Preaching and Apologetics

Not open for further replies.


Puritan Board Freshman
I have for a week now been learning about the presuppositional apologetics of Greg Bahnsen, and I have also listen to several lectures by Van Til. I believe that i now have a good understanding of the preuppositional method and find that I have been a presuppositionalist all along, I just did not have the ability to frame my arguments in as precise as I should.

In light of what i have learned, I have a question for those that disagree with the presuppositional approach.

The question is this.

Why are there two differant approaches to preaching and apologetics? Or, in other words, why do we consider it important to use a presuppositional appraoch to our preaching, (i.e. begin with the word of God as our absolute self atesting standard), but when it comes to apologetics, the defense of the faith, we regard this as circular reasoning and invalid?

Looking forward to the answers to this question. :)

Terry :)
I'm sure that you will be able to find someone who verifies the implication that you suggest. I think it is unfair to caricature the situation like this. What is objected to is that Presuppositionalism no more than any other approach gets out from under the nature of the case that one must assume that which is the end or goal of it. To prove truth, one must assume truth. There is no escape. The Evidentialist assumes that we share a common basic knowledge of God within our created status, and so can argue from the facts that one must either acknowledge a Creator or lapse into foolishness. He is not going to use proof texts from a book that is rejected as having authority until he can establish the self-attesting and general revelation supported fact it. It is not as though he does not assume the authority himself, but rather that he wants to demostrate its place as such, as well as the necessity that general revelation calls him to.

There are systems and methodologies. They all borrow from the Truth to establish their ends. But the sytem known to God, based on His character, is above them all, and is far richer than all the man-made methodologies put together.

I don't claim to be an Evidentialist, though there certainly are unmistakable traces of it in my thinking. But there are traces of what Presuppositionalists lay claim to as well. In the end, I think we make too much of our preferred methodologies sometimes when we think of them in exclusive terms. We should be unafraid of the facts and the proofs which will always be thrown in our faces to undermine our assurances. Our aim ought to be to resort and repair to truth itself, not to the soundness of the structure of our methodology, but to be willing to use the very methodolgy that is being used against us. We cannot be moved, but the objector can.
John V,

I will give an example of what i am talking about.

I watched a debate between William L. Craig and a Muslim. The first thing that Craig did was set aside the fact that the bible is the inspired, inerrent, infallible word of God and proceeded to argue from the historical facts of the resurrection. In response the Muslim ( I am going to give a basic summary of his response) attempted to occupy the ground that Craig abandoned and appealed to "God" as the ultimate authority.

I am sure that if craig was preaching a sermon he word have began with God's word as his ultimate authority, then proceeded to present the fact of history, i.e a presuppositional appraoch. And if this Muslim would have been in the audiance he would have been presented the same facts in the context of an appeal to God as the ultimate authority, which would have provided an intelligable foundation for the fact of the ressurrection, i.e. it's purpose.

So my question is, why then when in a debate "defending" the same gospel, God as the ultimate authority was immediately set aside?

As a result, even though Craig had the facts on his side, the Muslim had no rational reason to accept them, for according to his own presupposition, his ultimate authority carried more weight.

We were using this debate as a learning tool in our home group. I point out this failure on Craig's part and then proceeded to show the group how that a better arguement against the muslim would have been to argue for the resurrection in light of it's purpose within the christian worldview, a worldview from which the muslim borrows the same acknowledgement for the need of salvation, and that his own presuppossed ultimate authority cannot provide any reasonable assurrance that he will provide the salvation the muslim is looking for, because of the fact that allah does not provide for himself a subsitiution, but is willing to set aside his own law arbitrarily for an inferior standard, e.g. the muslims repentance and imperfect obediance, so, as a result on what grounds then could allah be trusted to continue to regard this inferior standard as acceptable, if he as no regard for his own "absolute" standard, therefore allah cannot be god.
And once this is demonstrated then to decalre the the true God of scripture does not set aside the absolute standard of his law, which is a reflection of his own nature, and shows himself to be both just and merciful in Christ, and that therefore because he regards his own law supremely he then can be trusred to do what he has promised.

I had an opportunity to use this very line of reasoning with a muslim the very next day, and he could not answer me, he was commpletely unable to mount any argument against the truth, for I began with God as the ultinmate athority and then proceeded to show him that his god failed the test, that his god was after all no ultimate authority at all.

