Presuppositionalism is a school of Christian apologetics that believes the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. It presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and attempts to expose flaws in other worldviews. It claims that apart from presuppositions, one could not make sense of any human experience, and there can be no set of neutral assumptions from which to reason with a non-Christian. 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. Two schools of presuppositionalism exist, based on the different teachings of Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Haddon Clark. Presuppositionalism contrasts with classical apologetics and evidential apologetics.
a belief that takes precedence over another and therefore serves as a criterion for another. An ultimate presupposition is a belief over which no other takes precedence. For a Christian, the content of Scripture must serve as his ultimate presupposition… This doctrine is merely the outworking of the lordship of God in the area of human thought. It merely applies the doctrine of scriptural infallibility to the realm of knowing.
Presuppositionalists contrast their approach with the other schools of Christian apologetics by describing the others as assuming that the world is unintelligible apart from belief in the existence of God and then arguing on purportedly neutral grounds to support trusting the Christian Scriptures and the existence of God. Specifically, presuppositionalists describe Thomistic (also "Traditional" or "Classical") apologetics as concentrating on the first aspect of apologetics with its logical proofs for the existence of God, simply assuming common ground with the non-Christian and utilizing a piece-by-piece methodology. In this scheme, the common foundation of neutral brute facts leads to a generic concept of deity, then to the various characteristics of the Christian God as revealed in Scripture, and so forth. Piece-by-piece, Christian theology is built up from a neutral common ground.
Presuppositionalists assert that many of the classical arguments are logically fallacious, or do not prove enough, when used as arguments to prove the existence or character of God.[a] They criticize both the assumption of neutrality and the "block house" or "piecemeal" method for failing to start at the level of the controlling beliefs of worldviews and implicitly allowing non-Christian assumptions from the start, thereby trying to build a Christian "house" on a non-Christian "foundation". Evidentialists demur from this assessment, claiming that presuppositionalism amounts to fideism because it rejects the idea of shared points of reference between the Christian and non-Christian from which they may reason in common.
The conclusion of evidential apologetics is that the Bible's historical accounts and other truth-claims are more probably true than false, thus the whole of scriptural revelation may be rationally accepted, and where we can't approach absolute certainty we must accept the explanations most likely to be true. The goal of presuppositional apologetics, on the other hand, is to argue that the assumptions and actions of non-Christians require them to believe certain things about God, man, and the world which they claim not to believe. This type of argument is technically called a reductio ad absurdum in that it attempts to reduce the opposition to holding an absurd, i.e., self-contradictory position; in this case, both believing in facts of Christian revelation (in practice) and denying them (in word). So, in essence, evidential apologetics attempts to build upon a shared acceptance of self-evident or worldview-neutral facts, while presuppositional apologetics attempts to claim all facts for the Calvinistic Christian worldview as the only framework in which they are intelligible.
The modern origins of presuppositional apologetics are in the work of Dutch theologian Cornelius Van Til, a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, who began to adopt a presuppositional approach to defending the truth of his faith as early as the late 1920s. Van Til personally disliked the term "presuppositional", as he felt it misrepresented his approach to apologetics, which he felt was focused primarily on the preeminence of the Bible as the ultimate criterion for truth, rather than denying or ignoring evidence. He did, however, accept the label reluctantly, given that it was a useful way of distinguishing between those who deny a neutral basis for apologetics and those who do not. His student, Greg Bahnsen, aided in some of the later developments of Van Tillian Presuppositionalism, and the Bahnsen Theological Seminary continues to promote presuppositional apologetics in its curriculum. John Frame, another student of Van Til, also continues to advocate a presuppositional approach, although he is generally more critical of Van Til's thought than Bahnsen was. Bahnsen's protégé, Michael R. Butler, has also been active in advancing the field. Among his contributions is a technical, metalogical study of transcendental arguments in general and the Transcendental argument for the existence of God in particular, which he wrote for Bahnsen's festschrift.
By 1952, presuppositional apologetics had acquired a new advocate in the Presbyterian theologian Gordon Clark. He embraced the label "presuppositional" since his approach to apologetics, emphasizing the priority of epistemology and an axiom of revelation, was more closely concerned with the logical order of assumptions than was Van Til. The differences between the two views on presuppositionalism, though few in number, caused a significant rift between the two men, and even after both Clark and Van Til had died, John Robbins (a theologian and former student of Clark's) and Bahnsen were often involved in heated exchanges.
