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

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Apologetic Methodology in a Nut Shell

I have an opportunity in a month or so to teach on the subject of apologetics. I'll probably have a one evening shot for maybe 50 minutes to an hour, so I am having to whittle down my notes to fit the occasion. I figure someone will raise the questions: "Can you explain what presuppositional apologetics is, and how is it different from evidentialist apologetics?" Anticipating those questions, I sketched out a bullet point outline defining presuppositionalism and what I think are the key distinctions with evidentialism. I thought I would share to see what feedback I may get.

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Basically, presuppositionalism and evidentialism represent two apologetic methodologies that attempt to make a case for the Christian faith in light of unbelief. As Christians, we should strive to make our apologetic case for Christianity God honoring, biblically based, and theologically sound. Evidentialism is the apologetic methodology the average church going, "Red State" evangelical Christian is familiar with. In fact, I call evidentialism "popular apologetics" because it is the methodology presented in the popular apologetic books found in the typical Christian bookstore and is taught on Christian radio and in other media presentations.

As harsh as this may sound to some - perhaps even many - I think evidentialism is neither God honoring, nor biblically based, nor theologically sound. I say that because proponents who advocate evidentialism are merely attempting to prove the possibility of God's existence and the viability of the Christian worldview, rather than proclaim the reality of God and the truth of Christianity. Such an objective dishonors the Lord, because evidentialists typically keep the Bible out of the discussion (they believe you have to prove its dependability first), and thus, this makes their overall apologetic theologically unsound.

Presuppositionalism, I believe, reflects more accurately the apologetic utilized by Christians in the book of Acts, and hence, it is the model we need to employ in our evangelistic and apologetic endeavors.

Using presuppositionalism as the focus, let me contrast the two systems:

1) Presuppositionalism defends the totality of the Christian worldview when engaging unbelief.

*By unbelief I mean:

- Those opposed to the Christian faith by either apathy or outright hostility

- Those who may claim some Christian "affiliation" but inconsistently live out their "faith" or religious practice.

- Religious faith outside biblical Christianity.

2) The presuppositionalist defends the totality of the Christian worldview by beginning with a most certain and unquestioned commitment to,

- The inspiration and infallibility of Scripture as a Divine revelation.
- The reality and existence of our Divine Creator.
- The acknowledgement and submission to Christ's sovereign lordship over all areas of human existence.
- The supernatural work of God to convert the hearts of sinners.

3) A presuppositionalist seeks to engage the unbeliever by challenging the totality of his or her specific worldview. Such things as a person's truth claims, dogmatism, fundamental convictions; how the person lives, interacts with the world, what he or she believes about reality, why we are here, where we are going, etc.

4) Presuppositionalism is distinguished from the "evidentialist" approach, what I personally term, "popular apologetics," along two foundational disagreements:

- Evidentialists believe various lines of evidence are self-authenticating and sufficient within themselves as "proofs" for God's existence, the veracity of Scripture, and the truth claims of the Christian faith.

- Though evidentialists believe men are fallen and are sinners, they believe man still retains his reasoning faculties so that he can learn spiritual things about God. The Ratio Christi apologetic university network affirm this viewpoint under their basic belief statement under the heading, “Concerns about Apologetic Methodology:”

It is our belief, however, that the Scriptures testify to the fact that man, though corrupted by sin, is still made in the image of God and has been given reasoning faculties that can be used to gain important, though limited, data from nature about reality and theology.

5) Presuppositionalists, on the other hand, believe that men are created in the image of God, yet are completely fallen including their reasoning facilities. What is understood as the "noetic effects of the fall," (Rom. 8:6,7; 1 Cor. 2:14-16; Eph. 4:17, 18).

- This does not mean unbelievers are stupid and "unreasonable" and thus unable to function as people in a society. Rather, it means their reasoning cannot learn about spiritual things and biblical truth apart from a divine work of regeneration. Their unbelief and rejection of the Christian faith is not one lacking "evidence," or having it explained to them correctly, but is fundamentally a moral/spiritual problem.

- In fact, The Bible tells us all unbelievers intuitively know God exists, but due to their spiritual disconnect and heart rebellion against God, they suppress that knowledge of God and attempt to explain it away by the philosophical constructs of their personal worldview.

6) Therefore, presuppositionalists believe there is no "neutral" evidence. Meaning, evidence is NOT self-authenticating and sufficient within itself as "proofs" for the Christian faith. All evidence has to be understood and interpreted according to the "fear of the Lord." (Prov. 1:7, 9:10) In other words, all evidence is God's evidence and we seek to understand it according to a comprehensive, biblically informed framework.

