When I played basketball as a kid my coach always said, “The best offense is a good defense.” We emphasized defense, because, if the other team couldn’t score, we would win.
When it comes to apologetics we say just the opposite. Our motto is that “The best defense is a good offense.” Yet, while our mottos might be reversed, the implications are the same: If the other team (i.e. the unbeliever) cannot score, we win.
The task of Christian apologetics is to defend the faith by going on the offense. This is what is meant in Proverbs 26:5 when it says, “Rebuke a fool according to his folly.” Our job as Christians is to rebuke the unbeliever by means of exposing the foolery of his own worldview. We do so by entering into their system of thought in order to critique it. As we do so we press it to its logical conclusion and reveal how it is completely absurd.
In sum, we defend the faith by demolishing unbelief.
Here’s another way to think about the nature of presuppositional apologetics:
When I was younger, I used to play a game called “King of the Mountain.” We would begin by having everyone stand at the bottom of a large snow pile. When we said go, we would all scramble to the top as fast as we could. When we got there, we would begin to push and shove one another. The goal of the game was to be the only one who stands a-top of the snow pile (i.e. the “king”). But that meant that the king had to knock everyone else down off the hill when they charged. The king, then, was the one who was able to defend his territory by attacking the attackers. His kingship was due to his ability to disable his opponents and reveal their complete weakness and inability to stand.
In the same way, we defend the faith by showing the inability of other faiths to stand. We defend the legitimacy of the Christian faith by showing that it is the only one that is logically coherent. In sum, we reveal Christ to be the King of the Mountain by attacking the false faiths, exposing how they are foolish and have no ground upon which to stand.
Let’s pause here and consider an example: Suppose you are talking with someone and they say, “I don’t believe God exists.” You might ask them why they believe this. He may answer, “Because there is no evidence for God.” We could offer some traditional evidences for the faith, but (as we saw last time), it is likely that he won’t listen to these arguments. It would be better to attack this claim and show how absurd it is in his own worldview. It would be easy as sayng this,
“You are making a certain claim that there is no God. How do you know there is no evidence for God? Have you searched the entire universe? There very well may be evidence that you simply have not found.”
In saying this we have just exposed the weakness of his argument. He has made a categorically absolute statement that there is no proof. However, he cannot be sure because he has not examined all possible means of gaining evidence. There very well may be proof that he does not know of and simply has not found. If he wishes to be “scientific” he must abide by the rules of his method!
So far, we have exposed that his attack is invalid (he can only postulate that there is no God). We can now begin to press his worldview to expose how it cannot even account for the rationality he claims. We may say something like this,
“You are assuming that everything has to be proven by means of scientific investigation (i.e. by your ability to see, taste, touch, smell). Can you prove the scientific method by means of the scientific method?
The answer is obviously no. His basis for life (the scientific method) has no authoritative grounding. If the truth were told there are in fact many other things that cannot be proven by sensory experience, such as laws of logic, thoughts, dreams, etc.
So we continue to press his worlview:
“You are also assuming your senss of sight, taste, & touch are reliable. But it must be asked, ‘How do you know that they are reliable?’ How can you be sure that what you see is actually there and not a figment of your imagination? Just because I think I am holding a pencil, doesn’t mean that it could not be a knife. Just because I don’t see any blood, doesn’t mean there isn’t any. My sense of perception may not be accurate.
“The fact of the matter is, sensory perception cannot be trusted in and of itself. There has to be a God who has made the eye, the hand, and the nose to validate the authenticity of sensory experience.
“So, in the end, the very thing you claim (i.e. There is no evidence for God) is not only untrue (there may very well may be evidence that you do not know of), but the possibility of using our senses to verify that evidence proves that God must exist. The very claim you make necessarily implies the very God you deny.”
We’ve now disarmed our proud fool, stripped him of his ability to argue, and given him reason to consider the need for the Christian faith. Or, to put it another way, Christ remains king of the mountain and the unbeliever’s worldview has been cast down and dashed to pieces.
It is admitted that the unbeliever may still wish to remain in his unbelief. Just because we have exposed his folly, doesn’t mean he will automatically leave it. However, we have properly defended the faith to this point.