In a 2000 book outlining the major schools of apologetics, the presuppositional approach was given equal time alongside other schools of thought (the "classical" and "evidential" noted above, for example). In general, Van Til's approach is far more popular and widespread than Clark's. Van Til is considered by Dr. John Frame, Professor of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary, to be one of the most outstanding apologists of his time due to his being "probably the best versed on the history of philosophy and the philosophical issues that bore upon Christianity"
Apologists who follow Van Til earned the label "presuppositional" because of their central tenet that the Christian must at all times presuppose the supernatural revelation of the Bible as the ultimate arbiter of truth and error in order to know anything. Christians, they say, can assume nothing less because all human thought presupposes the existence of the God of the Bible. They claim that by accepting the assumptions of non-Christians, which fundamentally deny the Trinitarian God of the Bible, one could not even formulate an intelligible argument. Though Van Tillians do, at one point, "put themselves in the shoes" of the opponent, "for the sake of argument", to demonstrate where that position would lead, they claim that they can only do so because this is actually God's world, and man is actually God's creature, made in God's own image, and as such can never completely shut God out (in living or thinking)—hence there is always a common basis for dialogue, even though it is, in the presuppositionalist's view, a basis which the opponent is not usually willing to acknowledge and which is decidedly biased rather than neutral.
According to Frame, "[Van Til's] major complaints against competing apologetic methods are theological complaints, that is, that they compromise the incomprehensibility of God, total depravity, the clarity of natural revelation, God's comprehensive control over creation, and so on." Within their presuppositionalist framework, Van Tillians do often utilize foundational concepts for Thomistic and Evidentialist arguments (belief in the uniformity of natural causes, for example), but they are unwilling to grant that such beliefs are justifiable on "natural" (neutral) grounds. Rather, Van Tillians employ these beliefs, which they justify on Biblical grounds, in the service of transcendental arguments, which are a sort of meta-argument about foundational principles, necessary preconditions, in which the non-Christian's worldview is shown to be incoherent in and of itself and intelligible only because it borrows capital from the Christian worldview. For example, where evidentialists would take the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system as a neutral common starting point and construct a cosmological argument for an unmoved mover, Van Tillian presuppositionalists would ask for a justification for the belief in the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system, given the worldview of the opponent, attempting to show that such a belief presupposes the Christian worldview and is ultimately incompatible with the opposing worldview.[b] Van Til summarized the main drive of his apologetic by saying: "the only proof for the existence of God is that without God you couldn't prove anything."
Van Tillians also stress the importance of reckoning with "the noetic effects of sin" (that is, the effects of sin on the mind), which, they maintain, corrupt man's ability to understand God, the world, and himself aright. In their view, as a fallen creature, man does know the truth in each of these areas, but he seeks to find a different interpretation—one in which, as C. S. Lewis said, he is "on the bench" and God is "in the dock." The primary job of the apologist is, therefore, simply to confront the unbeliever with the fact that, while he is verbally denying the truth, he is nonetheless practically behaving in accord with it. Van Til illustrated this alleged inconsistency as a child, elevated on the father's knee, reaching up to slap his face, and Bahnsen used the analogy of a man breathing out air to make the argument that air doesn't exist.
Another important aspect of the Van Tillian apologetical program is the distinction between proof and persuasion. According to the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, man has ample proof in all of creation of God's existence and attributes but chooses to suppress it. Van Til likewise claimed that there are valid arguments to prove that the God of the Bible exists but that the unbeliever would not necessarily be persuaded by them because of his suppression of the truth, and therefore the apologist, he said, must present the truth regardless of whether anyone is actually persuaded by it (Frame notes that the apologist is here akin to the psychiatrist who presents the truth about the paranoid's delusions, trusting that his patient knows the truth at some level and can accept it—though Frame, as a Calvinist, would say the special intervention of God in the Holy Spirit is also required for the unbeliever to accept ultimate truths.) An implication of this position is that all arguments are "person relative" in the sense that one non-Christian might be persuaded by a particular argument and another might not be, depending on their background and experiences; even if the argument constitutes logically valid proof.
Gordon Clark and his followers treat the truth of the Scriptures as the axiom of their system. Like all axioms, this axiom is considered to be self-evident truth, not to be proven, but used for proof. Theologians and philosophers strongly influenced by Dr. Clark include Francis Schaeffer, Carl F. H. Henry, Ronald Nash, Fuller Theological Seminary President Edward J. Carnell, R. C. Sproul (though with many published reservations) and John Robbins of the Trinity Foundation. Clark's system has been described by Gary Crampton as, "The 66 books of the Old and New Testaments are self-attesting and self-authenticating. Scripture stands in judgment over all books and ideas, and it is to be judged by no person or thing. The Bible alone is the Word of God. This is the Reformed principle of sola Scriptura." However, the worldview that results from the axiom may be tested for consistency and comprehensiveness. Testing for internal contradiction exemplifies Clark's strict reliance on the laws of logic (he famously translates the first verse of the Gospel of John as "In the beginning was the Logic, and the Logic was with God, and the Logic was God.") Thus, in order to invalidate non-Christian worldviews, one must simply show how a different presupposition results in necessary logical contradictions, while showing that presupposing the Bible leads to no logical contradiction. By contrast, some Van Tillians have suggested that God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture reveals apparent paradoxes.
