From the time I heard about Sye Ten Bruggencate’s film “How to Answer the Fool: A Presuppositional Defense of the Faith,” I knew that I would end up purchasing it. That’s partially because I consider myself a presuppositionalist, and partly because I first heard about it through the trailer that was released on Youtube, which made the pitch very well. Even so, I figured I would wait a while before buying it for myself, maybe talk someone into getting it for me for Christmas or something (ever the penny-pincher). However, Sye’s interview with Chris Rosebrough on this film convinced me to go ahead and get it its first week out.
I did so, and have watched it completely through twice now, in addition to viewing some of my favorite scenes several more times on top of that. I’d like to report here what I thought, which will make this the Chi Files’ first real product review (as far as I can remember, anyway). I know there are a lot of other reviews out there already (though I’ve only read about 2 of them), so instead of writing out some exhaustive thing, I’m going to stick to talking about the 7 elements that stood out to me in particular and leave the comprehensive stuff to the folks who are more experienced at reviews than I.
1) The thing about the film that is immediately striking is the raw-ness of it. And I mean that in a good way. In one sense it reminded me a lot of Ray Comfort’s films, with the street preaching aspect interspersed amongst the teaching aspect. I’ve long enjoyed watching good street preachers interact with the people that stop by, and Sye is as good as they come. In fact, I would list as my biggest complaint with the film the fact that there wasn’t more street preaching footage involved.
I certainly understand the need to be selective with footage so that a certain point can be illustrated without dragging on, and the necessity of keeping the film clocking in at a reasonable time, but I was disappointed that the bonus features did not include more video of the encounters. In fact some of the street preaching footage from the trailer – conversations I was hoping to see in their entirety, or at least less abridged – must have ultimately ended up on the cutting room floor as well. I know DVDs have limited storage capacity, so maybe American Vision, Crown Rights, or Sye himself will make this footage available through other means at some future time.
2) Throughout the film, Sye makes excellent use of parables to illustrate specific points. This keeps what can be a very abstract subject that much more tangible, and I think memorable as well. Through the use of these stories he deals with such issues as: a) why it is not appropriate to let the unbeliever use our worldview to argue against us, b) what presuppositions are and why they matter, c) why it is important to exercise this apologetic method with gentleness and respect, and others. This is a definite strong point to the film.
3) On the other hand, another complaint that I would register is what felt to me to be a little bit of a frenzied pacing to some of it. What I mean is that there are times when the scene is cut abruptly and we move to something else, only to have the same thing happen again several times in what feels like rapid succession. Early on this was not so bad, but at the beginning of the second half it felt like there were a lot of arbitrary cuts (Sye could be in the middle of a parable to a group and then we cut to him telling it straight to the camera in another setting, and then another setting, etc.) that felt a little excessive to me.
However, I have to remember that I as an individual enjoy sitting down and watching an hour and a half lecture uninterrupted, and don’t care for a whole lot of action scenes in my movies. Most of my generation, and even more of the following generations, have more of an ADD temperament that have to have something change and grab their attention again every few minutes to keep them engaged. Blame the TV commercials or whatever, it’s the way things are. So, what to me is somewhat of a weakness may actually be a strength when it comes to a different type of audience who might be more accustomed to this kind of cinematography, which may serve to keep them better tuned in.
4) One thing that is hard to walk away from this film without noticing is the boldness with which Sye proclaims the Law and the Gospel. He is fearless in the face of verbal attacks, veiled threats, and even those of profess to be Christians but who deny fundamental truths of the faith. But all the while he is respectful, gentle, and compassionate, which the viewer will see to fullest effect in the last scene of the film. His approach to apologetics is worth studying not just in the sense of a cut-and-dried “2 move checkmate” apologetic method as he calls it, but in the way he interacts with unbelievers as individuals created in the image and likeness of God.
I think my favorite scene of the film is where Sye is engaging a certain TV host about his denial of Biblical truths, challenging his claim that he loves Jesus in no uncertain terms. The exchange verges on heated at times, but all the same exemplifies Sye’s repetition of the Scriptural admonition to give a defense with gentleness and respect. It is to be commended highly.
5) A good portion of the film amounts to a polemic in favor of presuppositional apologetics, exposing the weaknesses and false assumptions of the evidentialist/classical school of apologetic thought, most of which viewers with a background in the presuppositional method will already have a handle on. However, that is not to discount the use of the polemic in any way, as it is vital for an introductory presuppositional work (which this is) to establish the existence of a difference in approach and explain why that difference is there and is important. And goodness knows that the evidentialist school rarely wastes an opportunity to polemicize against us.
6) I will point out here that – as inferred above – there is not necessarily much new in this film for avid readers of Bahnsen, Van Til, Oliphant, and other presuppositional authors. If you are expecting advanced level presuppositional instruction, this film is probably not going to do it for you. Of course, it never makes the claim to be an upper division presuppositional apologetics course, it claims to be a guide on “how to answer the fool,” and in particular a tool for small group or Sunday school classes. And in that it succeeds wonderfully.
7) Throughout the film, Sye’s enthusiasm for the subject is contagious. Even more contagious is his love for the Lord. And in opposition to our modern culture that often assumes paradoxically that loving the Lord excludes critical examination and confrontation of opposing worldviews, Sye here brings his enthusiasm to the table in a wonderful work that will surely introduce many to God-honoring apologetics.
I want to thank Sye, American Vision, and Crown Rights for putting together this tool for learning, and look forward to sharing it with others.