Category Archives: Presuppositional apologetics
In all of our discussions about proofs for the existence of God and the truth of Scripture, let’s never forget this all-inportant point:
The best proof of the Bible is what happens when you read it. For when you read Scripture, with trust and faith, something wonderful happens. God himself draws near. Imagine! He condescends to speak to us within the covers of a book. Quite amazing, really. And it’s not as if he gives us the book and then goes away. No: when you read this book in faith, you enter into a very personal relationship with God. In 1 Thess. 1:5, Paul says that the gospel came to the Thessalonians “not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction.” The Gospel is words, but it is never just words. When you hear this message in faith, something very wonderful, very supernatural is taking place. When the words go into your mind, the Holy Spirit speaks them to the heart. When the risen Christ opened the Scriptures to the disciples after his Resurrection, they marvelled how their hearts burned within them as Jesus taught them the Scriptures. The Bible is not only the place where God has spoken; it is the place where he still speaks– with power and assurance, causing our hearts to burn with in us because of how wonderful it is.
-John M. Frame, “How to Believe in God in the 2000s“
Indeed, the Holy Spirit is the greatest apologist of them all!
We’ve looked at the transcendental necessity of God to ground the truths of logic so now let’s turn to laws of morality.
I believe in a Real Right and a Real Wrong. Now we turn to the issue of objective morality or ethics (I’m using them interchangeably here). Have you ever wondered whether our outrage at the evil in this world is an expression of personal distaste? Whether the recent Virginia Tech shootings were objectively evil? I ask this because I’m of the view that without the God of the Christian faith (i.e. the God revealed in the Old and New Testaments) the underpinnings of ethics are destroyed, and the moral motions that we feel every day of our lives are rendered non-sensical.
Now here’s an important note to take into consideration. I’m not saying that only Christians are moral people. On the flip side, neither am I saying that all non-Christians are horrible, evil people. What I’m talking about here is what are the fundamental foundations our assumption about reality that underlie our beliefs about morality, right and wrong. Richard Dawkins may very well be a nicer, kinder, and more law abidding citizen than I am. That’s not in question. The question is whether, on a worldview that rejects the existence of God, are those basic pillars that support our common everyday assumptions about ethics there? I don’t think that they are. Without the infinite-personal God of the Bible, how do we define good and evil, right and wrong? I’m convinced that we can boil down the matter to only left two alternatives: either 1) an individual subjectivist response, and 2) a collective subjectivist response. For the sake of handling the various possible replies, I have distinguished the alternatives. However, as we will soon see, both alternatives reduce to subjectivism and skepticism.
Individual subjectivist responses. This is the view that a given acts our behavior is good or bad because I have chosen it. If I commit myself to a given path, it is good. If I am made to do something I chose not to do, it’s bad. If the non-Christian claims moral justification (that which makes a good acts good, and a bad act bad) is found in what one chooses to do, we are left with no standard whatsoever by which we can condemn the worst types of behavior. Pedophilia, rape, incest, bestiality, and murder, are all morally acceptable. Why? Because for those that commit such acts, they were the products of active volition. This view can be quickly be placed to one side.
Collective subjectivist responses. The term “collective subjectivist” may strike some as paradoxical at best and oxymoronic at worst, yet such a title is fitting for “society says” moral relativism. According to this position, morality is, in a weak sense, objective in that the individual is not free to create moral norms from scratch. They are to live within the ethical structure of societal consensus. Such an ethical standard is collective. Yet, on the other hand, it nevertheless remains a subjectivist position on meta-ethics (i.e. on how we philosophically justify or provide warrant for the system we’re espousing). What makes the collective approach ultimately subjectivist and indeed relativist is that each society determines it’s own moral norms, and accordingly, one culture (or sub-culture) cannot condemn the actions of another. The problems for this approach are equally evident. If indeed no supra-cultural definition of evil (or good) exists, how can two or more cultures or sub-cultures with different standards of ethics be compared? Consistently applied, the collectivist subjectivist model prohibits us form labeling the crimes committed at Auschwitz evil. In fact, it becomes even more problematic because not all German citizens would have approved of the war crimes and genocide of the Nazis. So, what we are left with is at least two moral sub-cultures in WWII Germany, those that would call the Nazi actions evil, and those who participated in those actions and condoned them. But any system that strips us of the ability to make moral distinctions is highly counter-intuitive. A paradigm that seeks to explain our “moral motions” must respect the moral outrage we feel at events such as the holocaust. Moreover, we do instinctively know right and wrong in most cases. We can proclaim moral relativism from the rooftops all day, that is, until someone steals our belongings, or hurts our family members. Suddenly we feel that it’s not something that we simply dislike, but rather that it is something that’s truly wrong! Then we become moral absolutists.
