Presuppositional Apologetics

This essay will attempt to demonstrate that the presuppositional apologetic method is a potent posture yet falls short as a methodology for comprehensibly demonstrating the legitimacy of the Christian worldview. Presuppositional apologetics is a systematic defense of Christian theism based on the assumption of certain basic propositions. While it is often associated with fideism which is placing faith above reason, not all presuppositionalists are fideists.[1] In fact, the presuppositonalist would argue that reason itself proves God’s existence. The apologist simply assumes the truth of Christianity to varying degrees and argues from that platform. This varies from a fideistic position that non-Christians are so corrupted by their sin nature that they are incapable of responding to evidence to a more modest position that belief in God is properly basic. The rationale offered by presuppositionalists is that everyone presupposes basic premises which define their worldview. It is certainly true that some beliefs such as the law of non-contradiction must be presupposed for rational discourse to be possible. Accordingly, this is known as a properly basic belief. Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has convincingly argued that belief in God can also be held as properly basic.[2] The different presuppositional approaches all share this epistemological foundation yet vary on issues of truth, scope of human depravity and use of evidence.

Norman Geisler delineates four main approaches based on their means of establishing truth: revelational, rational, systematic consistency and practical presuppositionalism.[3] The revelational approach championed by Cornelius Van Til is perhaps the most well-known and also the most fideistic. He boldly proclaimed, “that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning.”[4] This style presupposes the authority of scripture and also that those who do not hold this presupposition are incapable of even basic reasoning.Greg Bahnsen is advocate and teacher of Van Til’s method. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries is another modern day practitioner of this Van Tilian style.[5] Here is James discussing the topic:

Rational presuppositionalism is a less strident variant employed by Gordon Clark and Carl F. H. Henry that allows that the secular mind still can use logic and reason. The test for truth is the law of non-contradiction.[6] John Carnell and Gordon Lewis pioneered a method, systematic consistency, which uses the rational approach with the additional qualifications that it must take account of all knowledge and meet man’s basic needs.[7] The style most open to non-believers is the practical approach in the style of Francis Schaeffer who set about demonstrating that all other worldviews are not livable in a consistent fashion.[8] These approaches share the assumption of Biblical revelation yet vary on discerning truth and the scope of unregenerate depravity. There seems to be valid thinking behind each variety and I maintain respect for the respective apologists even if I do not entirely agree with all of their methodology.

It seems reasonable for believers to assume theism because the average Christian does not have time to master complicated philosophical arguments. However, trained apologists should be able to employ those arguments to provide warrant for the average believer. Yet some presuppositionalists fail to distinguish between belief in God and belief that God exists. Many presuppositionalists completely reject traditional apologetics as a futile concession to the skeptic’s methods.[9] Yet we all use the same rules of logic. A principle criticism offered by Geisler is that there is a confusion of epistemology and ontology. He writes,

The Christian fideist may very well be right about the fact that there is a God, but this begs the question unless he can tell how he knows this is the case. God may indeed have revealed himself to us through the Bible, but how do we know that the Bible is the Word of God?  [10]

Van Til did not seem to mind question begging. His style is tactically advantageous but it is unlikely to influence non-Christians. While it is true that men suppress the truth, evidential apologetics causes even hardened skeptics like Antony Flew to change their minds. Ultimately one should remember that Jesus and the apostles appealed to evidence, (Jn 2:23, 1 Cor. 15:3-7).

This essay has briefly summarized the presuppositional method and its four approaches. God’s existence and biblical revelation were defined as the basic foundation. The different styles were differentiated by the scope of their assumption and their test for truth. Critique was offered that the method strongly proclaims that Christianity is true but falls short of adequately explaining why it is true. A hybrid approach along the lines of Schaeffer’s technique in Escape From Reason and other works are worthy of further study. I must admit I am very interested in the ideas and techniques employed. It seems that there are some valuable tactics and truths in this method yet is not entirely convincing.

This site is powerful example of how the presuppositional method can be employed: Proof That God Exists

[1]Norman L. Geisler, Christian Apologetics, Includes Index. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976), 47.

