A Biblical Apologetics Methodology

Summary of Presuppositional Apologetic Method by Greg Bahnsen (from Always Ready)—with Bahnsen’s Bible references added in full from the NIV. Edited by Steve R. Scrivener. Adapted from vantil.info.

… we can now summarize the way in which we ought to go about defending the Christian hope within us:

The Nature of the Apologetic Situation:

  1. The controversy between the believer and unbeliever is in principle an antithesis between two complete systems of thought involving ultimate commitments and assumptions.
    My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge... See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces[a] of this world rather than on Christ.Colossians 2: 2-3, 8
  2. Even laws of thought and method, along with factual evidence, will be accepted and evaluated in light of one’s governing presuppositions.
    “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”Luke 16:31
  3. All chains of argumentation, especially over matters of ultimate personal importance, trace back to and depend upon starting points which are taken to be self-evidencing; thus circularity in debate will be unavoidable. However, not all circles are intelligible or valid.

  4. Thus appeals to logic, fact, and personality may be necessary, but they are not apologetically adequate; what is needed is not piece-meal replies, probabilities, or isolated evidences but rather an attack upon the underlying presuppositions of the unbeliever’s system of thought.
  5. Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?1 Corinthians 1:20
  6. The unbeliever’s way of thinking is characterized as follows:

    1. By nature the unbeliever is the image of God Gen 1:26 and, therefore inescapably religious; his heart testifies continually, as does also the clear revelation of God around him, to God’s existence and character.
    2. [S]ince what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.... Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.Romans 1: 19-20, 32
    3. But the unbeliever exchanges the truth for a lie.
      They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.Romans 1: 25
      He is a fool who refuses to begin his thinking with reverence for the Lord...
      The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.Proverbs 1:7
      ...he will not build upon Christ’s self-evidencing words...
      But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”Matthew 7: 26-27
      ...and suppresses the unavoidable revelation of God in nature.
      The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickednessRomans 1:18
    4. Because he delights not in understanding but chooses to serve the creature rather than the Creator Romans 1:25, the unbeliever is self-confidently committed to his own ways of thought...
      The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.Proverbs 12:15
      ...being convinced that he could not be fundamentally wrong, he flaunts perverse thinking and challenges the self-attesting word of God.
      All who are prudent act with knowledge, but fools expose their folly.Proverbs 13:16
      The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.1 Corinthians 2:14
    5. Consequently, the unbeliever’s thinking results in ignorance; in his darkened futile mind...
      So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.Ephesians 4:17-18
      ...he actually hates knowledge...
      “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?Proverbs 1:22
      ...and can gain only a “knowledge” falsely so-called.
      Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge1 Timothy 6:20
    6. To the extent that he actually knows anything, it is due to his unacknowledged dependence upon the suppressed truth about God within him Rom 1:18, 21 This renders the unbeliever intellectually schizophrenic: by his espoused way of thinking he actually “opposes himself” and shows a need for a radical “change of mind” (repentance) unto a genuine knowledge of the truth.
      Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.2 Timothy 2:25
    7. The unbeliever’s ignorance is culpable because he is without excuse for his rebellion against God’s revelation; hence he is “without an apologetic” for his thoughts. Rom 1:20

    8. His unbelief does not stem from a lack of factual evidence but from his refusal to submit to the authoritative word of God from the beginning of his thinking. Lk 16:31

The Requirements of the Apologist:

  1. The apologist must have the proper attitude; he must not be arrogant or quarrelsome
    Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.2 Timothy 2:23-25
    but with humility Js 3:13 and respect he must argue in a gentle and peaceable manner 1 Pet 3:15b.

  2. The apologist must have the proper starting point...
    Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."John 14:6
    ...he must take God’s word as his self-evidencing presupposition...
    When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.Matthew 7:28-29
    ...thinking God’s thoughts after Him...
    For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.Psalm 36:9
    ...(rather than attempting to be neutral), and viewing God’s word as more sure than even his personal experience of the facts.
    For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.vWe also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.2 Peter 1: 16-19
  3. The apologist must have the proper method; working on the unbeliever’s unacknowledged presuppositions Rom 1:18 and being firmly grounded in his own.
    ...in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge... So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.Colossians 2: 3,6-7
    The apologist must aim to cast down every high imagination exalted against the knowledge of God by aiming to bring every thought (his own, as well as his opponents) captive to the obedience of Christ.
    The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.2 Corinthians 10: 4-5
  4. The apologist must have the proper goal: securing the unbeliever’s unconditional surrender 2 Cor 10:5 without compromising one’s own fidelity 1 Pet 3:15a.

