Eight Steps to Popularizing Presuppositional Apologetics

A presuppositional apologetic is a method of defending the Christian faith. Presuppositional apologetics are based on a recognition of the need to be committed to God and Scripture even when chatting with unbelievers who raise supposed intellectual objections to the faith. The result is that God and His Word are presupposed while arguments and evidence are presented. Other methods of apologetics start with presenting arguments and evidence before concluding that God exists or that Christianity is true. Presuppositional apologetics start with the existence of God and truth of Christianity before presenting arguments and evidence. Do not misunderstand; presuppostional apologetics do not do away with arguments and evidence, they just do not use them in the same way as other methods.

Presuppositional apologetics are quickly gaining popularity. This may be linked to some denominations returning to a belief in the inerrancy (and hence the importance) of Scripture. It may be linked as well to the so-called “New Calvinism” that is sweeping through the generation of young people born in the 70’s and 80’s. Presuppositionalism places great emphasis upon the Word of God and certain Calvinistic tenets like Total Depravity and the sovereignty of God so that it is interlinked with them. If the Word of God is taken as a sure thing and if Calvinism is “the gateway to Reformed theology” then we should not be surprised that this apologetic method will follow on the tail end of the two movements mentioned. Nevertheless, there is a great deal of work to be done if presuppositional apologetics are to grow as we might desire.

Currently, presuppositional apologetics are almost completely inaccessible. There are also few books to be had on the subject and these are rarely ever available in bookstores. Due to the emphasis on epistemology presuppositional apologetics are seen as rather difficult to all but those who have taken several courses in philosophy. There are massive terms and difficult arguments involved. Ivory tower intellectualism is typically not appealing to laypeople who find themselves supporting their families in busy and stressful work environments every day. We should not be concerned with stopping this method from doing its job so well in higher academic thought; there is certainly a place for this. However, we should be concerned about how seemingly impractical this method is currently. In response to this observation, I present eight suggestions for your consideration.

1.Presup must be presented in a more evidentialist format.

Ever seen those “[Insert topic here.] For Dummies” books? Surely there are people buying them or they would not continue to fill almost any bookstore one enters. People like “how-to” books. Most evidentialist literature is written somewhat like how-to books. There is clarity, organization, and step-by-step instruction. People need arguments spelled out rather than presented subtly amidst discussions of the history of philosophy. One book I highly recommend that is along the lines of what I have in mind here is Pushing the Antithesis by Greg Bahnsen (Gary DeMar). We need more books of this nature.

2.Presup must use a greater variety of simpler arguments not directly pertaining to epistemology.

The unbeliever cannot find intelligibility in anything if he or she is consistent. Human dignity and free will are just two areas that I have seen explored with great results in terms of presenting presup arguments that are not completely epistemological. We should seek to tap into many more arguments of this nature. There is more room for putting arguments of this kind that do not directly pertain to logic or induction into simpler terms. We do not need to dumb down our method, but we do not need to remove it so far from human experience that no one cares either.

3.Presup must have its terms unpacked for clarity and comprehension by the layperson.

Terms are nice for those in the know to quickly summarize a deeper point but they can easily turn others away. I do not doubt that many beginning presuppers get into the middle of debates and find some mantra they have been repeating getting challenged by their opponent with no response being able to be made by them. The great task of breaking our terms down into common language and explaining what they mean for the apologetic encounter is almost completely before us and not behind.

4.Presup must stop being used almost exclusively against materialistic atheism.

It is cool to point out that logic does not smell like dung or taste like chicken, but for those who want to subscribe to some weird two-worlds doctrine there is not much of an argument there. You can also find this argument in many non-presup books. Let us be honest, atheists are fun to debate and usually make themselves ready for any opportunity to debate with us, but atheism is hardly the position of most unbelievers we encounter each and every day. We need more literature, more debates, and more arguments pertaining to other versions of unbelieving thought. The method is made to appear weak and incapable of dealing with other views when it is focused so much upon atheism and is so rarely placed against other positions.

5.Presup must be taught exclusively to greater extent by “new blood” not necessarily connected to narrower Reformed movements.

Many of the finer groups who adhere to the presup method have seen it lead them into many other areas of related thought that they often find entailed by presup. I do not have a problem with this, but it does draw the discussion quickly away from presup as an apologetic. Further, there are not many very well known apologists who are also strong proponents of presup. There are also not many obscure individuals or groups promoting the method. We need people willing to learn and to teach presup.

6.Presup must be taught in churches.

If the Word of God is being taught, so is presup. We should bring this out of the texts we preach and teach when they pertain to such subjects as anthropology, epistemology, creation, Lordship, Christology, etc. Our people are hungry for a certainty in the things of God, and Sunday School or small groups is another great avenue for teaching how to defend the faith biblically rather than according to worldly standards. We need to take the opportunities God gives us.

7.Presup must be used to critique evidentialist methods.

If people do not think that their method is broken, then they will not see any reason to fix it, much less replace it. This one is not going to win a lot of friends, but we must cast secular “science”, opinions of liberal theologians, mysticism, spiritualism, Aristotelian and Roman Catholic philosophy out of our churches yesterday. Aside from being offensive to God, traditional arguments do not work anyway! Our people need something more sure than this, and they have it, they just need to be shown that this is the case.

8.Presup must be taught from the Bible.

If presup is truly the biblical method of defending the faith, then there is absolutely no excuse for the absence of Scripture from so many presentations of it. There are loads of passages in Scripture which directly bear upon our apologetic that require exegesis and application in a more explicitly apologetic way. We read, memorize, study, and overlook relevant passages all the time! There is a massive amount of extremely careful work to be done in this regard.


One Comment

Patrick Hsu

Chris,

I completely agree with Number 1. I found Pushing the Antithesis to be extremely helpful. It even had chapters devoted to things to pin atheists with like uniformity of nature, laws of logic, morality. We really need for practical books out there for the layperson to apply and not just presupp books written for seminarians and scholars.


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