It’s the “You-Don’t-Have-to-Wait-for-Objections” Kind of Apologetics
We may even take our apologetics one step further. We do not have to wait for anyone to object to our faith to engage in apologetics. When we understand presuppositional apologetics, we will understand that we can engage the unbeliever at any time. Indeed, we may press the gospel by actively opening the door for it by engaging the unbeliever and calling him to account for his worldview.
Think of it this way: The Bible says that “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col. 2:3). In other words, our God is the author of all creation and the fountain of truth. Therefore it is legitimate to say that “All truth is God’s truth.” More specifically, anyone who has truth, must take it from this God!
Since the unbeliever lives in this world he must hold to God’s truth to some degree in order to operate in this world. The unbeliever, then, is guilty of “stealing” truth. He takes from the Christian worldview the truth that he has. Though he uses this truth, his worldview cannot account for that truth because it is not built on the revelation of God in Scripture.
So, wherever he makes use of truth, we may engage in presuppositional apologetics to expose how he does not have any grounds for making these claims to truth.
Here’s a concrete example: I was once talking with my neighbor about the girls my wife and I have adopted. As a man who travels to some rundown neighborhoods, he confessed to me that he is so glad that we have adopted and given these girls good homes. He went on and on about how “good” it was.
We agree that adoption is good. That is to say, adoption has a moral dimension, and it is a “good” and “decent” thing to give a child a good home. It is “not good” to be in a broken home. Yet how can he, and unbeliever, account for these moral claims? Morality demands an absolute standard by which to judge good and evil. What standard does he have by which to measure “goodness”? We might ask him, “How do you know that adoption is good?” His response would be something to the effect of “because I think it is.” We might then ask, “How do you know you are right? What makes your personal inclination a valid measurement of what is good?”
If he is honest (and it is likely that he won’t be), he will have to admit that his standard for judging morality is invalid. We could just as easily say, “Adoption is evil” if it is up to our personal inclination. We know that adoption is good though. But why? It is because God has given us a standard for measuring what is good.
We have now just broken down my neighbor’s worldview, shown it to be absurd, and opened a door for the gospel. In just a matter of minutes we have shown him how his own worldview cannot account for morality (and is therefore absurd), and provided him a reason to acknowledge Christ as Lord.
All this is to say that it is only the Christian presuppositions that are able to give a coherent basis for reality, knowledge, and morality. Truth is God’s, and the unbeliever has no right to it apart from Christ.
Clarification: Do not misunderstand this: I am not saying that unbelievers do not have truth or morals. They most certainly do. It is part of the common grace that God grants them. All unbelievers have some degree of truth. What we want to do is show them that it is impossible to account for that truth in their system. In other words, we want them to confess the Source of that truth and acknowledge His standard for truth.
I once had a woman make this mistake. She said that we Christians don’t think atheists have morals. I corrected her by saying that such wasn’t true in the least. We do believe atheists have morals. However, we don’t believe that they could account for those morals according to their system of unbelief.
The conversation involved discussion of her love to celebrate Christmas, despite her confessing being an atheist. I then explained that, if we are nothing more than cosmic dust (i.e. chance products of evolutionary change) it doesn't matter whether we eat the ham or the neighbor's child for Christmas dinner. If we are consistent atheists, one act is just as moral as the other.
How can I say this? It is because evolution does not give an absolute standard for morality. A child or a pig are essentially the same in that they are both chance products of evolution. No authoritative lawgiver has said that one or the other is wrong. Neither have they been endowed with any sort of dignity that would necessarily make such an act wrong.
The atheistic and evolutionary worldview, when critiqued by its own system, is not able to say that cannibalism is wrong. (If your life’s maxim is “survival of the fittest, one might make the case that cannibalism ought be endorsed!”)
To be sure, eating the neighbor kid should sound repulsive. It would be terrible if someone thought this was an okay thing to do. But how is it that this atheist could be repulsed by the thought of chewing on little Jenny from next door? It is because she steals from the Christian worldview. God has endowed man with a special dignity by creating man in His image. Cannibalism is forbidden (and reprehensible!) because it violates this basic glory given to man.
Again, all this is to say that all people have truth. Our question instead, revolves around how they account for that truth. What's more, we can use these opportunities as gateways for the gospel.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.