A Foundational Biblical Teaching For Apologetics
One of the clearest strengths of presuppositional apologetics is that it accounts for the biblical teaching regarding the folly of the unbelieving worldview. Now, a couple of points for clarification are necessary at this juncture. By saying unbelievers hold to a worldview or belief system, which is foolish, I am not in essence saying they are incapable of any sort of intelligence. Many unbelievers make correct observations about various subjects all the time. An unbelieving surgeon can possess a robust knowledge of the human body, and hopefully he also has the skillset to know how to apply that information in surgery. Unbelievers do possess many intellectual capacities by the grace of God.
However, what presuppositional apologetics clearly sees is the folly of unbelief because unbelievers do not seek wisdom and knowledge from the source, who is God. Dr. Greg Bahnsen states this point very clearly:
“In the scriptural perspective the fool is not basically a shallow-minded or illiterate ignoramus; he can be quite educated and sophisticated in social reckoning. However, he is a fool because he has forsaken the source of true wisdom in God in order to rely on his own (allegedly), self-sufficient, intellectual powers.”1
What we see here is that Bahnsen recognized exactly what I have been referencing all along. Unbelievers can have educated minds with great intellectual capacities, yet, because they rely on their own wisdom, their belief system is folly since it is opposed to the knowledge of God and abandons God’s revelation. The Apostle Paul made this point clear in 1 Corinthians 1:20-21:
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. – 1 Corinthians 1:20-21
Paul asks the question as to whether or not the so-called wisdom of the world has been made foolish by God, and clearly the implied answer is a resounding yes. Therefore, as it pertains to apologetics, this comprehension of the unbelieving worldview is a foundational starting piece for us to ascertain whenever we prepare to engage those who are lost. We are not talking with individuals who have an equally proficient belief system to ours as believers. No, we are talking with those who have based their beliefs upon a different source apart from God’s Word therefore their understandings will not cohere with true wisdom and knowledge.
Unbelievers Will Be Judged According To Biblical Truth
Many Christians undertake apologetics as though the unbeliever has their ideas, we as Christians have ours, and they believe we must come together seeking to stack the evidence in a neutral way to see who wins. Contrastingly, the presuppositional apologist seeks to stand firm upon their biblical commitments. Instead of asking the unbeliever to stand in judgment over the evidence for Christianity, the presuppositionalist asserts and defends the truthfulness of the biblical position showing the standard by which humanity will be judged.
The difference is incredibly important for those engaged in the task of apologetics. When encountering unbelievers, we must provide an internal critique of their belief system, thereby showing its incoherence while maintaining an attitude of respect for them as image bearers of God. Our task is to demonstrate to them the fact their worldview cannot stand the weight of scrutiny when confronted with reality as created by God. An atheist cannot give a legitimate explanation as to why immaterial aspects such as the laws of logic exist if our universe is purely material. Areas such as this particular point must be pressed in conversations with others from different worldviews so they can see the inconsistencies in their position, and the truthfulness of Christianity must also be proclaimed. We must show how their beliefs do not give accurate answers, whereas biblical Christianity gives robustly truthful answer because it is, in fact the only true worldview!
Rules of Engagement
How does all of these truths play themselves out for someone who is actually in the midst of engaging in conversations with unbelievers? I believe Cornelius Van Til outlines the point very well:
“The Reformed preacher does not tone down his message in order that it may find acceptance with the natural man. He does not say that is message is less certainly true because of its non-acceptance by the nature man. The natural man is, by virtue of his creation in the image of God, always accessible to the truth, accessible to the penetration of the truth by the Spirit of God.”2
Whenever we engage with unbelievers, we should not be shaken because they do not come to an acceptance of the truth. Instead, we realize they are dead in their sins, as we once were, and the Spirit of God must act if they are to obtain salvation and knowledge of the truth. We do not back down or lose confidence in the biblical message because the world hates it, therefore, the attitude of the apologist should be one of humble confidence. We can be confident not based on our ability, but the truthfulness of the Scripture because it is inspired by God!
Another key takeaway is to remember the place of humanity before God. We are not fit to stand in judgment upon the Creator of the universe. Therefore, our clear goal is not to ask the unbeliever to judge God, but to repent of their sins and bow before Jesus as Lord. We should present evidence, proclaim God’s truth, answer questions, and we should do all of these things in a respectful manner. At the end of the day, because we know lost individuals are captured in the folly of unbelief, we must not elevate them to judge, but exhort them to find salvation in the One who is the Judge. Our goal as Christians is not to gain the respect of the world by buying into the concept that we hold equally true or valid beliefs. Our objective is to honor Christ by declaring the truth He is the only Lord!
Finally, as our last takeaway from seeing the folly of unbelief, we must think in terms of worldview. We should study and know the intricate details of different belief systems and the evidence for our own. Understanding the history of biblical translation and the identification of the canon is incredibly helpful on multiple fronts. However, these are all individual tools that serve in the broader scope of worldview analysis. We must see the unbeliever’s ideas and confront the totality of his thinking. It is not just the atheist’s ideas about morality that are wrong, but also their views of the origin of life, the future of humanity, and so many other areas. By seeing their worldview as a connected system built upon the foundation of unbelieving opinions, we as Christians can engage the unbeliever in a more cohesive manner. This will allow us to confront them in the most profitable way so they can not only see they are incorrect on one or two points, rather, it is their worldview as a whole which is wrong. That allows us to show the truthfulness of Christianity as an entire world and life view!
1 Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready, p. 55.
2 Cornelius Van Til, Christian Apologetics, p. 135.