Why Dr. Jason Lisle of Answers in Genesis Does Not Understand Presuppositional Apologetics

In a recent post I mentioned that, “I have heard a fair amount about a book by a Dr. Lisle but have not had the opportunity to read it” while referring to presuppositionalist strains in Answers in Genesis material. Someone commented here to affirm that, “Dr. Jason Lisle (astrophycisist) does indeed hold to a Van Tillian, ‘presuppositional’ apologetic method.”

Today I read a post by Lisle wherein he addresses a reader’s questions about presuppositional apologetics. Unfortunately I find his answer to be completely out of line with the method. I quote the relevant portion of his post below and then respond to it. The first paragraph of the quote is the reader’s question and the rest is Lisle’s answer.

3. I have also found intriguing that many presuppositionalists embrace Calvinism, and also eschatological Preterism (Bahnsen, Gentry). Classical apologists, on the other hand, tend to be more moderate calvinists, and usually dispensationalists (Geisler, MacDowell [sic]). Do you think there is a theological or philosophical link between Presuppositionalism, Calvinism, and Preterism? Do they have to be all part of the same “package” to be consistent? Or you think they can be separated and still be consistent within each one? To the names above, there are of course exceptions, such as Sproul and MacArthur… I am just trying to make sense of the Church’s behavior, since it not as unified as it was meant to be in the beginning!

I believe the presuppositional approach can be used by any legitimate, non-heretical Christian denomination. Furthermore, I believe it should be used by all Christians because it is how the Bible itself tells us how to do apologetics (e.g., Proverbs 26:4–5). It is interesting that some denominations seem to be more inclined to use the method. It may be that they feel more comfortable using a technique that was refined so cogently by people sympathetic to their specific denominational views (such as Bahnsen and VanTil).

But let me point out that the method itself (in its most basic form) is not based on any modern denomination or modern individual. Rather, it dates back to biblical times. Jesus and the apostle Paul used the presuppositional approach masterfully in their respective earthly ministries. They dealt with the Christian worldview as a whole and never accepted the pagan standards of the day (“don’t answer”), while showing the self-refuting nature of such standards (“answer”). Paul’s apologetic to the Greeks in Acts 17:18–34 is a great example of this.

We at Answers in Genesis are comprised of Christians from many different denominations. We have friendly disagreements on things such as Calvinism-Arminianism, eschatology, and so on. Yet we, as a ministry, are presuppositional. We agree that presuppositional apologetics is the most effective and biblical way to defend the faith.

Jason Lisle. Feedback: Testing Worldviews, the Bible, and Doctrine. http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2010/06/04/feedback-testing-worldviews-bible-doctrine. June 4, 2010. US: AiG. Accessed May 12, 2012. Italics mine.

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“I believe the presuppositional approach can be used by any legitimate, non-heretical Christian denomination.”

The reader’s question was not about denominations. It was about theological positions such as Calvinism, Preterism, and Dispensationalism. Moreover, the reader asked about theological or philosophical links between presuppositionalism and the two former theological positions. The reader is thinking along the right lines in suspecting and asking about such links and the need for a theological “package” to be consistent in the use of presuppositional methodology. I am not sure what Lisle means by a “legitimate” Christian denomination or its relationship to “non-heretical,” nor is it immediately clear what denominations Lisle thinks fit these categories. I agree that any Christian denomination (or even theological position, which is what the question was actually about, not what Lisle goes on to talk about in addressing denominations) can use the presuppositional approach, but the question, and Lisle’s response, are about whether this may be done consistently. Lisle ecumenically affirms. I strongly disagree.

“Furthermore, I believe it should be used by all Christians because it is how the Bible itself tells us how to do apologetics (e.g., Proverbs 26:4–5).”

While I wholeheartedly agree with this statement it does not answer the reader’s question.

“It is interesting that some denominations seem to be more inclined to use the method. It may be that they feel more comfortable using a technique that was refined so cogently by people sympathetic to their specific denominational views (such as Bahnsen and VanTil).”

