Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Friday, February 11, 2011

Clearing the Presuppositional Malaise

Back in 2006-2007, I posted a series of 9 articles addressing what I believe are the basics of apologetic methodology. My primary goal with writing those articles was to first remove Christian apologetics from merely being philosophical considerations to grounding our methodology in Scripture, and secondly, applying apologetics to the practice of evangelism. I believe these two goals are important for believers to grasp because the typical thinking among Evangelicals is to separate apologetics from having a biblical foundation and then dividing our approach from evangelism as if it is a semi-related discipline to apologetics. In my mind, apologetic methodology is pointless if it is not built upon the biblical text and doesn't meaningfully engage sinners as to their need for Gospel salvation.

Regrettably, much of what is labeled "Evangelical apologetics" these days fails in regards to those two points. The methodologies are neither grounded in the Word of God, nor do they purposefully engage the sinner as to his need for Christ. Further more, it has been my observation that ministries instructing Christians in the field of apologetics intentionally ignore these two vital points. In fact, a number of popular apologetic teachers will go so far as to tell their audiences that the Bible should be the last thing a Christian brings to the discussion with an unbeliever. Other teachers make apologetics dependent upon a Christian having to be familiar with complicated philosophical jargon or so-called empirical "proofs" for the existence of God and the Person of Jesus Christ.

Now: I consider myself to be a presuppositionalist. I believe presuppositionalism is a more biblically robust apologetic approach that what most Christians are familiar with. I would also like to think my presuppositionalism is immune from being entangled with philosophical snares, but it is not.

Presuppositionalism was the apologetic methodology developed by Dutch Reformed Calvinists in the 1800s and made known in the U.S. during the 20th century primarily by theologian, Cornelius Van Til, and a number of his students like Greg Bahnsen and John Frame. The methodology focuses upon defending the entirety of Christianity as a worldview and engaging unbelievers at the foundational level of their worldview.

Without getting into the specifics of all that pertains to presuppositionalism, the focus upon worldviews is what makes the methodology superior in contrast to the other popular views of apologetics. Rather than compartmentalizing individual arguments and calling the unbeliever to reason with the Christian as to validity of each one as "proofs" for the Christian faith, presuppositionalism begins by "presupposing" the truth of Christianity and calls the sinner to repent of the erroneous "presuppositions" that shape his worldview.

However, even though I believe presuppositionalism to be the better approach to defending the Christian faith, there is a big tendency for presuppositional practitioners to become just as weighed down with philosophical baggage as their non-presuppositional counterparts. This is seen when they attempt to press their opponents to provide a justifiable reason, according to their chosen belief system, for such things like moral absolutes, the universal laws of logic, and other similar "truth claims." Conversations about logic and absolutes require some understanding of philosophy and the intellectual ability to challenge unbelievers with that knowledge. Additionally, the whole evangelistic encounter can quickly become a quagmire of unnecessary, impromptu debate the Christian has to slosh through with the unbeliever.

Having stated that, let me make myself clear so that I am not misunderstood. I certainly believe there can be a place for presenting philosophical arguments when we share our faith with non-Christians if the opportunity so arises. Moreover, I appreciate how presuppositionalism places unbelievers on the defensive, moving the evangelistic encounter from haggling over how to interpret evidence to actually challenging them to defend their core "truth" claims about reality, life, and how people are to live. Presuppositionalism is especially useful in this area when talking with atheists. And let me hasten to add that I have personally learned much from hearing presuppositionalists, like Greg Bahnsen for example, engage unbelievers in discussions and debate. Listening to these interactions has helped me to sharpen my own skills as an apologist and evangelists.

What I am saying, however, is that our focus should not stay centered exclusively upon philosophical matters, and because of the emphasis upon philosophy, presuppositionalists have the habit of making presuppositionalism more difficult than it needs to be. I can recall, many years now, reading Richard Pratt's short book, Every Thought Captive, a book advertised as a high school level introduction to presuppositional apologetics. In spite of its claim as being for high school students, it took me a couple of times reading through it to get the basics of what he was presenting. Maybe it's just me, but why should apologetic methodology be so hard? The average church goer in the pew is clueless about laws of logic and the transcendental argument for the existence of God. Granted, over time they can be taught about those things, but starting out in our evangelism by placing our emphasis on these areas is not only discouraging for the average church goer, it also shifts our presentation away from the pages of Scripture.