Lastly, if we reduce we moral claims to preference claims then we would have to radically change the way we commonly speak. Instead of saying “The terrorists who flew two airplanes into the World Trade Center buildings were wrong, and it was an evil act!”, we would have to replace it with, “I personally do not think that the Terrorists attack on Sept.11th was expedient, and it did not accord with my subjective tastes, but I could be wrong. I don’t want to “impose” my morality on anyone!” I feel my point has been made.
The Christian Response. Lastly, allow me to touch upon why I believe that the Christian God is the best bet for explaining the our ‘moral motions.’ When we find our selves taken with a belief that person X should not have committed Y act, what we’re saying is that person X is morally obligated to have done the right and good thing. In the case of murder, we’re saying that person X ought to have a respect for innocent human life, and ought it a word that implies obligation. But, we do not have obligations to mere material things. I have no obligations not to throw a stone across a beach. The stone demands no such loyalty. But both obligations and loyalty can be pledged to a person. Personal relationships imply certain obligations and can demand loyalty. But what about ultimate moral obligations? Moral obligations are, after all, hierarchical. My loyalty to my brother places certain obligations in my path, but my relationship to my mother demands an even higher level or loyalty. But my mother cannot simply ask me to rob a store. If she did, I would have to tell her that I couldn’t because it would break the law and would (in principal) cause civil unrest. But what if my government told me that I am obligated by my citizenship to randomly kill any person living in my immediate community that was not born in America? What should I do then? I would appeal to a higher standard of obligation. But what higher standard is there? Maybe one could say the ‘world community’, but that only pushes the question back one step.
Ultimately, who’s my greatest loyalty to? If i’m correct to say that obligations and loyalty only make sense in the context of personal relationships, then ultimate loyalty is due to an Ultimate Personal, or, as I’ve said above, a Personal Absolute. But Christianity is the only religion in which the greatest thing in existence (the ultimate metaphysical reality) is a Personal Absolute. In other philosophies, religions, and myths, you have absolutes that are not personal (like Plato’s form of The Good, Hegel’s Geist, Brahma is Hinduism, etc.), or you’ll find personal gods or principles that aren’t absolute (the Greek Pantheon, the god of Mormonism, thetans in Scientenology, etc.) Only in the Bible do you find a God, the final reality, that is both person and absolute/ultimate. This in my mind is strong evidence for the Christian conception of God as the best explanation for ultimate, objective, universally binding ethics.
Conclusion. Now this is my reason for rejecting an empiricism model of epistemology. It cannot account for the metaphysical assumptions that underlie the scientific method, and it cannot account for the existence of universal, immaterial absolutes, such as numbers, laws of logic, and universally binding principles of ethics. While on a Christian worldview all such things make perfect sense, and in fact can be explained (at least at the beginners level) to a child in Sunday School. One may not agree with the answers posited by Christianity, but they have to admit that Christians do have answers to these philosophical issues. Thanks so much for listening to this (rather extended) letter. Also, please forgive me for the great length of time it has taken to complete it. My prayer is that we can both understand the position of the other person fairly, and see where we’re coming from.
For more see:
I believe in the existence and power of logic. First, let me make it clear that (at this point at least) I’m not talking about our ability to use our reasoning capacities, as great as that is. I’m talking about the objective existence of the laws of logic. I believe that the validity and universality of the laws of logic defy a mere materialistic explanation. Let’s think of the “big 3.” These are the foundational and standard laws of logic found in most Intro to Philosophy books and all Logic textbooks.
1) First, we have the law of Identity. A is A
2) Second, we have the law of the excluded middle, A is either A or Non-A (it cannot be both.). Admittedly, philosophers have debated the validity of this one, but last I checked the debate isn’t over.
