Towards a Biblical Presuppositionalism Pt. 1

The Apostle Paul once indicated, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).”[1] The Apostle’s language is a sincere appeal to action, a cry for God’s people to wage war against the reality of unbelief in this world that arrogantly defies the knowledge of God (Romans 1:18-32; 1 Corinthians 1:18-25). Those who belong to the Lord are to engage unbelief by setting apart Christ as supreme Lord in their hearts, readying themselves to give an answer for the hope that they have in Him (1 Peter 3:15). Though the testimony of Scripture is abundantly clear regarding the command to contest unbelief, developing and applying the most biblical methodology[2] in doing so is at the forefront of much debate. Though there are numerous opinions regarding how one might evaluate the question of apologetic methodology, the intention of this essay will be to offer a strategy that strictly adheres to the biblical testimony[3].

In the following segments, this essay will argue in favor of embracing a presuppositional framework in regards to the question of proper apologetic methodology. An apologetic that is presuppositional in nature is one that is most consistent with the biblical evidence and will ultimately be the most persuasive in light of unbelief. The ensuing argument will be defended by emphasizing two areas of importance. Primarily, it will be maintained that a presuppositional methodology promotes a more consistent Christian worldview due to its Reformed theological roots. That is to say, a presuppositional apologetic is influenced by Scriptural testimony more than any other methodology. Furthermore, the subsequent half of this essay will be a logical extension of the previous section and will be devoted to defining and explaining the “transcendental principle” that ought to pervade all Christian argumentation, thus displaying the cogency of arguing transcendentally. This segment will culminate by demonstrating how this transcendental principle is applied in apologetic engagement; specifically in regards to the teleological argument which is historically one of the most popular Christian evidences in favor of biblical theism.[4]

Why a Presuppositionalism Framework?

As Christians who are to be antagonistic towards unbelief, it is of the utmost importance to employ a system of thought that aligns itself most firmly with the biblical witness which is the antithesis of such skepticism. Scripture attests to the notion that unbelief has infiltrated the mind of man and has set itself up against the truth of God by establishing a comprehensive worldview in opposition to God (Romans 1:18-32). This widespread skepticism can be accurately described by the declaration of Protagoras that, “Man is the measure of all things”.[5] This type of worldview thinking necessitates the need for an all-encompassing biblical witness to counter the extent of unbelief as it manifests itself in the world, and this is why a presuppositional apologetic is ultimately needed. Generally, those who adhere to a presuppositional approach stand with their feet steadfastly planted in the Reformed theological tradition which coheres consistently with a biblical worldview. Scott Amos writes,

With respect to worldview issues, the Reformation was a religious revolution whose leading figures expressed an intensely theocentric perspective in their writings. The Reformers juxtaposed the power, majesty, and holiness of God with human weakness and sinfulness. Thus, they emphatically opposed the more decidedly anthropocentric orientation of the Renaissance, with its highly optimistic view of human ability—“Man is the measure of all things”.[6]

A central theme for the theocentric emphasis of the Reformers had much to do with their particularly strong understanding of the Bible as God’s revealed Word. Furthermore, Amos states that, “The theocentric orientation of the Reformers inclined them to look first to God’s revelation for direction in all of life.”[7] The notion that the Bible is authoritative in all aspects of life is foundational for a Christian worldview, and therefore, just as important for establishing a true Christian apologetic methodology. Hence, in order for unbelief to be properly evaluated and eliminated, the practice of apologetics must first be based on the revelation of God as is found in the Scriptures, and there are significant reasons for this.

Principally, the Scriptures confirm the idea that God has divinely interacted with His creation. This is evident from the creation narratives in Genesis chapter one and two where readers are given insight into the intricacies of God’s created universe (Cf., Colossians 1:15-16). Again, Scripture demonstrates in the first chapter of John’s gospel that the second person of the Trinity came and dwelt with man (John 1:14) thus proving furthermore God’s interaction with His creation, and this is not without special implications. The certainty that God has been, and is currently (Hebrews 1:3), involved in His creation means that all of creation reveals Him to be its Creator. For instance, in Genesis chapter one, Scripture indicates that God created man Imago Dei—in His own image (Genesis 1:26). Man therefore is a creation of God, and as John Frame states, “We know God as He is reflected in ourselves.”[8] God’s Word also makes the same argument in regards to non-human aspects of creation, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard” (Psalm 19:1-3). There is not any part of the created order that does not boldly proclaim the glory of God as its Maker. Understanding this, then, provides great insight into the nature of unbelief as is found in Romans chapter one. The individual who persists in his skepticism towards God works hard at suppressing the truth, and this is due to the fact that God is so evidently revealed in His creation. Realizing the Scriptural testimony concerning God’s revelation also establishes the problem behind unbelief—that of sin.

In John’s first letter, he states that, “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). When one sins, he is actively transgressing the law of God and involved in open rebellion against a morally perfect Lawgiver. This is the true heart of unbelief as it is discussed in Romans chapter one. It is important to note however, that this sinful rebellion traverses deep into the human heart. Paul makes mention that, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11; Cf., Ephesians 2:1-3). The famous systematic theologian, Louis Berkhof, notes, “And from this center its (sin’s) influence and operations spread to the intellect, the will, the affections, in short, to the entire man, including his body. In his sinful state the whole man is the object of God’s displeasure.”[9] This understanding is traditionally referred to as the noetic effect of sin; an all-inclusive aspect in the life of rebellious men.

