Vindicating Presuppositionalism

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16

INTRODUCTION

The presuppositional apologist continues to receive a bad wrap from their critics. After all, the presuppositionalist assumes the truth of Scripture in any given conversation or debate, and refuses to fight the opponent on their own ground, so to speak. This means that the presuppositional apologist will not, for a second, assume that Scripture is not true in order to work toward, normally by means of logical premises, the conclusion that the Bible is true. A few different accusations are made against presuppositionalism which I would like to address here.

Misconception #1: Presuppositionalists Are Against The Use of Evidence

Presuppositionalism does not restrict the Christian apologist from using evidence. In fact, the presuppositional approach is, in and of itself, a theistic evidence. Presuppositionalists do not forbid evidence. Rather, we believe evidence is useless when presented to the natural man as described in Scripture. Since the presuppositional apologist believes that man is surrounded by revelatory material (i.e. natural revelation), and constantly faced with God Himself, yet despite this fact rejects the truth about God, there is essentially no need to present what is thought to be additional evidence to him. He as already rejected the most obvious, why would accept anything after that?

The non-believer is revealed by Scripture to have all-sufficient evidence and is left without excuse. But, since the natural man is dead in his sins and, by extension, possesses depraved reasoning faculties, he chooses to suppress this truth in unrighteousness. Thus, it can be said that the natural man both possesses the truth while yet suppressing that very same truth as a result of his sin. We know that Scripture says those who claim in their hearts “there is no God” are fools. How then are we to expect the fool to judge evidence rightly?

In light of this issue, we must then presuppose the truth of Scripture as we make our appeal to the unbeliever. That it is truly “by His will” we are born again. (James 1:18) We now reach what is called the point of contact. Romanist and Arminian theology supposes that man is without a sufficient natural point of contact with the truth. Thus, it makes sense that they would need to grope, as it were, in order to reach the conclusion: god exists (and this is a general theism at best). These theologies, respectfully, assume that man’s reasoning faculties are intact insofar as having the ability to discern truth rightly.

To be fair, it would be said by them that man is damaged, or corrupted. Yet, it is still assumed that man is able to come to a correct understanding on his own, perhaps after he receives a little supernatural help. However, there is no reason, if man’s reasoning is able to ultimately discern truth, that we should think we would need supernatural help. We have what we need already! Therefore, the only way in which man could be seen as corrupted or damaged is if the damage or corruption is actually ascribed to God’s natural revelation. This is because man is left without excuse, even after the Fall, because all that man is in contact with, even himself, is revelatory. (Rom. 1:18-20) Now if this is true, as Scripture says it is, then man, being revelatory as he exists, must be the one rejecting this revelation according to his sin nature since God is so unmistakably obvious to all people. Unless, of course, God’s natural revelation is insufficient. If we assume man’s ability to choose God, we assume the operative sufficiency of his reasoning; if we assume the operative sufficiency of his reasoning, we must then conclude that God’s natural revelation just isn’t good enough in some area, leaving man with an excuse as to why he was just never quite able to find God. He himself had everything he needed, but the natural revelation just wasn’t up to par.

At this point, the conflict between this train of thought and Romans 1, and even Romans 3, ought to be apparent.

Misconception #2: Presuppositionalist methodology diminishes conversation between believers and non-believers

A major concern for classical apologists is that presuppositionalism seems to indicate a sort of retreat into the recesses of the church. In other words, it appears as if we, the presuppositionalists, hole-up in our Seminaries and church studies since there is seen to be no common ground between the atheist and the Christian.

For instance, say a presuppositionalist is to engage in a debate with a Muslim concerning the sufficiency of Scripture. The allegation is that, since we would be unwilling to engage the Muslim on evidential grounds (i.e. textual criticism, archeology, history, etc), there would be no conversation because there simply would be nothing to talk about, nothing to argue over. However, this presupposes that a lack of evidence is the fundamental problem which causes Muslims to be Muslims and not Christians. But, this leads us head-on into the same issue mentioned above concerning the fact that everyone knows God, yet suppresses the truth about God in unrighteousness.