However, Clark allowed that presupposing axioms (or "first principles") themselves do not make a philosophical system true, including his own; the fact that all worldviews he examined other than Christianity had internal contradictions only made Christianity highly more probable as truth, but not necessarily so. Nonetheless, he believed that this method was effective in many practical cases (when arguing against, for instance, secular humanism or dialectical materialism) and that, in the end, each of us must simply choose (that is, make an informed selection) from among seemingly consistent worldviews the one that most adequately answers life's questions and seems the most internally coherent. Some Van Tillian critics suggest that the concept of coherence itself must be defined in terms of Christian presuppositions but is instead being used by Clark as a "neutral" principle for discerning the truth of any proposition.
Using this approach, Clark labored to expose the contradictions of many worldviews that were in vogue in his day and to defend the Christian worldview by proving its consistency over and against those who attacked it. His unflagging use of logic sometimes led him to what most Reformed theologians consider rather unorthodox ideas on such topics as the problem of evil—topics which are most often treated by theologians as paradoxes or apparent contradictions not resolvable by human logic. But Clark famously rejected the idea that Scripture teaches paradoxes and notion of "apparent contradiction", asking "apparent to whom?". He described an alleged biblical paradox as nothing more than "a charley-horse between the ears that can be eliminated by rational massage."
With regard to other schools of apologetics, Clark suggested that the cosmological argument was not just unpersuasive but also logically invalid (because it begged the question), and he similarly dismissed the other Thomistic arguments. As a staunch critic of all varieties of empiricism, he did not tend to make much use of evidential arguments, which yield likelihoods and probabilities rather than logical certainties (that is, either coherence or incoherence).
The argument from a proper basis is an ontological argument for the existence of God related to fideism. Alvin Plantinga argued that belief in God is a properly basic belief, and so no basis for belief in God is necessary.Carl F. H. Henry
Carl Ferdinand Howard Henry (January 2, 1913 – December 7, 2003) was an American evangelical Christian theologian who provided intellectual and institutional leadership to the neo-evangelical movement in the mid-to-late 20th century. His early book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947), was influential in calling evangelicals to differentiate themselves from separatist fundamentalism and claim a role in influencing the wider American culture. He was involved in the creation of numerous major evangelical organizations, including the National Association of Evangelicals, Fuller Theological Seminary, Evangelical Theological Society, Christianity Today magazine (of which he was the founding editor), and the Institute for Advanced Christian Studies. The Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding at Trinity International University seek to carry on his legacy.Christian apologetics
Christian apologetics (Greek: ἀπολογία, "verbal defence, speech in defence") is a branch of Christian theology that defends Christianity against objections.Christian apologetics has taken many forms over the centuries, starting with Paul the Apostle in the early church and Patristic writers such as Origen, Augustine of Hippo, Justin Martyr and Tertullian, then continuing with writers such as Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham and Anselm of Canterbury during Scholasticism. Blaise Pascal was an active Christian apologist before the Age of Enlightenment, and in the modern period, Christianity was defended through the efforts of many authors such as G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis, as well as G. E. M. Anscombe. In contemporary times Christianity is defended through the work of figures such as Robert Barron, Richard Swinburne, J. P. Moreland, Ravi Zacharias, Rabi Maharaj, Robert Hutchinson, John Lennox, Doug Wilson, Lee Strobel, Francis Collins, Henry M. Morris, Hugh W. Nibley, Alister McGrath, Alvin Plantinga, Hugh Ross, Frank Turek, Greg Koukl, James White, David Wood, Dinesh D’Souza, David Bentley Hart, Nabeel Qureshi, William Lane Craig and Roger Scruton.Christian reconstructionism
Christian reconstructionism is a fundamentalist Reformed theonomic movement that developed under the ideas of Rousas Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen and Gary North; it has had an important influence on the Christian Right in the United States. In keeping with the cultural mandate, reconstructionists advocate theonomy and the restoration of certain biblical laws said to have continuing applicability. The movement declined in the 1990s and was declared dead in a 2008 Church History journal article, although Christian reconstructionist organizations such as the Chalcedon Foundation and American Vision are active today. Christian reconstructionists are usually postmillennialists and followers of the presuppositional apologetics of Cornelius Van Til.A Christian denomination that advocates the view of Christian reconstructionism is the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States. Most Reformed Christians, however, disavow Christian reconstructionism and hold to classical covenant theology, the traditional Reformed view of the relationship between the Old Covenant and Christianity.City Seminary of Sacramento
City Seminary of Sacramento is a conservative, evangelical seminary in Sacramento, California.Cornelius Van Til
