Introduction to Presuppositions
Cornelius Van Til uses the term presupposition to show the role that divine revelation ought to play in human thought. He does never defines the term. I define it for him as a “basic heart-commitment.” For the Christian, that commitment is to God as revealed in his Word. While we maintain our ultimate commitment, we cannot accept as true or right anything that conflicts with that commitment. And yet, sometimes in Van Til’s writings, he uses the term differently. For example, he urges the apologist to show “the non-Christian that even in his virtual negation of God, he is still really presupposing God.”
Clearly, when the unbeliever presupposes God in this sense, he is not acknowledging God as his ultimate commitment. Van Til’s point here is that in assuming the intelligibility of the world, the unbeliever implicitly concedes the existence of the God that he explicitly denies. This lesser sense of presuppose is related to Van Til’s more common use of the term, but it is different. For the unbeliever to presuppose God in this context is for him to think, say, or do something, contrary to his own inclination, that indicates, at some level of his consciousness, a recognition of God’s reality and significance.
Foundations for Discussion
The foundation of any discussion, argument, discourse will find us all approaching the topic with our presuppositions. We all have conflicting standards for what we think is proper epistemology and different ways we judge knowledge claims. Since these are beliefs about facts and logic, they reflect how each side interprets reality. The believer must always take in consideration that the unbeliever’s view results from their fallen nature. The believer must know the unbeliever must always try to be something they are not, autonomous and free from God. Learning all they know from materialistic perspectives is the result. This leaves the apologist in the situation of inquiring back to the source of the unbeliever’s presuppositions to find inconsistencies in their principles.
Christianity as Reasonable?
We will not be starting with anything in common in dealing with fundamental presuppositions. So the standard for the apologist will remain in God’s word as the example of the foundation which makes facts and logic reasonable. The apologist is not trying to persuade unbelievers of a reasonable explanation for reality, but THE explanation. The standard for the explanation must include nothing external to itself and God has no external cause. The presuppositional stance of relativism and postmodern arguments based on there being no absolute truths must be challenged from the beginning. The genuine knowledge that will change the unbeliever’s worldview well requires regeneration and faith, faith meaning not a suspending of logic, but a suspension of presuppositions. Presuppositional apologetics is the basis for the believer’s presuppositions of proper knowledge and required by the Bible itself.
Redemptive Presuppositional Apologetics
Only God is wise (Rom. 16:27) and has made the world according to his wisdom (Ps. 104:24). Humanity cannot know God outside of his revelation and without the redeeming word of special revelation (Scripture) humanity cannot know God’s instructions for them. We need the redemptive revelation for our epistemological and metaphysical and spiritual connection to God. The apologist should not merely persuade the unbeliever toward theism, but to the redemptive knowledge of Christ.
The unbeliever will need to suspend their presuppositions long enough to accept the fact that their entire worldview will require the suspension of the ego and submission to the Spirit before it can become fully realized. Christ always has his hand extended to retrieve us from the illusion of autonomy, but we must also reach out to him to complete the knowledge circuit. This can present an issue of the unbeliever who requires logical, conclusive evidence, but what is the basis for their logic? Could it be transcendent? The creature cannot escape the creator just as they cannot escape the knowledge of good and evil.
“The heavens declare His righteousness, and all the peoples have seen His glory” (Ps. 97:6).