7) Unbelievers, in spite of how smart they may be, or "open-minded" to consider the "evidence," interpret all evidence according to a set of unquestioned presuppositions (from whence "presuppositional apologetics" gets its name). Because unbelievers are unspiritual, and not submitted to God's authority, they interpret any "evidence" contrary to belief in the revealed God of Scripture.

8) The strategy of the apologist, then, as noted under #3, is to engage the worldview of the unbeliever. What Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 10:4, 5 as "pulling down strongholds" and "casting down arguments." The "pulling" and "casting" down involves challenging those unquestioned presuppositions that give shape to the unbeliever's fundamental convictions and overall faith commitments, thus forcing him to "justify" or "give a reason" why those presuppositions should be trusted.

9) The goal of the apologist then, is to:

- Challenge the validity of those presuppositions.
- Attempt to demonstrate, through personal interaction, how the unbeliever lives out his life inconsistently to what he knows in his "heart of hearts" is true about God and reality.
- Show him the sinful folly of trusting those presuppositions apart from the revealed God of Scripture.
- Trust that it is God's Spirit Who is the one Who convinces the person of spiritual truth, not evidence or correctly presented philosophical argumentation.

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21 Comments:

Blogger Robert said...

Very good and focused. I think that following evidentialist methods can leave you wide open to chasing down rabbit holes. And we should be wary of getting tied up in that and stay focused on the goals you list in point number 9. And I think all of us really need to stay trained on this nugget of truth you put at the end:

Trust that it is God's Spirit Who is the one Who convinces the person of spiritual truth, not evidence or correctly presented philosophical argumentation.

6:18 AM, February 14, 2012  
Blogger steve said...

Apologetic method in a nutshell is especially valuable for missionary squirrels in Babylon.

8:38 AM, February 14, 2012  
Blogger Mark Spence said...

love it. spot on. Thanks for sharing!

8:54 AM, February 14, 2012  
Blogger Justin Edwards said...

Thanks for the clear breakdown about the differences between presup and evidentialism, Fred. What resource would you point someone to in the next step of putting #9 into practice?

9:23 AM, February 14, 2012  
Blogger PaulT said...

For simple explanations of how to actually "do" the presuppositional apologetics method, we have put together a conference, called "The Proof of God Conference", in October in Orlando. Further details at: www.proofconference.com or www.creationtoday.org.

12:05 PM, February 14, 2012  
Blogger Sye TenB said...

Excellent post Brother! Thanks for this!

5:50 PM, February 14, 2012  
Blogger Kevin Zuber said...

Good summary Fred!

6:24 PM, February 14, 2012  
Blogger Peter said...

Excellent!!!

11:00 PM, February 14, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Justin asks,
Fred. What resource would you point someone to in the next step of putting #9 into practice?

My last point, I confess, is broad and non-specific. I sort of meant it that way, because I don't think there is one "silver bullet" presentation that fits everyone we may minister to. Everyone is different and every situation is different.

What I try to tell people is that they need to know their faith. By that, we need to know what Christianity and Christians are to believe. Ultimately, your discussion with people will be a clash of worldviews, and let's face it, we need to be prepared to present our with clarity, conviction, precision, and orthodoxy.

[I'll assume you'll google these names, so I won't link anything]

I would tell you to invest in some good systematic theology books, like Robert Reymond's work or R.Duncan Culver massive tome. Even Wayne Gruduem, though he is something of a weirdie with prophecy and spiritual gifts. Also church history books, like Stephen Nichol's various little books. Even Justo Gonzalez two volumes on church history (he's a Catholic, btw, but his books are still good).

I would shore up your thinking in the areas of soteriology, and being a Calvinist like I am, get Thomas and Steele's classic book on Calvinism Defined, Defended and Documented (if I recall the title). Also invest in materials addressing creation and evolution. All of the main creation ministries have outstanding works, AiG, CMI, and even Paul's (commenting above) group.

One book I would really encourage you to get is my friend Dan Phillip's book, World Tilting Gospel. It is a basic, introductory book on the Christian faith. I did a review of it here:
http://hipandthigh.blogspot.com/2011/09/world-tilting-gospel.html

4:49 AM, February 15, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

And one other thing. I would imagine that you also have in mind in your question how to present your faith, or how to put challenging non-Christian world views into practice. I do appreciate Sye's website (he commented above as well) as well as pastor Dustin Segers who has an active street evangelizing ministry. You can watch their videos and see how they model dealing with skeptics and the like.

