Sunday, November 9, 2014

Ways to defend the Christian faith - Presuppositional Apologetics

1 Peter 3:15 "but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence."

Note: The reader is invited to listen to a podcast on this subject, where various methods of defending the Christian faith are presented at:

Defining the term "apologetics"
In the opening text of today's post we see the mandate given by the Apostle Peter to defend the Christian's hope.  In fact the word translated "defense" is the Greek word "apologia" (a-po-lo-gee-a), from whence we derive the name of the branch of Christian theology called "apologetics".  When a Christian engages in apologetics, they are not saying they are "sorry" for being a Christian, rather they are given reasons to skeptical onlookers as to why they are so full of hope in an otherwise hopeless world.  Dr. R.C Sproul in a sermon entitled "apologetics" gives this definition of apologetics: "A well reasoned defense of the truth claims of the Christian faith." Any well rounded Christian should not only know "what they believe" but also "why they believe". 

Various methods for doing apologetics
With the mandate to defend the faith being clear from scripture and the meaning of apologetics being briefly defined, the next important area has to do with how to go about doing apologetics.  With the upsurge of skepticism and attacks on the Christian faith occuring at a steady pace for the past two and one half centuries, Christian apologists have become more concerned with how one does about articulating and defending Christianity. It is hoped that the reader will at least consider each one and look for ways to defend and communicate God's truth in a lost a dying world. Today we will consider the method for defending the Christian faith: Presuppositional Apologetics.

Presuppositionalist apologetics
Classical apologetics states the the proper starting point for defending the Christian faith is reason to scripture. However other apologists believe that the proper starting point for defending the Christian faith is by pre-supposing God Himself.  Presuppositional apologists advocate that in order to prove anything, one must presuppose the existence of the Biblical God.  Christian scholar Norman Geisler notes: Presuppositional apologetics is the apologetical system that defends Christianity from the departure point of certain basic presuppositions. The apologist presupposes the truth of Christianity and then reasons from that point.1 By presupposing God's existence, the presuppositional apologist aims to prove why Christianity alone is most reasonable and possess the greatest justification for believing.  Douglas Powell notes the following about presuppositionalism: "Thus, presuppositionalists are more concerned with what makes evidence evidential and what makes reason reasonable. Because the God of the Bible is the Creator of all things, we know that He is not just the source of all physical things, but all laws whether they be scientific laws, moral laws or logical laws.2

How this apologetic approach can be effective when dealing with AtheismThe presuppositionalist contends that since all human beings have knowledge about God in their hearts, the purpose of apologetics then is to expose the fallacies of their worldview and get them to admit what they have been supressing. A typical presuppositionalist approach would be that without God, we could not use reason in our discussions, since reason itself requires the existence of God to operate. 

The existence of objective moral values and the underlying laws of such fields as math and even science require the existence of God. Presuppositionalism can be very effective when dealing with such worldviews as Atheism, since Atheism places a high premium on reason and scientific discovery as the pathway to knowing anything. This apologetic method would press the atheist as to why is reason reasonable and why the scientific method is reliable. One of the techniques employed by the presuppositional apologist would be to show that the Atheist cannot, on the basis of their own worldview, explain why they choose to use reason and science. In short, the fact that we can prove anything presupposes God's existence, a point which the Atheist himself knows deep down inside but insists on suppressing according to Romans 1:18-31. A fine example of a presuppositional apologist is Dr. Greg Bahnsen:

More tomorrow....

1. Norman Geisler, General Editor. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker. 1999. Page 606

2. Doug Powell. Holman Quicksource Guide to Christian Apologetics. Holman Publishers. 2006. Page 360.


  1. Hi, Pastor Mahlon. You may not want to post this, since I have included some lengthy quotes I found recently. Years ago I read nearly all of Dr. Francis Schaeffer's books and saw his films. I attended a lecture he gave when he came to my town once. I have to say, when he died I cried. Without even knowing him personally.

