The two major types of apologetics do not have to be mutually exclusive as active believers work to spread the word of the Gospel and encourage people to walk with Jesus Christ.
When I initially started down the road of spreading the Gospel, I relied heavily on evidence. This popular method, called evidential apologetics, is designed to use facts, probabilities, and fulfilled prophecies to convince those of other faiths as well as atheists and agnostics that the Bible must be true.
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.C.S. LewisIn the few attempts I made, I feel like I failed miserably. Most of this was due to the fact that I was inexperienced and tried to rely too much on debating skills and clear evidence rather than allowing myself to be a tool for the Lord. It is my opinion that the Holy Spirit will speak through us when we’re open to be a vessel rather than trying to act as an attorney; more on that later.
Two years ago, I came across the idea of presuppositional apologetics where the believer demonstrates that we already know of God’s existence. The goal of this type of apologetics is not to prove that the Bible is true but rather to uncover the intrinsic knowledge within us that has been buried by years of societal conditioning. It uses a logical approach to convince the recipient that they already believe in God despite a persistent pull from an evil world.
Recently, I realized that there is a middle ground. This is hard for me to accept because I am normally given over to extremes, but what I have been shown is that it’s possible for both forms of apologetics to work in harmony and actually expand upon each other to the point that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
The key is to focus less on evidence promoting the Word and more on exposing the fallacies of the opposing worldviews. This has the intended effect of suspending disbelief. Much like a good movie attempts to allow people to enter the story, this methodology attempts to allow the mind to open to the concepts of presuppositional apologetics by first taking a spin through evidential apologetics.
There are other ways that believers can try to bring non-believers to the truth. Classical apologetics, reformed epistemology, and Pascal’s Wager are all often used, but we’re going to keep it in the two-part realm of evidential and presuppositional apologetics in order to allow this innovation to form.
Quick Note on Apolotetics
Despite my best efforts, I’ve allowed apologetics to creep into this website. It’s not by design; our original goal was to focus on spreading the Gospel and to leave apologetics to those who were better suited and directly called to do so. Something keeps pulling me back into it even if I do not practice it directly in discussions with others. Instead, I tend to use my writing to bring about points that others can use as they converse with non-believers.
Arguably the biggest reason that we continue to be pulled towards helping others with apologetics is because the arguments made by atheists as well as the rise of Islamic Da‘wah compel me to address the issue. There is very clear evidence that the Bible is true. There is knowledge that has been given to us that allows to know the truth of the Bible. Between the two, we feel that it’s possible for believers to help others see the light.
Everywhere we look, we can see society pushing against the spreading of the Gospel. Every event seems to have a devious angle. Free speech seems to apply to anti-Biblical views, but those who fight back are attacked. It is very possible that the allure I feel towards apologetics is more of an emotional response to the times rather than a true calling to do something about it. Nevertheless, we’ll post this concept and see where it leads us.
Challenges Within Each Approach
There are flaws with each of the types of apologetics we’re discussing. I heard a compelling story against evidential apologetics from a presuppositional apologist that went something like this (paraphrasing from memory):
A young lady said that she didn’t believe Jesus Christ was the Son of God, nor did she think that believing in Him would grant her salvation. The evidential apologist went through various proofs of God’s existence, using the debunked evolution of the eye and other example of the validity of creation. Once she seemed to be open to the idea, he explained the prophecies of Yeshua as written in the Old Testament and how He had fulfilled all of these prophecies completely.
She was really starting to believe what he was saying. She hadn’t heard many of these things before. She questioned the resurrection. He explained the witnesses of Yeshua after his resurrection, how He had proclaimed that He would rise again after three days, and how Saul had been stopped and converted to become a believer on the road to Damascus.
After careful thought, she had heard enough. She believed there was a creator. She even believed in the resurrection. However, she did not hear enough proof to make her believe that He was the Son of God, nor did she think that believing in Him was the way to salvation. In essence, the evidential argument led her to believe more in a form of spiritualism and intelligent design, but not that Yeshua was Lord and Savior.
The flip side has its shortcomings. A common objection to the presuppositional approach is that the door can be slammed by the listener immediately and forever. Everyone has presuppositions whether towards the Bible, the Quran, new age spiritualism, science, agnosticism, atheism… even open minded people have biases and leanings that can prevent them from seeing the truth.
If the assumed worldview of an individual is deeply rooted, it can be extremely challenging to get to them without evidence. They will not only shut down within a debate about our Creator, but a presuppositional approach can often taint them from being able to hear other arguments in the future. Basically, presuppositional apologetics utilized on the wrong people (perhaps most people) can do more harm than good. That’s the theory. We aren’t saying that’s necessarily true.
In the nature of the case, the best witness to God’s existence, the truth of His revelation, and the basis of a genuinely sound defense of the Christian faith would be God Himself. Greg L. BahnsenWhat is definitely true is that some people will see the truth more easily than others. Those who take on the role of an apologist have a great responsibility. Every question is an opportunity. Every argument made in public can sway people in one direction or the other. With souls at stake, it takes a caring and bold person to handle the responsibility properly.
We believe that combining the two styles in question may be a way to reach more and lose fewer. This is all theoretical at this point and we cannot stress enough the importance of constant prayer. One must be open to letting the Holy Spirit work through them to be successful with any opportunities the Lord puts in front of us. With apologetics, this couldn’t be more important.
Combining Apologetic Styles
Presuppositional apologetics relies on people having an open mind while evidential apologetics relies on facts causing an awakening. Looking at this logically, it would seem that evidential apologetics is a more powerful opening to make the listener contemplate the possibilities.