This is perhaps the most troubling part of Lisle’s response. The word “interesting” has been labeled one of the vaguest words in the English language, and it fits that description here. Lisle continues to skirt the reader’s questions both by his use of the aforementioned word and by his continued talk of “denominations” which have little if anything to do with the actual question about the theologies (not denominations!) of Calvinism, Preterism, and Dispensationalism. (Surely he knows the difference?) In any event, Lisle implicitly answers his reader’s questions here in the negative. The reader’s questions were, again, about theological and philosophical connections between Calvinism, Preterism, and Dispensationalism and apologetic methodology. Lisle’s answer dismisses the link between particular theological positions and presuppositionalism as “interesting” and rather than offering anything of theological or philosophical substance provides instead a possible sociological explanation of the apparent connection! A speculative sociological response evidencing ignorance of apologetic methodology replaces a thoroughgoing theological explanation of presuppositional apologetics like that offered in the very writers in question (Van Til and Bahnsen). Given the insightfulness of the reader’s questions I suspect that he was not satisfied with the reply he received from Lisle.

“But let me point out that the method itself (in its most basic form) is not based on any modern denomination or modern individual. Rather, it dates back to biblical times. Jesus and the apostle Paul used the presuppositional approach masterfully in their respective earthly ministries. They dealt with the Christian worldview as a whole and never accepted the pagan standards of the day (‘don’t answer’), while showing the self-refuting nature of such standards (‘answer’). Paul’s apologetic to the Greeks in Acts 17:18–34 is a great example of this.”

When presuppositional apologetics are divorced from theological considerations they fail to be presuppositional apologetics. Sadly, as presuppositional apologetics become more widely written about and used on the Internet and elsewhere they also become further removed from their Scriptural roots. Some have noticed this problem and insist on going back to the Bible to resolve the difficulty. Great! But that is not necessarily the best solution. There are many others who have gone before us in developing the method of apologetics in question. There are, for example, Augustine, Tertullian, Calvin, Kuyper, Bavinck, Van Til, Bahnsen, Frame, and Oliphint who have spent their lives studying the text of Scripture to pass on a biblical apologetic that stands by the Christian worldview as a whole and defends it over against error and unbelief of all varieties. In their praiseworthy zeal to return to the text of Scripture to develop a biblical apologetic many modern day presuppositionalists have forgotten to consult with those who pointed them in that direction. In this particular instance Lisle is either ignorant of much of the presuppositional/covenantal method of apologetics or else he is suppressing some of its central tenets for ecumenical reasons.

“We at Answers in Genesis are comprised of Christians from many different denominations. We have friendly disagreements on things such as Calvinism-Arminianism, eschatology, and so on. Yet we, as a ministry, are presuppositional. We agree that presuppositional apologetics is the most effective and biblical way to defend the faith.”

Show me an Arminian who embraces presuppositional apologetics and I will show you an Arminian who understands the method as well as he understands soteriology. I do not find it at all encouraging that Lisle considers Arminian theology either “legitimate” or “non-heretical” as he must if he is consistent with his initial comments quoted above. Nor do I find it encouraging that Answers in Genesis seemingly places an agreement upon presuppositional apologetics as more important than an agreement upon soteriology and other matters that Calvinism and Arminianism touch upon. All of this flies in the face of true presuppositional, biblical, covenantal apologetics. And this is why – even though I have not read his book – I can say that Dr. Jason Lisle, unfortunately, has some very serious misunderstandings of presuppositional apologetic methodology.

See the following links to understand why:

https://choosinghats.org/2008/10/god-is-the-potter/

https://choosinghats.org/2012/02/theology-determines-apologetic-van-til/

https://choosinghats.org/2011/07/van-til-systematic-theology/

https://choosinghats.org/2010/02/theology-drives-apologetic/

https://choosinghats.org/2010/07/is-presuppositionalism-new/


7 Comments

Fred

Chris writes,
I agree that any Christian denomination (or even theological position, which is what the question was actually about, not what Lisle goes on to talk about in addressing denominations) can use the presuppositional approach, but the question, and Lisle’s response, are about whether this may be done consistently. Lisle ecumenically affirms. I strongly disagree.

