AN INTRODUCTION TO:
Those are some big words. Let's start with the word apologetics. Christian apologetics can be defined as giving a reasonable, rational defense for the truthfulness of Christianity. Defending our faith is a command from Scripture. In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. 1 Peter 3:15
As with everything we do, we want to do it to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31), that includes how we defend our faith. There are different approaches, or methods, that can be utilized in apologetics. If you are a believer in Jesus, I would like to think that you'd agree with me when I say that we don't want to do what "works", or what the world deems acceptable, but rather we want to do what's biblical. Recently, I have come to understand that the presuppositional approach is not only extremely biblical, but it honors God more than any other method.
In the word "Presuppositional", we can hear the word "pre-suppose". Presuppositions are the thoughts and ideas that we bring to any discussion - our pre-beliefs. They are sometimes hard to identify, yet impossible to deny. We all have them. You can say that our presuppositions are the lens in which we view and interpret anything that is presented to us.
In this article, I will try to show what it means to defend our faith using the presuppositional approach. This method can be compared and contrasted with something called the classical or evidential approach. Those two terms are not synonymous, but are very similar in how they are employed. In fact, there are many different apologetic methodologies, but the two main competing methods argue from either an evidentialist standpoint, or a presuppositional standpoint. Presuppositional apologetics (sometimes referred to as Covenantal Apologetics) isn't against evidence. In fact, it can be said that presuppositionalists are actually the ultimate evidentialists. Evidence assumes truth and knowledge, neither of which can be justified apart from God. We will explore that later. Evidence can be very persuasive and powerful, the question is, "Are there times when evidence shouldn't be presented to an unbeliever in an attempt to answer an objection to the Christian worldview?"
At first glance, giving evidence to a non-Christian sounds reasonable. Therefore, it appears to be a good idea. I am going to make the case that there are times when giving evidence to someone is absolutely the wrong thing to do. Consider this question: In our world, where do you see evidence being given? In a court of law. The evidence is given to the judge and the jury. When we give evidence to an unbeliever, who is the judge? He is. He can either accept the evidence or reject it. Either way, he is the one holding the scales.
Do you see a problem with that? I do. We have a lot of nerve putting God on trial. We are going to elevate the rebel sinner to a place where he can stand in judgment over God? The created saying to the Creator, "Here is my verdict..." Doesn't it seem ludicrous for human beings to decide whether or not God and His revealed Word are worthy of our trust?
Please don't get me wrong. When we present evidence, our hearts are in the right place. It's good to have a desire to honor God by defending our faith, in an attempt to get people to agree that they need a savior. However, getting people to agree is not where the focus should be, it's getting them to submit to the one in whom they will stand before in judgment. God is the judge, not man!
Now you may be thinking, "I have been on this website before, and it is full of evidence for God and His Word. It sounds like you are contradicting yourself. What's the deal?" Let me explain. I think that every situation is different, and different approaches to apologetics can be used based upon the person in which we are engaged in dialogue. We don't have to adopt a single methodology when it comes to defending our faith. Perhaps the question that we need to ask at this point is, "When should we give evidence to the unbeliever, and when shouldn't we give evidence?"
In my opinion, here's the difference: the antagonistic, hard-hearted individual who challenges the truth of Christianity shouldn't be given evidence that he can stand over and reject. I see this as being similar to us withholding the gospel to those who we know will mock and ridicule it. Listen to what Jesus said, "Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you." Matthew 7:6
Conversely, I don't think we should handle every situation that way. For the person who approaches us with a humble heart, maybe even a skeptical mind, and is earnestly trying to figure these things out, a different approach may be utilized. For the person who says, "Will you please help me understand your worldview? I have these intellectual barriers and stumbling blocks that are in my way, and they trouble me. I honestly want to ask you a few questions that I hope are not interpreted as objections, but rather questions that I would like to hear your answer." In my opinion, that is someone to which I would give evidence. It sounds like God may be drawing that person to Himself. Admittedly, this will require wisdom on our part to discern the difference between the various scenarios.
So, when it comes to evidence, Christians love evidence. Evidence is a gift from God that helps bolster our faith. It can serve as a great comfort to us in times of doubt. Christians love the evidence because they are Christians. Unbelievers aren't as quick to embrace the same evidence. Why is that? You guessed it... It's because they are unbelievers. We all have the same evidence, because we all live in the same world. The issue is how do we understand and interpret that evidence? We interpret the evidence according to our presuppositions.
