I had in mind to write a review of Sye Ten Bruggencate’s new film, “How to Answer the Fool: A Presuppositional Defense of the Faith,” but it seemed good to me to first write a little blurb about how I came to have an interest in presuppositional apologetics in the first place as contextual information. Unfortunately, it ended up being a little too much for a blurb, so I’m going to go ahead and post it for the kicks and giggles. God willing the actual review will follow a little later on.
As a Lutheran who became interested in apologetics about the time I graduated college, my initial exposure to apologetic methodology was in the form of the evidentialism espoused by Lutherans Dr. John Warwick Montgomery and Craig Parton, among others. It must be noted that this is not necessarily the same evidential approach (also called “Classical”) as used by William Lane Craig and his ilk, as it seeks always to have a more Christocentric focus than the general “theistic proofs” such as the cosmological argument and such. The approach advocated by Montgomery is to prove via the presentation of evidence that Christ was raised from the dead on the third day, and that His own interpretation of this miracle was that it vindicated His claims of being Who He said He was – namely God – and as He is the most qualified to interpret His own resurrection, we should follow Him as God.
Granted this form of evidential approach is a sight better than the arguments for general theism (or, deism) that Craig and others waste breath on, it does still suffer from its implicit granting of the unbeliever’s professed ignorance of God. It still makes the unbeliever the judge, and God is still the one on trial. In fact, Mr. Parton’s book on the subject completely affirms that idea from the title onward. I am speaking of course about Religion on Trial.
This did not feel right to me at the time, but it was all I knew, and after all, it was Lutheran. Reading these books inoculated me against presuppositionalism from the start, for they were quick to speak against them and were highly critical of the method. As a result, when I started listening to Dr. James White’s podcasts, when the subject of presuppositionalism was raised, although I would download the episode, I would neglect to listen to it thinking it was a waste of time.
Some time later, I purchased Jason Lisle’s DVD series titled, “The Ultimate Proof of Creation.” Through a mistake in ordering them I accidentally had them shipped to my parent’s house (they live 2 hours away), and gave my dad the go-ahead to open them up and watch them. During the time he was making his way through them we spoke on the phone a couple of times, and he told me how much I needed to watch them because they showed very clearly how foolish unbelief is. Some time later I was in town for a visit and dad put one on to show my mom. I watched a little of it myself and fairly quickly recognized it as the dreaded presuppositionalism I had been warned of! I told my dad that he could keep the DVDs (or better, throw them away), because of how completely useless they were to me, seeing as Montgomery and Craig had recommended keeping a good distance away from presuppositionalism.
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and dad convinced me to at least give one a shot. He gave me the one he thought best and I disappeared into another room to watch it on my laptop, preparing myself to laugh at the silliness. Instead, I, and a friend who had joined me at that point, ate it up. Dr. Lisle’s presentation spoke to issues that my head and my heart had always intuited, but had never really been clear to my conscious mind.
But even though I agreed with Dr. Lisle, I didn’t like it at first. All my evidentialist reading had conditioned me to oppose it. So I let it sit on the backburner. Cooled it on the apologetics reading for a while, and got into other things. It was not until several months later when Nick Norelli – a blogger I have much respect and admiration for, who for some time insisted that the evidential method was superior – posted some things about his reading of presuppositionalist literature that got me to think on it again.
I went back and listened for the first time to James White’s critique of the evidentialist approach of Mike Licona (whose method is extremely similar to Montgomery’s) that he applied against Bart Ehrman on the Unbelievable? radio program. Dr. White’s critique was solid and hit on the weaknesses of the evidentialist method that I had tried to ignore before; after all, my own faith was bolstered by the evidentialist method prior to that time, and to grant that there were failings to it left me feeling very vulnerable indeed. I’m sure those several months away from apologetics were used by God to bolster my faith for when the evidential card house came down. Unfortunately, Dr. White did not spend a great deal of time laying out the presuppositional approach during those broadcasts, but I was intrigued by what I heard.
I greatly wanted to learn more about presuppositional apologetics at that point, so I downloaded an interview on the podcast “Theopologetics” with Sye Ten Bruggencate. I was blown away by what I heard, my ears being finally opened to it. Throughout the interview, clips of a certain debate Sye had had with an atheist on Unbelievable! were played, and so off I was to download that debate, along with the subsequent rematch. From that point on I devoured whatever presuppositional literature I got my hands on, and in short order had worked through most of Sye’s lectures and videos on his web site (there are many more now than there were then).
At some point in there I friended Sye on facebook, which he graciously accepted, and has been kind enough to respond to questions I’ve asked here and there as his schedule allows. When another Lutheran blogger took issue with the presuppositional method on a very widely circulated blog site, insisting that it was not an approach Lutherans should be using (indeed, sounding like he had not read any presuppositional materials for himself but instead just repeating Montgomery and Parton’s warnings against it, as I had once done), it was Sye that helped me formulate my response.
Since I’ve taken my stance on presuppositionalism, I have certainly received some flak from other Lutherans. However, just this past week Sye himself was interviewed by Chris Rosebrough on Fighting for the Faith, and since then I understand that Chris has been busy reading Greg Bahnsen. Thanks to that interview, I think my days of feeling like an apologetic oddity among Lutherans are coming to an end (kinda like my days of being critical of a view because the powers that be tell me to, instead of examining it for myself). 🙂