Presuppositionalism in Apologetics



 A Research Paper in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for

APOL 500 (Fall 2012)


Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary

Rick Mangrum (ID# 21757355)

September 2, 2012


THESIS STATEMENT                                                                                                          3


INTRODUCTION                                                                                                                 3


SUMMARY OF THE METHOD                                                                                          3


CRITIQUE OF THE METHOD                                                                                            4


THOSE ALIGNED WITH THE METHOD                                                                         5


CONCLUSION                                                                                                                     5


BIBLIOGRAPHY                                                                                                                 6













            Presuppositionalism is a widely held approach to Christian apologetics and is one of many methods used by respected scholars.  It is based on the assumption that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, the absolute authority on all subjects.  It presupposes that the Bible does not need to be defended.  It is not possible to reason or argue an unbeliever into salvation.  An unsaved man does not have the rational thinking ability to come to the conclusion that salvation is necessary.



            Throughout history, “culture has counted Christianity irrational.”[1]  Despite the best efforts of many great and capable scholars, debating Christianity with the cultural, scientific and philosophical communities has only resulted in more debate.  Presuppositionalists hold that this debate is futile.  Christians presuppose the existence of God and that we are his creation.  All rational thought and logic comes from him and his word, the Bible. “The only rational thinkers are Christian” so rational debate between believers and unbelievers is not possible.[2] There is just “no other way to make sense out of our experience except by this presupposition.”[3] It is the responsibility of the Christian to present the gospel and let the Holy Spirit influence the believer through special revelation.  There are five themes of this method.

First, the traditional approach of apologetics will never succeed.   The “mind of the unredeemed is so darkened” by sin that logical, rational debate, not matter how attractive to the believer, will never succeed.[4] Second, the unbeliever accepts the existence of God, where he or she acknowledges it or not.  The existence of Man only makes sense with the presupposition of a creator.  Next, traditional apologetics uses the methods of the unbeliever, so it will never succeed with that unbeliever.  The unbeliever has just as many presupposed ideas as the believing debater. They will never reach consensus.  Fourth, the true burden of proof in apologetics belongs to the skeptic, not the believer.  Modern believers have given control of the debate to the unbelieving world.  That is unnecessary and ineffective.  Lastly the presuppositionalist believes that the best defense is at the “system” level.[5]  The Christian belief system has been presented and defended by believers since the coming of Christ.  No other belief system as stood the test of time and shown itself to be as free of inconsistency.  Other systems come and go.  Only the Christian system has sustained itself.



            There are many critiques of this position.  The length of this paper will only allow the mention of one:   circular reasoning.  If the position of the presuppositionalist is correct, it is based on the acceptance of “the absolute authority and inerrancy of Scripture as a foundational premise”, denying the attempt of the unbeliever to question that position.[6]  Instead of trying to demonstrate the existence of God and his path to salvation, this method presents these as facts for acceptance with little defense.  All arguments are based, or presupposed on this foundation. Take it or leave it.  It can be described as debating in a circle.  You always come back to the original premise or presupposition and start again.



            The two most well-known holders of this position are Cornelius Van Til and Gordon Clark.  Van Til is known as a “radical” supporter of this position for his strong beliefs in this method.[7]  Others include R.J. Rushdoony and Greg Bahnsen.



            The method of presuppositionalism has its place in the arsenal of modern apologetics.  All methods have advantages and disadvantages.   One of its strengths is the confidence of the original premise.  One of its weaknesses is its unwillingness to discuss or debate some of an unbeliever’s most important questions.  This method may seem at times to violate the charge of “gentleness and reverence” given in I Peter 3:15.   Our role as believers is to present the gospel using the method most appropriate to the situation and our personal skill set.  The Holy Spirit will do the rest.  “It is impossible to be effective in apologetics without the work of the Spirit in both the apologist and the hearer.”[8]  With the help of the Holy Spirit’s special revelation, Presuppositionalism can be an effective tool.









Hindson, Ed and Ergun Caner, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, Eugene, OR:  Harvest House Publisher, 2008.

Geisler, Norman, Christian Apologetics, Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House, 1976.

Geisler, Norman, Inerrancy, Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing House, 1980.



[1] Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner, The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics,  (Eugene, OR:  Harvest House Publisher, 2008), p401.

[2] Ibid, p404.

[3] Norman Geisler, Christian Apologetics, (Grand Rapids, MI:  Baker Book House, 1976), p125.

[4] Hindson and Caner,  p402.

[5] Ibid, p403

[6] Norman Geisler, Inerrancy, (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan Publishing, 1980), p273.

[7] Hindson and Caner,  p403.

[8] Ibid, p265.

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