Apologetic Methodology: Conducting an Internal Critique of the Unbeliever’s Worldview
INTRODUCTION: The following suggestions are intended to provide practical guidelines for engaging the unbeliever in a fruitful evangelistic dialog. The presuppositional apologist is ever mindful that the natural man has chosen an erroneous worldview in order to sustain his rebellion against his Creator (and in the process maintain a position of estrangement from God – Romans one).
When we walk the unbeliever through a series of questions designed to critique his worldview, it is to be done in a transcendental manner – this means that the Christian apologist seeks a point of contact with the natural man that lies beneathhis working consciousness. That point of contact is the sense of deity that the natural man seeks to studiously suppress.
In order to do this, it means that the apologist must also seek a point of contact with the systems constructed by the natural man. This point of contact must be in the form of a head-on collision. Only by this collision will there be a point of contact with the natural man’s sense of deity. When this collision takes place, the epistemology and metaphysical principles that control the unbeliever’s reasoning will be exposed.
EXAMPLE: If a man had played checkers his entire life and had never heard of chess; the first time he witnessed a chess game he would no doubt attempt to understand it solely through the vantage point of his experience as a checkers player. So also, the natural man runs everything he hears about the Gospel through the grid of his worldview of autonomous self. (Keep in mind that the unbeliever won’t reason his way to the God of Scripture by slowly paring away his sinful commitment to autonomy. A collision is necessary which will expose his rebellion against his Creator.)
The following questions are designed to accomplish the goal described above – that is to produce an antithesis or collision with the core assumptions of the natural man. As stated above, this collision is intended to bring the unbeliever face to face with his sense of deity (an essential step in bringing conviction of sin and thereby demonstrating the need for salvation).
Philosophic naturalism with its view of an open universe robs God of every attribute described in Psalm 139 (omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence). One way to critique this extremely common erroneous worldview of naturalism is to ask the following QUESTION: Since the universe contains both personal and impersonal structures (persons, matter, motion, physical laws) – which is fundamental? Is the impersonal grounded in the personal? Or is the personal grounded in the impersonal? Secular thought generally assumes the latter. Naturalism says we are the product of matter, motion, chance, etc. Naturalism regards the explanation of our existence NOT to rest on the personal, but the impersonal – naturalism affirms the ultimacy of the impersonal. God as Creator and absolute personality is the ground of all other reality. He has no need of any other being – He is self-sufficient, self-existent (Acts 17:25).
Each of these answers (ultimacy of the impersonal or ultimacy of the personal) has CONSEQUENCES. If the impersonal is primary, then there is no consciousness, no wisdom, and no will in the ultimate origin of things. What we call reason and value are unintended, accidental consequences of chance events.
When modern scientists seek the causes of all things, they almost always assume that the personal elements in the universe can be explained by the impersonal (matter, laws, and motion) rather than the other way around. Without absolute personality, we are left with chance or “fate” being absolute.
Because of commitment to autonomy, the unbeliever has an irrational preference for impersonalism over personalism. We must not allow the unbeliever to suppose the impersonal is more ultimate. We challenge him to consider the alternative. Ask him to give a proof for his view – the kind of proof he requires of us! Show him his impersonalism is the product of irrational faith. God as Creator and absolute personality is the ground of all other reality. He has no need of any other being – He is self-sufficient, self-existent (Acts 17:25). Take the unbeliever to passages of Scripture which set forth the Creator’s authority, rights, power, ownership, and plan.
In order to induce a collision that brings the unbeliever into a greater consciousness of his sense of deity, the apologist engages in raising and answering ultimate questions – this will UNCOVER the unbeliever’s rebellion against God. We must talk to the unbeliever in light of Romans one; don’t talk to him in merely a logical paradigm. (Raising and answering ultimate questions is the only way to bring out his rebellion and attack it; remember, the neutrality approach nurturespride and autonomy.)
There is no neutral spot in the universe to study God – it’s impossible to go outin front of God in order to understand God. All must be under Him. There is no independent viewing of God – we think of Him in a dependent manner because all creatures are upheld by Him every moment. We can only understand the creation by the Word of God (Ps 8:1-5). The pagan allows his abilities and faculties and powers of building and inventing to inflate him to arrogance and pride.
In our apologetic method, we do not allow the unbeliever to pit his faulty worldview against the supernatural God of Scripture. We take the sinner back to the presuppositions upon which his worldview is founded.
