All believers must acknowledge the responsibility to engage in apologetics, for Scripture is clear on this matter (1 Pet 3:15).  However, just like in many aspects of practical theology, not all believers agree on how to go about doing apologetics.  Many of these differences come down to our theology of God and how the fall has affected man.  Some Christians believe that man’s problem is simply that he lacks enough evidence to believe in Christ and when the sinner has enough evidence, he will become a believer.  Others come to a much different conclusion and see man’s problem as being much deeper.  They see man as corrupt to the core and as one who willfully distorts the evidence.  Sinful man needs the miracle of life; he needs God to give him a new heart.  The later view is the view that I believe to be most accurate to Scripture.  The presuppositional method is the view I will argue for in this paper.  I believe it is commanded in the teaching of Scripture and is most consistent with the system of Christian doctrine.  In this article: first, I will demonstrate why I believe Scripture commands it; then, how it is consistent with the system of theology given in the Bible and finally, what I think are the major objectives with this method.

  1. A Biblical Presupposition is demanded by Scripture[1]

            “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.” (Ps 36:1).[2]  Sometimes, we Christians tend to forget that there was a fall.  Fallen man does not presuppose our awesome Creator when he looks out into the world.  He sees it from the posture of being bound in sin, blinded to God’s glory, and deaf to the voice of truth.  It is sin and unbelief that the sinner presupposes. 

            God tells us that the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prv 1:7).  Notice that the text does not say ‘knowledge leads to the fear of the Lord,’ but fearing Him leads to knowledge.  To fear the Lord means, at least, “to stand in a subservient position to Him, to acknowledge one’s dependence upon Him.”.[3]  Until we come into a proper relationship with the Lord we will not understand God or His creation rightly.  Unbelievers can know many things, but not in the context of the big picture.  They never understand the grand scheme of things.  But the believer has presupposed the true God and can therefore look out with true knowledge.  “It may not be stretching the concept too far to think of the beginning of wisdom functioning as a presupposition or preunderstanding.”[4]  God is calling us to build our lives and our understanding of the world through a – ‘fear of the Lord’ – starting point.

            The key text for our assignment as a defender of the faith is 1 Peter 3:15, which says, “but 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”.  The first, command given here is to make Christ the supreme object of our reverence.[5]  He is to be the most fundamental commitment of the heart.  Out of this command flows our duty to be defenders of the faith.  I want to point out that apologetics doesn’t start with having a neutral stance and trying to find the evidence.  It starts with, “that fundamental choice that begets and controls all other choices.”[6] 

            Not every apologetic method would see it this way.  Paul D. Feinberg, who is an advocate for the Cumulative Case method, says this, “To make Scripture a test for truth in apologetics is to argue circularly.  I find this to be a problem.”[7]  But, as John Frame asserts, everyone argues in a circular manner.[8]  We will always appeal to our highest authority.  We were never designed to come to knowledge of God and His world as independent thinkers.  God, as owner and designer, gets to interpret His world, and it is man’s duty to think God’s thought after Him.  “God does not intend us to gain truth neutrally, but to interpret it in the light of His Word.  Without that light, our sinful tendency is to repress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18).”[9]

            In sum, Scripture teaches us to presuppose the God of the Bible.  It is only when we look out from this starting point, that we will see God and His creation rightly.  Also, it is from this basic commitment of the heart that we are to engage in this task of apologetics.   To think that we must set aside our grid and engage in neutrality is to walk away from Scripture and into compromise.

  1. Presuppostional Apologetics is Consistent with the Biblical System of Truth

            The presuppositional method differs from many other approaches in its insistence on seeing Christianity as a unified system of truth, rather that seeking to present Christianity true by proving its parts.  As Van Til says, “It is impossible and useless to seek to vindicate Christianity as a historical religion by a discussion of facts only.”[10]  Van Til goes on to make the point that even if we present the resurrection of Christ in a winsome and factual manner,  the unbeliever could very well concede that something unusual must have happened.  But for them, this does not prove the Deity of Christ, their need for His atonement, or show how this has any bearing on people who live two thousand years later.

