Yesterday I was having a good discussion on apologetics with my friend Will Little, and the discussion dislodged in me a few thoughts on the subject that I thought would be good to note here.
We were talking about presuppositionalism. I think it is crucial for us to distinguish between presuppositionalism as a foundation for the apologist, and presuppositionalism as a subject that the apologist will broach with the unbeliever. There are times when it will be both, but those times are rarer than apologists who are trained Van Til ninjas might think.
If the point is to win men, and not arguments, then we have to understand where the actual hang-up is with that unbeliever. The fact that we understand the foundational issues does not mean that he does, and what good does it do to bounce arguments off his forehead, which then just lie on the floor unheard?
At the same time, when someone observes that rigorous analytic philosophy leaves a pomo-hipster with marriage problems unmoved, the temptation is then to think that there is something wrong with the rigorous reasoning. No, there is nothing wrong with it, but the hard cold concrete of my presuppositions might need to stay in the basement, holding the house up, while my wife prepares chicken enchiladas for the family and we invite the troubled couple over. The foundation holds the kitchen up, and I can cheerfully grant that the unbeliever was greatly moved by the fellowship around the table without concluding that we shouldn’t have spent all that money on the foundation walls. We can always explain the connection to him later.
Apologetics should always move toward authoritative declaration. The foundation for this is the revealed Word of God. I reason from Scripture, not to Scripture. This makes me a presuppositionalist. But I can be a presuppositionalist without talking presuppositions all the time. In fact, to talk about them all the time can easily become self-contradictory. If they are my presuppositions, then why don’t I presuppose them more?
Sometimes I must deal with a particular kind of unbeliever, a man whose difficulties are all “in the basement.” There we can talk presuppositions because (as ancient stasis theory in rhetoric taught us) that is where his issue actually is. But most of the time, with most of the people we talk to, that is not where the issue is. These issues will frequently come up in ordinary conversations, but we must distinguish between unbelievers genuinely troubled by the epistemological issues, and the unbelievers who parrot that relativistic nonsense because that is what they were taught, and because that is what lets them sleep with their girlfriends. So, to the extent that we talk presuppositions with unbelievers on the street, we should should do it in street language, and not in the rarified language of the philosophy department. Having done so, we should move as quickly as we can to the real hang-up, as Jesus did when He asked to meet the Samaritan woman’s husband (John 4:16).
If a fellow on the subway tells you there is no such thing as truth, it is better to simply ask him if that is true than to show him the trouble with [Not A > A].
Now in order to declare the truth, I must assume it. And when I assume it, I am going assume as much of it as I can. Having done so, I will take it from there, asking the Spirit to work powerfully in and on the conversation. I don’t want to take the Cartesian approach of narrowing everything down to a minimum hard datum of truth, and then asking the fairy of logic land to anoint it. The fairy of logic land is clean out. We need the Spirit of Jesus, not analytic fairies. Nothing worse than an analytic fairy.