[2] Thomas Provenzola. “Apologetics, Reformed.” In The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, by Ed Hindson, & Ergun Caner, ( Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 59.

[3]Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker reference library (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1999), 607.

[4]Cornelius Van Til and William Edgar, Christian Apologetics, 2nd ed. (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing     Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 2003).

[5] White, James. Alpha and Omega Ministries. n.d. (accessed 10 08, 2010).

[6] Geisler, Baker, 607

[7] Geisler, Baker, 607

[8] Geisler, Baker, 607.

[9] Mark Coppenger. “Presuppositonalism.” In The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, by Ed Hindson, & Ergun Caner, 401-404. (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 402

[10]Norman L. Geisler, Christian Apologetics. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976), 61.

Why Eschatology Matters Part IV: Amillennialism

continued from Why Eschatology Matters Part IV

I. Amillennial View: The Amillennial view can be traced back as far as the Alexandrian school when early church father Origen (AD 185-254) was the first to allegorize “reigning with Christ” to mean the spiritual growth of the soul. Origen’s penchant for allegory led him to views that today are considered heretical.[1] This influenced Augustine who once held the premillennial view but was disgusted by speculations about celebratory feasting during the millennium that he viewed as carnal. Augustine wrote,

“for I myself, too, once held this opinion [premillennialism].  But, as they assert that those who then rise again shall enjoy the leisure of immoderate carnal banquets, furnished with an amount of meat and drink such as not only to shock the feeling of the temperate, but even to surpass the measure of credulity itself, such assertions can be believed only by the carnal.” [2]

Also a North African Donatist, Tyconius, who favored Origen’s allegorical hermeneutic, influenced Augustine to change his view to a spiritualized one. Soon Augustine’s view was widely adopted by the Roman Catholic Church and was subsequently retained by reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin.[3] Today it is still the majority view of the mainline denominations.[4]

A. Basic Premises:

i. Millennium: The prefix a- indicates a straightforward negation. However, they actually do believe a millennium exists, just that it is now. The millennium is symbolic of the church age and is said to be fulfilled spiritually not literally.[5] Augustine popularized the idea that the millennium began with the incarnation and is fully realized by the church. Proponents disagree amongst themselves as to where this Millennium is located. Some believe it is now on earth in the church while others believe it is now in heaven.[6]

ii. Resurrection: The majority contend that there is only one physical resurrection of the righteous and the wicked. The “first resurrection” of Revelation 20 is understood as a spiritual in the sense that believer’s souls will go to heaven to reign with Christ spiritually.[7] The second is understood as physical and all are then judged.

iii. The Binding of Satan: They understand this as being in effect during the period between the first and second comings of Christ.[8]Accordingly, Satan is currently chained and cannot deceive the nations. Most believe that there will be a rebellion as Satan is released just prior to Christ’s return[9] Thus, the world will get worse not better. In this way they agree more with premillennialists than postmillennialists.

iv. The Reign of Christ: Christ is reigning now in the hearts of believers, they influence the culture by living out their faith.[10] He will return and judge the world and then start over with a new heavens and earth.

v. The Kingdom of God: The kingdom of God is present now in the world as Christ is ruling believers through the Spirit and his word. They also look forward to a future, the new heaven and new earth.[11]

vi. Israel: The Abrahamic and Davidic covenants were conditional and demand no future fulfillment. The church has replaced Israel as spiritual Israel. Thus there is no prophetic future for national Israel.[12]

vii. Hermeneutic: The necessary theory of interpretation is reminiscent of the Alexandrian tradition that prophecy is symbolic and need not be taken literally. A passage’s basic sense can be taken spiritually or even mystically. However, the lines are not so clearly defined as Dr. Norman Geisler explains,

Again, it complicates matters that even those who allegorize certain prophetic passages claim adherence to the historical-grammatical method of interpretation. (Some do admit to enhancing and expanding it to include an allegorical, symbolical, or typological understanding of certain texts.) The issue, then, boils down to the understanding and/or application (rather than the name) of the method of interpreting (hermeneutics).[13]