Cornelius Van Til (May 3, 1895 – April 17, 1987) was a Dutch-American Christian philosopher and Reformed theologian, who is credited as being the originator of modern presuppositional apologetics.Evidential apologetics
Evidential apologetics or evidentialism is an approach to Christian apologetics emphasizing the use of evidence to demonstrate that God exists. The evidence is supposed to be evidence both the believer and nonbeliever share, that is to say one need not presuppose God's existence. Evidential apologetics is not necessarily evidentialism, however many associate them as the same. Evidential apologetics method looks at the New Testament's historical documents first, then upon to the Jesus' miracles in particular the resurrection which evidentialists believe points to Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Some of the top supporters of this method include Gary R. Habermas, John Warwick Montgomery, Clark Pinnock, and Wolfhart Pannenberg. Fideism
Fideism () is an epistemological theory which maintains that faith is independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths (see natural theology). The word fideism comes from fides, the Latin word for faith, and literally means "faith-ism".Theologians and philosophers have responded in various ways to the place of faith and reason in determining the truth of metaphysical ideas, morality, and religious beliefs. A fideist is one who argues for fideism. Historically, fideism is most commonly ascribed to four philosophers: Blaise Pascal, Søren Kierkegaard, William James, and Ludwig Wittgenstein; with fideism being a label applied in a negative sense by their opponents, but which is not always supported by their own ideas and works or followers. There are a number of different forms of fideism.Gordon Clark
Gordon Haddon Clark (August 31, 1902 – April 9, 1985) was an American philosopher and Calvinist theologian. He was a leading figure associated with presuppositional apologetics and was chairman of the Philosophy Department at Butler University for 28 years. He was an expert in pre-Socratic and ancient philosophy and was noted for his rigor in defending propositional revelation against all forms of empiricism and rationalism, in arguing that all truth is propositional and thus uses the laws of logic. His theory of knowledge is sometimes called scripturalism.Greg Bahnsen
Greg L. Bahnsen (September 17, 1948 – December 11, 1995) was an American Calvinist philosopher, apologist, and debater. He was a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and a full-time Scholar in Residence for the Southern California Center for Christian Studies (SCCCS). He is also considered a contributor to the field of Christian apologetics, as he popularized the presuppositional method of Cornelius Van Til. He is the father of David L. Bahnsen, an American portfolio manager, author, and television commentator.John Frame (theologian)
John M. Frame (born April 8, 1939 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) is an American Christian philosopher and Calvinist theologian especially noted for his work in epistemology and presuppositional apologetics, systematic theology, and ethics. He is one of the foremost interpreters and critics of the thought of Cornelius Van Til.Libertarian Christianity
Libertarian Christianity is a variant of Reformed Christian theology. This type of libertarianism derives from a specific blending of systematic theology and biblical theology. Advocates claim to be Christians first, and libertarians second. As libertarians they believe that all secular governments exist to protect natural rights, and only to protect natural rights; and they believe that natural rights are necessarily defined in terms of private property, at least in the legal and political arena. --- Although they readily acknowledge the distinction between their legal / political philosophy and the rest of their theology, they are suspicious of any attempt at separating the two, on the grounds that separating the two leaves the visible Church without a viable, Bible-based legal philosophy.
Libertarian Christians claim to be distinct from secular libertarians and Christian libertarians. They claim to be distinct from secular libertarians by deriving their libertarian legal and political philosophy from the Bible, rather than from secular sources. They claim to be distinct from Christian libertarians through their derivation of Bible-based legal philosophy using biblical hermeneutics that are different from those used by Christian libertarians.Despite their claim to being different from secular libertarians and Christian libertarians, libertarian Christians readily acknowledge large areas of agreement with other kinds of libertarianism with regard to legal and political concerns, and they readily work in concert with people from these other schools with regard to their common concerns. More specifically, they find large areas of agreement with categories of libertarianism and anarchism that generally espouse private property and natural rights. These include anarcho-capitalism, minarchism, paleolibertarianism, left-libertarianism, and Christian libertarianism.Northwest Theological Seminary
Northwest Theological Seminary was a theological seminary in the Reformed Christian tradition located in Lynnwood, Washington.Outline of theology
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to theology:
Theology is the critical study of the nature of the divine. It is taught as an academic discipline, typically in universities, seminaries and schools of divinity.Presupposition (disambiguation)
In linguistics, a presupposition of a statement is a proposition which must be true in order for the statement to make sense.