I always have to chuckle at the arrogance of YRR apologists who insist their “brand” of presuppositionalism is the “only consistent” way to do apologetics. Typically, that means, one has to embrace covenant theology, and in the case of Demar and his ilk, a preterist to boot. That’s baloney. I know you like to think of yourself as the orthodox defender of pure presuppositionalism, but as a thoroughly non-CTer and one who thinks preterism is borderline heretical, I am a staunch Calvinist and a presuppositionalists who has always been consistent. I’m sure I’ll have a bunch of your commenters attempt to tell me otherwise, but oh well.

I would agree with you with regards to Arminianism. What scripture teaches on the nature of God, the nature of man, and God’s regenerating work, is foundational for how we engage the unbeliever. I know Lisle, and have spoke with him briefly about this issue. (And fact, I’ll pass along this article to him via email). Though you may think his answer is to soft, he is basically correct. This is how the prophets and apostles defended the faith. Any Christian who takes the Bible seriously as God’s revelation will see this. In fact, I’ve heard Dr. Michael Brown argue presuppositionally with hostile callers, and we all know where he stands.

Fred Butler on Jason Lisle and Theology Determining Apologetic Method

[…] C.L. Bolt on May 13, 2012 Fred responded to my post here – https://choosinghats.org/2012/05/why-dr-jason-lisle-of-answers-in-genesis-does-not-understand-pre… Chris writes, I agree that any Christian denomination (or even theological position, which is what […]

Paul

For crying out loud, you won’t even give mention to the book “The Ultimate Proof of Creation” that you admit you haven’t read, yet you go on to critique him based on a response he gave to a reader. What a joke. The irony is this: You PRESUPPOSE that he doesn’t understand presuppositional apologetics based on his reference to some friendly disagreements he’s had involving Calvinism-Arminianism! His response doesn’t even identify what side of the those friendly arguments he falls on. The least you can do is read the book before giving your article a title like that.

C.L. Bolt

“For crying out loud, you won’t even give mention to the book ‘The Ultimate Proof of Creation’ that you admit you haven’t read,”

It’s not that I can’t or won’t, I just didn’t. That’s not what the post was about. Did you read the post before commenting?

“…yet you go on to critique him based on a response he gave to a reader.”

That’s correct, I critiqued his understanding of presuppositional apologetics based on a response he gave to a reader of his material on AiG as I recall, and not his book in particular.

“What a joke.”

I’m sorry? Why is that a joke? If you have something substantial to say then I am open to hearing it, but simply citing my perfectly valid critique of something that an author wrote and then dismissing it as a joke is less than helpful.

“The irony is this: You PRESUPPOSE that he doesn’t understand presuppositional apologetics based on his reference to some friendly disagreements he’s had involving Calvinism-Arminianism!”

No, actually, I CONCLUDE (put it in all caps because it makes it more true) based upon what he actually wrote concerning a particular topic in presuppositional apologetics that he has some rather serious misunderstandings regarding that method. Again, did you read the post before commenting?

“His response doesn’t even identify what side of the those friendly arguments he falls on.”

I know that, but it’s irrelevant. The point of the post was not concerning the particular positions that are consistent with presuppositional apologetics, but that those particular positions do matter when it comes to presuppositional apologetics. This is nothing new. And again, did you read the post before commenting?

“The least you can do is read the book before giving your article a title like that.”

As I already mentioned above, the post was not about the book. The book is irrelevant to the concerns I expressed regarding the poor understanding of the relationship between theology and apologetics that Dr. Lisle exhibited in his response to the reader.

Try to be more careful and less emotional in future comments.

Jason Petersen

I think that Jason Lisle has done a lot of good in getting the message of presuppositional apologetics, but I have found that a lot of presuppositional apologists don’t understand the Biblical and theological foundations for presuppositional apologetics. Once you forget the roots, the apologetic suddenly loses its power. Without the Biblical foundation for presuppositional apologetics, the apologetic method becomes akin to any other classical argument.

Jason Petersen

I concur with most of this post. The basis for presuppositional apologetics definitely scripture in light of reformed theology. I don’t believe that Arminians can consistently use presuppositional apologetics. The only way for an Arminian to practice apologetics is through the Classical or Evidential method.


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