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Apologetics: Intro. to Presuppositionalism (Lecture 2 of 4)

Apologetics Index
Date: MAY-19-01
Source: Evangelism and Apologetics Conference, Living Hope OPC, Pastor: Tristan Emmanuel
Keywords: presupposition, epistemology, worldview, hostility, warfare, myth of neutrality
Comment: These notes were taken on a laptop during live lectures. Due to transcription errors and subsequent editing, these notes may not accurately reflect the original lecture content.
Posted: JUN-26-01

LECTURE 2: War of the Worldviews – Introduction to Presuppositionalism, by Michael Butler

Christian apologetics doesn’t come down to a war of arguing for the evidence from supposed “common ground.” That is fundamentally incorrect. The best method is to show the inconsistency of unbelief from the perspective of the Bible. I hold many proponents of other apologetic schools in high respect, but there is something deficient in each of their systems. They all hold that the existence of God can be proved. This is important and correct. We share their belief in using evidences. But we hold that believers and unbelievers do not share common ground in their ability to reason to truth from the facts. There comes a time in apologetic engagement when we must discuss the philosophy of the facts. Evidences are useful only once we have the same philosophy of the facts. The Reformed epistemologists are to be commended for not accepting the foundation of unbelieving thought. Gordon Clark is almost as good as you can get in terms of presenting the problems of unbelieving thought. But only Van Til’s presuppositionalism offers a consistent, biblical, effective Christian apologetic. It takes the biblical worldview for granted, and shows the irrationality of unbelief. (Acts 17:16-34 is a demonstration of the presuppositional system in action)

Ephesians 6:10-18; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5. We Christians are at war; we are at war with the world. God cursed the seed of the serpent and said that the woman’s seed of promise will be at war with those excluded from the covenant blessings of God. We don’t use physical violence; we are doing spiritual warfare. Our weapons are divinely powerful for the demolishing of systems of unbelief. Our equipment given in the Scripture is for warfare. Many churches have a deficient gospel message: you’re fine as you are, add Jesus to your midst.

According to Christianity, the unbeliever’s life is not merely incomplete. It is basically hostile to God. On the surface it appears there is a great deal of shared belief between unbelievers and Christians, so-called neutral ground. But the Bible doesn’t teach this. Ephesians 4:17-19 says unbelievers are separated from the life of God. In our natural state, we humans are very deficient; God must first enlighten us so we can know what God is like. The thoughts of the wicked are idolatrous. They are darkened in their understanding. Truth is light. But unbelievers are darkened in their understandings due to the hardening of their hearts. They are not stupid or deficient in education. But they are hardened in their hearts. The reason is that they are sinners; they have suppressed the truth; they are at war with God. Many apologists believe you can convince the unbeliever by good arguments. But the reason he won’t believe is not lack of education, it is because the unbeliever is avoiding God - he hates God and the claims God makes on his life.

Colossians 1:21: you were once enemies in your mind. Even the unbeliever’s thoughts are hostile to God. 1 Corinthians 2:13,14 “These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Unbelievers cannot understand spiritual things. The truth of God is folly to them because of unbelief. Many unbelievers do understand propositionally the truth of God quite well. However, they may not understand in a saving way, because it doesn’t penetrate their hearts.

The unbeliever is not neutral. He is hostile to God. You cannot accept that the unbeliever as being able to reason to the truth. It is not lack of education. Unbelief is a heart problem. Proverbs 1:7 says the “fear of God brings wisdom.” Colossians 2:3,8: Paul is not saying don’t study philosophy. He is saying don’t be fooled into unbelief by it. The best way to avoid that is to diligently study the Word and to understand unbelieving philosophy.

We are not saying unbelievers don’t know anything. They have true knowledge but their knowledge is inconsistent with their claims of unbelief. Romans 1:18-20 describes suppression of truth. The ball of truth is trying to force its way to the surface, but the unbeliever constantly battles to keep it under water. If unbelievers were consistent then it would be doomsday. Unbelievers say animals have equal dignity with humans, and babies should be killed before birth if inconvenient; on their belief system, death and environmentalism is the doom of the world. Fallen man does in principle seek to be a law unto himself; however he doesn’t rebel to the fullest degree, therefore he is able to make a positive contribution to society. He lives his life in an inconsistent way. How do many people have knowledge? It is because they are borrowing Christian epistemological capital. The unbeliever is standing on the truths of God’s word in order to reason against the truth of God. You cannot serve two masters. The attempt to be neutral is immoral. Loyalty, to Christ is all pervasive. We must not be neutral when reasoning with an unbeliever. Matt 28:18: all authority is given to Christ. If all authority is given to Christ, then everything including apologetics is under Christ. We must submit our epistemology to Christ. The problem with unbelievers is that they want to be their own authority. They won’t submit to a life of service to God. If you say “use your reason to test God” you are granting the unbeliever’s presupposition which is his basic problem. Unbelievers do not have the right to call God into question. The basic problem with man is that he has tried to be his own standard for good and evil.

The idea of weighing of evidence fairly doesn’t apply to apologetics because the unbeliever is already hostile to God and bent upon suppressing the truth. No one can be neutral. Both believer and unbeliever will reason over the facts from the point of view of his basic inclination toward God.

To illustrate, an unbeliever who believes in the resurrection isn’t compelled to become a Christian. From a naturalistic viewpoint, this event may merely be an unexplained fact of the scientific world. Facts do not speak for themselves. You come to the evidence with a worldview. A worldview is a network of presuppositions which are understood and related, and in terms of which all experience is explained and related. There are many conflicting unbelieving worldviews. There are worldviews which deny that matter exists. The Christian view is that God has always existed and that he spoke all reality. God defines: Reality - metaphysics; existence - ontology; morality - ethics.

A presupposition is an elementary assumption in one’s reasoning. It is used to interpret the world around you. The presupposition itself is not tested by experience. It is a belief you hold to no matter what happens. It cannot be given up easily. There is no evidence you could give a person which would (easily) overturn his presuppositions.

My belief in the resurrection makes me interpret the world in the way I do. Views can be proven true or faulty by their consistency. The Christian set of presuppositions is necessary for living our lives.

The unbeliever has a different set of presuppositions. We are to think God’s thoughts after him and we are certainly not to call God’s words into question. So our apologetic system must begin with God’s self- revelation.

(Question from Audience: Explain naive realism – this theory says sensory perception is reliable. The problem with this view is that sometimes the things which appear aren’t as they are; more sophisticated realists make necessary qualification about perceptions. The naïve realism conflicts with the statement “there are no brute facts.”)

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