Does the Bible presuppose God? It certainly does. The Bible never once makes a case for God's existence. It simply says, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1:1 The Bible just assumes God. Why? Because God is the foundation of all knowledge, reason and logic. I will come back to that statement and develop it more fully. Later in Genesis chapter 1, it says God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:27
We have been created bearing the likeness of God. What does that mean? It means that He has endowed us with certain characteristics and faculties. We are similar to software. We come pre-packaged and pre-programmed with certain understandings. One very important understanding God has given to all people is that He exists. We know He is real. And not just any god, but the one true and living God of the Bible, we know Him!
You say, "Wait a minute, there are many people in our world who say that they don't believe in God. There is a whole atheist community out there! What are you saying about them? Are you saying that anyone who says that they honestly don't believe in God is a liar?" I'm not saying that. I'm saying what the first chapter of Romans is saying, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools." Romans 1:18-22
They aren't liars, they're suppressors. The people who say that they need evidence in order to believe, have that evidence already. In a real certain sense, they know God, not in a saving way, but they have knowledge of Him, because God has shown it to them. The problem is that they suppress that knowledge in unrighteousness. When we ask the question, who needs evidence that God exists? If we are to believe Romans 1, the answer is no one!
Those requesting evidence are suppressing what they already know to be true. A man named Greg Bahnsen once said that the knowledge of God is being pushed down like a beach ball being held under water. It is a willful rejection of knowledge. That is why Scripture says The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." Psalm 14:1 They know the truth, yet they willfully suppress that truth in unrighteousness. Why? My answer - because they love their sin. I would even say that some people have suppressed the truth so far and so fully, that they have deceived themselves into believing their unbelief. But just like that ball under the water, at some point it will pop up. It can't be held down forever.
The job of the presuppositional apologist is to show the unbeliever that they live inconsistently. How they live doesn't match up with their atheism. When that truth pops up, the apologist will point out to the unbeliever that they are bearing the image of God in that moment and are showing Romans 1 to be true, despite what their skepticism claims.
In other words, when someone says, "I don't believe in God." I don't believe him. Instead, I believe God in His Word. That is my presupposition - the Word of God is true. When defending my faith, I start with the fact that the Bible is true and work from that starting point.
You may say, "To engage an atheist, you can't start with the Bible, he doesn't believe it. You need to meet the unbeliever on neutral ground." Is there such a place? To answer that, I am going to quote the Bible. I can hear the objection now; "You are begging the question by saying the Bible is true by quoting the Bible - that is arguing in a circle." I will seek to address that charge later in this article. Let me first show you the myth of neutrality according to the Scriptures.
Neutrality is a Myth
Because God is the creator of the world, nothing falls outside the realm of His Lordship. This means that nothing - not even facts or knowledge - are neutral. All things are either in submission to, or are hostile to Christ's Lordship.
Consider these verses:
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other."
By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil:
1 John 3:10
Scripture is clear. Everyone is in covenant with God one way or the other. We are all in a relationship with Him. Either you are "in Christ" by grace, or you are "in Adam" according to wrath. Being neutral is biblically impossible. To quote Dr. Greg Bahnsen again, on this issue of neutrality, he says, "They aren't, and you shouldn't be."
Human Autonomy is a Myth
God is the creator. Man is the creation. We often think too highly of ourselves. We are dependent on things like air to breath, food to sustain us, etc. If God took these things away, it would be over for us. We have many needs, God needs nothing. He is self-sustaining and self-sufficient. This dependency that we have carries over into the realm of reason and knowledge. We simply cannot evaluate reality independently from our creator. This is especially the case in light of the fact that humanity's fall into sin has corrupted all aspects of our being, including our ability to reason.
As stated before, we are created in the image of God, with the law of the Lord written on our hearts (Romans 2:15). We know that God exists as Lord, yet because of the effects of sin on the heart and mind, people suppress that truth in unrighteousness. Before Adam sinned in the garden, he rightly relied entirely upon God's revelation for his knowledge of the world. After partaking of the fruit from the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil", Adam started with himself, and his own interpretation of reality as the starting point for knowledge.
We as believers, lean not on our own understanding, but in ALL ways acknowledge God (Proverbs 3:5,6). That means that He is the foundation for our reasoning. He is the supreme authority, and He has the first and last word in everything. Unbelievers have come to believe that their opinion, rather than God's revelation, is the final word. The fact that God is omniscient (all-knowing), and we have been affected greatly by our sin, these two truths destroy all "neutrality" and render everything - including reason and the laws of logic - dependent on God Himself.