B. Points of Strength:

i. The millennium is only found in Revelation 20, which being a book of apocalyptic imagery, can justifiably be interpreted symbolically.[14]

ii. It is a long standing tradition in many denominations.

iii. The view tacitly acknowledges that the world is not getting better and better.[15] This agrees with historical reality.

iv. In the Bible, the word “thousand” is occasionally used symbolically (cf. 1 Chron. 16:15; Ps. 50:10).[16] This provides a rationale for their interpretation of “thousand” as an indefinite period.

v. Because the sheep and goat judgment in Matt 25:3 is interpreted as the same event as the great white throne judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). They avoid the perceived conflict when Jesus teaches that judgment takes place at his return.

vi. They avoid explaining how people enter the kingdom in natural bodies.

vii. According to Riddlebarger, “Its understanding that imminent return of Christ is the consummation of all things and marks the fullness of both the kingdom of God and the age to come.”[17]

C. Points of Weakness:

i. It is hard to imagine how one could come to this conclusion by reading the book of Revelation alone. This view appears imposed upon the plain meaning of the text.

ii. The New Testament overwhelmingly teaches that Satan is actively opposing the church (1 Cor. 7:5, 2 Cor. 4:4, 2 Cor. 2:11, 2 Cor. 11:14, Eph. 2:2, Jms. 4:7, 1 Tim 1:20, 1 Pt. 5:8) and in fact “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” (1 Jn. 5:19b, ESV)

iii. It interprets the two resurrections of Revelation 20 differently, one spiritual (Rev.20:4) and one physical (Rev.20:5). However the same Greek word, zao, for “came to life” is used for both. Additionally, the passage itself does not indicate that the writer intended a difference of meaning.[18] Verses five and six directly contradict the notion that the first resurrection is anything but bodily physical resurrection of believers.

iv. There were no chapter divisions in the original manuscript and chapter 20 begins with the Greek preposition kai having causal and copulative relation to Christ’s parousia in chapter 19.[19] For instance, the binding of Satan is inextricably chronologically connected to Christ’s return.

v. Even though the word “thousand” is used occasionally as a long period (e.g. 1 Chron 16:15), it appears over one hundred times and only a few are non-literal, and those are hyperbole not allegory.[20]

vi. The church does not have 12 tribes and in Luke 22:30 Jesus makes clear that National Israel will not only be present in the future kingdom but that they will also retain tribal identity. If the church is now “spiritual Israel” and God was finished with National Israel this simply would not follow. Also note that the 144,000 in Revelation are chosen from the 12 tribes, again ruling out the church.

Next up Postmillennialism

[1]David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1996, c1992), 4:834.

[2]Augustine. City of God, Book 20, chapter 7.

[3]Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Four: Church, Last Things (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2005), 548.

[4]John F. Walvoord, The Prophecy Knowledge Handbook, Includes Indexes. (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1990), 624.

[5] Edward Hindson. Revelation: Unlocking the Future, (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), 86.

[6]Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Israelology : The Missing Link in Systematic Theology, Previous Ed.: 1993., Rev. ed. (Tustin, Calif.: Ariel Ministries, 1994), 123.

[7]Geisler, Systematic Theology, 549.

[8]R.C. Sproul, The Last Days According to Jesus, electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000, c1998) ch. 9.

[9]Fruchtenbaum, Israelology, 128.

[10]Sproul, The Last Days, 9.

[11]Sproul, The Last Days, 9.

[12]Hindson, Revelation, 86.

[13] Geisler, Systematic Theology, 413.

[14]Fruchtenbaum, Israelology, 135.

[15]Fruchtenbaum, Israelology, 126.

[16]Geisler, Systematic Theology, 550.

[17] Kim Riddlebarger, ( accessed 07/04/2010.

[18]Walter A. Elwell and Philip Wesley Comfort, Tyndale Bible Dictionary, Tyndale reference library (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 896.

[19]James Strong, The Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible : Showing Every Word of the Text of the Common English Version of the Canonical Books, and Every Occurrence of Each Word in Regular Order., electronic ed. (Ontario: Woodside Bible Fellowship., 1996), G2532.

[20]Geisler, Systematic Theology, 558.