As I have interacted with my presuppositional brethren, read their books and listened to their lectures, I have become more and more convinced that a good many of them have overlooked this fundamental disconnect between methodology and actual, "street level" presentation. This was illustrated to me in a recent podcast by Jamin Hubner, a self-described presuppositionalist, in which he offered an uninformed, misguided critique of a message on apologetics given by Curt Daniel. Dr. Daniel's message basically explored what I have been trying to outline here in my post: The typical Christian apologetic does an inadequate job of defending the Faith and that includes a bit of what defines itself as presuppositionalism. Instead, Dr. Daniel argues, our apologetic methodology needs to flow out of the biblical text and actually be meaningfully evangelistic. This important point seemed to had been lost on Jamin, however, because he spent the 30 minutes of his podcast review complaining that Dr. Daniel doesn't understand presuppositionalism, and thus missed the entire heart of his message.

I believe we can do better than dismissing helpful, constructive criticisms out of hand. I have been guilty of what Dr. Daniel warns against in my apologetic practice. If we are serious about what Peter writes in his first epistle to set apart Christ as Lord, part of that sanctifying process must be molding our methodology and practice in apologetics. Hammering out bumps and smoothing edges. I want my methodology and practice to fit together in a way that honors the Lord.

Allowing this brief article to serve as an introduction, I want to provide an outline explaining what I have learned from presuppositionalism and show how I have personally made the methodology practical in my own Christian walk. That is what I hope to take up next.



Blogger Fred Butler said...

I have to confess I borrowed the word "malaise" from the title of recent articles by Dr. Reluctant, Paul Henebury and his critique of Dispensational theology.

Also, I happen to really like the way the word "malaise" rolls off my tongue.

9:05 AM, February 11, 2011  
Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Hi Fred,

Thanks a lot for this post. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

1:04 PM, February 11, 2011  
Blogger Peter said...

It is amazing how God can bring you to hear the right message at the right time. I have only just recently started to read your blog and this exact message is something that I have been struggling with lately.

I have been studying presuppositional apologetics and it seems like the more I study it the more technical and philosophical it gets. I am not sure how applicable it would be in evangelism especially as it moves to the more philosophical content.

I had only started to study it because I wanted to increase my faith and now I am not sure that it does that, not sure going into those philosophical areas is what would be good. I personally like prophecy as the best apologetic thats what God uses. Isaiah 46:9-10

5:41 PM, February 11, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Don't discount the approach just because there are a some practitioners who have the bad habit of emphasizing the philosophical over the biblical. At its foundational level, presuppositionalism is THE biblical way to do apologetics. You can read those 9 articles I mentioned, along with some of the other articles linked under that tag that somewhat demonstrate how I have engaged unbelievers here one my blog and in person.

Stick around, because I will have a follow up article on this subject in a few days D.V.

7:45 PM, February 11, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

By the way, Peter,
I spoke on this subject as well.
Here is the audio link to my series on the subject

Apologetic Evangelism


Surveying Apologetic Methodology This second group of messages were given at a home Bible study and are a bit more informal. The audio, regrettably, is not the best, but it may be helpful for you to hear the interaction from other people.

7:50 PM, February 11, 2011  
Blogger Pierre Saikaley said...

The debate between Bahnsen and Stein, I think, seemed like that. Bahsen did well, and many would say he "wiped the floor" with Stein. But listening to that debate, my head was spinning with the repetitive use the term "the laws of logic".

In practice how often do we really need to go into such formal argumentation?

Also, on the use of Peter's command to "give a defense", isn't that in the context of false accusations against believers, and giving them a reason for our hope, i.e. Christ has been crucified for sins and raised from the dead, rather than logical/philosphical type argumentation?

Looking forward to the series.

8:00 PM, February 11, 2011  
Blogger Shazza89101 said...


