“Therefore I still contend with you, declares Yahweh, and with you children’s children I will contend. For cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see, or send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares Yahweh” (Jer 2:9—12).
With these words, Yahweh is wondering at the fact that the nations, who worship non-Gods, are incorrigibly faithful to their non-God idols, while Israel, a spectacle in ‘comparative religions,’ is seemingly predisposed to abandoning the Rock of their refuge and hope, Yahweh. Geerhardus Vos makes the following observation in Biblical Theology:
“Jeremiah complains that Israel is more inclined to change its God than the heathen nations. It is not difficult to explain this. The pagan nations had no desire to change, because their religion was the natural expression of their disposition. Israel persistently struggled to throw off the yoke of Jehovah’s service, because the old pagan nature of Israel felt it as a yoke” (1983, 62).
Are we today decidedly immune from Jeremiah’s marveling? Does our “old pagan nature” cause us to throw of the Lordship of Christ’s rule, while the actual pagans are thoroughly consistent and staunch in their ultimate commitments? Sadly, at times, especially when discussing apologetics, we must answer yes.
The archetypical sin of our first parents in the garden was based on the assumption that humans can reason rightly and interpret reality properly independent of God’s verbal revelation. They believed under the influence of the serpent, that God’s Word was unclear and his knowledge of things was indeterminate, for the whole question was whether or not the judgment of death would actually follow their snatching the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Disregarding the Creator-creature relationship, they decided to conduct an empirical analysis of the claims of the Creator; they held God’s knowledge and creaturely knowledge to be co-equal. Thus, it was believed that, man could reason according to logical laws and empirical observations and come to a true knowledge of God, themselves and their world, all-independent of the Word of God.
This, as we well know, both propositionally and experientially, had disastrous, cosmic, and eternal results. If this were the case when man was in a state of righteousness—in need of God’s revelation for proper reinterpretation of things and that reasoning independent of God’s Word brings ruinous consequences—how much more now, east of Eden, being radically depraved?
Presuppositionalists aptly describe this independence from God, particularly in the area of epistemology, as striving for autonomy. Bahnsen defines the term autonomy thus: “’Autonomy’ refers to being a law unto oneself, so that one’s thinking is independent of any outside authority, including God’s. Autonomous reasoning takes itself philosophically as the final reference and interpretation, the ultimate court of intellectual appeal; it presumes to be self-governing, self-determinative, and self-directing” (Van Til’s Apologetic, 1 fn. 2).
We see, then, that traditional apologists must delineate their apologetic method from their theological conclusions. As far as their theology is biblically faithful and historically orthodox, their apologetical assumptions are inconsistent with their theology. On the one hand, they would affirm that all that’s bound up in Bahnsen’s definition of autonomy could be appropriately ascribed to God alone. In apologetic practice, however, traditional methods afford and even foster the non-Christians in their fallen desire and struggle for autonomy. Traditionalists seek to satisfy the non-Christian’s struggle for autonomy by feeding their insatiable insistence for scientific evidences, philosophical and logical proofs, and demonstrations of the Bible’s ethics that fit their own sinful emotivism. Submitting one’s thinking, in faith, to the Lordship of Christ as the Light that gives us light to see anything aright (Ps 36:9), is, for them, something that comes at the end of the apologetic encounter; this act of repentance is seen strictly as evangelistic and posterior to apologetics.
Herein lays the analogy to Jeremiah’s charge: The adherents of non-Christian systems of thought are more faithful to their epistemological authorities, since these are merely an expressed manifestation of their commitment to their own autonomy. But Christ’s people are quick to exchange their glory—i.e., Christ’s epistemological Lordship—for that which does not profit, the futile, darkened epistemological autonomy of man.
Presuppositionalism doesn’t make any clear distinctions between apologetics and evangelism, for this apologetic is hardly more than a relentless challenge to the non-Christian’s sinful, white-knuckled claim to intellectual autonomy, and seeking to see this taken captive to obey Christ. Furthermore, presuppositionalists are willing confessors of Christ: that their believing obedience to him rests not in some linear, valid line of reason; their submission to Christ is the result of the Holy Spirit graciously regenerating them so that they proudly stand under the gentle-light yoke of Christ’s rule over them, especially their minds. They contend that, since surrender to God and his wisdom is the beginning, not the end, of knowledge (Prov 1:7), and that the unbeliever’s mind is at enmity with God, there must therefore be a frontal assault on the unbeliever’s epistemological autonomy, and at once an appeal to repentance from their idols of a depraved mind. Autonomous reason can never lead one to Christ; it must be recognized for what it really is—the very sin that is in constant rebellion to God and refuses to surrender to the Savior.
With Jeremiah, the presuppositionalist wonders at the traditional apologetic, how it exchanges the glory of Christ’s epistemic Lordship for the unprofitable would-be authority of autonomous human reason. With Tertullian, we agree, “It must...be added, that no solution may be found by any man, but such as is learned from God; and that which is learned of God is the sum and substance of the whole thing” (On the Soul, II). And finally, with the Master himself, who declares that, no one can serve two masters (Matt 6:24).
Presuppositionalism strips human reason of its would-be autonomy; our old nature still struggles (or oftimes surrenders to) for its autonomy. Perhaps this, then, is one of the main reasons for avoiding presuppositional apologetics.
For an example of APPLYING PRESUPPOSITIONALISM click here.
I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.
St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4
St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4