20th-Century Apologetics: Presuppositions & Evidence

Previously, we looked at apologetics approaches in the twentieth century, specifically some taxonomies from Gordon Lewis and Bernard Ramm. Here, I offer my own approach to apologetics and what I see as four major approaches. First is fideism, second is evidentialism, third is presuppositionalism, and fourth is classical apologetics.

First is fideism. In one sense, this is a “no apologetics” view of apologetics. That is, this approach does not use apologetics in the sense of a reasoned defense of the faith. Fideism is simply the idea of presenting one’s personal testimony and speaking of one’s own faith in Christ, as a testimony to Christ in the gospel. In the hymn “I Serve a Risen Savior,” we ask the question “You ask me how I know He lives?” How do we know the truth claims of Christianity? According to the hymn, “He lives within my heart” is the answer. The idea is that we can present personal testimony, which is a great thing. But according to this view of apologetics, that’s really all we have to offer.

Next is evidentialism. This view stacks up evidences. A name associated with this is Josh McDowell and his book Evidence That Demands a Verdict. This view usually entails a sense of neutrality on behalf of people. It tends to come from a position of Arminianism that sees us as born neutral and with the ability and opportunity to either choose God or reject God. Evidentialism says, “Let’s put God into a courtroom. Let’s stack up the evidences, and when a reasonable person examines the evidences, he will see the truthfulness of the existence of God, the truthfulness and authority of Scripture, and the truthfulness of the gospel.” Evidentialism was a popular view in the twentieth century.

Another view of the twentieth century is presuppositionalism. The founder of presuppositionalism, Cornelius Van Til, says that “the Christian presupposes the triune God and his redemptive plan for the universe as set forth once for all in Scripture.” It starts with that presupposition of all knowledge. Then Van Til says, “The only proof of the Christian position is that unless its truth is presupposed, there is no possibility of proving anything at all.” So, you presuppose the Christianity of truth and then simply proclaim it. That’s presuppositionalism.

Last is the view of classical apologetics. Classical apologetics begins with the premise that Christianity is rational. It uses the classical arguments to demonstrate God’s existence. Dr. R.C. Sproul, one of the names associated with classical apologetics, says, “The best place to start with apologetics is the existence of God” in these arguments. Classical apologetics also argues that you can present the uniqueness and authority of Scripture. It also argues that you can present the uniqueness of Christ.

One of the things Sproul says about classical apologetics is, “The task of apologetics is to show that the evidence that the New Testament calls people to commit their lives to is compelling evidence and worthy of our full commitment. That often involves a lot of work for the apologist. Sometimes we would rather duck the responsibility of doing our homework, of wrestling with the problems and answering the objections, and simply say to people, ‘Oh, you just have to take it all in faith.’ That’s the ultimate cop-out. That doesn’t honor Christ. We honor Christ by setting forth for people the cogency of the truth claims of Scripture, even as God Himself does.” And of course, he then says that the Holy Spirit does the work of converting.