I used the same approach I use when I have the privilege of preaching God's word, I presupposed it's authority. :)

Terry :)

[Edited on 3/5/2004 by terry72]
[quote:30999ce1f0]yes but John, what does the rest of Romans teach us? ...Man reinterprets that knowledge and suppresses it.

Also you mention "arguing from the facts." What do the Scriptures say? Well, instead of "arguments" for a resurrection people actually had the resurrected Lord in their presence, and John tells us, "but some doubted." That is, the "facts" were right in front of them and they still reinterpreted them according to their worldview. [/quote:30999ce1f0]
I would like to know where in Romans and John's Gospel it says that, Paul. I can't find it.

Maybe you can help me out, because I don't yet understand it.

I think your argument is good, but I don't see how Presuppositional rhetoric has added to anything in the argument. Your argument holds whether or not Presuppositionalism holds as a methodology; that's because you are speaking the truth, not because you are speaking Presuppositionalism.

I don't see how you have shown that Dr. Craig has thrown out God as the final authority by virtue of the fact that he, for the sake of argument, has set aside the Bible as inspired for a time. That, as I see it, is a hall mark of the Presuppositional method too, to put up one set of presuppositions against another, setting aside, for the sake of argument, the Chrstian's bases to show the illogical ends that the other's takes him to. (I should add that Presuppositionalism emphasizes the destructiveness of those ends, and that is quite true, it is destructive. )

It seems to me that Dr. Craig, knowing only a little about him myself, is attempting to assert the authority of God as revealed in General Revelation. There is a disparity of [u:30999ce1f0]what and how much[/u:30999ce1f0] is revealed in each type of revelation, commensurate to the extent of each, but there is no disparity in His revealed authority. If anything, I would suggest that His authority ismore inescapable in General Revelation, because a person can escape reading the Bible all his life, but he cannot escape living in this world environment.

It seems to me that what Dr. Craig has done, according to your description, is exactly the same thing that you are doing, but on different argumentional bases. I think you are doing well; there is no need to mark down divisions where there are none, or to draw lines between those within the same cause.

That leaves me with this question: is Presuppositionalism, then, the defence of a methodology or of the gospel?

Where I stand, as far as I can understand it, is that I support the latter, but raise my eyebrows at the former.

Back to your original question, I don't see a double standard.

[Edited on 3-5-2004 by JohnV]
I can go on and on. [/quote:f469d652f1]
That's fine Paul. But repeating it over and over doesn't make it so. The fact remains that the one who sets aside the Word of God for the sake of argument, in order to demonstrate that God's authority is also revealed in the things that an unbeliever believes, and he sets it aside for the sake of argument because he is firmly convinced and assured because he has indeed set aside Christ in his heart as Savoiur and Lord; he who does this is also demostrating God's authority and deity to the unbeliever, showing him that he either deliberately or culturally lies to himself in believing the things he holds to in order to avoid the imposition that even general revelation makes upon him.

The idea is to present a true and holy God, along with an inspired Scriptures with the message of salvation, to him.

If it seems to you that an Evidentialist is avoiding certain truths and obligations in his efforts, you may point them out to him; but that does not mean that those deficiencies are inherent to the Evidentialist's approach. The same applies to him: he may cite certain deficiencies when he crituques the Presuppositional view, if that is what he has in mind, but that does not mean that those deficiencies are inherent to the Presuppositionalist's view.

The point is that no matter your approach, your primary obligation is to the truth and the person because of Christ; and the methodology is either a useful tool or it is not.
There is far too much in your post to answer to. Again I will not respond to some things you say, and let their own merit speak for themsleves.

I will only say this. Romans 1 speaks of men "suppressing the truth in unrighteousness." This is a far more condemning statement than to aver that men hold to different presuppositions, or that men interpret the facts under differing systems of thought. This phrase actually asserts that men prefer the lie to the truth, and furthermore that, in their minds, they frame excuses for themselves and in order to mislead others. This is an accusation, not just an observation. There is in it not a mere implication that men subordinately know the truth; it is a direct inference that they do in fact know it, an unmistakeable meaning within the statement itself. Even the Old Testament term for "idol" had the same meaning as "lie"; they were in many instances interchangeable. And in the New Testament idolatry is equated with covetousness, which has the same root as that which Romans 1 is talking about: coveting God's place and authority.