I would also say you may want to pick up Greg Kohkol's (I may have that last name misspelled) book Tactics. Greg is the president of Stand to Reason ministries, and though he is certainly one of those "evidentialists" I noted in my article and I would disagree with him on some foundational issues, his little book about engaging people for the Christian faith does offer some good strategy on how we can interact with unbelievers. All of his pointers in his book can easily be adapted for use by a presuppositionalist, and in fact, I would say they are better suited for such an encounter.

Hope that is helpful.

4:57 AM, February 15, 2012  
Blogger Sir Aaron said...

I've engaged in very limited apologetics type encounters. If you argue from the evidentialist standpoint you (1) can't argue from Scripture, at least not until you establish it as inerrant and sufficient (a tough argument to win) and (2) as Robert mentioned, you have to chase down a bunch of rabbit trails and (3) as Scripture says, the problem isn't lack of evidence it is that man sees the evidence and denies it anyways because he is depraved. So to show a depraved person more evidence doesn't accomplish much.

I still think there is a use for evidentialist apologetics, I just think it's usefulness is limited but only from a presuppositional point of view.

5:45 PM, February 15, 2012  
Blogger Peter said...

Reading Greg Bahnsen's Van Til's Apologetic was one of the most pivotal events of my life. It took me two full years of careful reading, digestion, and meditation, the longest I have spent on any book ever. (Normally I read an academic book at about 30 sec a page; you can do the math regarding how many pages that comes to each day.)

9:41 PM, February 15, 2012  
Blogger Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Awesome post, Fred!

What's helped me recently is a statement by a Christian author who wrote something like,

"It's not a lack of evidence that atheists are atheists, it's personal rebellion."

I don't know how to use that insight in apologetic-evangelistic conversation with atheists, but it's helpful to me.

I mean, saying something like "You're refusing to accept the evidence because you're in personal rebellion against God" or "You're refusing to accept the blatant incoherence of your presupppositions because you're in personal rebellion against God" just wouldn't go over all that well.

12:10 PM, February 17, 2012  
Blogger Adam said...

Hello Mr. Butler,
Thank you for your thoughts and I appreciate your zeal and desire to share Christ with a lost and dying world and to be God honoring in the process.

I actually work for Ratio Christi, and I thought I'd comment if you don't mind. Please note that Ratio Christi has not asked me to comment, and this interaction is solely started on my own initiative.

First, as a simple point of fact, Ratio Christi does not officially endorse an evidentialist methodology. As I'm sure you're aware, though this blog post did not make clear, presuppositionalism and evidentialism are not the only two apologetic methodologies. Ratio Christi is firmly based in the methodology of classical apologetics, and while this is similar to evidentialism, it is quite a different approach and produces quite different results.

Second, you said, "This does not mean unbelievers are stupid and "unreasonable" and thus unable to function as people in a society. Rather, it means their reasoning cannot learn about spiritual things and biblical truth apart from a divine work of regeneration. Their unbelief and rejection of the Christian faith is not one lacking "evidence," or having it explained to them correctly, but is fundamentally a moral/spiritual problem."

My question is, how did you gain the above information? Thanks so much for you time.

6:44 PM, February 19, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Thanks Adam for the comments, I appreciate them. I plan to write up some more on this issue as I prepare for my Bible study I will be teaching, so please check back. I would welcome your feedback.

You write,
First, as a simple point of fact, Ratio Christi does not officially endorse an evidentialist methodology. As I'm sure you're aware, though this blog post did not make clear, presuppositionalism and evidentialism are not the only two apologetic methodologies. Ratio Christi is firmly based in the methodology of classical apologetics, and while this is similar to evidentialism, it is quite a different approach and produces quite different results.

A couple of things here. I realize the typical classic evidentialist attempts to distinguish himself from the general, garden variety evidentialism, but honestly, at the ground level both are the same. Particularly in the areas I highlighted: the alleged, "self-evident" sufficiency of proofs and evidence for the faith, and the ability of natural man to be reasoned to faith apart from the work of the Spirit of God.

Secondly, the Ratio Christi purpose statement makes these two points clear. I have also heard the main director articulate the same ground level points on the Stand to Reason radio program. So I don't believe I am misleading readers by using that statement as an example of what I mean regarding evidentialism.

If you insist there still exists a difference, I'd be curious for you to tell me those differences, as well as demonstrate how your method is much more biblical and fruitful as you claim.


Regarding your second point and the question you ask,
My question is, how did you gain the above information?

