PRESUPPOSITIONAL APOLOGETICS

Christianity's Ultimate Defense and Offense

WHAT IS PRESUPPOSITIONAL APOLOGETICS?

A presupposition is a belief that is assumed (presupposed) from the very beginning that governs the way we think.
Presuppositional apologetics is a method of arguing for the truth of the Bible that analyzes the validity of presuppositions. In contrast, evidential apologetics uses a shared presupposition between Christians and non-Christians, and then argues using proofs and evidence that depend on this shared presupposition. While there is a place for evidential arguments, Christians should recognize the problems and limitations with these kinds of arguments.
Epistemology is the study of knowledge and how it is possible. An ultimate presupposition starts at the very beginning and provides an epistemological theory for how knowledge is possible.
Presuppositional apologetics argues that the only presupposition that can successfully explain how knowledge is possible is the presupposition that the Bible is God's revelation.

EXAMPLE: BIBLICAL REVELATION VS EMPIRICISM

Biblical Revelation

Ultimate Presupposition: How Is Knowledge Possible?
Knowledge is possible because
1
there is an omniscient God who is the source of all knowledge
2
God created humans with the ability to gain knowledge, and
3
humans acquire knowledge through revelation, or, the Bible.
Why Biblical Revelation Succeeds
The biblical Christian worldview
1
has a valid epistemology,
2
is self-consistent (or, non-contradictory), and
3
it provides enough knowledge to make sense of the world.

EMPIRICISM

Ultimate Presupposition: How Is Knowledge Possible?
Knowledge comes from sense experience.
Why Empiricism Fails
1
The ultimate presupposition itself, that "knowledge comes from sense experience," is not knowledge that can come from sense experience because abstract, universal propositions cannot be sensed. Thus, empiricism is inherently self-contradictory.
2
Without a priori knowledge that comes apart from sense experience—for example, foundational categories such as time, space, and causation—empiricism cannot even begin to make sense of the world.
Empiricism fails because it is self-contradictory and cannot provide a valid epistemology, which means it cannot even begin to produce knowledge.

Notes

1
Of course, there is much more to say about both the Bible and empiricism. The above is merely an overview of the presuppositional method.
2
Clearly, empiricists and non-Christians use knowledge. The argument is that they do not have a rational foundation for their use of knowledge, and that they are implicitly assuming a worldview that can explain the existence of knowledge, namely, the biblical Christian worldview.

ANSWERS TO OBJECTIONS

OBJECTION
Probably the most common objection against presuppositional apologetics is that it's "begging the question" (circular reasoning) to use the Bible to prove the Bible.
ANSWER
Every person and worldview has an ultimate presupposition that is "circular" in the sense that it cannot be proven by something else (or else it would not be ultimate). For example, empiricism is also circular in the sense that it must use sense experience to prove that knowledge comes from sense experience.
The relevant question is not, "Is this ultimate presupposition circular?", but rather, "Does this ultimate presupposition make knowledge possible? Is this presupposition self-consistent and non-contradictory? Can this presupposition result in a meaningful view of the world?"
OBJECTION
Common ground is necessary for meaningful conversation between Christians and non-Christians. By assuming the Bible from the beginning, presuppositional apologetics shuts down meaningful conversation.
ANSWER
1
It is certainly meaningful to discuss and examine presuppositions. Presuppositional apologetics does not just say that the Bible must be presupposed. It also argues that the biblical worldview can provide a valid epistemological theory and that non-biblical worldviews cannot. The questions that presuppositional apologetics deals with are meaningful philosophical questions that have been asked by many well-known phiilosophers—both Christian and non-Christian—throughout history.
2
Presuppositional apologetics does not completely dismiss the use of evidential arguments. It just recognizes that they should be used with a proper understanding of what they can and cannot accomplish.

LEARN MORE

RESOURCES

Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark are two foundational figures in presuppositional apologetics, and their respective methods have similarities and differences. Greg Bahnsen is a student and proponent of Van Til's methodology, and he has effectively debated several atheists.
Personally, I find great value in the works of all three of these men. At the same time, I find Clark's method as a whole to be more logically persuasive. You can find resources below for each of these three men.

Gordon Clark

Clark's Writings

Cornelius Van Til

Van Til's Writings

Greg Bahnsen

Bahnsen's Writings and Debates
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