Man cannot know God, creation, or himself APART from God’s interpretation. Man, in his intellectual rebellion, allies himself with Satan’s interpretation (or worldview).
Give the unbeliever the Gospel. If he disagrees, then ask him some of the following QUESTIONS: Do you know what you believe? What are your convictions? What is your position? THEN: Where did you get that? Where are your answers coming from? Mine are rooted in the Word of God, the Bible. What would disprove your position? What is the basis for your claim against Christ?
Then give the apologetic for the Gospel (as Paul in Acts 17). The pagan has no credible argument; he only has absurdity. Begin every encounter with the claims of Christ. We argue presuppositionally that man knows God and was created to think God’s thoughts after Him.
The natural man sees himself as an expert in his opinions. You have not taken him on UNTIL you take him on at the point where he judges God. The unbeliever sets his mind autonomously against God.
We carry our worldview to the pagan UNPROVEN. We impress upon him that he does not have a legitimate reason why the biblical worldview is not absolutely true. QUESTIONS : Do you understand that it’s possible to use you mind to sin? Do you know that God requires you obey Him in your thought life (2 Cor 10:5)? May I show you what God says about your worldview? Take him to Romans 1 and Ephesians 4 so that he understands the difference between a believer and an unbeliever.
If he subscribes to naturalism, you can ask the following QUESTION: Do you believe that chance produced knowledge, personhood, the laws of non-contradiction (logic), uniformity in nature, and an ethical code? The laws of logic come from God. The law of non-contradiction is being used by you to war against the knowledge of God. You have not been able to explain anything. Take him back to Scripture and show him the passages about futile thinking (Rom 1; Eph 4), and show him that wisdom and knowledge begin with the fear of God (Prov 1:7).
EXAMPLE: If you set out to map Mount Everest with a flashlight and a 12 inch ruler you would utterly fail. So also, because God is transcendent, we are utterly dependent upon His self revelation in order to know Him as He truly is. As finite creatures made of dust we do not possess the “equipment” to take His measure.
The transcendental argument determines the presupposition behind the sinner’s interpretation of any particular fact. Underlying the natural man’s discussion of facts is his commitment to his particular method of knowing. His theory knowledge (epistemology) is but a part of a whole network of presuppositions he maintains. His presuppositions include beliefs about the nature of reality (metaphysics) and his norms for living (ethics). A key point for the apologist to understand is that the unbeliever (when espousing his autonomy) treats his method of knowing, reasoning, proving and learning as normative.
The starting point is never the same level of being as the facts to be studied. The transcendental method exposes the world view behind the facts. When seeking to uncover the foundations for the “house of human knowledge,” it behooves the apologist to ask QUESTIONS that reveal a person’s world view:
· What is the nature of things that are real? (Is the ground of all existence personal or impersonal?)
· How does the world operate? (By chance or by the perfect plan of an all-wise and good God?)
· Where did our world come from? (Wouldn’t you agree that man’s origin, identity, and destiny are inseparable?)
· What is man’s place in the world? (What is the source of man’s purpose, calling, and worth?)
· What is man’s nature? (Is he merely an advanced animal, or is man designed in the image of image and likeness of his Creator? Thus fully accountable to his Creator?)
· Are there moral or epistemological norms that are not chosen by the individual? (Are there fixed moral laws that form an external point of reference?)
· What are the criteria for truth? (Is it consensus, science, common sense, and/or the ultimate authority of God?)
· What are the proper methods of knowing? (Is it human reasoning, or God’s authoritative self-revelation in Christ and the Holy Scriptures?)
· Is certainty possible? (What is the source of epistemological certainty?)
The purpose of the above questions is to provide an internal critique of the unbeliever’s worldview in such a way that he becomes epistemologically self-conscious –that is that he owns he presuppositions that underlie his worldview, admitting his commitment to darkness, and futile thinking.
To the glory of God, we contrast the unbeliever’s philosophy of fact with the Christian world view. (We use the transcendental method to expose the inconsistencies of the unbeliever’s world view. The natural man’s system is not a system, it is the opposite of God’s truth.)
When the unbeliever rejects Christ, he is also rejecting Christ as interpreter of the world (Christ’s interpretation of the world includes the whole world of knowledge).