    I just learned the word "presuppositionalism" very recently. I didn't know there was such a distinction in different forms of apologetics. I believe, now that I recognize the difference that Dr. Schaeffer was a presuppositionalist.

    Some quotes by Dr. Francis Schaeffer

    But reading the Bible every day of one's life does something else-it gives one a different mentality. In the modern world we are surrounded by the mentality of the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system, but as we read the Bible it gives us a different mentality. Do not minimize the fact that in reading the Bible we are living in a mentality that is the right one, opposed to the great wall of this other mentality that is forced upon us on every side-in education, in literature, in the arts and in the mass media. . .

    If there is no absolute moral standard, then one cannot say in a final sense that anything is right or wrong. By absolute we mean that which always applies, that which provides a final or ultimate standard. There must be an absolute if there are to be morals, and there must be an absolute if there are to be real values. If there is no absolute beyond man’s ideas, then there is no final appeal to judge between individuals and groups whose moral judgments conflict. We are merely left with conflicting opinions.

    But it is not only that we need absolutes in morals and values; we need absolutes if our existence is to have meaning -- my existence, your existence, Man's existence. Even more profoundly, we must have absolutes if we are to have a solid epistemology (a theory of knowing -- how we know, or how we know we know.) How can we be sure that what we think we know of the world outside ourselves really corresponds to what is there? And in all these layers, each more profound than the other, unless there is an absolute these things are lost to us: morals, values, the meaning of existence (including the meaning of man), and a basis for knowing. . .

    Rationalism rejects any knowledge outside of man himself, especially any knowledge from God. . .

    If there is no absolute beyond man’s ideas, then there is no final appeal to judge between individuals and groups whose moral judgments conflict. We are merely left with conflicting opinions. . .


  2. One day I was talking to a group of people in the room of a young South African in Cambridge University. Among others, there was present a young Indian who was of Sikh background but a Hindu by religion. He started to speak strongly against Christianity, but did not really understand the problems of his own beliefs. So I said, “Am I not correct in saying that on the basis of your system, cruelty and noncruelty are ultimately equal, that there is no intrinsic difference between them?” He agreed. The people who listened and knew him as a delightful person, an “English gentleman” of the very best kind, looked up in amazement. But the student in whose room we met, who had clearly understood the implications of what the Sikh had admitted, picked up his kettle of boiling water with which he was about to make tea, and stood with it steaming over the Indian’s head. The man looked up and asked him what he was doing, and he said with a cold yet gentle finality, “There is no difference between cruelty and noncruelty.” Thereupon the Hindu walked out into the night. . .

    Let's say for example that you are suffering with some kind of pain and evil in your life and you come to the conclusion that there is no God. What is the solution to the problem of your personal pain? The only solution I can think of is that your personal pain and suffering are meaningless. They are useless. They are helpless. And, in fact, it reminds me of Os Guiness in his fine book The Dust of Death , which has just been re-released, where he makes the point in regards to eastern religion that many eastern religions hold that the world is just an illusion--Hinduism characteristically. He quotes from a poet of the Eastern tradition who had just experienced tremendous tragedy in his life. He went to his avatar to get some comfort from his religious leader after his wife and children had been killed. His religious leader simply said to him in the face of this terrible anguish, "The world is dew." His point was that it's all an illusion anyway. The poet went back and he wrote this poem, a simple poem, only four lines : "The world is dew. The world is dew. And yet....And yet...." In other words the religious answer his religious leader was that the evil simply didn't exist. But he knew personally that it wasn't dew, that it wasn't an illusion. It was there. It was real and it was impacting his life. But what comfort was there in that--nothing whatsoever. . .

    My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call something crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line." [C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity] He also goes on to point out that a portrait is a good or a bad likeness depending on how it compares with the "perfect" original. So to talk about evil, which is a departure from good, actually presumes something that exists that is absolutely good. If there is no God there's no perfect standard, no absolute right or wrong, and therefore no departure from that standard. So if there is no God, there can't be any evil, only personal likes and dislikes--what I prefer morally and what I don't prefer morally.
    This is the big problem with moral relativism as a moral point of view when talking about the problem of evil.

