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

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Applying Presuppositionalism: Practical and Workable

This is a long, overdue third installment to a couple of posts I wrote back in February of this year examining presuppositional apologetics.

The first post was something of a reaction to Jamin Hubner’s misguided critique of a message given by Curt Daniel that stirred in me an interest to address what I believe is a creeping malaise infecting young, Reformed apologists who advance presuppositionalism. Though I believe the apologetic is the most effective for engaging unbelievers, it has been my observation that presuppositional advocates make the methodology much more difficult to utilize than it ought to be. In my opinion, if an apologetic system can’t be explained and quickly learned by the simplest of lay people, some inherent flaws may need to be identified in the presentation and changed by the presenter.

In my second post, I began addressing my concerns by outlining what I believe are essential theological talking points we must have in our minds as we prepare ourselves to engage unbelievers.

In this last post I want to deal with practical application; moving our theology from the realm of the theoretical. My intention is not to provide a “silver bullet” technique for evangelism – honestly, none exist. I believe each encounter is unique and it has been my experience that God’s Spirit often uses unexpected avenues to draw a sinner’s heart to Christ.

Also, I am not advocating against the use of Evangelism Explosion, or the Way of the Master, or Greg Koukl’s Tactics, or any number of evangelistic methods. They have their place and can be useful if done so in a manner faithful to the text of Scripture.

My main thrust with this post will be to examine two broad areas that Christians should develop in their overall mindset so as to apply their apologetic theology in their evangelistic encounters.

First, believers need to recognize that effective evangelism must begin with the Christian’s character.

It doesn’t matter how passionate a person is for the Gospel or how persuasive his arguments may be for the Christian faith, if the person’s character does not reflect the transforming power of the Lord and Savior he proclaims, he only heaps to himself scorn and contempt.

I cannot stress this point enough to the reader.

Consider one of the key passages on apologetics, 1 Peter 3:15-17. Rather than presenting a series of airtight philosophical arguments for apologetic methodology, Peter instead focuses our attention upon the personal conduct of the apologist, the attitudes that shape his overall life.

Notice how Peter writes that our “defense of the faith” is to be made with “meekness and fear.” Some translations translate Peter’s words as “gentleness and respect.” This speaks to personal heart issues that are put on display for the watching world; nothing whatsoever about making persuasive arguments.

The effectiveness of your apologetic evangelism will stand or fall upon your character. If your life does not show the unbeliever who you claim Jesus is, no amount of apologetic argument will matter.

You may have a sharp intellect, be extremely knowledgeable, and have the ability to shut the mouths of even the loudest atheist. But if you’re a person who is known as a hot head and can easily become belligerent in a conversation, or a single young lady with a flirtatious reputation, or a husband who has a strained relationship with his wife and kids, no one is going to care a lick about what you’re telling them about Jesus. Even the most hardened skeptic understands Christianity is about personal, “holy” conduct. If your conduct doesn’t reflect godliness, even in the little things, they’ll shut you off.

Second, when we engage unbelievers with the Gospel, we are engaging their entire way of life with the whole message of the biblical Christian faith.

We need to understand that when we speak to our unbelieving neighbors, friends, and relatives about the Gospel, we are not giving them one more opinion to consider among a group of similar opinions; as if you are trying to convince the person why he should make chocolate-chip his favorite cookie.

This is the major deficiency with the popular apologetics presented in the books bought in Christian retail bookstores and heard taught by hosts on Christian talk radio. They make the Christian faith to be a choice between cookies or flavors of ice cream. “Hey, you ought to try this! I think you will probably find in much more flavorful than your banana chocolate chunk.” They also limit the use of the Bible in their presentations. There is time for the Bible later. Besides, they may argue, it’s not proper to prove the legitimacy of the Christian faith with the Bible.

What a cheap, shameful way to think about the power of God.

No. When we evangelize, we bring the truth of the Christian worldview as it is relayed in the Gospel message to bear against everything the unbeliever holds dear in his heart as true. We are basically telling that person that everything he believes about God, faith, religion, and the meaning of life is wrong. Not just mistaken; but soul-damning, fatally wrong.

In 2 Corinthians 10:5, Paul describes the unbeliever as “exalting” his knowledge over the knowledge of God. Scripture proclaims to us that the unbeliever just doesn’t hold to a few errant facts about Jesus, but at his heart level, he lives in rebellion against God’s authority and laws. This is what Paul means when he says the unbeliever “exalts” his “knowledge” over that knowledge of God revealed to us in Scripture.

Moreover, he isn’t “accidentally mistaken,” either. In fact, the unbeliever “exalts” his knowledge willfully, cheerfully, and often with a full understanding of what he is doing even if what he is doing is irrational and doesn’t make sense and perhaps puts his life at great risk.

The goal of our evangelistic efforts is to show the unbeliever that his “exalted” knowledge is an offense to a Holy God; tell him he is justly condemned by God; and then proclaim to him how God in His grace made a way to be made right with Him through Christ. We then tell that person to put away those cherished heart commitments, that heart of rebellion exalting his knowledge above God’s, and embrace Christ and His lordship.

Our evangelistic message is truly that simple. In fact, it’s the reason why the world hates Jesus and Christians. Not only do they hate righteousness to begin with, and seriously dislike having their true self exposed in the light of God’s Word, people hate the notion of someone telling them their thinking about life is wrong.

