Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Presuppositional Approach to Evidence

Gary Habermas, representing the evidentialist method of Christian apologetics in the book, “Five Views on Apologetics,” remarks, “While we cannot sift though all the details here, evidentialists insist that there are a number of epistemological similarities in areas such as sensory data (perception), scientific theories, and the general rules and application of inference.”[1] 
From the start, this method compromises the antithesis put down in Scripture regarding believing and unbelieving thought. It has been said that if you are taking a long journey, you only have to start an inch off your mark to miss it by miles when the journey is complete. William Lane Craig tells us, “Apologetics is that branch of Christian theology which seeks to provide a rational justification for the truth claims of the Christian faith.”[2] When Craig talks about a rational justification for truth, the Christian apologist has to step back and ask the question, “to whom?” If we mean rational to God, then we can buy into such a definition. But if we mean to the unbeliever, well, that is a different project entirely. Habermas and Craig are right that there is evidence and justification for believing that the God of Christian theism exists. Moreover, they are right that we must engage the unbeliever with the evidence within the context of rational discourse. However, there is clearly a variety of ways in which we may work through such a dialogue as we are thinking about and presenting that evidence. According to Cornelius Van Til and the presuppositional approach, there is really only one way to present the evidence that elevates the Lordship of God and takes serious the righteous demands of God on all of humanity.

Christian evidences have to be presented within the restrictions of the Christian doctrines of God, man creation, and sin. What is man? Originally created, man was perfect. He was capable of and willing to interpret the facts of the universe in light of God’s revelation, thinking God’s thoughts after him. Although he was finite, he was not rationally deficient. He was perfect, and perfectly capable of knowledge. Man’s epistemic problem was never his finitude. In contradistinction to the idea that man’s finitude is the problem, we believe that man’s epistemic problem entered upon the fall of our first parents headlong into the sinful curse. Now that man has fallen into corruption, into a depraved condition, his approach to the facts of the universe is remarkably deficient. Rather than submit to God’s prior interpretation of these facts as facts created by God for God, man now insists on interpreting all of reality according to his own standards of knowledge. Hence, the evidence for Christianity must be presented in a way that remains consistent with God’s plan, the original scheme, without compromising with the unbeliever in their epistemological rebellion against the Creator.

To begin with, Christian theism denies the idea of brute facts. Facts are not just there, independent entities waiting for the organizing principle of the human mind to come along and give them significance. Since the mind of fallen man is corrupted by sin, it is not capable of accomplishing such a lofty goal. In addition, unless the facts were facts in relation to one another and in relation to the whole, no one could possess knowledge of them to begin with. Facts are what they are first and foremost in relation to God. “In answering the fool a Christian apologist must aim to demonstrate that unbelief is, in the final analysis, destructive of all knowledge.”[3]

The evidences for Christianity regardless of whether they are historical or empirical or otherwise must always be presented as revealing God from the beginning. We do not argue from the evidence to God. We begin with God, with Scripture, with divine revelation in nature and show how that the evidence before us is everywhere revelational of the God we serve or reject as far as it goes. This method shows the unbeliever that not only is Christian theism rational, or just as rational as alternatives, but in fact it is the only system that does not end up destroying all rationality. The God of Christian theism is not the conclusion of our argument in which we being with supposed neutral facts about which both the Christian and non-Christian agree. We see the facts only in terms of their relationship with God and insist that unless they are viewed through that grid, they are not viewed correctly. And unless they are viewed correctly, they cannot be understood or known to be what they are.

The only proper way for Christian apologists to use the evidence for Christian theism is to begin with God and with the standard of God’s revelation as the only source for epistemic justification. Every other approach places autonomous, fallen, sinful man in the position of being the judge even of that which is holy. Such an approach is a true compromise of the gospel and lessons the demands of God upon His own creation.

[1] Gary B. Habermas, Five Views On Apologetics, ed. Steven B. Cowan; Stanley N. Gundry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 97.
[2] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth And Apologetics (Wheaton, ILL: Crossway Books, 1984), 15.
[3] Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready, fifth printing ed (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002), 57.

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