The Presuppositional Method and its Difficult Approach

With respect to finding the proper apologetic method for confronting unbelievers/presenting the faith, Christian apologists stemming from various theological/philosophical traditions tend to differ on their approach to the overall conversation with the unbelieving. As Cornelius Van Til (2003) writes in his notable work Christian Apologetics,

A Reformed method of apologetics must seek to vindicate the Reformed life-and-world view as Christianity come to its own. It has already become plain that this implies a refusal to grant that any area or aspect of reality, any fact or any law of nature or of history, can be correctly interpreted except it be seen in the light of the main doctrines of Christianity. [1]

Some have already faulted this view of apologetics [2] by objecting that apologetics is not inherently dogmatic, or, that apologetics cannot be reducible to merely a philosophical endeavor, or even a theological one. Rather, “apologetics employs every true fact and every true discipline in its behalf: history, science, jurisprudence, literature, art” [3]. Therefore, apologetics can “[lead] us into deeper and more complicated answers” than what can be reduced to mere philosophy (or theology) alone.

For instance, the presuppositionalist camp (from which Van Til is apart of) insists “that only biblical presuppositions provide the necessary means to make sense of the world and life” [4]. Thus, in respect to apologetic methods, the Holy Spirit takes immediate precedence over logical reasoning or appeals to evidences that may distort the gospel message and perhaps crucially affect the communication taking place between the Christian and the unbeliever. However, as Craig Hazen (2004) writes,

People always come to Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit, but there are many tools the Holy Spirit uses to do his work. One of those tools is apologetic reasoning. There are many who give serious personal testimonies to the value of apologetics in assisting their movement toward salvation – Augustine of Hippo and C.S. Lewis, to name two easily recognizable and influential figures. Occasionally apologetics is the primary tool that brings people to the foot of the cross. [5]

Hazen goes on even to suggest that those making the “Holy Spirit precedence” argument have “either rarely tried robust but gentle apologetic engagement or perhaps are not “prepared” in the way the apostle Peter exhorted us to be” [6].

Thomas Howe (2004) even touches on this issue by giving three reasons to suggest that “the relationship between faith and reason is to see that each has its proper role to play and that faith and reason complement each other in their respective roles” [7]. They are as follows:

  • (1) Howe argues from 1 Peter 3:15 and Jude 3 that we are commanded to defend the faith, since, we should “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you an account of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15, NASB).
  • (2) Howe argues that “there is reason to give reasons because the reasons are there” [8]. Christians have “at their disposal ample evidence for its truthfulness” considering that “Christianity is rooted in history and is corroborated by science and philosophy” [9].
  • (3) Lastly, we notice in the New Testament the early apostles contending for their faith by giving reasons. Howe thence cites numerous passages in the book of Acts demonstrating this to be the case (Acts 9:22, 15:2, 17:2-4, 17:17, 18:4, etc.).

Howe thence finishes:

While it is the Holy Spirit who enables someone to believe, he may sometimes use the presentation of evidence for the Christian faith as the means whereby someone can come to see the truth of the gospel. There is no conflict between the work of the Holy Spirit and the use of evidence and reason. [10]

____________________________

Notes:

  • [1] Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics, 2nd edn. (P&R Publishing: 2003) p. 124
  • [2] John Montgomery in Reasons for Faith, ed. Norman Geisler and Chad Meister (Crossway Books: 2007)
  • [3] Ibid., p. 43
  • [4] H. Wayne House, “Biblical Argument for Balanced Apologetics,” inReasons for Faith, ed. Norman Geisler and Chad Meister (Crossway Books: 2007) p. 57
  • [5] Craig Hazen, “Defending the Defense of the Faith” in To Everyone An Answer, ed. Francis Beckwith, J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig (IVP Academic: 2004) p. 43
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Thomas Howe and Richard Howe, “Knowing Christianity is True” in To Everyone An Answer (2004), p. 32
  • [8] Ibid., p. 33
  • [9] Ibid.
  • [10] Ibid.
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