At this point, I can imagine many folks, having read over my words, will now ask, “Is that it?” Aren’t you being a bit too simplistic? I mean, where does TAG come in? The laws of logic? Moral absolutes? Greg Bahnsen?

Just so I am clear: I am not saying those things are unimportant. I expect Christians as they grow in their knowledge of Christ to also grow in the knowledge of their faith. That implies growth in their knowledge of apologetics and the ability to engage and answer the objectors to their faith. Christians should want to know how to answer the objections of that skeptical cousin they only see at Thanksgiving. They should want to help college kids grapple with challenges to their faith from bitter atheistic community college instructors. What we know about the history of our Bible and various theodicies can be important, as well as useful.

Ultimately, however, our working knowledge of apologetic proofs in the form of philosophical argument and historical evidence is NOT the power of God unto salvation. We don’t want to merely win an argument with a mean-spirited evolutionist; we want to win a soul to Christ. Only the power of the Gospel can do this.

What then do we do with our understanding of these two broad areas? Where does the rubber meet the road, as it were?

This is where we as Christians take those points I systematized in my second post, and formulate an evangelistic outline to engage those unbelievers. We ask them questions. Force them to defend their claims they make against our faith. Challenge them to defend their personal beliefs. Demonstrate to them the folly of their unbelief and rebellion against their Creator. And God willing, tell them about what Jesus did.

There isn’t a “one size fits all” approach. Each person will be different. Each situation will be different. What may be an effective approach for one person may not go so well with another. I have written about a few evangelistic encounters in previous posts that may provide the reader with some idea how I have utilized apologetic methodology in the past. (Scroll down to “Apologetics in Action”).

Even though our approach may be different between individuals and situations, the one thing for certain is the biblical theology that shapes our apologetic methodology. Our theology will provide the apologetic anchors for any Christian, regardless of spiritual maturity and educational background, to use for effective evangelism.

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6 Comments:

Blogger Robert said...

Great post, Fred. Goes well with reading Frank's post at Pyros today.

We definitely need to see that we are representing Christ to the rest of the world in our lives and examine ourselves in light of that before we start trying to work on apologetics and evangelism. Of course, if we are following Scripture, we will eventually find oursleves evangelizing and defending the faith.

And when we do defend the faith, we need to remember that the Bible is the basis for our beliefs. This is where God reveals to us both Who He is and who we are. And then He lays out the Gospel for us so that we can receive grace and mercy from Him. And this is what we need to be bringing to the lost...not just another sharp point in a debate that we can use to bludgeon people with. Besides, we need to be bludgeoning sin, not people, right?

8:28 AM, July 20, 2011  
Blogger Steve Drake said...

"The goal of our evangelistic efforts is to show the unbeliever that his “exalted” knowledge is an offense to a Holy God; tell him he is justly condemned by God; and then proclaim to him how God in His grace made a way to be made right with Him through Christ. We then tell that person to put away those cherished heart commitments, that heart of rebellion exalting his knowledge above God’s, and embrace Christ and His lordship."

I think this sums it up very well Fred. As you state following the above comment, we need to challenge them to defend their personal beliefs. If I can read into that comment, we do an internal critique of their worldview and ask them to support it. This is where a knowledge of what Van Til and Bahnsen describe as the preconditions of intelligibility come into play. Good stuff.

9:14 AM, July 20, 2011  
Blogger Jeremy said...

If I can read into that comment, we do an internal critique of their worldview and ask them to support it.

Right, but I seen this in reverse when someone asked about the mustard seed and the fact that it's not the smallest. They then used that to 'support' their arguments on the non-accuracy of the scriptures. How do you get around situations like that?

11:06 PM, July 20, 2011  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Jeremy writes,
Right, but I seen this in reverse when someone asked about the mustard seed and the fact that it's not the smallest. They then used that to 'support' their arguments on the non-accuracy of the scriptures. How do you get around situations like that?

A few things:
First, I understand doing an "internal critique" is basically what Paul is arguing in 2 Corinthians 10 when we are tearing down strongholds and confronting the exalted knowledge of the unbeliever. Apologetics must engage the worldview of the unbeliever, forcing them to defend what it is they believe and why. That is the great thing about presuppositionalism.

Next, Christians should not be afraid of having the "internal critique" turned around on them. Usually that is what happens anyway. That is the whole point on offering a defense of the faith. We need to be prepared to defend what we believe and why.

Last, in regards to the "mustard seed" Jesus isn't saying the mustard seed is the smallest seed on the earth compared to every seed in existence. I get these ridiculous objections from harden skeptics all the time. The comparison is to all the seeds His Jewish audience would be familiar with. In that case, it is the smallest of seeds.

6:45 AM, July 21, 2011  
Blogger Robert said...

Fred/Jeremy,

Fred's response about the mustard seed shows why Christians need to be more Bible literate and really get to know and understand the context of the cultures in the Bible. Otherwise, we will easily be stumped about all kinds of things. I hear so many people bring up things like the mustard seed text that can easily be answered if we have a good understanding of the Bible...and that means all of it.

1:49 PM, July 21, 2011  
Blogger Dusman said...

Fred,

As usual, great article. I think the last commenter nailed it; a thorough-going knowledge of the Bible is all we really need to defend the faith. Just look at Johnny Mac's videos debating folks on Larry King Live, he sufficiently defended the faith with minimal to no use of philosophical categories but almost exclusively used Biblical arguments. Thanks again for the good article Fredster.

6:38 PM, July 31, 2011  

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