Presupposition may also refer to:
Presupposition (philosophy), in epistemology, requirements for a belief system to make sense
Presuppositional apologetics, argues that the existence or non-existence of God is the basic presupposition of all human thoughtPresupposition (philosophy)
In epistemology, a presupposition relates to a belief system, or Weltanschauung, that is required for the argument to make sense. A variety of Christian apologetics, called presuppositional apologetics, argues that the existence or non-existence of God is the basic presupposition of all human thought, and that all people arrive at a worldview which is ultimately determined by the theology they presuppose. Evidence and arguments are only developed after the fact in an attempt to justify the theological assumptions already made. According to this view, it is impossible to demonstrate the existence of God unless one presupposes that God exists, with the stance that modern science relies on methodological naturalism, a myth, and thus is incapable of discovering the supernatural. It thereby fashions a Procrustean bed which rejects any observation which would disprove the naturalistic assumption. Apologetics argue that the resulting worldview is inconsistent with itself and therefore irrational (for example, via the Argument from morality or via the Transcendental argument for the existence of God).Robert Knight Rudolph
Robert Knight Rudolph (June 8, 1906 — July 14, 1986) was an American Reformed Episcopal minister and theologian. He served as Professor of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics at the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Episcopal Church in Philadelphia for forty-nine years before his retirement in 1981. Together Rudolph and his father trained men for the gospel ministry at this institution for a total of seventy-four years. Rudolph was known for his strict adherence to Calvinism and presuppositional apologetics.Rolland D. McCune
Rolland D. McCune (born June 3, 1934) is an American theologian and ordained Baptist minister (First Baptist Church of Warsaw, Indiana). He was professor of Systematic Theology at the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, Michigan, where he had been the President of the Seminary for ten years and then Dean of the Faculty for six years. He was active at the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary from 1981 to 2009.
He is the author of several books and numerous articles and course syllabi in Christian theology and related topics.
Dr. McCune was born and raised near Berne, Indiana. He earned the Bachelor of Arts degree at Taylor University, Fort Wayne Campus (Indiana), and the Bachelor of Divinity, Master of Theology, and Doctor of Theology degrees at Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Indiana. He has made six trips to the Middle East, visiting such countries of the Bible as Italy, Turkey, Greece, Jordan, Israel, and Egypt. Twice he participated in the Bible Geography Seminar at the Institute of Holy Land Studies in Jerusalem. He was ordained to the ministry by the First Baptist Church of Warsaw, Indiana.
Dr. McCune pastored churches in Missouri, and Indiana, and has had numerous interim pastorates in Indiana, Minnesota, and Michigan. For fourteen years he was on the faculty of the Central Baptist Theological Seminary of Minneapolis, serving in the capacities of Professor, Registrar, and Dean. He at one time served on the Board of Trustees of The Minnesota Baptist Association and on the faculty of the Indiana Baptist College in Indianapolis. In 1977 he was chosen by his college alma mater for honorary membership in the Delta Epsilon Chi, the honor society of the American Association of Bible Colleges. In 1986 he was conferred with an honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree by Pillsbury Baptist Bible College, Owatonna, Minnesota. He began his ministry in Allen Park in 1981.
Dr. McCune has written numerous articles and extensive course syllabi in Systematic Theology, Presuppositional Apologetics, New Evangelicalism, History of Israel, Basic Bible Doctrine, and Dispensationalism, and a teacher's handbook on the Book of Daniel. Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Evangelicalism was published by Ambassador-Emerald in 2004, and has been described as "the most penetrating evaluation of the new evangelicalism [to date]".Dr. McCune is married to the former Daisy Heller of near Berne, Indiana, and they have three married children.Transcendental argument for the existence of God
The Transcendental Argument for the Existence of God (TAG) is the argument that attempts to prove the existence of God by arguing that logic, morals, and science ultimately presuppose a supreme being and that God must therefore be the source of logic and morals.A version was formulated by Immanuel Kant in his 1763 work The Only Possible Argument in Support of a Demonstration of the Existence of God, and most contemporary formulations of the transcendental argument have been developed within the framework of Christian presuppositional apologetics.