I believe that all men share the very same presupposition, that God's authority, power, and deity are the backdrop of all knowledge and reason; and that therefore the text from Romans 1:18-22 makes perfect sense. They were not following their presuppositions, nor their interpretations of the facts; but rather they "[u:4477a406f8]exchanged[/u:4477a406f8] the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles."

It may not be images made of wood or stone in our day, but we still see the exact same thing as men are forming "grids" after the image of man's imaginations. Man's theories ought not to be normative for understanding the Bible, but rather the Bible ought to be normative for forming theories.

The original question which Terry brought up was concerning the authority of God in apologetic encounters. It has not in the least been shown that this, the setting aside of God's authority, or of Christ in the heart, has indeed been done by Dr. Craig, or by Evidentialists in general. You have only shown that if you impose the Presuppositional use of terms upon an Evidentialist's methods, that it is the Presuppositionalist which is left with these conundrums about his brother, but not of necessity the Evidentialist. If one takes this critcism seriously, one would understand from it that it is being charged against them that they are deliberately misrepresenting God in their apologetic endeavours, when in actual fact it is the Evidentialist which is being misrepesented by thi imposition of Presuppositional terms.

I'm not trying to defend him, for I don't know him, nor what he did in that particular instance; but I am concerned about the generalizations that are being made. You now have gone to the extreme of calling all Evidentialists liars, and I don't see any warrant for that. Instead I see in your immediately preceding post many miscarriages of logic and reason. They are far too many to address at once. And again, I am willing to let them stand on their own merit, for I think the mistakes are obvious enough.

Terry asked a question, and I answered to it. I don't want to get into a "war of ideologies".
Before I respond, I would like to say that I have enjoyed the exchange between you guys so far, thank you. :)

The point I was trying to get at was the inconsistancy I see in the approach to defending the faith and presenting the faith (the gospel) in preaching. Why does someone like Craig, defend the faith one way and (I assume) preach the gospel another, at least I hope he doesn't preach like he debates.

It was very appearant, at least to me (and I heard the debate before I know what i know now about presuppositional apologetics), that his approach to the debate gave reason for the Muslim to reject his arguments, because the Muslim simply point to "God" as the ultimate authority, while Craig was citing meer historic "facts".

I believe that we all have to agree that the bible teaches us to begin with God's word as the ultimate authority for faith and practice, e.g, preaching or apologetics. I believe Paul has shown that clearly.

And, in my opinion this gives strong indictment against the type of approach that would right from the beginning set God's word aside, even temporarily, as the ultimate authority we all, christian or muslim, should submit to.

That being said, at the very least I think we can see why Craig's approach was not effective.

It seems to me that when we preach, we approach it rightly by relying upon God to do the work, but by giving a differant approach to debate we are trying to rely more on "the facts" and human will and reasoning.

If it is the foolishnesss of preaching that God has chosen to save blind men, then we should not employ the same approach to even our defense of the faith as we do to preaching, i.e., stand upon God's inerrant, infallible word as our authority and insist that all men submit to it or perish!

Terry :)
I was not there, and I cannot comment on your observations, as to whether they are valid. They are your observations, and therefore appear valid to your understanding of things.

You are placing your impressions of Dr. Craig's debate with a Muslim as representative of all Evidentialism. And I can't say whether or not that is fair. I can only answer to the general approach which and Evidentialist would assume.

I would suggest that you revisit the debate, and try to see it from another angle, and see if the same conclusions still apply.

As to the rest, I will respond to you and to Paul as follows:

Again I will let your assertions stand on their own merit. I don't think I need to refute them. Instead I will use this opportunity to set forth my understanding of the theoretic milieu we live in in our time. I hope to defuse any inciteful rhetoric by doing this. I hope that by doing this we will begin to understand one another, rather than accuse one another.

As I understand general Evidentialism, which includes the Classical methodology, it is confident of being able to demonstrate God's authority in the area of persuasion on which the unbeliever relies, when he appeals to the absence of proof for God's existence. (The Muslim also denies God's existence, for he has replaced God for a lie as much as an atheist has. ) Doing this in no way sets aside the Bible at all. In fact it is in complete submission to it. To set aside the Bible for the purposes of argumentation is not setting aside the Bible as truth, setting aside God's authority, or setting aside Christ's lordship in the heart, as has been assumed. I would say that such is a misunderstanding of what Evidentialism, as a method for a certain purpose, is doing.

