Vox Apologia X: Presuppositional Apologetics


The tenth Vox Apologia (apologetics carnival) is up at RazorsKiss. Unlike most carnivals, this one has a theme or topic each week, and this week's was Presuppositional Apologetics: Target Audience. Presuppositional Apologetics presupposes the existence of God. Who is this style of apologetics best suited for, and why? Who is it NOT suited for?

With such a specific topic, you might expect a small carnival, but I didn't expect it to be this small. There are only two entries. My Presuppositional Apologetics argues against the idea of presuppositional apologetics, at least as it's normally construed. The other entry is Counter-cult Apologetics' Presuppositional Apologetics. I agree with much of what Jeff gives as the basis for presuppositionalism, but I don't think that genuinely leads to what he concludes. I also disagree with a number of his statements along the way.

Most apologetic systems see a dichotomy between evangelism and apologetics.

I suppose that depends on what you mean by calling it a dichotomy. The classical apologetical perspective seems apologetics as serving at least two functions. One has to do with believers' exploration and confirmation of some of the things they already believe and preparation for interaction with those who would undermine the faith in various ways. This, of course, is not evangelism, though part of the purpose of it is to prepare for what evangelism sometimes involves. A second purpose is to provide a means for the intellectual element of the whole person to be involved with conversion. God works through many means to bring people to faith, and apologetics is one of them. If this doesn't have anything to do with evangelism, then I don't know what does. At the same time, we can't equate evangelism with apologetics. Even apart from the fact that apologetics has a non-evangelistic purpose, the two are the same thing. Apologetics, when serving its evangelistic purpose, is only a part of the evangelistic enterprise, just as serving someone's physical needs is only part of it.

Now Jeff wants to say that presuppositional apologetics is much closer to evangelism than what I've just allowed, but I just don't think that's the case. Everything he lists can and should be part of evangelistic apologetics on the classical model.

This argument is common among presuppositionalists:

While all the "facts" (i.e. evidential and classical arguments) are on our side and I believe we should know them, the presuppositional apologetic see an antithesis between the believer and unbeliever. The unbeliever comes to the table with "basic heart commitments" (i.e. presuppositions) as does (should) the believer. Therefore, this apologetic will lead to worldview analysis.

The classical apologist also sees an antithesis between the believer and the unbeliever. The unbeliever can't come to know the gospel, truly and in a heart-changing way, without the Holy Spirit. Apologetics may lead someone to true beliefs without that, just as other things in life may lead someone to leading a good life without that, and the Reformed view of common grace takes that to be the work of God even so. Still, salvation does not come with apologetical arguments, whether classically framed or presuppositionally framed (which aren't really all that different once you see the logical structure at root anyway). Salvation comes with a work of God. No matter how much you identify apologetics with evangelism, evangelism brings salvation no more than the worst apologetics if God's not at work in someone's heart.

So why is presuppositional apologetics better on these grounds? I just don't see it. Presuppositionalist arguments can easily be rephrased as deductive arguments with premises the other side wouldn't agree to. There's always a premise that can be denied, even if presuppositionalists like to hide that premise by the structure of their argument. For instance, presuppositionalists claim that morality requires God, and they give a transcendental argument for God's existence on the grounds that people already assume what requires God by believing in morality. Of course, one can simply deny morality, or one can claim that morality simply doesn't require God. Either way, the objection has shown the structure of the argument to be classical. The argument is:

1. Morality exists.
2. If morality exists, God exists.
3. Therefore, God exists.

It's a simple modus ponens, the kind of argument classical apologists have used all along, while presuppositionalists have criticized them because it's an argument form that doesn't convince anyone of anything, because their presuppositions just lead them to deny a premise.

Even if you can easily distinguish between presuppositionalist styles of argumentation and classical styles, I just don't see how challenging someone's fundamental commitments in the presuppositionalist way is going to bring them to salvation any more than challenging someone's fundamental commitments by giving classical arguments will, as long as the Holy Spirit is not at work. But if the Holy Spirit is at work, why assume classical arguments are in principle of no value?

I know this doesn't deal with every key issue, but those are some thoughts I had in reading Jeff's post. I do agree with most of his positive claims about apologetics, but I think he misunderstands the classical view, too easily dismisses the common form of argument to both approaches, and hasn't to my mind really argued for anything different from the classical approach as I understand it.


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