    Good article by Cornelius Van Til (another presuppositionalist) to Francis Schaeffer:


  3. C S Lewis:

    I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ... Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

    Christ either deceived mankind by conscious fraud, or He was Himself deluded and self-deceived, or He was Divine. There is no getting out of this trilemma. It is inexorable. "Rabbi" John Duncan

    I'm glad to see your apologetics recently used with Gary.

    God's peace be with you,

  4. You might like to look around this website that is dedicated to Dr. Rod Rosenbladt and Dr. John Warwick Montgomery, both evidentialist apologists.

    A site for podcasts:

    God bless,

  5. Dear Anonymous: Thank you for the links above and the kind words today. I have been listening to Dr. Francis Shaeffer on the subject of apologetics and I tend to land where he does in the realm of not necessarily demanding one method be used over another. In as much as I use evidences, and appreciate the voluminous matieral available on demonstrating the evidence of Christianity, evidence by itself is not able to convince anyone conclusively of the claims of Christianity.

    At best, evidence can get us to the realm of "probability" and "reasonability" for the Christian faith in the face of skepticism. However the work of the Spirit in bringing the gifting of faith (in what can be the presence of of well-argued apologetical presentations) is the only way anyone can go from "Christianity is probably true" to "Christianity is definitely true. Lest the Spirit bring fiducia (the Latin term for faith) in conjunction with knowledge about God and mental ascent to the claims of Christ, no man or woman will conclusively rest in the claims of scripture nor the Person of Christ.

    The one thing I appreciate about presuppositionalism is that it tries to take seriously the testimony of scripture, the witness of God in creation and the human heart and the fallenness of man. Moreover, in asserting the existence of the Biblical God as supplying the pre-conditions for intelligibility (a term used by Dr. Greg Bahnsen is describing the Divine foundations for logic, science, ethics and mathematics), we are shown that to prove anything requires the God of the Bible to be The Necessary, Personal, Intelligent Causer of all things.

    I appreciate your interest in these posts and I trust you will continue to be in prayer for whatever witness such material may provide to those who have not yet trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord and Treasure.

  6. Dear Pastor,

    I believe both presuppositional and evidentialist apologetics should be used as one can. I am more comfortable coming from a biblical perspective since I am woefully deficient in the scholarship of "evidence!" Dr. John Warwick Montgomery is considered a "premiere" evidentialist in the field.

    A very interesting find maybe you are already aware of:

    "In 1963, a man in the Nevsehir Province of Turkey was doing a little home remodeling. He decided to knock down a wall of his home for an expansion. He discovered a hidden room behind the wall with a slender hallway carved out of of the stone below his home. The hallway lead to a cave-like room which lead to more hallways and cave-like rooms. Before he knew it he had stumbled onto an entire city underground and attached to his home. The city was completely empty and abandoned but it had every amenity you would need to sustain a society. What he had stumbled on by accident was Derinkuyu and The underground cities of Cappadocia."

    Very interesting?!!


  7. Dear Pastor, I know you know this.

    And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6

    God bless you and all your endeavors,

  8. To Abby:
    Thanks for the reminder and the encouragement. I'm reminded of a quote made by William Lane Craig who said: "Without the ministry of the Holy Spirit, all of the best apologetical arguments fall to the ground". I praise the Father for sending the Spirit in the Son's name. Were it not for the Spirit's gifting of faith and repentance in saving grace, no one could conclusively and persuasively believe on Jesus Christ. (John 16:8-11) Thanks again for the great reminder!

  9. Hi Pastor, I found this book you might be interested in:

    You are fortunate to be above the fray, if you have seen Gary's blog the last few days. The LCMS is getting shredded. Anger is a terrible thing. I am praying.


  10. Hi Abby:

    I read the article on Cavanaugh's book. Very interesting. Thanks for the link. Yes I agree with you. It is sad what he is saying about the LCMS. Praying is what we need to do at this point.