3) Lastly, we have the law of non-contradiction (otherwise known as, ironically, the law of contradiction). This law states that P cannot be both A and non-A at the same time and in the same respect.
These laws of logic are universally true and even in denying them we utilize them. For instance, if we say that “there are no universal laws of logic,” we’re taking for a given that that statement is not the same as “there are universal laws of logic,” thus using the law of non-contradiction to argue against the reality of the law of non-contradiction.
Now, I’ve always found this problematic for those who are materialists on the one hand, yet who champion logic, reason, and “free thinking” on the other. I think it’s safe to say that we all (Christian and non-Christian) that laws of logic immaterial. Can we taste, feel, smell, weigh, measure, or hear the law of identity? Can we see the law of the excluded middle? Well, no, of course not. Are they then “not real”? Are they simply social convention? If so, then they aren’t universally binding. But we know that something that’s A cannot be both A and non-A in the same time or in the same respect, whether it’s in our culture or any other. If we throw away the universal validity of the law of non-contradiction, for example, then logically there’s no difference between Atheism and Christianity. But, of course, there is.
So, where do these laws originate? Why do they fit so perfectly with the world? How can we account for their universality? Those are important questions. If they were only social conventions, they we’d be saying that they don’t really exist. But if they this is the case, why do they always accurately reflect the external world? Why can’t we think without assuming their truth?
Now, I can imagine what someone might be thinking here. “Ok, ok, you’ve made your point. But how does the Christian makes seem of logic?” I honestly can’t think of laws of rationality being material “things.” They’re immaterial. But laws of thought govern minds (not merely brains). So, ultimate laws of rationality reflect an ultimate Mind. Without getting terribly into details, Christianity teaches that God the creator is a rational, orderly, logical being. The laws of logic simply describe to us how God thinks. Since we’ve been created in God’s image (as finite reflections of God on earth to represent Him) we think like him, though on a finite scale.
For instance, to say that my car is blue all over and yet say that it is the case that it is not blue all over is to, essentially, to affirm a falsehood. God is a God of truth and since I am to reflect His character, I should not affirm falsehoods or lies (thus abiding by the law of non-contradiction). Similar examples could be given regarding the other 2 laws. So, from a Christian theistic worldview, the universality and accuracy of logical reasoning are affirmed and grounded in my belief in not just any God, but specifically in the God of the Old and New Testaments, Yahweh.
Christian apologetics aims at a defense of Christianity against oncoming attacks on all fronts. So there’s the field of historical apologetics, scientific apologetics, counter-cult apologetics, philosophical apologetics, and so on. The brilliance of the apologetic approach known as presuppositionalism (also known as covenantal apologetics) is that it aims at the foundations of unbelief. Elsewhere I’ve discussed the flexibility of the term presupposition. So here I’ll used the term ‘transcendental.’ Cornelius Van Til and his apologetic disciples advocate a transcendental approach to defending Christianity. But what do Van Tillians mean by this often-confusing language?
Van Til defines a transcendental argument as one that “takes any fact of experience which it wishes to investigate, and tries to determine what the presuppositions of such a fact must be, in order to make it what it is.” According to the The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Transcendental reasoning [focuses] on necessary enabling conditions either of coherent experience or the possession or employment of some kind of knowledge or cognitive ability, where the opponent is not in a position to question the fact of this experience [or] knowledge… and where the revealed preconditions include what the opponent questions.” (see the entry on “Transcendental arguments,”). According to presuppositionalism, the existence of God is the necessary “enabling condition” for coherent experience. The job of the presuppositionalist is to make the case that the “revealed preconditions” of discourse include what the anti-theist questions, namely the existence of God.
The basic argument. Contrary to the claims of some, Van Til’s approach to apologetics isn’t allergic to presenting positive evidence in favor of its theistic claim (i.e. the God of the Bible exists). I would argue that a transcendental argument is indeed a form of positive apologetics.
Here’s transcendental claim:
1. If God doesn’t exist, then there are no objective grounds for [epistemologically normative laws of logic, standards of ethical behavior, the scientific enterprise, human value and dignity, etc.]
