Cornelius Van Til (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Geoff Thomas kindly forwarded ‘An Introduction to Presuppositional Apologetics’ by Ian Clary. It doesn’t go into an enormous amount of detail but is well worth a read to get a taste for the Presuppositional method.
After a brief introduction Clary outlines The Task of Apologetics as fourfold going on to briefly summarise the three schools of thought, Evidential, Classical and Presuppositional. On the apologetic task Clary writes:
John M. Frame explains that there are three aspects to apologetics. First, apologetics is proof; it presents a rational basis for the Christian faith and proves it be true (cf. John 14:11). Second, apologetics is defense; it answers the challenges of unbelief (cf. Phil. 1:7). Third, apologetics is offense; it attacks the foolishness of unbelief (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16). In addition to this tripartite understanding of apologetics William Edgar adds that commending the faith is just as important as defending it. Therefore the command to evangelize is integral to apologetics. “Evangelism and apologetics are seamlessly linked and together function under the rubric of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).”
The bulk of the article considers Some Basic Tenets. There are four of these and I’ll briefly try to summarise them, using Clary’s order. It’s in the introduction to this section where we find ‘This list is not exhaustive, but will hopefully give an adequate basis for understanding what one writer has called “kung-fu” apologetics.”
Not only can ‘Kung Fu’ be dangerous for an opponent but a little knowledge can be dangerous for the practitioner. So we need to be careful that we do not use this method inappropriately, or think we are some kind of Apologetics ‘Martial Artist’ only to get battered in our first encounter. The need for humility and graciousness is paramount.
This section is concerned with two diametrically opposed views. Here’s a section from the article that puts it well:
The notion of antithesis is reflected in Scripture, as seen in the 1 Corinthians 2:14 passage noted above. Paul could ask in 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 what relation does righteousness have with lawlessness, or light with darkness? Here, Paul likely builds on the teaching of Jesus in Mark 9:40 who said, “For the one who is not against us is for us.” And of course, the antithesis can be traced all the way back to the garden of Eden after the fall where God said to Satan in Genesis 3:15 that he would put enmity between he and the woman, between his offspring and hers.
Point of Contact
I have heard people misrepresent PA by saying there is no point in evangelising and there is nothing in common with the unbeliever. On the contrary there are two very powerful points of contact. This is not talking about a common interest like DIY or stamp collecting but a theological ‘common ground’ a point of contact. These are two-fold and extremely powerful. Everyone lives in God’s world and the evidence for this confronts the unbeliever every moment of every day wherever they are. The Bible tells us quite explicitly that God has made it plain, His eternal power and divine nature are ‘clearly seen’ because God has made it so. Clary puts it this way,
Experientially, the non-Christian lives in God’s world and is confronted daily with general revelation. God’s revelation is clear whether an unbeliever observes creation from the farthest galaxy to the smallest cell. The apostle Paul makes this point in Romans 1:20 when he says that God’s invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—are “clearly seen” in the created order.
The second point of contact is internal to each and every person as we are all made in the image of God. We have a conscience and there is a knowledge of God though suppressed in unrighteousness. Clary again,
Alongside revelation in the external world, the unbeliever internally has an experience of God: in conscience. Immediate knowledge of God, since conception, renders the unbeliever without excuse. This knowledge is a result of the unbeliever bearing the image of God and the implanted sensus deitatis. Paul says in Romans 1:21 that unbelievers “know God” but do not glorify him. Therefore every apologetic appeal is to something already known by the unbeliever. If by God’s grace that knowledge is brought to remembrance, then conversion occurs. However, if the unbeliever continues in hardness of heart, the apologist has still accomplished his or her task of showing the unbeliever that deep down inside, they truly know God. This only furthers unbelievers’ responsibility to believe.
This point is to do not just with authority, but with final authority. Once all the layers have been peeled away what is it we are standing on. One of the criticisms of PA and Van Til according to Clary is that of ‘circular reasoning’. We answer this by saying, doesn’t every one do that. I have posted on this before but this to me is the very power of the method. I must assume my conclusion because it’s my Ultimate Commitment or Final Authority – if I didn’t it wouldn’t be my final authority it would be something else. As a Christian surely my final authority, my ultimate commitment must be to Christ and His Word. Here’s a passage from Clary’s article,
The real issue comes down to justifying one’s starting point. Can the non-Christian substantiate their autonomous reason as a legitimate and rational epistemic foundation? To do so, he or she must first assume reason before it can be proven to be a justifiable authority. This is what Van Til called a “vicious circle.” He could also say, “To admit one’s own presuppositions and to point out the presuppositions of others is therefore to maintain that all reasoning is, in the nature of the case, circular reasoning. The starting-point, method, and the conclusion are always involved in one another.”
Transcendental Argument (TAG)
This is the one that is the most difficult to get my head around. I can see it, but have difficulty explaining it. So I obviously haven’t got a clear grasp of it – yet. So I’m not going to attempt an explanation at this point but to merely give some tasters from Clary and tempt you to check out the full article. And if you have a simple way of explaining this then I would love to hear it. Here’s a tempter from Clary,
Van Til once wrote, “At the outset it ought to be clearly observed that very system of thought necessarily has a certain method of its own.” For Van Til, the only cogent method of apologetics, from the Christian perspective, is the transcendental method. The most significant contribution that Van Til made to apologetics, what has been called a contribution of Copernican dimensions, is the “transcendental argument” for the existence of God.
Hope that helps someone that’s as new to this as I am. Come back to see if I am making progress.
You can find the full article at Apologetics Journal. There are a bunch of footnotes I have left out that you will be able to check out in the full article.
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