For the Muslim, it is not a lack of evidence which causes him to believe what he believes. It is ultimately a rebellion against the true God of the universe. Idol worship, in Scripture, was always seen to be a silly thing. (Ps. 115) Men would rather go for inanimate wooden carvings, made by themselves, before they would embrace the Creator of all that exists. Allah may not be manifest in a wooden carving, and may even be said to have similar attributes when compared to YHWH. However, Allah still meets the principle criterion for an idol–he’s a false god. (Ex. 20)

A major point of irreconcilable discontinuity between Islam and Christianity would be the Triune Godhead. Alas! here is the battle ground. In order to account for the world in which we live, including all of its abstract realities, the Triune God must be the true God. Keep in mind that presuppositionalism does not argue for a general theism. It argues for the Triune God exclusively, and so does Paul in Acts 17 and Romans 1. There is a major issue for theism which posits a god of one person. It takes the Triune God (one essence, yet three persons) to account for the philosophical “problem” of the one and the many. It is this alleged problem that all of philosophy seems to revolve around. What draws all of reality together? In other words, what is the one “concept” which resides back of everything created? It should be apparently obvious that this problem is solved by virtue of positing the Triune God, the God whom is One, yet Many.

Therefore, Islamists would be seen as worshipping a god in ignorance. Adoring a god which does not comport with the actual reality in which we live. Dr. Cornelius Van Til has discussed this issue to a longer length in his body of work. We do not have time to discuss it in detail here. I just wanted to point out that there are alternate battle grounds, so to speak, other than a typical classical approach when it comes to inter-religious apologetics.

Misconception #3: Presuppositionalism does not build a positive case

Sometimes, it is said that presuppositionalism succeeds in tearing down the other side polemically, but after that tearing down has occurred, it cannot build a positive case for Christianity since it does not make use of evidence to finally vindicate the Christian worldview.

First, consider what I said about evidence above. There is actually nothing wrong with evidence so long as it is understood within the context of presupposing the immutable truths of Scripture. Second, this again presupposes that evidence must be the only means of building a positive case. However, when we look at the truths contained in Christian theism, more specifically anthropology and soteriology according to Scripture, who is to say that our positive case can not be the Gospel itself?

If it is truly God’s prerogative to save those dead in their sins, and he saves those dead in their sins by means of His Gospel, what better positive case could we possibly make than that of a supernatural one? Furthermore, could not the sheer impossibility of any other supposed worldview be a positive case all to its own? Chris Bolt of www.ChoosingHats.com, an apologetics blog website, once told me that the transcendental argument is, in and of itself, a positive argument for God though it is negative in nature. It is positive inasmuch as it exhaustively eliminates any other possibility besides Christian theism, Christian theism could not succumb to a transcendental argument if it were to be launched from the other side. I tend to agree with his assessment. Dr. Greg Bahnsen used to tell the atheist that he could prove God to him by the very next word that came out of his mouth since he would be using God’s air, God’s lungs, God’s mind, and God’s sound waves to communicate his blasphemy. The unbeliever’s worldview is then reduced to absurdity (reductio ad absurdum).

In Chinese martial arts, the key to sufficiency while fighting an opponent is being able to strike while blocking. This is to say that the block acts as a strike by virtue of its technique. The martial artist’s goal is not merely to prevent the attacker from hitting him, it is to prevent the attacker from hitting him while wearing down his extremities. This is brilliant because not only does this martial artist use his attackers own attacks (his foolish rejection of God) against him, but he will win the fight because the attacker continues to use his arms and legs to fight even though he is being damaged by doing so. The attacker is allegorical of the non-believer who lives and moves and has his being in God, yet rejects God using God’s creation to do so. The martial artist is the presuppositional apologist who, while tearing down his opponents position, defends Christian theism simultaneously, even though there be times when it does not appear a positive offense is being utilized.

END THOUGHTS

This post was not meant to be an exhaustive case for presuppositional apologetics, and I haven’t written on the method in a long time. However, the misunderstandings concerning the presuppositional method have caused many people to write it off altogether. Below will be a list of resources for anyone who desires to study out this apologetic further. It is definitely worth the Christian’s time and consideration.

Co-founder, editor, and contributor of The Reformed Collective. He is a member and pastoral intern at Word of Life Baptist Church, Kansas City, MO. He has co-coordinated the evangelism ministry at Grace Bible Church in San Diego, CA. At present he is pursuing a B.A. in Biblical Studies as well as an M. Div. He currently resides in Overland Park, KS with his wife, Christina.