Your so funny, "malaise" because you like the way it rolls off you tongue hahaha...that's classically you...!!!

Anyway, I'm very interested in how you show how you have used the methodology more practically. I can't wait read more about that!!!

2:05 AM, February 12, 2011  
Blogger Man of the West said...

The average church goer in the pew is clueless about laws of logic...

Ummmm---yeah. Unfortunately, yes, he is. So is the average non-churchgoer.

If I talk about the law of non-contradiction, or about premises, or syllogisms, etc., people's eyes just glaze over.

If I talk about common sense--"In your experience, has it been possible for something to be true and not be true at the same time? Can you think of an example? Where do things come from? Can you think of an example of things going from disorderly to orderly all on their own? Have you ever seen your child's room do that? If there were a God, how would you expect Him to communicate with His creation?"--those kinds of questions are often effective in getting people to at least start thinking.

Just my two cents. Excellent post.

6:09 AM, February 12, 2011  
Blogger Dusman said...


Great post. As usual, you are on point.

Here's an article I wrote earlier this year addressing this very thing:


10:08 AM, February 12, 2011  
Blogger Dusman said...

Also, I use Biblical Apologetics weekly with students on two college campuses in my area: http://graceinthetriad.blogspot.com/2011/01/uncg-outreach-report-1-19-2011_20.html

To get an example of what Fred is talking about, read the comments section of the above article where I use Biblical Apologetics with an idolatrous college prof. arguing for Baha'i.

10:12 AM, February 12, 2011  
Blogger Peter said...


I definitely agree. I think presuppositional apologetics is the biblical apologetic. That is the main reason I pursued it. Like you said the philosophical part is where I wonder. I am just not sure, does TAG really work. If it does is that even how God wants us to defend the faith.

But then you all those other guys who say let's throw the bible out and that seems borderline heresy.

But even for my own faith does TAG really work. Seems like just studying the Word and looking at scientific accuracies, miracles, specifically prophecy those areas are supernatural. Could just show that as a defense without throwing out the bible.

10:37 AM, February 12, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Dusman's article is a good supplement to what I am writing. In fact I would encourage folks to take a moment to read it when they have a chance. It is helpful in providing an additional take on what I am attempting to present here.

11:45 AM, February 12, 2011  
Blogger Mark Patton said...

Thanks Fred. I am going to go back and "review" to make sure I am ready for further learning. Looking forward to the series.

7:05 AM, February 14, 2011  
Blogger Peter said...

Fred I listened to that Curt Daniel audio about Apologetics. I'm curious about something he said/didn't say and what your thoughts are. He only passingly made comments on apologetics for believers. I do understand that is really not the main focus of apologetics but there is something to be said about having more faith in the believer. Do you think that apologetics are a good study for believers just for their own personal faith. If yes, do you think Presuppositional apologetics is a sound apologetic that is thoroughly irrefutable. Just curious, Thanks.

10:48 AM, February 18, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I would imagine Dr. Daniel had limited time in his presentation. Any situation like that requires a teacher/speaker to hit those things specific to his main points.

I think apologetics should be shaped by our overall theology, which I believe is going to be derived from Scripture. If Christians are required to be biblical, that means they are to be theological, which in turn means they have to have some meaningful apologetic in which to engage the unbelieving world.

Presuppositionalism, in my mind, is the better approach because it seeks to engage the unbeliever at his core values. Those principles that shape his beliefs. When the biblical writers confronted unbelief, this is where their arguments led.

I'll have more to say about that when I post my next article on this subject. I have family and work related obligations that are keeping me from writing in any fashion at the moment.

10:55 AM, February 18, 2011  
Blogger Peter said...

Do you think that Presuppositionalism really does Prove God. I mean assuming Prove has meaning do you think that this apologetic really accomplishes this amazing feat.

11:50 AM, February 18, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I don't believe there is a need to "prove" God. Men know God exists in their hearts. All of their disbelief and false religion is attempts to excuse away their accountability to God.

I am not sure if you have seen Sye's site:


12:52 PM, February 18, 2011  

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