2. There are objective grounds for [epistemologically normative laws of logic, standards of ethical behavior, the scientific enterprise, human value and dignity, etc]
3. Therefore, God exists.
This is a straightforward version of the argument. If the argument is both valid (constructed correctly) and sound (the premises are true) then the conclusion follows without fail. In fact, given the content of the claim (Logic presupposes the existence of God), if the conclusion is vindicated it turns out that it was possible because of the sustaining activity of God!
Van Til himself advocated a kind of two-step approach:
That means that the apologist is required to place himself on his opponent’s position, assuming its correctness for argument’s sake, in order to show him that on such a position “facts” and “laws” have no meaning. Conversely, the non-Christian will be asked to place himself upon the Christian position for argument’s sake in order to show that only upon the Christian basis are “facts” and “laws” intelligible. Van Til’s aim is to challenge the knowledge of God that the natural man has but suppresses. (quoted from Wesley A. Roberts, “Cornelius Van Til,” Reformed Theology in America, ed. David F. Wells, 183)
The point is that there are certain things the (average) non-Christian affirms. These things (epistemologically normative laws of logic, standards of ethical behavior, the scientific enterprise, human value and dignity, etc) are foundational to his thought and behavior. There’s no escaping them because they’re woven in the fabric of who we are as creatures of God living in his creation. The presuppositionalist is called to unmask the shocking truth that they cannot meaningful hold to these beliefs and also deny the existence of God. If you lose the foundation the building comes crashing down. An atheist no less than Nietzsche acknowledged this.
The attentive reader will note that in subsequent entries to this series this is what I’ll be doing, though not in a mechanic way. There is no establishing the truth of my position without also demonstrating the failure of its opposition.
For those interested, here’s my article, “Between Scylla and Charybdis: Presuppositionalism, Circular Reasoning, and the Charge of Fideism” (Originally presented at the 2009 annual conference of the Evangelical Theological Society).
Perhaps the single most common argument against a presuppositional apologetic methodology is the charge of fideism. One doesn’t have to look far in the relevant literature to find Van Tillian methodology dismissed or said to hold to a position that undermines the task of Christian apologetics. Though the term “fideism” is being rehabilitated in some circles, it is still widely understood as a dogmatic proclamation of one’s view irrespective of rational argumentation. Nothing, it is believed, seems to demonstrate the fideism of the presuppositional method as well as their rejection of linear argumentation. Van Tillians are said to embrace, as a fundamental rule of their approach, circular reasoning.
The aim of this essay is twofold. First, I will show that the charge of fideism against Van Tillian presuppositionalism is both imprecise and inaccurate. This will be done by showing that while some definitions of faith and reason are incompatible, others are not. Second, we will examine the charge of presuppositionalism’s alleged embrace of begging the question. This will be done by distinguishing between vicious and virtuous circularity, arguing that presuppositionalists embrace the latter, but eschew the former as strongly as their critics.
It’s also posted on the resources page. I’d love your comments and feedback.
The following series is intended to lay out some helpful argument to demonstrate the existence of God. Philosophically constructed arguments as such are not the basis of my belief in Yahweh, the God of the Old and New Testaments, for he’s revealed clearly both in creation and in human nature (cf. Romans 1). The whole world is evidence for his existence. Nevertheless, i’ve attempted to take that evidence and reformulate it into helpful arguments that can be used to bolster the faith of Christians and refute those who contradict.
But before we delve straight into the arguments themselves we should note two things: the centrality of worldviews and the impossibility of neutrality in holding and formulating worldviews.
The importance of worldviews. The notion of worldview is key here. Technically speaking, the term worldview is looser than a philosophy, but the overlap is great. Here’s my working definition:
A worldview is a spoken (or unspoken), consistent (or less consistent), often assumed, though rarely articulated, comprehensive vision of life. Here’s a more philosophical definition, A worldview is a network of guiding assumptions regarding the nature of reality (i.e. metaphysics), knowledge and truth (i.e epistemology), what we should value (i.e. value theory) and how we should live our lives (i.e. ethics).
Here, given the definitions above, we all have a worldview. And, more importantly, we should develop their worldview. Since everyone thinks “worldviewishly,” the least we can do is do it well. Likewise, we should strive to be more self-conscious about our worldview development. Too often- and I’m the first to admit this about myself- we passively soak up bits-and- pieces of the worldview of the surrounding culture.
