What is Presuppositional Apologetics?
Everyone has Presuppositions
Christians who obey the Great Commission and go out to share the Gospel are bound to come across people who demand a logical defense of our faith, yet many Christians either feel unequipped to answer these questions or possibly don’t even believe that it is possible. After all, we can’t prove that God exists, can we?
Before Christians can respond to this, they have to understand the question of whether or not God can be proven holds within itself certain assumptions. These previously held assumptions are called presuppositions. They are what people assume before an argument, question, or other line of thought begins. The presuppositions that people hold will impact their final conclusion on a matter, even if they don’t consciously think about them. This explains why an atheist, for example, can look at the complexity of the eye and determine that it was a result of evolution, while a Christian will look at the same eye and conclude it was a result of God’s intelligent design. In this case, the atheist’s prior assumption is that God does not exist, whereas the Christian’s is that He does and has revealed himself through the Bible.
The problem here is that the atheist and the Christian live in the same world and experience the same reality. Concepts like truth, morality, and logic are all wrapped up in the human experience. When someone asks a question about proving something, like the one above, they are presupposing certain fundamental things:
- Truth exists: the question, by nature, demands an absolutely true answer.
- Morality exists: the unbeliever expects the person answering the question to have integrity when conversing by not lying about their claims.
- Logic exists: the question, by nature, demands a logical response.
What is presupposed by the unbeliever here are three fundamental standards that are universal, unchanging, and eternal. Truth, logic, and morality all existed before humans, apply to all humans, and do not change. It is impossible for the atheist to avoid appealing to these three fundamental standards because they live in God’s world and because God is the standard of all truth (John 14:6), all logic (Col. 2:3), and all morality (Luke 18:19). Therefore, when we argue with the unbeliever, we aren’t claiming that they don’t appeal to truth, morality, or logic, but rather we are claiming that they cannot account for these things, given their perspective. This will be better understood when we examine what the atheistic, or unbelieving, worldview has to offer.
Cosmic Stardust and Worldview Theft
The atheist’s worldview is impossible to consistently live out because they live in God’s world. They presuppose His existence in everything they do. For starters, every atheist appeals to truth to attempt to justify their beliefs. Absolute truth is unavoidable and the claim that it isn’t can be easily self-refuted. If someone claims there is no absolute truth, that in itself is an absolute truth.
It is clear that their worldview is epistemologically bankrupt when it comes to their appeal to truth at all. They have no foundation for making truthful claims, because in their worldview, we all evolved from primordial soup and are all essentially just cosmic stardust. Where does anybody get truth out of stardust? If evolution were true, then we couldn’t know anything to be true. The atheist cannot account for truth, let alone try and account for logic and morality since they are universal, unchanging, and immaterial.
When we converse with unbelievers that raise objections to Christianity, all we have to do to dismantle their worldview is to expose their presuppositions about what they believe and show how they cannot consistently live it out. In essence, we are showing them that they must borrow from the Christian worldview in order to make sense of their own. This is because they can only account for truth, logic, and morality from within the Christian worldview. The Christian worldview provides this account of truth, morality, and logic because we presuppose God, which is the necessary precondition to have and make sense of any truth, morality, or logic. Without God we cannot know anything to be true, so in actuality, any question about God presupposes God.
The Biblical Case for Defending the Faith Presuppositionally
When we defend the faith in such a way as this, we are staying faithful to our Lord and what He says about the unbelieving mind, rather than attempting to begin from a neutral standpoint and argue our way up to God. The Bible even tells us in Colossians 2:8,
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
This verse is commanding Christians to put Christ as the foundation of all things, which includes apologetics. When Christians defend the faith evidentially, we actually give the unbeliever the authority as ultimate judge over the evidence for God. Christians should not merely be concerned with arguing over the evidence to prove God’s existence since it is evident that each side will interpret the evidence through the lens of their presuppositions. The Christian, in fact, does not even need to prove God’s existence to the unbeliever, because the unbeliever already knows Him, as Paul tells us in Romans 1:18-23,
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Since God has already made Himself known to every person (v.19), we don’t need to prove His existence. When we contend for the faith, we need to trust in God’s word, and if we do, then we know that our focus needs to be on exposing the unbeliever to the fact that they do know the God who created them and that they are actively holding down and denying that truth (v.18). Paul tells us elsewhere the reason for the unbeliever’s failure to receive Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says,
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
As scripture indicates, the problem isn’t a lack of evidence for God. God’s word clearly tells us that it is because the unbeliever stands morally opposed to God in their unrighteous natural state that they claim they don’t believe in Him. One of the best Christian apologists of our time, Dr. James R. White, puts it nicely when he says that “our theology determines our apologetic, not the other way around.” Consistent Biblical theology paves the way for us to defend the faith presuppositionally, rather than evidentially, because according to what the Bible says, the atheist’s problem isn’t a lack of evidence, but a lack of spiritual discernment. This is only possible through the work of God in their heart (John 6:44).
It is important to understand and have this foundation when arguing with unbelievers because it not only leads us to discuss the fundamental assumptions about each person’s perspective, but more importantly, causes our apologetic to be intimately wrapped up into the proclamation of the Gospel. When we expose the failure of the atheistic worldview and explain to the unbeliever that they are denying the truth of God because of their love for sin (John 3:19), we are then to provide the truth of God’s justice and judgment against sin and the glorious news of Christ who came to save us from that judgment. Ultimately, no matter how “good” we become at defending the faith, the Gospel is what holds the power to turn hearts to Christ, which should be our ultimate goal in apologetics.
The Reason for Apologetics
God has given Christians the capability to defend the faith in such a way that brings glory to Him, but if all we are seeking to do in apologetics is to win an argument, then we have utterly failed. Our goal needs to be proclaiming the Gospel to the lost soul that we are engaged in argumentation with, because ultimately, we aren’t the ones that can save them. When having conversations with unbelievers, we shouldn’t come to them preaching with lofty speech or human wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:1-2), but the beauty of the presuppositional approach is that it doesn’t depend on human wisdom or lofty speech because its foundation is the wisdom and word of God. This apologetic method must be conjoined with the Gospel.
We know that the proclamation of Christ and Him crucified is what brings the hope of salvation. So, when we are successful in exposing folly of the unbeliever’s worldview, we need to provide them the hope that is in Christ, or else all we have done is left them without excuse before their Creator, with their only hope being an eternity under God’s wrath. If we aren’t seeking the lost in our apologetic, then we are failing at apologetics, no matter which method we use. With our constant desire to see people come to Christ, our first priority should be to seek out a gospel conversation as the result of an apologetic encounter. Our apologetic should be so intertwined with sharing the Gospel that when we hear of a Christian doing apologetics, we assume it’s synonymous with evangelism. Although both apologetics and evangelism have different purposes, we should seek the same result: sharing the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.