Skip to main content

Biblical Apologetic Methodology (Part 2) by Dr. Myron Houghton

Here we get a summary of the evidentialist and presuppositionalist approaches to methodology. Next week will be the Biblical evidence.


Evidential methodology

In 1950, Edward John Carnell wrote a three-part series for Moody Monthly entitled, “How Every Christian Can Defend His Faith.” In dealing with a person who sincerely doubts the existence of God, Carnell says, “A genuinely sincere agnostic is ‘not far from the kingdom.’ Often the first thing to do when dealing with such a person is to give him a glimpse of the variety and extent of proofs supporting Christianity, by pointing to as many as you can of the many evidences that God exists. . . . Even though you may not be able to discuss each one of these evidences in detail—or even remember all of them—cite as many as you can. This will help to give the person with whom you are speaking a glimpse of the great mass of facts which go to prove the reality of God.

“If the person is impressed with this evidence, turn at once to the gospel. Read crucial passages and permit the Spirit to work on the inner recesses of his heart. Remember that apologetics is merely a preparation. After the ground has been broken . . . proceed immediately with sowing and watering. If, however, the objector appears unimpressed with the evidences you have listed, leave them and turn to logical reasoning.” [1. Edward John Carnell, “How Every Christian Can Defend His Faith,” Moody Monthly, January 1950, p. 313.] Here, Carnell is using theistic proofs to prepare one for the gospel.

Elsewhere, Carnell gives the first of two answers to those who object that Christians find their system in the Bible and then make the facts of nature fit it: “First, the Christian finds his system of philosophy in the Bible, to be sure, but he accepts this, not simply because it is in the Bible, but because, when tested, it makes better sense out of life than other systems of philosophy make.” [2. Edward John Carnell, An Introduction to Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948), p. 102.] Notice that Carnell makes reason and logic an authority—even over the Bible.

John Warwick Montgomery seems to believe it is possible to make believing in Christ reasonable. He states, “Evidently, what is necessary for effective Christian witness in a pluralistic world is an objective apologetic—a ‘reason for the hope that is in you’—that will give the non-Christian clear ground for experientially trying the Christian faith before all other options. Absolute proof of the truth of Christ’s claims is available only in personal relationship with Him; but contemporary man has every right to expect us to offer solid reasons for making such a total commitment. The apologetic task is justified not as a rational substitute for faith, but as a ground for faith; not as a replacement for the Spirit’s working, but as a means by which the objective truth of God’s Word can be made clear so that men will heed it as the vehicle of the Spirit who convicts the world through its message.” [3. John Warwick Montgomery, Faith Founded on Fact (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1978), p. 40.]

Presuppositional methodology

Cornelius Van Til, a leading proponent of presuppositional apologetics, states,

“My proposal, therefore, for a consistently Christian methodology of apologetics is this:

  1. That we use the same principle in apologetics that we use in theology: the self-attesting, self-explanatory Christ of Scripture.
  2. That we no longer make an appeal to ‘common notions’ which Christians and non-Christians agree on, but to the ‘common ground’ which they actually have because man and his world are what Scripture says they are.
  3. That we appeal to man as man, God’s image. We do so only if we set the non-Christian principle of the rational autonomy of man against the Christian principle of the dependence of man’s knowledge on God’s knowledge as revealed in the person and by the Spirit of Christ.
  4. That we claim, therefore, that Christianity alone is reasonable for men to hold. It is wholly irrational to hold any other position than that of Christianity. Christianity alone does not slay reason on the altar of ‘chance.’
  5. That we argue, therefore, by ‘presupposition.’ The Christian, as did Tertuilian, must contest the very principles of his opponent’s position. The only ‘proof’ of the Christian position is that unless its truth is presupposed there is no possibility of ‘proving’ anything at all. The actual state of affairs as preached by Christianity is the necessary foundation of ‘proof’ itself.
  6. That we preach with the understanding that the acceptance of the Christ of Scripture by sinners who, being alienated from God, seek to flee his face, comes about when the Holy Spirit, in the presence of inescapably clear evidence, opens their eyes so that they see things as they truly are.”

Robert L. Reymond, a presuppositionalist, describes this view in the following way: “1. Presuppositionalism, or Credo ut intelligam (‘I believe in order that I may understand’), systems presupposing the primacy of special revelation as providing the ground for the total theological enterprise. Group characteristics here are convictions that (1) faith in God precedes understanding everything else (cf. Hebrews 11:3), (2) elucidation of the system follows faith, (3) the religious experience must be grounded in the objective Word of God and the objective work of Christ, (4) human depravity has rendered autonomous reason incapable of satisfactorily anchoring its truth claims to anything objectively certain, and (5) a special regenerating act of the Holy Spirit is indispensable for Christian faith and enlightenment.” [4. Robert L. Reymond, The Justification of Knowledge (Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1976, p. 8.]

“That we present the message and evidence for the Christian position as clearly as possible, knowing that because man is what the Christian says he is, the non-Christian will be able to understand in an intellectual sense the issues involved. In so doing, we shall, to a large extent, be telling him what he ‘already knows’ but seeks to suppress. This ‘reminding’ process provides a fertile ground for the Holy Spirit, who in sovereign grace may grant the non-Christian repentance so that he may know him who is life eternal.” [5. Cornelius Van Til, “My Credo” in Jerusalem and Athens, edited by E. R. Geehan (Nutley, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1977), pp. 20, 21.]

Leave a Reply