The problem of neutrality. Since we all have views regarding the most important issues of life (What’s real? How and what do I know? How should I live? What is valuable? ), to deny this is naïve. Now, let me clarify for a second. I’m not saying that we have views on every single thing. Personally, I have no views on string theory, or the status of quarks. So, if someone tries to persuade me of them views on those matters it’s fairly easy. But talking about a worldview, the lens through which we integrate our entire lives, is something very different. No one is either neutral or objective. I also reject the modernist and enlightenment notion of objectivity. None of us has “God’s eye view” of reality. We’re always firmly planted in our historical contexts, with its biases (whether they’re helpful or harmful), and various ways of seeing things.
Now, one might be tempted to think that I’ve opened the door wide for relativism, but I don’t think that’s the case. When I reject the notion of objectivity, I’m not saying we can’t know truths that exist independently of our options. I do believe we can have such knowledge. What I reject as philosophically naïve is the notion that we can come to weighty matters without concern, without prejudice, and with the ‘cool detachment’ of Reason (notice the capital R).
For more see:
Look for part 2 on Wednesday.
- The goal of apologetics is to evoke or strengthen faith, not merely to bring intellectual persuasion. Directed toward unbelievers, it is an aspect of evangelism; toward believers, it is training in godliness. It is possible to be intellectually persuaded of a theistic world view, as were the Pharisees, without a real heart commitment to Jesus as Lord and Savior. Furthermore, everyone has the intellectual knowledge required for faith. The need of the unbeliever is not for more information, but for God’s grace motivating a heart change. It may of course be necessary for the apologist to bring factual information to the inquirer, in order to challenge him to rethink the data. But the apologist seeks above all to be a channel through whom God’s Spirit can bring repentance (including intellectual repentance) and faith.
- Apologists, therefore, must resist temptations to contentiousness or arrogance. They must avoid the feeling that they are entering into a contest to prove themselves to be righter or smarter than the inquirers they deal with. I believe that kind of pride is a besetting sin of many apologists, and we need to deal with it. 1 Peter 3:15-16 focuses, surprisingly, not on the brilliance, cogency, or eloquence of apologists, but on their character: they must answer unbelievers with “gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.” Peter here tells us that a consistent Christian life plays a major role in the work of apologetics. Christianity is not just an intellectual system, but an comprehensive way of life; and nothing is more persuasive than a concrete, consistent example of that way of life. And nothing is more detrimental to our witness than an apologist whose life betrays his message, who fails to show the gentleness and love of Jesus.
- Our apologetic should take special pains to present God as he really is: as the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, who alone saves his people from their sins. As the creator of all things and the one who directs the course of nature and history by his providence (Rm. 8:28, Eph. 1:11), God is the source of all meaning and rationality. Our argument should lead to such a God. So we should not mislead unbelievers into assuming that they can understand any fact adequately without confessing its relation to God. We should make plain that even our methods of knowledge, our standards of truth and falsity, our views of logic, our scientific methods, must be reconciled first of all with God’s revelation.
-John M. Frame, Five Views on Apologetics, 217-218. (Emphasis added)
Here are 2 articles by John Frame introducing the basics of Reformed apologetics:
Part 1 of 2: Introduction and Creation
- The Word of God vs. Mere Creaturely Wisdom
- God’s Word Our Presupposition
This last section on ‘problems’ is very helpful. It covers issues like the psychology of presupposing, the content of our presuppositions, circularity, and persuasion.
Part 2 of 2: Fall and Redemption; and Summary and Conclusion
- Sin, Grace, and Knowledge
- Apologetic Implications
This is an excellent place to get your bearings on fundamentals of presuppositional apologetics in general, and Frame’s approach in particular.
The whole notion of ‘giving reasons’ is completely destroyed by any ontology other than the Christian one.
