A Primer on Presuppositional Apologetics

Lately I’ve been talking a lot about Cornelius Van Til and a perspective on an area of Christian theology known as presuppositional apologetics. It occurred to me that it is very, very possible that not many of you know what the heck I’m talking about. So, since I can’t sleep anyway, and I like to work ahead (It’s late Tuesday night, and this is going up Thursday…erm…today), I will give you a little snapshot of what this is.

First off, let’s define apologetics. Apologetics is an area of Christian theology in which we utilize means outside of scripture, such as history, philosophy, and logic to defend our own faith and to deconstruct the criticisms of non-believers. The name comes from the greek word απολογια, meaning reason, or to give reason for. It’s where we get the word apologize.

Got it? Good. Moving on.

Christians I’ve known in the past have tended to balk at the idea of using reason and logic for something that takes faith. This is understandable, as faith is viewed as something irrational, since it precedes reason. However, apologetics is very much a part of Scripture and Christian tradition. Reason itself stems from God, so to ignore it is to, effectively, ignore God.

Now, what’s the big deal about presuppositional apologetics?  Well, the presuppositional apologist begins any rational defense he mounts with the presupposition that God is the source of all truth, and this is the ultimate criterion for defining truth.*  In other words, presuppositional apologetics begin with the Bible and its definition of mankind, and go from there. The Christian faith, therefore, becomes the only basis for rational thought.  Anything that doesn’t start with the Bible is therefore irrational.  This stands over against other views such as evidential apologetics, which work from supposed common ground evidence to prove Christian beliefs (within this framework, no presupposition is necessary), and a few other forms I am not as familiar with, such as cumulative case.

The frustration comes from seemingly circular reasoning, more or less the appeal to the ultimate source to prove the ultimate source (“God is the source of reasoning because God said so.”) This is problematic of any worldview, though PA’s often get nailed for this one.  It is my view that some people of this school of thought often hold very elitist attitudes and a lack of intellectual humility in their writings (though this isn’t true of all PA’s). This does not detract from the validity of the framework, of course, but it is a matter of frustration with me to not perhaps keep an understanding that you can, in fact, be wrong.  However, this is a matter of manners and etiquette as opposed to actual validity.

I am not here, however, to judge the validity of presuppositional apologetics at this time.  When I have finished my reading of Van Til’s Defending the Faith I will make that call, though my diving into this primer has demonstrated how little I know of the different schools of apologetics to begin with.  Hopefully this doesn’t lead to another book falling into my lap.  See you folks Friday!

*Source: Five Views on Apologetics. “Presuppositional Apologetics,” by John Frame, page 209. Note: excellent resource to have on the subject.


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