    1. The word of the cross must be used to expose the utter pseudo-wisdom of the world as destructive foolishness.
      For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”1 Corinthians 1: 18-19
    2. Christ must be set apart as Lord in one’s heart, thus acknowledging no higher authority than God’s word and refusing to suspend intellectual commitment to its truth.

The Procedure for Defending the Faith

  1. Realizing that the unbeliever is holding back the truth in unrighteousness Rom 1:18, the apologist should reject the foolish presuppositions implicit in critical questions and attempt to educate his opponent.
    Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth.2 Timothy 2: 23-25
  2. This involves presenting the facts within the context of the Biblical philosophy of fact:

    1. God is the sovereign determiner of possibility and impossibility.
      Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?Acts 26: 8
    2. A proper reception and understanding of the facts requires submission to the Lordship of Christ.
      “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the Lord’s people in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities. “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’Acts 26: 9-15
    3. Thus the facts will be significant to the unbeliever only if he has a presuppositional change of mind from darkness to light.
      “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds.Acts 26: 19-20
    4. Scripture has authority to declare what has happened in history and to interpret it correctly.
      But God has helped me to this very day; so I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”...King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”Acts 26: 22-23; 27
  3. The unbeliever’s espoused presuppositions should be forcefully attacked, asking whether knowledge is possible, given them:
    1. In order to show that God has made foolish the wisdom of the world...
      Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?1 Corinthians 1:20
      ...the believer can place himself on the unbeliever’s position and answer him according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceits; that is, demonstrate the outcome of unbelieving thought with its assumptions.
      Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.Proverbs 26:5
    2. The unbeliever’s claims should be reduced to impotence and impossibility by an internal critique of his system; that is, demonstrate the ignorance of unbelief by arguing from the impossibility of anything contrary to Christianity.
      Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?1 Corinthians 1:20
      But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”Matthew 7: 26-27
  4. The apologist should appeal to the unbeliever as the image of God Gen 1:26 who has God’s clear and inescapable revelation, thus giving him an ineradicable knowledge of God Rom 1:18–21; this knowledge can be exposed by indicating unwitting expressions or by pointing to the “borrowed capital” (unadmitted presuppositions) which can be found in the unbeliever’s position.
    ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’Acts 17:28
  5. The apologist should declare the self-evidencing and authoritative truth of God...
    And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me,John 5: 37-39
    Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.Isaiah 8:20
    Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.John 17:17
    ... as the precondition of intelligibility...
    ...in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.Colossians 2: 3
    ...and man’s only way of salvation (from all the effects of sin, including ignorance and intellectual vanity).

    1. Lest the apologist become like the unbeliever, he should not answer him according to his folly but according to God’s word.
      Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.Proverbs 26:4
    2. The unbeliever can be invited to put himself on the Christian position in order to see that it provides the necessary grounds for intelligible experience and factual knowledge— thereby concluding that it alone is reasonable to hold and the very foundation for proving anything whatsoever. Col 2:3

    3. The apologist can also explain that Scripture accounts for the unbeliever’s state of mind (hostility) ...
      Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.Colossians 1:21
      ... and the failure of men to acknowledge the necessary truth of God’s revelation.
      The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.Psalm 14:1
      Moreover, Scripture provides the only escape from the effects of this hostility and failure (futility and damnation).
      So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.Ephesians 4:17-24
      Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”1 Corinthians 3: 18-20
      “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.Matthew 7: 24-29
From pages 77–80 of Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith by Greg Bahnsen (American Vision & Covenant Media Foundation, 1996 - Copyright Robert & Virginia Bahnsen), with the Bible references from the previous chapters, except where they are in square brackets.

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