Greg Bahnsen unpacks Van Til’s claim:
According to Van Til, the Christian claim (that non-Christians already know God from natural revelation and also recognize the voice of God in Scripture) is justified because the knowledge of God is the context and prerequisite for knowing anything else whatsoever. Without presupposing God, it is impossible to make theoretical sense out of any rational method for “justifying” beliefs of any kind on any subject. As the apostle Paul indicated, by suppressing the truth about God that they clearly and directly know, unbelievers have their reasoning reduced to foolishness (Rom. 1:21-22). If they do not acknowledge knowing God, they cannot make intellectual sense out of God’s world or out of themselves as God’s image-bearers. Likewise, Paul taught that those who reject the word of the cross (which is needed to repair man’s stubborn refusal to submit to the light of God) are reduced to foolishness in their thinking and living (1 Cor. 1:20). Their attempts to warrant what they believe and do–indeed, to know anything–are futile deceptions apart from that philosophy which is “according to Christ,” in whom “all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge are deposited” (Col. 2:3, 8). The Christian message, whether it be the truth about the Creator communicated in natural revelation or the saving truth of the gospel declared in Scripture, was defended by Van Til as the necessary precondition for rationally justifying any claim to knowledge about anything else. Van Til: “In fact it then appears that the argument for the Scriptures as the infallible revelation of God is, to all intents and purposes, the same as the argument for the existence of God.”
- Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis, 262-263 (emphasis added)
In the following quotation Van Til makes clear that all knowledge of God is covenantal. Either we know God “in Adam”, according to the rebellion of our hearts, or we know God “in Christ,” according to the renewing work of the Holy Spirit:
God has never left himself without a witness to men. He witnessed to them through every fact of the universe from the beginning of time. No rational creature can escape this witness. It is the witness of the triune God whose face is before men everywhere and all the time. Even the lost in the hereafter cannot escape the revelation of God. God made man a rational-moral creature. He will always be that. As such he is confronted with God. He is addressed by God. He exists in the relationship of covenant interaction. He is a covenant being. To not know God man would have to destroy himself. He cannot do this. There is no non-being into which man can slip in order to escape God’s face and voice. The mountains will not cover him; Hades will not hide him. Nothing can prevent his being confronted “with him with whom we have to do.” Whenever he sees himself, he sees himself confronted with God.
Whatever may happen, whatever sin may bring about, whatever havoc it may occasion, it cannot destroy man’s knowledge of God and his sense of responsibility to God. Sin would not be sin except for this ineradicable knowledge of God. Even sin as a process of ever-increasing alienation from God presupposes for its background this knowledge of God.
This knowledge is that which all men have in common. For the race of men is made of one blood. It stood as a unity before God in Adam. This confrontation of all men with God in Adam by supernatural revelation presupposes and is correlative to the confrontation of mankind with God by virtue of creation. If then the believer presents to the unbeliever the Bible and its system of truth as God speaking to men, he may rest assured that there is a response in the heart of every man to whom he thus speaks. This response may be, and often is, unfavorable. Men will reject the claims of God but, none the less, they will own them as legitimate. That is, they will in their hearts, when they cannot suppress them, own these claims. There are no atheists, least of all in the hereafter. Metaphysically speaking then, both parties, believers and unbelievers, have all things in common; they have God in common, they have every fact in the universe in common. And they know they have them in common. All men know God, the true God, the only God. They have not merely a capacity for knowing him but actually do know him.
Thus there is not and can never be an absolute separation between God and man. Man is always accessible to God.- Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, 176-177. Emphasis added.
Translating Cornelius Van Til’s teaching that all unbelieving thought teeter-totters back and forth from rationalism to irrationalism to the language of atheism and idolatry, John Frame gives the following instructions:
Against atheistic relativism. When you find a nonbeliever who stresses the atheistic relativist side of unbelief, be persistent in asking these questions: (1) how can you be sure that relativism is right, when it itself rules out all Cherence? (2) How can you live as a relativist? Having no assurance of anything must be a terrible strain, rationally, emotionally, and volitionally, what basis do you have for making decisions? What basis do you have for criticizing the treatment you receive from others? How can you say anything is wrong, unfair, or unjust? What basis do you have for trusting logic – or, for that matter, your own mind?
Against idolatrous rationalism. When you meet someone who tends to stress the powers, rather than the limits, of what autonomous thought and action, you will likely be dealing with someone in the grip of an idol. Find out what his idol is and take aim by asking these questions: (1) What basis is there for thinking that this idol is absolute? (2) Does your god really do the job of a God? Did it create the world? Is it the ground of logic, mathematics, ethical value, and the universal judgments of science? Is it adequate as a final standard of meaning, truth, and right?