The believer steps outside and looks around and sees the glory of God all around him. The unbeliever steps outside and looks around him and snarls at the same thing, and then satisfies his obstinate heart that he sees no proof of God's glory. The former rejoices in the glory all around him; the latter rejoices in his "freedom" to ignore that glory and see only his own. To stand outside with an unbeliever in order to point out those things which he views as so much evidence of the things he denies is what men have called "Evidentialism".

But Evidentialism must involve more than that, if Dr. Craig, for one, was willing to show to a Muslim the same truths. It must involve the attempt to show that it is none other than the God of the Bible that is behind all the evidence that is presented. For it is not a god's glory, power and deity that is shown, but only God's glory, power, and deity. to have confidence in that is not a setting aside of any submission to the Word when one is willing to be challenged by the unbeliever for the hope one has in his heart, even while he explains the nature of creation to him.

Where I differ with Evidentialists is the outward exclusion of ontological necessities, all the while presupposing them. In other words, some of them too tend toward exclusive methodology, as if only they can show God's existence and the truth of the Word. To call Presuppositionalism fideist is uncalled for, unless the Evidentialist is willing to also call himself a fideist.

Presuppositionalism also has a witness in this area, for the objections get to be more sophisticated when the heart even refuses the plain evidences. No apologetic is going to convince the obstinate heart, no matter the evidence presented to the mind. The firmer the evidences, the more obstinate the heart, and the more heated the objections. A good presuppositionalist can show that an unbeliever cannot escape the burden of "unprovable" first principles. He knows the limitations of logic, that circular reasoning will not impress the unbeliever. And here, I believe, is the genius of the Presuppositional method: it can establish the certainty of first principles even though it is come at circularly. It actually does not "justify" circular reasoning as valid, but it can validate that which is understood circularly to the questioner.

This is how. The presuppositionalist has shown us that one must presuppose the end, namely only God's truth, in order to even begin at the beginning to reason; he has shown us that nothing else can be "exchanged" for this but a lie. Yet even the lie, in fact, has to presuppose the truth in order to lie, demonstrating the exact same circularity that the truth is being accused of. Whether we believe the truth or the lie, we make the beginning at the same point of reference. What remains is a question of consistency with the facts, and with the most basic of ends in sight, whether the truth or the lie is believed.

At least this is what I have gleaned from it.

I do not see anything proper to either Evidentialism or Presuppositionalism that requires exclusivity. Both are valid, and neither exhaust all reasoning. I do understand that many would like to make that of it, but I believe that such a notion results in many errors and wounded or broken fellowships. If all those who champion one method to the exclusion of another will only realize that all men are under the burden of truth equally, and that the very best of men's theories are less than a pale resemblance to the glorious truth to which they aspire, then we can embrace each other, and again be under the Word in forming our theories; rather than subjecting the Word to our theories and terms of reference, and interpreting it according to those norms.

If there is something that we really need to do in our day, more than anything else, as I see it, it is to subject our theories to the necessity of the Word's teachings. Whether it is apologetics or millennial eschatology, lapsarianism, or days of creation, or the legal place of works in justification, we need to be much more careful about what we propose and allow in our public circulations. If any of those things proffered in our time see the light of day in our churches, it will only make for a sectarian atmosphere: "I follow Apollos", "I follow Peter", "I follow Paul", "I follow Jesus". When we need men's theories as normative to interpret the Scriptures, then we have the necessary result that those interpreted texts are no longer Scripturally binding. That cannot be avoided. Scripture and Scripture alone must be binding upon us; if we make anything of man's doing binding, we defeat true authority in the churches.

