptures (special revelation) to make sense of our senses, emotions, and world (general revelation). The sad story in academia listed above are demanding that Special Revelation not be brought into the classroom. The problem is that:
[T]he truths of experience are not self-explanatory. Instead they merely constitute the data that cries out to be explained within an overarching worldview. Why is it that the bits of matter we call our bodies have consciousness and are able to navigate the world so effectively? Why are we capable of building societies with some measure of justice and compassion?… why is it possible for humans to calculate a trajectory and land a spacecraft on another planet? What kind of world permits these fascinating achievements? Our claim as Christians is that only a biblically based worldview offers a complete and consistent explanation of why we are capable of knowing scientific, moral, and mathematical truths. Christianity is the key that fits the lock of the universe.
Moreover, since all other worldviews are false keys, we can be absolutely confident, when talking with nonbelievers, that they themselves know things that are not accounted for by their own worldview – whatever it may be. Or to turn it around, they will not be able to live consistently on the basis of their own worldview. Since their metaphysical beliefs do not fit the world God created, their lives will be more or less inconsistent with those beliefs. Living in the real world requires them to function in ways that are not support by their worldview. Nancy Pearcey in Total Truth, pp. 318-319.
In other words, the world and our senses cannot interpret themselves, they require a grid in which to understand them. In the University, on day one they are telling you that you cannot bring any special revelation in which to interpret the world, history, reason, logic, ‘good,’ or ‘evil.’ The problem is that general revelation will never be sufficient to have any saving knowledge of Jesus, nor will general revelation ever be sufficient to have a complete worldview. It cannot account for morality (moral good or moral evil). It cannot account for facts. It cannot account for language. It cannot account for logic.
Presuppositional Apologetics primarily has its roots in the teaching of Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987). Two of Van Til’s students Greg Bahnsen (1948-1995) and John Frame (1939-) continued the tradition making presuppositionalism more widely known.
Here are three articles written by John Frame to further introduce you to presuppositional thought: “Presuppositional Apologetics,” “Presuppositional Apologetics: An Introduction,” and “Monergism: Presuppositional Apologetics.”
Up next, the apologetic thought of Blaise Pascal.