We know that an impersonal god can do none of these things. So the unbeliever will be tempted either to lapse into relativism or to grant that his god has some elements of personality. Once he does the latter, he’s granting part of our case, and we can pursue him further, especially by asking him, “How do you know this person?”
Against atheistic idolatry. Press the fundamental contradiction in this rationalistic – irrationalistic combination. A proof that there are no proofs, an absolute statement that there are no absolute statements. Then attack the original rationalistic and irrationalistic elements, as above. It will not be easy. The unbeliever will slide from one position to another, from rationalism to irrationalism and back again. Argument itself will not be enough; God must intervene. Thus, prayer is the ultimate apologetic weapon.
-John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 201-202.
Van Tillian apologetics has often been charged as fideist. Fideism is the position which maintains that Christian belief is either irrational or a-rational (non-rational) and can only be “known” on blind faith. As in the case of many objection to presuppositionalism, this objection fails to do justice to the words of Van Til and his disciples. Hear these words from leading Van Tillian interpreter, the late Greg Bahnsen:
God wishes for us to be rational: to exercise and improve our reasoning ability in understanding, propounding and defending the truths of Scripture…The kind of rationality or reasoning that we will employ in defending the Christian faith involves not only study of formal logic (patterns or abstract forms of inference), but also attention to informal fallacies in ordinary language, the use of inductive reasoning, the handling of empirical evidence in history, science, linguistics, etc., and especially reflection upon the demands of an adequate worldview in terms of which all such thinking makes sense.
-Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (Nacodoches: Covenant Media Press, 1996), 134-135. Emphasis in original.
No fideism there!
For more see:
- Van Til and Evidence
- Presuppositionalism and Circularity…Again?
- Clearing Up Common Misunderstandings of Van Tillian (Presuppositional) Apologetics
This is the kind of message apologists need to hear:
It is true that no method of argument for Christianity will be acceptable to the natural man. Moreover, it is true that the more consistently Christian our methodology, the less acceptable it will be to the natural man. We find something similar in the field of theology. It is precisely the Reformed Faith which, among other things, teaches the total depravity of the natural man, which is most loathsome to that natural man. But this does not prove that the Reformed Faith is not true. A patient may like a doctor who tells him that his disease can be cured by means of external applications and dislike the doctor who tells him that he needs a major internal operation. Yet the latter doctor may be right in his diagnosis. …… It is upon the power of the Holy Spirit that the Reformed preacher relies when he tells men that they are lost in sin and in need of a Savior. The Reformed preacher does not tone down his message in order that it may find acceptance with the natural man. He does not say that his message is less certainly true because of its nonacceptance by the natural man.
-Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith
One distinctive of presuppositional apologetics is the observation that worldview analysis is worldview dependent. If a Christian sets their faith on a shelf and evaluates the evidence in a so-called “neutral” way they have in fact compromised the very faith they seek to defend. No one made this point clearer than Greg Bahnsen. Here’s an excerpt from his article “Evangelism and Apologetics“:
To put aside your Christian commitments when it comes to defending the faith is willfully to steer away from the only path to wisdom and truth found in Christ. It is not the end or outcome of knowledge to fear the Lord; it is the beginning of knowledge to reverence Him (Prov. 1:7; 9:10). Paul draws to our attention the impossibility of neutrality “in order that no one delude you with crafty speech.” Instead we must, as Paul exhorts, be steadfast, confirmed, rooted, and established in the faith as we were taught (v. 7). One must be presuppositionally committed to Christ in the world of thought (rather than neutral) and firmly tied down to the faith which he has been taught, or else the persuasive argumentation of secular thought will delude him. Hence the Christian is obligated to presuppose the word of Christ in every area of knowledge; the alternative is delusion. In verse 8 of Colossians 2, Paul says, “Beware lest any man rob you by means of philosophy and vain deceit.” By attempting to be neutral in your thought you are a prime target for being robbed - robbed by “vain philosophy” of “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” which are deposited in Christ alone (v. 3). The unbeliever’s darkened mind is an expression of his need to be evangelized.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 that to follow the methods dictated by the intellectual outlook of those who are outside of a saving relationship to God is to have a vain mind and darkened understanding (vv. 17-18). Neutralist thinking, then, is characterized by intellectual futility and ignorance. In God’s light, we are able to see light (cf. Ps. 36:9). To turn away from intellectual dependence upon the light of God, the truth about and from God, is to turn away from knowledge to the darkness of ignorance. Thus, if a Christian wishes to begin his scholarly endeavors from a position of neutrality he would, in actuality, be willing to begin his thinking in the dark. He would not allow God’s word to be a light unto his path (cf. Ps. 119:105). To walk on in neutrality, he would be stumbling along in darkness. God is certainly not honored by such thought as he should be, and consequently God makes such reasoning vain (Rom. 1:21b). Neutrality amounts to vanity in God’s sight.