Our methodology must reflect a fidelity to the epistemic Lordship of Christ.Semi-rationalistic apologetics (common to classical and evidential apologetics) fails to do this. It fails to deliver the final blow which is found in Romans 1. Until that final blow is delivered, the natural man tosses Christian evidences over his head into a sea of probability. Autonomy of reason will stay unchallenged; it will continue to be viewed as the final reference point, the final arbiter of truth.
The presuppositional apologist utilizes Romans one, and, in so doing he attacks and exposes the mechanism of the unbeliever (suppression, speculation, futility, etc.). Only then is the ultimacy of chance and contingency properly cast down so that Christ’s epistemic role may have its proper and authoritative place.
Can we expect a man to accept Christianity when he hasn’t thoroughly investigated all other religious options? Should he crucify his intellect by swallowing a fantastic and totally demanding world view because you say so? In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and His Word, you must surrender to the good news of salvation. By contrast, the semi-rational apologists declare, “How in the name of common sense can you expect him to believe your message instead of theirs?” The answer (says Whitcomb) is somewhat shocking. That person has no right to challenge the message, because the Holy Spirit who made him in the image of the living God had given him the capacity to recognize spiritual truth when he hears it.
QUESTION: Do you understand that God holds you responsible for how you respond to His revealed truth? God has built into us the capacity to recognize spiritual truth as God Himself proclaims it to them, and then demands they recognize who He is (reject, resist, and suppress the testimony of His Word and you are doomed forever. God does not doom people for what they cannot do. You are responsible because God tells you that you are capable of recognizing Him when He speaks.
To be made in the image of God is to be endowed with the capacity to recognize spiritual truth. God has made every person in possession of His image and likeness (though warped and distorted by the fall). This image is still in tact and functioning – that is why we put murderers to death. Jesus Christ “enlightens every man.” He has given all men a sufficient illumination and capacity to recognize God’s truth when they see it. What people need is not more light! They are immersed in light – this is the condemnation, not that they couldn’t recognize the light, but that they rejected the light and would not come to the light.
Our apologetic approach of raising and answering ultimate questions is not designed to overpower the depraved and corrupt reasoning of the natural man. An internal critique of the sinner’s worldview is designed to show the absurdity of their argument and worldview. Our apologetic approach is not designed to overcome and answer every objection – BECAUSE no answer will satisfy the unbeliever UNTIL gives up his rebellion against God.
When we seek a point of contact with the unbeliever, it is not to “out logic” him so that he will say “Uncle!” intellectually. We are always to keep in mind that at the bottom of every objection lodged by the unbeliever is an attack upon the character, authority, government, and nature of God.
Our point of contact with the unbeliever, according to Scripture, is for the purpose of bringing conviction, exposing rebellion, reaching the conscience, and surfacing his sense of deity.
Point of contact QUESTIONS: Do you consider death, disease, injustice, evil, disasters, victimization, war, etc. to be “normal” for mankind according to God’s perspective? -- then give him the Christian worldview and the Gospel again (Syll. p. 1, I., B, 1).
Can you explain why Christ’s hearers consistently attacked Christ’s Person and message? Show the unbeliever from Scripture why every sinner, has a propensity (Rom 1) to mishandle the Scriptures (p. 2, II., A. 2, B. 2) & (p. 4, II. E. 2).
Do you welcome God’s merciful and faithful testimony about sin; do you consider it a mercy that God should bear witness to the universality and depth of depravity human sin? Why or why not? Certainly in the world of medicine, he knows that proper remedy is inseparably linked to accurate diagnosis (pp. 2-3, II. C. 1). Does he understand that only regeneration can avail to “reset” the sinner’s mind and give him a new heart and a new record in heaven? (p. 2, II. C).
Can you define yourself apart from God? If he attempts to do so, show him how irrational such an attempt is – God has determined the categories of knowledge. To abandon God’s categories is to move into futility and irrationality (p. 3, II. D. 2-3). Who we are depends completely upon who our Creator is! Who you really are depends upon who you are in the sight of God.
As your Creator, Designer and Lord, He authoritatively defines who you are and what your standing is before Him. The apologist should strive to surface the natural man’s judging of God. Question: Why do men argue and disagree with God as to what their standing is before Him? Answer: Because of what is described in Colossians 1:21 – men are “hostile in mind” toward God – they regard God as an enemy (p. 6, IV. D., 1-2; V., 1).