A Proper Starting Point
The Bible is the proper starting point in apologetics. God's revelation is the framework through which all experience is interpreted and all truth is known. That means that every fact and every bit of knowledge presupposes the God of the Scriptures.
Consider these verses:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Presuppositionalist John Frame puts it this way: ''[We] should present the biblical God, not merely as the conclusion to an argument, but as the one who makes the argument possible." If Scripture is true, and it is, then it is impossible to argue or even think, without presupposing God.
An Issue of Authority
In my opinion, it all comes down to an issue of authority. Who is your ultimate authority? You? God? Something, or someone else? Perhaps a better question to ask is - Who should be our ultimate authority? The answer quite obviously is God.
Think about this: If anything other than the ultimate authority is used to prove the ultimate authority, then it loses the claim of ultimate authority. If anything other than God's Word is used to prove God's Word then that thing becomes the ultimate authority.
Let's say a scientist has found something that shows the validity of the Bible, and we believe what he has found to be true. We then conclude from that the truthfulness of the Scriptures. That scientist has now become the ultimate authority. If the next day he finds something that shows the Bible is false, then it necessarily follows that we would conclude that the Bible is no longer worthy of our trust. Who is the authority in these scenarios? The scientist.
As stated earlier, our ultimate authority should be God. Now the unbeliever will say, "Yea, but I don't believe in God. So he isn't my ultimate authority. In fact, you haven't demonstrated that God is the ultimate authority, you have just stated that he is, that is an assertion without justification which amounts to circular reasoning."
All ultimate authorities are necessarily circular. Christians and skeptics are equally circular in their thinking. For many skeptics their ultimate authority is their own reasoning. In order to justify their reasoning, they need to employ their reasoning. They reason that their reasoning is valid. It's circular. If I ask, "Why do you trust your reasoning?" As soon as that person opens their mouth to give a reason, they are engaged in circular argumentation. Our ultimate authority is God and His Word. According to the Bible, there is no greater authority. Look at this text, "For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself." Hebrews 6:13
I've lived long enough in this world to know that I can be wrong, a lot. And I can be wrong in big ways. I have experienced being wrong, even when I was convinced that I was right! If you are being honest here, you know this is true about yourself too. We ought not trust our own reasoning and logic; we have a very poor track record. God's record is flawless.
I can see the objection coming, "The Bible is completely flawed and full of mistakes, errors and contradictions. You want me to trust that God? If indeed it is from God... After all, the Bible was written by men." That is a topic for another time, but notice how even the concepts of mistakes, errors and contradictions presuppose truth? To even know what an error is you must believe in truth. The very objection imports concepts such as knowledge, logic and truth. None of which can be justified without God. It all comes down to authority, and who, or what is the foundation for our reasoning. The foundation for my reasoning is God.
To clarify on this issue of circularity, consider what is called the infinite regression of knowledge. If you ask someone how they know A (A being anything that they think they know) and he'll respond - because of B. How does he know B is true? He'll respond - because of C. How does he know C is true? He'll respond - because of D. And on and on... This series of justifications will go on forever without end. Because this will carry on for infinity, he therefore cannot even have absolute knowledge of A. The only way to stop this infinite regression of justification is to have infinite knowledge, or have revelation from someone who does have infinite knowledge. To say it another way, in order to know anything at all for sure you must have all knowledge, or know someone who does.
If you ask an unbeliever what their definition of truth is, they will probably say something along the lines of truth is whatever corresponds to reality. The question then becomes, what is real, and how do we know it? The most common answer is going to be that we use our senses and reasoning. Question: Are everyone's senses and reasoning valid? No. We have mental hospitals in place for such people. Ask the unbeliever, "How do you know you're not one of those people?" Could those people know that their senses and reasoning aren't valid? They can't. Why? Because they would have to have valid senses and reasoning to know that they don't have valid senses and reasoning. See the circle? Because the unbeliever cannot know that his senses and reasoning are valid, it follows that he cannot know anything to be true.
People say, "I know my senses are valid, by using my senses." You ask them, "How do you know you can smell that pumpkin pie?" They'll say, "Because I smell it."
"Mr. Unbeliever, how do you know your reasoning is valid?" "Because I've reasoned that my reasoning is valid."
"How do you know that your memory is valid?" "My memory is valid because I can remember things."
It's all circular.