If what precedes is true, this has certain consequences for the way in which one applies apologetic methodology. Based on the discussion from Romans chapter one, it is safe to conclude that those who participate in unbelief are without excuse for their active suppressing of God’s revelation. However, some apologists, such as Gary Habermas, though he accepts the biblical witness of sin, would like to conclude that,

This does not mean that there is no common ground between the believer and the unbeliever. Apologists largely agree that there is ontological commonality in areas such as general creation, God’s image in human, and the data of history, each of which is “public.” They disagree, however, concerning whether there is any epistemological common ground, especially over the issue of how the unbeliever views truth.[10]

The problem with Habermas’ understanding is that it assumes that the unbeliever can stand on the same ground as the Christian without actively rebelling against the truth of God at every point; in terms of the extent of the skeptic’s unbelief, there can be no common ground. This is not to say that the unbeliever cannot, and at times will not, express the truth, but it is to suggest that the unbeliever diligently seeks to suppress the truth of God with a lie, and even will attempt this by speaking truth at times[11]. Also, the problem is not merely one of epistemology. At a more foundational level, the problem of sin and unbelief is a moral one. The reason why those who persist in unbelief is not because they do not have the capability to know things about God, it is that they morally rebel against the truth.[12] The doubter’s epistemological faculties have been influence by the curse of sin; they are slanted in a way that promotes hostility against the knowledge of God. All of this information taken together begins to formulate a comprehensive worldview based on Scripture. It is from these truths that a presuppositional apologetic arises to contest unbelief. The question then becomes one of what might a proper methodology look like in application; how ought a Christian combat unbelief with all of its sinful tendencies? This will be the focus in the following section that will seek to define and defend a transcendental principle that must pervade all apologetic argumentation.

[1] All Scripture references are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) of the Bible unless otherwise noted.

[2] I would also make “strategy” synonymous with methodology in this case.

[3] As with other apologetic methodologies, there seems to be a great emphasis placed on the role of the Holy Spirit which is absolutely correct. However, due to the nature of this essay, the role of the Holy Spirit will not be focused on even though this author believes that the Holy Spirit is the one who converts sinners and convinces them apologetically.

[4] Due to time and space, emphasis will only be placed on the teleological argument due to its historical use and potentially powerful argument if formulated transcendentally. The transcendental principle can, and should be, applied in every Christian argument.

[5] Donald Palmer, Looking at Philosophy, 5th ed (New York: McGraw-hill, 2010), 53. For more on Protagoras, see this work.

[6] Scott Amos. W. Andrew Hoffecker, ed., Revolutions in Worldview (Phillipsburg: P&r Publishing, 2007). 207.

[7] Ibid.

[8] John Frame, A Theology of Lordship, vol. 1, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, (Phillipsburg: P&r Publishing, 1987). 65 One also would want to cross reference John Calvin in regards to this issue. Frame picks up on Calvin’s insight on the knowledge of God and the knowledge of ourselves in Calvin’s, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bk. 1.1.1-2).

[9] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1996), 233. Information in parenthesis is mine.

[10] Gary Habermas. Stanley N. Gundry and Steven B. Cowan, eds., Counterpoints, vol. 2, Five Views on Apologetics, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000). 97.

[11] In the writings of Van Til, this concept is known as “borrowed capital” which I find to be very insightful and helpful when doing apologetic work.

[12] As John Frame indicates, consider the demons who know things about God, probably know even more than believers, but continue in active rebellion against Him (54-57 in his DKG).


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6 responses to “Towards a Biblical Presuppositionalism Pt. 1”

  1. sixpointnineme says :

    Presuppositionalism is like playing tic-tac-toe, whoever starts the game has no real chance of losing. Let us start in a different order.

    I start off with the premise: “There is no God” and only factual evidence is acceptable.
    Your turn…

    How would you like the game then?

    • The Blessed Rebellion says :

      Hey there, thanks for commenting! I’d like for you to elaborate your point a little more.

      • sixpointnineme says :

        Well if you look at the major points of presuppositionalism: Presuppositionalists claim that a Christian cannot consistently declare his belief in the necessary existence of the God of the Bible and simultaneously argue on the basis of a different set of assumptions that God may not exist and Biblical revelation may not be true.
        This does not leave room for any kind of discussion. Either you accept the presupposition and then there is no need for argument, or if you don’t then there is no place for argument.
        This is lazy apologetics. Either you agree or you are out of here. Just take a look at this webpage: give it a shot, and just for argument’s sake, press on the “I don’t care…” button and see what happens. The same goes for presuppositionalist apologetics.

    • The Blessed Rebellion says :

      Thanks once again for following up with me. I guess my question for the first part of your response is, why would we want to argue the necessary existence of God as a Christian and yet try to argue on a totally different set of assumptions that God may not exist or that biblical revelation may not be true? The only time that I can think of where we might do something like that is if we are arguing to show that the opposition’s argument reduces to absurdity. However, if that is the case, then are we really operating on a different set of assumptions? Even in our “hopping”, we never really give up our Christian presupposition, but rather by our presupposition evaluate the evidence. After all, I don’t think biblical revelation allows us to really operate on a different set of assumptions. When engaging unbelief, there is the real sense that worldviews are clashing. No one is able to come to an argument without presuppositions, or basic commitments of the heart. The athiest, or whoever, will argue everything based on their presuppostion, or basic commitment of the heart, and that presupposition dictates how they argue and see evidence. I think the same goes for the Christian. If God has revealed Himself to His creation, then why would we want to argue on some other set of assumptions? I’m not even sure we can! Romans 1:18-32 doesn’t give us that option.

      Also, the second part of your response in which you label the presuppostitional approach as lazy is not founded. The situation that you set up is simply not ture. I’m not sure I know anyone who would argue that way. As for the website, I can’t speak for the person who put it together, but if I’m talking with someone who just doesn’t care, then what can you do other than witness with the gospel?

      However, thanks so much for your comments. I appreciate your interaction!

  2. danielwalldammit says :

    Learning to play craps with loaded dice.

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