True repentance is holistic; it is both intellectual as well as overtly moral. Faith and repentance constitute a radical, even traumatic change in which the there is a complete exchange of epistemologies involved. The repenting man abandons his own thoughts and surrenders to Christ as his epistemology. This is why it’s absurd to think that an unbeliever has one or two “sticking points” that are keeping him from saving faith (p. 5, IV. C., 2-3).
QUESTION: How does your belief system differ from the Word of God? Listen to his objections and then present to him the opposite of what he claims to believe. Note that the categories of guilt, righteousness, good works, forgiveness, judgment, atonement will all have their distorted counterparts in the erroneous worldview of the natural man (p. 6, V. 2).
Where are your answers coming from? Tell him that yours are coming from the Word of God. Show the unbeliever what God says about his worldview. Remember, the sinner’s intellectual assumptions are on trial in God’s court. In the Bible, God always turns the table on the skeptic and accuser of the divine. The revelation of Christ is not on trial; for the revelation of Christ is inseparable from the infallible proof God has given; God’s revelation of Christ is inseparable from Christ’s eschatological role as Judge of mankind (Acts 17:30-31).
Do you understand that Christ’s death and resurrection were necessary in order for men to know God and His truth? The COST of having true knowledge is nothing short of a personal relationship with the living God through His Son as He is revealed in Scripture (p. 7, V. B, 2). The point of contact with the sinner cannot be man’s opinions, misgivings, suspicions, and speculations. Due to the fact that man is estranged from God, who is the source of all truth; man cannot reason about God until he knows God in a personal relationship of justification and reconciliation.
Do you know what God says about your reasoning ability? The apologist is not to set about to construct a mountain of reason to persuade the unbeliever; he is to continually set forth biblical thinking about ultimate questions (when you’re talking to a rebel, keep raising and answering ultimate questions so that the unbeliever is continually confronted with God’s authority).
Human reason is a faculty planted by God for the purpose of receiving and re-interpreting God’s revelation, therefore reason cannot operate accurately independent of God; it must be the servant and tool of divine revelation. Reason cannot be relegated to some neutral category or neutral authority. Scripture states that the status of your reason is inaccurate if it is operating autonomously. Only God can think independently with total accuracy – when man attempts to do so, he is reaching for the impossible status of divinity.
Truth is inseparable from Who God is. Truth does not exist as an independent body of knowledge separate from God. Repentance begins when the sinner abandons all independent thinking about God and begins to worship God as He is revealed in Scripture.
If one attacks God, who is the ultimate reference point and source of all truth, he puts himself in a position to not understand truth. (Repentance puts a halt to judging God.) Semi-rational systems of apologetics flatter man’s reason. The classical approach allows a man to continue to worship his own mind. In the classical approach, the laws of logic and the scientific method are put ahead of Scripture (Scripture being the object of faith). By contrast the presuppositional apologist understands that Scripture is proclaimed in order to produce faith in Scripture.
QUESTIONS to pose to the unbeliever that are designed to surface his faulty epistemology:
· Is there a truth standard outside of God? What is its authoritative ultimate reference point?
· What is your god like – can you describe his attributes and character? (Does your description correspond to reality? Is it reasonable, rational, and realistic?)
· How would you know if you were using your God-given mind to sin against God?
· Do you believe it is possible to reject the God of the Bible and then make sense when talking about all of life?
· Does good exist apart from God?
· Do you believe it is possible to clear your conscience by keeping a moral code?
· Do you believe that God alone has the right and responsibility to determine absolute right and wrong and the consequences of each?
· What is your source of certainty regarding unseen things? (i.e. “there is no hell”).
· What are God’s claims upon man?
· Are you made in the image of God? Do you know how fully that affects your life?
· Can you explain how your position differs from the Word of God?
· Do you know what God says about your worldview?
· Do you understand why it is possible for man to know God?
· In each case, press the antithesis – show the unbeliever that the truth is the very opposite of what he purports. Ask him, “Where did you get that answer?” Can you give a credible reason for rejecting the claims of Christ?” “Do you realize that your answers are seeking to deny God’s authoritative self-revelation?”
To this list one might add questions about the evil and suffering. Unbelievers have an extremely deficient view of the origin of evil and suffering. How does your worldview account for evil and suffering? Only the Christian worldview can give an adequate accounting of the existence of evil and suffering and its origin AND its destiny.