On the other hand, presuppositional apologetics appeals to an inherent understanding of the Creation that must be unlocked while evidential apologetics relies on logic and evidence. Once a person is open to the possibilities, a presuppositional approach is more likely to generate the life-changing “aha moment” while the evidential approach creates a need for more evidence.
Knowing this, we believe that opening with evidential apologetics and shifting to presuppositional at the right time could be the ideal methodology. To work, one would have to possess a vast amount of knowledge in both disciplines and be able to switch back and forth when appropriate. It’s very similar to an offensive strategy in football; the ground game sets up the passing game, which loosens the defense to help the ground game, which sets up play-action-passes… if you’re a football fan, you’ll understand.
This will sound obtuse to either side but particularly to the presuppositional apologist. Their core belief is that God is His own best defender. He doesn’t need a lawyer. His Word alone is the only way to truly convert a non-believer. We aren’t going to deny that at all. In fact, we support it. However, we believe that if a presuppositional argument is the best way to win the game, then an opening evidential argument is the best way to get them to play in the first place.
Here’s a very simple mock conversation to illustrate this concept:
John: I believe in evolution. The fossil record is very clear.
Sally: I don’t disagree. In fact, the fossil record gives a clear understanding that the Bible is true.
John: Scientists have shown that everything has evolved over millions of years. This disproves the Bible.
Sally: On the contrary, the fossil record has been interpreted that way because they have no other way to explain it if they take God out of the equation. However, if you insert God into the equation, the fossil record matches perfectly, particularly with the Cambrian Explosion and evolutionary impossibilities such as the eye.
John: But they’ve already proven that the eye evolved from eyespots, then compound eyes, then modern eyes. It’s not impossible.
Sally: Let me ask you this. What did the original eyespot evolve from? If there was no way to detect the existence of light before the eyespot, why would it have evolved in the first place? The concept of evolution relies on improvements based upon environment and circumstance. If an organism could not detect light, it would go against evolution to produce an organ that was capable of detecting it.
John: Well, smarter people than you and me believe in evolution. There’s an explanation for everything. We just haven’t found it yet.
Sally: Smarter people than you and me believed that Y2K was going to cause an unavoidable global meltdown. Countries that spent huge amounts of money to prepare even warned their citizens to stay away from South Korea, a country that was highly computerized but who had done virtually nothing to prepare. Their lack of preparation caused zero calamaties.
John: None of this has to do with the existence of a Creator.
Sally: No it doesn’t. It has to do with faith. You have complete faith in scientific interpretations, even though so many of them have been proven wrong. The Bible does not go against science at all. It goes against interpretations of scientists who feel that they must explain everything without God in order to maintain their credibility and funding. It comes down to having an open mind.
John: I have an open mind but I need proof.
Sally: If you had an open mind you would see that there is absolutely zero proof against the Biblical account.
John: Okay. Let’s say I have an open mind about it. Why should I believe the Bible over scientists?
This is the point of transition. There’s no indication that they are actually opening their mind, but the question is a sign that they’re willing to listen. At this point, it’s time to shift to a presuppositional approach. I pulled the rest of this dialogue from Carm and edited it a bit:
Sally: What would you like to know?
John: Prove to me there is a God.
Sally: I do not think I can do that because of your presuppositions.
John: Why not?
Sally: Because your presuppositions will not allow you to examine without bias the evidence that I present to you for God’s existence.
John: That is because there is no evidence for God’s existence.
Sally: See? There you go. You just confirmed what I was stating.
John: How so?
Sally: Your presupposition is that there is no God; therefore, no matter what I might present to you to show His existence, you must interpret it in a manner consistent with your presupposition: namely, that there is no God. If I were to have a video tape of God coming down from heaven, you’d say it was a special effect. If I had a thousand eye-witnesses saying they saw Him, you’d say it was mass-hysteria. If I had Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in the New Testament, you’d say they were forged, dated incorrectly, or not real prophecies. So, I cannot prove anything to you since your presupposition won’t allow it. It is limited.
John: It is not limited.
Sally: Yes, it is. Your presupposition cannot allow you to rightly determine God’s existence from evidence – providing that there were factual proofs of His existence. Don’t you see? If I DID have incontrovertible proof, your presupposition would force you to interpret the facts consistently with your presupposition; and you would not be able to see the proof.
John: I see your point, but I am open to being persuaded if you can.
Sally: Then, I must ask you, what kind of evidence would you accept that would prove God’s existence? I must see what your presuppositions are and work either with them or against them.
This seems like a lot of dialogue to have with someone before discussing one Bible verse or a single story of Yeshua, but it’s worth it. Making sure that the person you’re talking to is open to the idea must precede any attempts to change their worldview. Otherwise, you will, in most situations, be spinning your wheels.
Converting people is getting more challenging. It’s ironic that in the digital age, when the ability to learn and teach are at their highest levels, is also the time when the world is turning more and more secular. Atheists would say that it’s because the knowledge increase gives people more access to the “truth”, but the reality is that this expansion of knowledge potential has been embraced by the adversary.
In other words, the forces of darkness spread throughout the internet much more quickly and with more technical savvy than those who understand the truth. We saw it happen with books. We saw it happen with radio. Of course, it happened with television and movies at a much faster pace than its predecessors. Now, it happened exponentially and very quickly with the internet.
We could write a book on this subject and in the coming months we probably will write the equivalent of a book in the form of posts, but for now, we just want to plant the seed. Evidential apologetics is easier to understand, so we’re going to start with videos of Dr. Jason Lisle of the Institute for Creation Research to tell us some in-depth information about the reasons and style of a presuppositional understanding. Check back often or subscribe to our email newsletter to see additional resources and posts we’ll do on this subject.
God is very real. If you read this article, you probably already know that. Now, we can work together to get a deeper understanding of how to reach more people with the message.
(This article is part of the Compassion and Fear Series)