            Christianity is best presented as a system of truth, because its parts are related to one another.  Because of the brevity of this paper we can’t go into it all here, but, I will touch on the doctrines of God, man, and salvation.  Van Til says, “The whole question with which we deal in apologetics is one of the relation between God and man.”[11] 

            The Doctrine of God.  The Bible presents God as absolute personality.  He is the creator, owner, and ruler of all He has made.  He is the ground of all reality; He gets to interpret His creation and assign meaning to it.  His sovereignty rules over all He has made (Ps 47:7-8).  Nothing comes to pass apart from His will (Eph 1:11).   God is immutable (Mal 3:6; James 1:17), self existent, self sufficient and owes His existence to nothing but Himself.  God has life in Himself (Jn 5:26) and is never dependent on man.  He brings about all things for His own glory (Rom 11:36).

            The true God is an absolute personality, although certainly a different kind of personality (Trinity; God is one in essence and is in three persons) than man is, because man is a derivative person.  The Scripture refers to God with the pronoun – Him.  The Word teaches that, God loves (Jn 3:16), hates (Prv 6:16), is jealous (Duet 6:15), leads (Rom 8:14) and speaks (Acts 10:19).  God is an absolute personality.  He Himself is the standard that governs how he acts.  He is not subject to laws outside of Himself;[12] His nature is the standard.

            The Doctrine of Man.  The two most significant things we need to know about man are 1) man is a creature of God and 2) man is a sinner.  The importance of the Creator – creature cannot be minimized.  If man is not the creature of God, then sin and judgment become difficult to understand.  But, being he is the creature of God, he is completely responsible to Him.  As a created being, he must take a submissive posture before his Creator and obey all that He says.   

            Man, as the creature of God, has rebelled against the authority of God.  Understanding the Creator – creature distinction, is a key factor in understanding sin.  Man, as the creature of God, has willfully rejected God’s authority and essentially enthroned himself in God’s place.  The Scripture teaches that man’s condition is not that man was just injured by the fall, but the true picture is that man is spiritually dead in “trespasses and sins” (Eph 2:1).  He has been blinded by the God of this world (2 Cor 4:4) and unless he is born again, he cannot even see the kingdom of heaven (Jn 3:3).  His thoughts are only evil continually (Gen 6:5) and he cannot please God (Rom 8:8).  Two words accurately summarize the condition of man after the fall:  totally depraved.

            The Doctrine of Salvation.  Man stands in desperate need of an amazing act of God’s grace.  When we rightly understand who God is, and then come to right beliefs about man’s helpless condition, we are ready to understand Christian salvation.  God in Christ has entered into the world, to save His people from their sins (Matt 1:21).  The triune God has entered into a covenant to save a people for His own glory.  The father has elected, the Son has accomplished their redemption and the Holy Spirit applies the work of Christ to the elect through their faith.  The means of man’s salvation is through the proclamation of the gospel message (James 1:18).  God has determined to save His people through the foolishness of preaching the cross (1 Cor 1:18). 

            If man is to be saved, God must act.  God’s work of salvation can never fail, all whom He calls will come to faith in Christ (Jn 6:37).  Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:10) and we can never bring people into the kingdom by simply presenting enough evidence.  Man’s problem is much deeper, he needs a new heart.  He needs a heart that will allow him to stop suppressing the truth and receive God’s gracious salvation. 

            If we understand the system of Bible doctrine correctly, we will understand that man is way beyond the ability to make a good choice.  He doesn’t need the right kind of evidence, he needs life. 

  1. The Major Objectives of Presuppositonal Apologetics.

            Following John Frame’s teaching on what constitutes an ideal argument,[13] I will talk about what I consider to be the four major objectives in this method.  1)  We should argue transcendentally.  2)  Our arguments should be simple.  3)  They should be gospel focused.  4)  They should be contextualized to the people we are engaging. 