The Bible provides us some significant insight to the human condition that we can pull together a theology of man, sin, and its impact upon man's reasoning. Just out of curiosity, what role does Scripture play in shaping your methodology? Most classic evidentialists leave Scripture out of the discussion UNTIL it has been adequately proven to the sinner to be a reliable source of information.

The Bible is clear that men are separated from God spiritually, and that spiritual separation binds their thinking and reasoning to a sinful nature. Review the passages I noted in my article. So IOW, during the evangelical/apologetic encounter (which I believe to be one in the same [your camp tends to separate these two categories as different opportunities])apart from the work of God, no man can be presented evidence with the intention that the evidence alone can be enough to persuade the sinner to Christ.

When we engage the sinner, there are two worldviews opposed to one another. Spiritual things are discerned, argued Paul in 1 Cor. 2, through the work of the Spirit. Our goal as apologists/evangelists is to expose the sinner's rebellion against God. Conversion is God's victory over the rebellious worldview of the sinner and the bringing him into subjection to the Lordship of Christ (1 Pet. 3:15ff.)

I welcome your response, and look forward to responding.

10:03 AM, February 20, 2012  
Blogger Adam said...

Thanks for the follow up Mr. Butler. I appreciate it. In regards to the classical/evidential distinction, I really don't want to get hung up on that. But I would offer these thoughts. The classical apologist works in a systematic fashion building a case for Christianity from the ground up in a step by step process. The evidentialist, on the other hand, would probably be content with looking at evidence for the resurrection for example and building an entire case for Christianity, God's existence, etc. from that one area. This could certainly lead to a more probabilistic conclusion regarding God's existence. The classical method actually ends up showing how God necessarily must exist in order to explain reality.

Neither camp, however, would contend that someone can be "reasoned to faith apart from the work of the Spirit of God." I'm sure it was unintentional, but that is actually a caricature of these two positions.

Regarding my second question, you said, "The Bible provides us some significant insight to the human condition that we can pull together a theology of man, sin, and its impact upon man's reasoning." My follow up question would be, how do you the Bible provides you with that information? How can you understand it?

It is true that classical apologists think a case needs to be made to show that the Bible, as opposed to some other "holy" book, is in fact the word of God. Otherwise, it seems one would either beg the question or simply resort to fideism, neither of which are biblical.

You said, "no man can be presented evidence with the intention that the evidence alone can be enough to persuade the sinner to Christ." Again, I don't know of any classical apologist who would believe that evidence alone can lead someone to trust in Christ as their savior. What the evidence can do is be used by the Holy Spirit to clear away intellectual obstacles and give someone a reason for believing Christianity is reasonable and THAT it's actually true. It's between them and the Holy Spirit as to whether or not they place their trust IN Christ. There's obviously a big difference between belief that and belief in as I'm sure you'd agree.

1:15 PM, February 20, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Hey again Adam, keep the feedback coming,
You write,
The classical apologist works in a systematic fashion building a case for Christianity from the ground up in a step by step process.

I am just curious how you do this apart from scripture. That's why I asked that question about the role scripture plays in shaping your methodology. Or maybe you do so on the basis of scripture? How can you make a case for the truth claims of a specific Christian apologetic "from the ground up in a step by step fashion" that is ultimately a religious faith that is found in scripture? Something you have to "prove first" as you argue below. Do you see the inconsistency here?

continuing along,
Neither camp, however, would contend that someone can be "reasoned to faith apart from the work of the Spirit of God." I'm sure it was unintentional, but that is actually a caricature of these two positions.

It would be helpful, then, to explain this to the primary promoters of your methodology. When I hear folks like Greg Koukl argue for the truth claims of Christianity, he does so by intentionally "leaving out the Bible." In fact, I listen to his program weekly and hear him say this all the time. The same can be said about Jim Wallis of "please convince me" or the ID/Discovery Institute guys who bend over backwards trying to avoid invoking the God of scripture when discussing "design," and William Lane Craig is notorious for saying we should start with philosophy and not theology when engaging unbelief. For you to say I am offering a "caricature" of your position is just not affirmed by what I hear from your camp.

continuing,
Regarding my second question, you said, "The Bible provides us some significant insight to the human condition that we can pull together a theology of man, sin, and its impact upon man's reasoning." My follow up question would be, how do you the Bible provides you with that information? How can you understand it?