An example: if the Framework Hypothesis, or the Archetype Day theory become acceptable as being within the Confessional standards, we can no longer have appeal to the confessions for asserting a six-day creation, regardless of what we mean by that term. The Framework Hypothesis or the Archetype Day theory has no binding effect on anyone, and is placed equal to the six-normal-day theory. The problem is that only the six-normal-day theory is inferred strictly from the Bible, without any general revelational contradiction. It is naturally gleaned from Scripture and has no other necessity placed on it. The other theories require an unproven theory to be assumed before the Bible is interpreted, instead of allowing the Scripture to interpret itself. This in every way is equal to allowing Evolutionism, whether one believes in it or not, because it negates the authority of the Bible for those chapters which relate the creation account. The liberals may have abandoned Theistic Evolution, but that does not men that the first eleven chapters of the Bible are safe again.

This is the serious danger of the Auburn heresy, as well as the Kinnaird case. It means to undermine the Bible's authority by trying to get us to impose man's theories over the Bible, thus undermining the Word's binding authority in the doctrines in question. As has been done in other areas, it is being done here: there will be a plurality of truths to be believed within the same doctrinal confession, allowing for a wider freedom to believe as you wish, at the cost of the precision and certainty of Biblical precept.

If we apply our submission to the Word as priority to other areas as well, such as the millennial theories, as has been done on this Board, then we live in such a blessed harmony; for none here needs give up his understanding since they are held strictly under the Scripture's revelation. When that was challenged, as was recently done, we stood together under the Word, not under our theories. We hold them to gain strength from each other, not to throw stones at each other.

Apologetics is only one field of interest here. It is not good to throw accusations which are unfounded. We must be careful not to believe men's teachings too quickly. I know there are some who teach exclusivity where there is none. That exclusivity belongs to God and His truth, not to man's theories. To aim these things at the church's ambassadors in order to divide is not good. To critique where the error is clear and deliberate is necessary. But if all those who are imperfect are disqualified, then all are disqualified, not just those who stand accused. We need to value each other's contributions, not criticize each other to the point of uselessness.
[quote:8b64986236][i:8b64986236]Originally posted by terry72[/i:8b64986236]

The question is this.

Why are there two differant approaches to preaching and apologetics? Or, in other words, why do we consider it important to use a presuppositional appraoch to our preaching, (i.e. begin with the word of God as our absolute self atesting standard), but when it comes to apologetics, the defense of the faith, we regard this as circular reasoning and invalid?[/quote:8b64986236]

Terry, I must confess, I am not as well equipped intellectually as Paul or John. But do you think that it is possible that the reason for the two different approaches is because they are directed to different audiences? That is to say, that the target audience of the one (preaching) accepts a set of propositions that the target of the other (apologetics) does not?
[quote:1e29c56ad0]Terry, I must confess, I am not as well equipped intellectually as Paul or John. But do you think that it is possible that the reason for the two different approaches is because they are directed to different audiences? That is to say, that the target audience of the one (preaching) accepts a set of propositions that the target of the other (apologetics) does not?[/quote:1e29c56ad0]

Actually my point is that the audiances are the same, i.e., lost men in need of salvation. the preaching I am refering to in this case is specifically evangelistic preaching, i.e., decaring the gospel to lost men.

Terry :)
I was unafraid to post what I did for two reasons: I have confidence in the truth; and I have confidence in you. But both of these are undergirded by a faith in God working in both of us to help us sharpen iron with iron. In this case maybe it's lead sharpening wood. :biggrin:

I thank you for those thoughts, Paul. Indeed I will give them consideration. These have not escaped my attention, but that does not mean that I gave them enough attention.

Don't get me wrong, I am not opposed to all that Presuppositionalism says. I only take exception to an unwarranted exclusivism and the consequent rhetoric. Sure we find unfaithfulness in others when they present truths, but that does not mean that the proofs themselves are flawed. I also think that there is a flaw in those presentations, as they also do not take into account the ontological necessities. For the life of me, I just cannot see Sproul or Gerstner pooh-poohing the Ontological argument, and then standing four-square on it to present the Classical method. But that is not your objection to it.

May I also ask you to think on some things? I have a sense that you and I, and all of us, will need all this sharpening of each other in the near future, working together to defend the faith against the insidious invasion of either the A-4, or something worse. Yes, this Board is vulnerable. To me, you are more important than my favourite methodology. When it really comes to the hard issues that we will have to face, our methodologies, or at least our abilities, will fail. But if we are standing secure in the assurance of God's grace, then we will not be moved. And who knows, God may work a victory through a couple of mere soldiers. "... by many or by few...." (1 Sam 14:6)
Not open for further replies.