-Greg H. Bahnsen, “Evangelism and Apologetics”, Synapse III (Fall, 1974)
Greg Bahnsen was one of Van Til’s greatest expositors. His book Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith is a treasure trove of biblical instruction answering the Why and How of presuppositional apologetics. Here Bahnsen discusses the transcendental trust of the method. For those not familiar with Van Til’s approach it can be much at first, but once you “get it” you realize that you’re dealing with nuclear strength apologetics:
If the way in which people reason and interpret evidence is determined by their presupposed worldviews, and if the worldviews of the believer and unbeliever are in principle completely at odds with each other, how can the disagreement between them over the justification of Biblical claims be resolved? It might seem that all rational argumentation is precluded since appeals to evidence and logic will be controlled by the respective, conflicting worldviews of the believer and unbeliever. However this is not the case.
Differing worldviews can be compared to each other in terms of the important philosophical question about the “preconditions of intelligibility” for such important assumptions as the universality of logical laws, the uniformity of nature, and the reality of moral absolutes. We can examine a worldview and ask whether its portrayal of nature, man, knowledge, etc. provide an outlook in terms of which logic, science and ethics can make sense. It does not comport with the practices of natural science to believe that all events are random and unpredictable, for instance. It does not comport with the demand for honesty in scientific research, if no moral principle expresses anything but a personal preference or feeling. Moreover, if there are internal contradictions in a person’s worldview, it does not provide the preconditions for making sense out of man’s experience. For instance, if one’s political dogmas respect the dignity of men to make their own choices, while one’s psychological theories reject the free will of men, then there is an internal defect in that person’s worldview.
It is the Christian’s contention that all non-Christian worldviews are beset with internal contradictions, as well as with beliefs which do not render logic, science or ethics intelligible. On the other hand, the Christian worldview (taken from God’s self-revelation in Scripture) demands our intellectual commitment because it does provide the preconditions of intelligibility for man’s reasoning, experience, and dignity.
In Biblical terms, what the Christian apologist does is demonstrate to unbelievers that because of their rejection of God’s revealed truth, they have “become vain in their reasonings” (Rom. 1:21). By means of their foolish perspective they end up “opposing themselves” (2 Tim. 2:25). They follow a conception of knowledge which does not deserve the name (1 Tim. 6:20). Their philosophy and presuppositions rob one of knowledge (Col. 2:3, 8), leaving them in ignorance (Eph. 4:17-18; Acts 17:23). The aim of the apologist is to cast down their reasonings (2 Cor. 10:5) and to challenge them in the spirit of Paul: “Where is the wise? Where is the disputer of this world? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor. 1:20).
In various forms, the fundamental argument advanced by the Christian apologist is that the Christian worldview is true because of the impossibility of the contrary. When the perspective of God’s revelation is rejected, then the unbeliever is left in foolish ignorance because his philosophy does not provide the preconditions of knowledge and meaningful experience. To put it another way: the proof that Christianity is true is that if it were not, we would not be able to prove anything.
What the unbeliever needs is nothing less than a radical change of mind – repentance (Acts 17:30). He needs to change his fundamental worldview and submit to the revelation of God in order for any knowledge or experience to make sense. He at the same time needs to repent of his spiritual rebellion and sin against God. Because of the condition of his heart, he cannot see the truth or know God in a saving fashion.
-Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, 121-122.