            Arguing Transcendentally.  The God we are setting forth is the source of all meaning, reality, knowledge and fact.  These, in truth, presuppose God.  Not one of these things could exist, apart from God.  The God of the Bible is the only way we can consistently account for the unity there is in the world, the order we see in it, and the moral values that people have.  With this, then, we are to help unbelievers see that their worldview is not possible, there is no way that they can account for the views they hold.  We are to expose their false beliefs and “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God” (2 Cor 10:5). 

            Arguing Simply.  Our presentation of biblical truth should be done in a straight forward and simple manner.  We do not want to convey that only highly educated people can rightly believe in God.  The gospel message, in fact, can be grasped by very young children, so we want to present it as such. 

            I believe the main point of contact with sinners is a pretty simple thing to grasp as well.  Our point of contact is that God has clearly revealed Himself to all people and they, as sinners, are suppressing this knowledge (Rom 1:19-21).  This is something that every sinner retains at some level in their being and this is the point we want to go after.  This is the ally we have within the sinner that we need to access.  “The point of contact for the gospel, then, must be sought within the natural man.  Deep down in his mind every man knows that he is the creature of God and responsible to God.”[14]   

            Gospel Focused.  Since the gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom 1:16), this must be our focus in our apologetic encounters.  The most loving thing we can do for the sinner is show him his rebellion and his clear need for the Savior.  This is what Paul did in Acts 17:29-31. 

I believe that there is a place for presenting evidences before the people we are encountering, but we need to understand the role of evidence.  Presenting evidences is a great way to broaden the circle, they can be used to destroy false beliefs and create a desire for the sinner to know more.  They can keep the conversation going.[15] 

Contextualizing to the People.  I believe we live in an age where many are over contextualizing their ministries.  But, we all must do contextualization.  We must speak the language of our audience if we are to be understood.  We must be sensitive to where they are at in life and to the questions they have.  We must try and present the truth of God winsomely.  

            After Peter exhorts us to do apologetics in 1 Peter 3:15, he tells us to “do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience.”  Our presentation not only needs to be done with gracious communication; our lives must be characterized by consistent obedience.  Defending the faith will be very difficult, if our lives contradict what we say we believe.

Conclusion:  Presuppose the Truth with Certainty.

            I believe we should have great confidence in the truth of Christianity.  I do not believe we should present it as the best of many options, or worse, probably true.[16]  Our awesome God has clearly revealed Himself to everyone and won our hearts in an irresistible way.  There is a sense where everyone already knows God.  We can and should be certain about these things.  Our duty is to help them see that they are in rebellion to Him, and present the good news of the gospel.    

 

 

 

 

 

[1]I used the Systematic Theology Sample Paper as a guide for the outline.

[2]All Scripture references will be from the ESV.

[3] Tremper Longman III, Proverbs, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms (Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Academic, 2006), 101.

[4]Ibid., 101-102.

[5]D. Edmond Hiebert commentary on 1 Peter was helpful in coming to my view of this.

[6] D.J. Kenyon, cited from: D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1984), 226.

[7] Paul D. Feinberg, Edited by Steven B. Cowan.  Five Views on Apologetics (Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan, 2000), 348.

[8]In Frame’s Apologetics class in both reading and lectures.

[9] John Frame, Edited by Steven B. Cowan.  Five Views on Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 197.

[10] Cornelius Van Til, Edited by William Edgar. Christian Apologetics, Second Edition(Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003), 18.

[11]Ibid., 39.

[12]Gordan H. Clark believed something similar to this.  From Frame’s lecture on Clark.

[13]From the syllabus of John Frame’s Apologetcs class.

[14]Cornelius Van Til, Edited by William Edgar.  Christian Apologetics, Second Edition (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003), 119.

[15]I believe the use of evidence is helpful.  I think it boils down to our motive for using them, if we think people just lack enough evidence for belief, then I would say that is a wrong use of evidence.  We need to make sure we are approaching evidence from a believing presupposition.

[16]Bishop Joseph Butler uses probability in his arguments.  I don’t think this takes seriously, what the Bible says about God revealing Himself clearly, to all people.  Although I agree with Frame that some of our arguments are probable.