Why use apologetics for evangelism?
9 May 2005; Updated and reposted 26 January 2008
A creationist inquirer plays devil’s advocate and asks why we bother with apologetics, or defending the faith, at all, whether presuppositionalist or evidentialist. Dr Jonathan Sarfati responds, pointing out the biblical commands to defend the faith, as well as examples in Scripture. And we show examples of many people coming to faith in Christ after honest questions were answered. Conversely, refusal to answer honest questions helps feed the sceptical claim that Christians really have no answers.
Hello. I am a creationist and I want to play devil’s advocate for a moment in hopes that I can get some clearer answers to two questions I have, which I do not believe have been addressed on your site, or at least not very clearly.
Firstly, presuppositions are obviously key in understanding the evolution/creation controversy, but consistently the writers at this site make the mistake of leaving questions obviously unanswered, mainly this one: If an evolutionist can only interpret the data as evidence for creationism if he starts with a biblical presupposition, how is presenting evidence for creationism, which is one of the main purposes of this site, useful at all?
Why should it be either-or rather than both-and? God ordains the means as well as the end. While no one can understand the things of God without the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:14), the Holy Spirit uses a variety of means to draw people to Christ, including arguments. Thus it is perfectly reasonable for us to present evidence that is hard to interpret correctly under the materialistic presupposition while it makes perfect sense under the biblical axioms.
And the site has proven usefulness in that many people have been drawn to (or returned to) Christ through the arguments used, e.g. ‘Sonia’, ‘Joel Galvin’ and ‘Lita’, and for that matter another geologist who was in the same position but now wants to learn to defend the truth of Genesis to help others. So I would argue that the way that we defend the faith is far better than the way many people don’t!
It seems as though presuppositional apologetics is meaningless if one has to start ‘a priori’ with a presupposition in order to believe the presupposition. This is precisely the question Dr Sarfati left unanswered in the April 8 feedback, making me wander if the submitter really left with any clearer understanding of presuppositions.
This is not really fair, because I explained perfectly clearly that the submitter was starting from the wrong presupposition of autonomous human reasoning, so I put him back to the legitimacy of using the biblical propositions as axioms. I have added a couple of small paragraphs linking to previous feedbacks about the presuppositions required for science as well as rational thought, and another one explaining to an agnostic asking whether biblical Christians commit circular reasoning, including the role of axioms, internal consistency and real world application. These show that the biblical presuppositions are not merely an alternative to materialism, but in fact the only ones that provide a coherent worldview. It’s hard to cover everything in one response, and it shouldn’t be necessary to repeat what I’ve already said.
Secondly, how can presuppositional apologetics be used as an evangelism tool when Romans 1 already says quite clearly that man is without excuse and needs only special revelation in order to receive salvation?
It says nothing about refusing to defend the rationality of this special revelation. Such fideism is an antibiblical position and was never practised by Jesus or His Apostles. See also The ‘Indoctrinator’ for more discussion on the baneful consequences of refusing to defend the faith, and conversely, the boldness in witnessing that can come from skill in apologetics. See also Q&A: Apologetics.
Presuppositional apologetics seems only to throw more general revelation at the lost—
This is more like evidentialist apologetics. And it also misconstrues general revelation: this by definition is revelation accessible to all people at all times, so all our new scientific information cannot be general revelation. But our presuppositional approach shows that the only presuppositions that make sense of the evidence, and even provide a basis for rationality, volition and morality, are the propositions of Scripture. Further, we show that any other set of axioms fails to provide a coherent worldview (map of how we look at the world).
but the lost already have all of the general revelation they need!
Therefore, all that Christians need to do is preach the Gospel, and this is all the Bible commands us to preach (1 Cor. 9:16).
The Bible also commands us to give reasons for our faith (1 Peter 3:15), contend earnestly for the faith (Jude 3), and demolish arguments opposed to Christ (2 Cor. 10:4–5). Paul disputed in the synagogues (Acts 17:17).
Our approach to defending the faith is consistent with Scripture and it is effective (if it were not effective, the atheists would not spend so much effort opposing us!). I don’t see much evidence of infidels opposing the fideistic approach, which is often little different to existentialism, because it does not challenge the basis of their unbelief.
Here is an answer to another anti-apologetics fideist.
Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 2:1–2, ‘And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.’ Paul recognized that only the Gospel, not his wisdom of general revelation or anything else, is necessary for salvation and the only thing necessary to preach.
Dear editors and staff,
I was helping my daughter prepare for a sixth grade social studies test this morning, and was dismayed to see that her exam was on australopithecus, homo habilis, homo erectus, neanderthalis, and their supposed evolutionary relation to homo sapiens.
I was surprised that she was studying this in “social studies”, and I had already done some research online with her, earlier in the year, to expose the truth about the archaeoraptor that she was being told about in her science class.
Your website, independently, had sufficient material for me to create a letter for submission to my daughter’s social studies teacher regarding the truth about the fossils for which my daughter was being tested.
So, as a dad who is trying to raise his daughter with a knowledge of the Biblical truth and evidence surrounding God’s divine creation, I sincerely thank you.
Please keep up the good work!
This is a fallacious low-context view of this passage. However, the Bible was written in a high-context society. That is, its members ‘presume a broadly shared, well-understood, or “high” knowledge of the context of anything referred to in conversation or in writing’. The authors wrote to intended readers with a certain background and expected them to be able to ‘fill in the gap’. There was no need to explain things in depth if they all had a shared, background knowledge. Conversely, we in the modern West are a ‘low-context’ society, and expect the context to be spelt out to us: ‘The obvious problem this creates for reading the biblical writings today is that low-context readers in the United States frequently mistake the biblical writings for low-context documents. They erroneously assume that the author has provided all of the contextual information needed to understand it.’1 We must read the Bible according to the author’s intention and not impose 21st-century thought forms on this.
In this case, you are reading the passage as a modern low-context letter and failing to recognize Paul’s intentional rhetorical brevity in a high-context setting. Paul did not simply ring the doorbell at Corinth and stand there mumbling, ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified’ over and over again, like a magical Hindu mantra! Rather, he had already preached to them much earlier (1 Cor. 15) and laid down the groundwork, especially about who this Jesus Christ is. This would certainly have included the groundwork of the type he explained on Mars Hill (Acts 17), where he explained that God is creator, man is a sinner, and can be saved only through Jesus who rose from the dead. In fact, Jesus Christ and Him crucified was just an abbreviated way of saying what Paul explained in more detail in ch. 15, which explicitly talks about the first Adam and the death he brought.
Yet [your ministry] often touts Paul’s Mars Hill sermon as ‘presuppositional apologetics,’ but in reality Paul delivered a message completely devoid of apologetics.
Not at all. He connected with a point in their culture, the unknown God, and even reasoned from one of their own poet’s sayings.
He simply told them the truth from Scripture: God is the one true god and creator, not pagan Gods, and His son rose from the dead. This is a far cry from delving into complex aspects of general revelation, which, as you already mentioned, only makes sense if you interpret them through a presupposition that results only from understanding special revelation—the Bible!
But this is exactly what Paul did! There was a clear difference between Paul’s preaching in Acts 17 to the Gentiles and Peter’s preaching to the Jews in Acts 2. Indeed, our society is often even further from the truth than the Greeks on Mars Hill. That is, the Greeks were prepared to hear Paul out, in contrast with liberal universities, evolutionary journals and activist courts trying to shut Christianity out of public life.
Therefore, the April 8 feedback submitter seems correct. One will never accept creationism outside of the Bible.
No, he is wrong, because he demanded that we submit to an antibiblical authority: autonomous human reasoning. So we were applying the urgent warning of the Apostle Paul in Colossians 2:8—
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
And since creationism is not what gives salvation, only the Gospel, the only meaningful message to preach is the Gospel.
And once again, the Gospel is the good news, and this makes sense only with the bad news of man’s sin, which in turn makes no sense without Creation and the Fall (see our Gospel (Good News) page). There is no need for the last Adam unless the first Adam is a real historical person who brought death and corruption into God’s very good creation—teachings of Scripture that autonomous man denies, replacing this clear teaching of Scripture with the evolutionary version of history. This is a major argument opposed to Christ, which we are to demolish (2 Cor. 10:4–5).
Looking forward to your response,
Hope this helps,
(Dr) Jonathan Sarfati
- Malina, B.J. and Rohrbaugh, R.L., Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, Fortress, pp. 16 ff., 1998. Return to text.