Here's a question: Is it impossible for God to exist? If the unbeliever were intellectually honest, he'd have to say no. Can God, who is all-powerful and all-knowing, reveal some things to us such that we can know them for sure? It follows that the unbeliever would have to say yes. At this point Christian epistemology is established. Epistemology is the study of what we know and how we know it. It presents a huge problem for the unbeliever. We know things the exact same way unbelievers do, through our senses, memory and reasoning. The difference is that we have a God who provides justification for their reliability, and unbelievers do not.
Another good question to ask is this: Could you be wrong about everything that you claim to know? If he could be wrong about everything he claims to know, then it follows that he knows nothing. That is not a great position to be in when trying to persuade others intellectually. Sye Ten Bruggencate uses this as an example: Suppose I say, "The speed limit of the street outside is 30mph, but I could be wrong." Do I know it? No. Because I could be wrong. So someone who admits that he could be wrong about everything that he thinks he knows, then it follows that he knows nothing - if his worldview is correct. But his worldview isn't correct, that is when he must be called to repentance.
Absolute Truth, Logic and the Impossibility to the Contrary
It's not that the unbeliever doesn't know anything; he does know things. The problem is that if his worldview were true, he couldn't know anything for sure. The reason why the unbeliever does know things is because he is suppressing the truth of God's existence in unrighteousness (Romans 1). The goal of this apologetic method is to demonstrate to the unbeliever the failure of anything opposed to God having the ability to consistently account for what we see in the world. For example, without God, we can't say that what the Nazi's did was wrong. The best we can do is, "Well... I wouldn't have done that, but..." All we have is preference, not a moral absolute. We know in our heart of hearts, what they did was evil. No doubt about it. That's why the Christian worldview can say that the guy who rapes and kills a little girl is wrong. He has violated an absolute moral law. Where do moral laws come from without a moral law giver? That's why we can agree that those acts are objectively evil, and not merely "right for them, but wrong for me."
Look at the connection between logic and God. It's not that God is logic, but we find the source of logic rooted in God. Logic is universal, immaterial (not made of matter), and immutable (it does not change). God is universal, not made of matter, and He does not change. Those who deny God will say that everything is relative, matter is all that exists and things are constantly changing. For example, how does one make sense of unchanging laws in a universe that is constantly changing? Logic makes sense in the Christian worldview, it doesn't in theirs.
This form of argumentation is called a transcendental argument. This means that the reality we live in logically presupposes that the God of the Bible exists. It's like this, Christianity is true because of the impossibility of the contrary. No other worldview can account for why the laws of logic exist, or why most human beings have an instinctual moral sense of right and wrong. Without the God of the Bible, justification for logic, argumentation, reasoning, and morality, are all impossible.
Why does it have to be the God of the Bible?
The objection goes like this. "I see that you are arguing for God, why does it have to be the God of Christianity? Why can't the Muslim stand on the authority of the Koran and argue the necessity of Allah?" I would like to first note that this objection acknowledges something subtle. If it's an atheist making this charge, he is giving up his atheism, at least in theory, to continue the dialog. Notice how this form of argumentation reveals the utter bankruptcy of the atheistic position. At this point, the atheist is positing a god, albeit another god, just to continue in his suppression.
Nevertheless, it is a valid question that can be answered like this. "Why does it have to be the God of the Bible? He's the only one that exists!" Now that response won't satisfy many people, but again, who are we trying to please with our apologetic methodology, man, or God? We ought to not ever give up our authority – the Word of God.
For those who are unsatisfied with that response, I'd say that we can then conduct an internal critique of that other theistic worldview. In other words, if you want to become a Muslim; we can then take a look at what Islam teaches and the veracity of their claims. But, at this point that person is no longer an atheist, but rather he is now a theist. It is better said that he has simply swapped out idols. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Psalm 96:5
This has been a very long article, and the fact is, it's incomplete. So much more could be written. I'm sure some of this was unclear, and confusing. If you made it this far, congratulations! I apologize for my lack of writing skills, and the fact that I am simply an armchair apologist who has a lot to learn. On top of that, I recognize that much of this is very philosophical and abstract. If this made any sense to you at all, I pray that you will look into it further.
To summarize: Let's honor God in all that we do, and remember that it's out of love that we engage people. Love is our motivation. We love the lost, but the goal of apologetics is to lovingly stop their mouth. It is to silence critics and bring them to a place where they can see that their worldview is bankrupt. In that silence, in the quietness of their heart, is where God can work. We pray that the Holy Spirit convinces them of sin, righteousness and judgment. If our apologetic doesn't lead us to the gospel, we're doing it wrong. The goal is never to win the argument, but rather to win them to Christ. Remember: The only thing that separates us from them, is the grace of God.
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