Joshua Whipps (Razorskiss) is a blog contributor at Presuppositional Apologetics website, Choosing Hats. He places strong emphasis on the relationship between theology and apologetics. Currently, his major project at Choosing Hats is his Peripatetic podcast, where he addresses important issues about Presuppositional Apologetics such as objections, its relationship to theology and fundamental concepts.
He has agreed to this written interview regarding apologetic methodology. We hope that the material that is provided will better equip you in your own apologetic endeavors.
Joshua, thank you for spending time to be interviewed.
How does the theology behind Presuppositionalism differ from the theology behind Evidentialism?
The theological underpinnings of Presuppositionalism, obviously, are the tenets of Reformed theology. Again and again in his writings, Van Til emphasizes that his goal is to advance a specifically Reformed apologetic. Second, he specifically says that he presupposes the Reformed system of doctrine. Every distinctive of presuppositionalism flows quite naturally from the tenets of Reformed theology – and would be utterly foreign to Romanism or Arminianism. The primary objections he has to the classical and evidential schools (he calls them the Roman Catholic and Evangelical schools, typically) are on the basis of the theology their systems assume.
How do Presuppositionalism and Evidentialism differ in the actual approach of apologetics?
Well, I would say that they differ in the point of contact, the centrality of the Gospel, and the emphasis on God or man as central to the approach, if I were to boil it down. All three, essentially, boil down to what many have called a “theocenrtic” or “anthropocentric” emphasis. Similarly, as I argued recently, there is an essential similarity to their respective approaches to evangelistic efforts. Monergism, vs Synergism. Is the point of contact the image of God in man, and is God truly known to every man, with that knowledge suppressed in unrighteousness? Is our defense of the Gospel, or of minimal elements of the resurrection, which is a minimal element of the Gospel? Are we out to prove the necessary existence of God, and the folly of the suppression of the truth that they know, or are we arguing for the greater probabilty for the existence of “a god”? The differences inherent in the approaches are striking, and require critical examination.
How does the role of evidences differ between Presuppositionalism and Evidentialism?
Evidences should always be offered in accordance with the presupposition of God’s revelation to humanity. Evidences are offered in Scripture. There is a difference between using evidences and using evidentialism. Evidences are not a method of apologetics, they are entities used in apologetics. Dr. Bahnsen presented an enormous list of evidences during his debate against Dr. Stein, but he did not use evidentialism.
Evidentialism is a modern reaction to empiricism – a compromising reaction to it, in fact. The facts themselves are treated as if they are neutral entities, not as interpreted by God. Because some “facts” are most definitely treated as neutral by the unbeliever, an attempt is made to “pare down” the facts of history in order to make Christianity “more defensible”. The right place to start is with Christian Theism as a unit, not with minimal facts. Only then can you argue as you should – with all facts as God’s facts.
What problems do you find with the Evidentialism?
Well, obviously I would disagree with the inherent empiricism of the method, as well as their insistence on facts being neutral entities. Further, I would also disagree with their tendency to put God in the Dock, as C.S. Lewis famously (but inconsistently) said. It is not for the creature to judge the Creator, nor is is it his prerogative to “answer back to God” concerning how He created His world. Since, however, the evidentialist’s methodology arises from an Arminian theological structure, there is little answer forthcoming from that perspective.
How does Presuppositionalism’s view of the relationship between apologetics, theology, philosophy and evangelism differ from that of Evidentialism?
Well, to be honest, the evidentialist’s idea of “relationship” in this area is fairly nebulous. They typically have a tendency to put philosophy above theology, and to confine apologetic to philosophy, and evangelism to theology – although both are badly marred as a result. Not only by their bad theology (and philosophical positions), but by the problematic divisions they have a tendency to adopt.
To a Reformed believer, Sola Scriptura governs all of the above. From Scripture we should derive our theology, and theology is the “queen of the sciences.” From theology we should derive the principles by which we govern our philosophies in any realm of human affairs, as Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith and practice. I would submit to you that it might be beneficial to consider “philosophy” to be the principles by which we are to think concerning practices, and theology to be the beliefs from Scripture which determine our philosophies. Evangelism and apologetics, I would submit, are heads of systematic theology, and should be treated as such.
What kind of objections do Evidentialists have against Presuppositionalists and how would you go about responding to them?
The most common objection, of course, is that it’s circular. The obvious answer at this point is to demonstrate the difference between logical and epistemological circularity. Another helpful approach is to compare the Roman Catholic arguments against Sola Scriptura, and their charge of circularity to Reformed responses. The issue ends up in the same place, after all. Most of the objections, frankly, are to straw men, or are misunderstandings of what we teach and believe. For instance, that we deny that men can know things, or that we believe the image of God to be destroyed. The objections offered are quite similar to those made by Roman Catholics and Arminians to Reformed theology – and should be answered the same way we answer those objections.
How does Presuppositionalism’s understanding of the relationship between reason and faith differ from that of Evidentialism?
Well, obviously we differ in that we consider man’s reason to be addressed under Total Depravity. Most of the same issues we find in Arminianism’s anthropology are those we see assumed in evidentialism’s argumentation. If the heart issue isn’t addressed, and their rebellion against their Creator, and knowledge of Him uncovered, appealing to reason, and then a reason which is supposed to judge God, or aspects of His creation, to boot, aren’t going to get you anywhere but downhill, fast! If faith is a gift of God, then our job as apologists, following Romans, is to shown them that they do indeed believe God exists, that they suppress this truth in unrighteousness, that their claims to righteous living are merely claims, and that they are under the law’s demands. Our job is to cast down the fortresses raised against the knowledge of God, in their rebellious truth-suppression, and to show clearly that they are without excuse, without hope, and without God in this world. God uses means, and the apologetic task goes hand in hand with that of evangelism. We are to preach the Gospel, and to demolish the barriers they set up against it, by the power of God in His Word. Thanks for the opportunity, and may we all bend attentively to the Scriptures!