Christianity is a "revealed" faith. IOW, God has revealed Himself to men. Salvation is also "revealed." Men may read the Bible but not understand it, that is, believe it savingly. For a sinner to believe the Gospel savingly requires a divine work of regeneration. My point is that as proclaimers of the gospel message we keep these truths about men in mind when we engage them. We leave the results to God's Spirit, not OUR ability to compel, or convince, or persuade.

continued below

4:00 PM, February 20, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

continuing along from the last comment,
Otherwise, it seems one would either beg the question or simply resort to fideism, neither of which are biblical.

These are red herrings, especially the claim of fideism. Fideism implies a blind faith, but our faith is set upon God's revelation.

continuing,
Again, I don't know of any classical apologist who would believe that evidence alone can lead someone to trust in Christ as their savior.

Again, see the men I mentioned above.

continuing,
What the evidence can do is be used by the Holy Spirit to clear away intellectual obstacles and give someone a reason for believing Christianity is reasonable and THAT it's actually true. It's between them and the Holy Spirit as to whether or not they place their trust IN Christ. There's obviously a big difference between belief that and belief in as I'm sure you'd agree.

Evidence has to be interpreted, would you agree or disagree?
I think you give too much credence to the authority of evidence and it's ability to clear the way. Case in point: the consensus of modern science says the earth is billions of years old, yet the Bible is quite clear in Genesis that God created in the space of 6 days (this is affirmed several places in the scripture) and we can trace the history of the world back to less than 10,000 years ago. Many in your camp would argue the evidence trumps the scripture in this area. And in point of fact, the creationist causes stumbling blocks for the unbeliever. What do you do when so-called "evidence" doesn't line up with the historical truth claims of the Bible?

4:02 PM, February 20, 2012  
Blogger Adam said...

Thanks again for your comments Mr. Butler. It seems as though there may just be some fairly simple misunderstandings happening. For example, of course the Christian faith is founded in revelation found in the Bible. But there is no inconsistency in first determining whether or not the Bible is in fact trustworthy. Using the classical approach, one would show that truth is knowable, that the theistic God exists, that miracles are therefore possible, that the New Testament is historically reliable, that the NT said Jesus claimed to be God, that Jesus proved to be God via miracles and namely the resurrection, therefore Jesus is God, and anything He says is true. Jesus said the Old Testament and the promised NT is the word of God. Therefore the Bible is true and anything opposed to it is false. It's not that one can show via evidence that Jesus' death and resurrection atoned for our sins for example. That's not an observable process. But one can show via evidence that Jesus proved to be God and that what He says is therefore true.

Regarding Koukl and others, it once again depends on which truth claims of Christianity one is referring to. If it's the historical claim of the resurrection, then one can examine the historical evidence (including eyewitness testimony from the Bible) just as Paul appeals to in 1 Cor. 15. If it's a claim that must be believed by faith, like the atonement, then it can be shown that the authority making the faith claim is a trustworthy authority. But regardless, nothing you presented in your reply contradicts what I said. We simply believe that every portion of reality points to God and that God can use philosophical reasoning, scientific evidence, etc. to draw people to Himself. It's not reason/evidence or the Holy Spirit. It's the Holy Spirit working through it all.

Regarding the Bible, I realize and agree that the Christian faith is a revealed faith. No classical apologist would deny that. But you've moved my question back a step. How do you know that "to believe the Gospel savingly requires a divine work of regeneration"?

You said my claim of possible fideism was a red herring and you responded with, "Fideism implies a blind faith, but our faith is set upon God's revelation." But isn't this the very thing in question? How do you know the Bible is in fact God's revelation?

I certainly agree that evidence must be interpreted, which is one reason why William Lane Craig would argue that we must start with philosophy because this informs our interpretation. Similarly, the Bible must also be interpreted. How do you know you're interpreting that correctly? My apologies, but I'm going to not chase the rabbit of the age of the earth controversy. Suffice it to say that both reality and the Bible, as part of reality, must be interpreted. And where they seem to conflict either our understanding of one or the other, or both, is incorrect. We certainly agree that IF the Bible is God's word that it will never contradict reality. Our understanding of one or the other can certainly be mistaken however.

I look forward to your thoughts.

8:19 PM, February 20, 2012  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

Adam,
Your challenges are great and are worthy of a front page review rather than the bottom drawer of the comment section in a week old post.

What I plan to do is work up a post on this subject that incorporates your challenges and my responses so we can give it proper attention; maybe even get some other readers to join in.

So check back with me by the end of the week or early next week. It may be slow for me to turn around because I have a bunch of chores I have to finish at work this week.

5:36 AM, February 21, 2012  
Blogger Adam said...

I'll look forward to reading it Mr. Butler. Thank you.

6:28 AM, February 21, 2012  

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