Over the course of my Christian life, I have at least set up a tent in every apologetic camp. First, my apologetic method was quoting C.S. Lewis. Then, I thought that the most effective method was to give "Evidence that Demands a Verdict." Then, I thought that the most effective method had to be classical apologetics a la R.C. Sproul. Now, I realize that finding the "most effective method" is irrelevant, because it is always and only GOD who works through the means of a witness to breathe life into spiritually dead people.
With that said, not every apologetic method is created equal, and each one has its own unique strengths and dangers. To be sure, there is not only one way to do apologetics in a way that glorifies God. God is glorified whenever we present the Gospel of Scripture to a lost and dying individual. Let us now look at the positive and negative points of the two major options and then draw some observations.
Positives of Presuppositionalism
Definition: Presuppositionalism is the method of apologetics which acknowledges that all of a person's beliefs are inter-connected and must be addressed as a unit, called a worldview. Presuppositionalism also acknowledges that the best way to engage the unbeliever is to show them that their worldview is inconsistent or arbitrary and that only the Christian worldview makes sense.
- Presuppositionalism understands that coming to faith is not merely a matter of finding the Christian interpretation of facts more convincing than a secular interpretation.
This method of apologetics is, in a sense, Calvinistic apologetics. It recognizes that sin has a noetic effect (i.e. it affects the intellect) so that no unregenerate person can look at the "brute facts" and come away with an accurate understanding of and love for the God of the Bible. Salvation is more than just a matter of believing that 51% of your evidence points to Christianity and only 49% points against it. Rather, the way we look at reality has to be changed by the Holy Spirit through regeneration before we can exercise true saving faith.
- Presuppositionalism gets to the heart of the matter very quickly.
With this method, you don't have to wade through layers upon layers of historical, theological, and theoretical objections before presenting the Gospel. You can immediately present the Gospel, using Scripture as your authority. When the unbeliever objects to your use of Scripture as authority, you can point out that they must appeal to an authority (usually reason) to know anything as well.
- Presuppositionalism is irrefutable.
This may seem like a bold statement, but there is truly no way to refute a presuppositionalist. For a person to even communicate an objection to absolute, universal laws or standards, they have to use language and reason with the understanding that language and reason communicate something that is absolute and universal. Thus, in opening his mouth, the opponent refutes himself. That is not to say that the presuppositional argument will convince the unbeliever, but to deny the argument is to resort to the realm of non-reason.
Negatives of Presuppositionalism
- It is easy to overlook genuine questions to which the unbeliever longs to hear an answer.
There are different sorts of barriers that unbelievers have towards the Gospel. Some are intellectual, and some are emotional. Imagine a man whose wife left him for another man and whose mother recently passed away after a long, agonizing battle with cancer. This man may not have as many intellectual objections to the faith, but he will almost certainly be dealing with the problem of pain. Another person may have heard that the Bible is historically unreliable, and the best answer to his question may be just to answer his question without delving into an in-depth discussion on epistemology (although the conversation may eventually get to that point).
- It is easy to confuse proof and persuasion.
This may seem like a tedious distinction, but it is absolutely crucial. To prove something is to create an argument that is sound and cannot be overturned. To persuade a person of something is to cause them to accept your conclusion as their own. It is far to easy for us to think that if we can prove something that we can also persuade someone of it. However, this is not the case. We know that "The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his handiwork" (Psalm 19.1) and that God's "eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made" (Romans 1.20). God uses the entire universe to prove His existence, but men can reject this clear proof for God's existence and darken their hearts. Likewise, we can present proof of God's existence without persuading the unbeliever. The perfect argument will not replace a heart of stone with a heart of flesh.
Positives of Evidentialism
Definition: Evidentialism is the method of apologetics which presents the unbeliever with evidence for the reliability of the Christian faith.
- Evidentialism recognizes that Christianity is based in historic events.
Christianity is grounded in the fact that certain things happened in real time and space. Evidentialism understands that there are certain facts and propositions that one must accept in order to become a Christian.
- Evidentialism encourages study of Scripture and its context.
Since the evidentialist is seeking to prove Scripture's internal consistency and its historical reliability, he must know his Bible know his history.
Negatives of Evidentialism
- Evidentialism places too much credit in the mind of fallen man.
We believe that we are totally depraved - that is that sin affects our entire being, including the mind. Evedentialism assumes that if we give the unbeliever sufficient evidence, we can persuade him. However, this is utterly false. God alone opens and shuts the eyes of our hearts. Faith is not a matter of having 51% of our evidence supporting Christianity and only 49% opposing it; but it is a matter of God regenerating us and making us able to understand the truth.
- Evidentialism ultimately has no defense against materialism.
Many times, evidentialists appeal to the idea of an uncaused first cause to prove the existence of God. However, when a materialist comes along and says that the stuff the universe is made of is eternal, the evedentialist runs out of evidence. You cannot tackle the issue of first causes without the presuppositional argument
In conclusion, every person is different, with a unique personality and background, so we must address them as individuals. We cannot simply commit ourselves to a specific apologetic method and blast away at the unbeliever. To do so is not only foolish, but it also shows that we have a greater desire to prove ourselves right and the unbeliever wrong than to give glory to God by our witness. We have seen that both of the major competing schools of apologetics have advantages and disadvantages. There is no universally "right" way to do apologetics except to preach Christ and Him crucified and resurrected and let the Holy Spirit do the work.