Presuppositionalism in a Nutshell
Greg Bahnsen (September 17, 1948 – December 11, 1995) was one of Cornelius Van Til’s greatest expositors. Van Til himself wasn’t the most reader-friendly writer (I’ve provided an overview of Van Til’s key concepts here, here, and here) and Bahnsen did us all a great favor by taking the time in his ministry to explain and defend Van Til’s distinctive approach to Christian apologetics. The following is a snippet from Bahnsen’s book Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis. Here Bahnsen sums up Van Til’s approach, often called a presuppositional apologetic, in a nutshell.
In order to press this epistemologically oriented apologetic argument for the truth of Christianity successfully, the apologist was clearly grasp the principial conflict in philosophical positions, think and reason in terms of it, and constantly layout for the unbeliever this fundamental clash of perspectives as the defining and determinative context for the argument with each other. The Christian should intellectually defend his faith in terms of, and with a clear conceptualization of, the ideological and personal antithesis between believers and unbelievers.
The presuppositional apologist, or Van Tillian, is keenly aware of the radical worldview clash between Christians and all forms of unbelief (from rabid athiests to peaceful Buddhist monks). In principal, our disagreement isn’t merely over one or two points of religious dogma. Our disagreement is over how we interpret everything, the entire world around us, our place in it, how we attain knowledge, what is true, beautiful, and good. As a Christian who in increasingly self-aware of their worldview, the defender of the faith should ask themselves what type of approach in apologetics is coherent with their deepest Christian commitments (such as the absolute Lordship of Jesus) and think, witness,and argue in light of those commitments. Lastly, Bahnsen is clear to note that we shouldn’t think that the non-Christian is religiously neutral. No, there always remains an “ideological and personal” antithesis between the way the Christian strives to think, live, and act to the glory of God, and the unbeliever who thinks, lives, and acts to the glory of God’s rivals.
From these basic starting points the presuppositional approach can get pretty complicated and philosophical. But Van Til and Bahnsen’s concerns were always simply and biblical: If you build your life on anything other than the sure-standing rock of Christ it will come down in a great crash.
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