In defending the Christian faith, the most important question before us is “What sort of defense will best glorify our God (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31)?” God forbid that in seeking to defend the faith before others we should in that very act compromise it.
The so-called “presuppositional” school of apologetics is concerned above all with answering this question. Of course, there are other questions in apologetics which, although of less ultimate importance, also deserve answers. Presuppositionalists have discussed those too. But in view of our space limitation, and in order to do justice to the main thrust of presuppositionalism, I must focus our attention on this most important question and then as space permits relate some other issues to this one.
Among all the sources of divine revelation (including nature, history, human beings in God’s image), Scripture plays a central role. Indeed, though the point cannot be argued in detail here, my view is that Scripture is the supremely authoritative, inerrant Word of God, the divinely authored, written constitution of the church of Jesus Christ2. Scripture is therefore the foundational authority for all of human life including apologetics. As the ultimate authority, the very Word of God, it provides the foundational justifications for all our reasoning3, without itself being subject to prior justification.
Therefore, in seeking an apologetic which glorifies God, we must ask first of all what Scripture says on the subject. Of course, we will not find “apologetics” in any biblical concordance. But Scripture does say quite a bit about human knowledge of God and about the differences between belief and unbelief, matters of central importance to apologetics.
The message of Scripture may be summarized in three great facts: creation, fall and redemption. Each of these has important implications for apologetics.
A. The Word of God vs. Mere Creaturely Wisdom
God has made all creatures, including ourselves, for his own glory. He is the lord; we are his servants. Lordship involves authority, and God’s ultimate lordship entails absolute authority. When God speaks, human beings must hear and obey. God defined Adam’s life-purpose by giving him a command (Gen. 1:28ff.), and the fall was disobedience to God’s Word (Gen. 2:16ff.; 3:11). The curse on post-fall life, as well as the promise of redemption, is defined by God’s Word (Gen. 3:14-19). The human race is preserved from judgment by one man’s obedience to God’s Word (Gen. 6:9–8:19) and is reconstituted by God’s promises (8:20–9:17). Abraham is called out of his country by the Word of God (Gen. 12:1ff.), and his faith is a faith in God’s spoken promise (Gen. 15:1-21; 17:1-22; 18:13ff.; Rom. 4:18-21; Heb. 11:8-19). Over and over again, Israel is told to keep every command that comes from God’s mouth (Deut. 4:1-14; 5:30-33; 6:1-9; 7:11-1644; Josh. 1:8ff.; Ps. 1; 12:6; 19:7-11; 119; Isa. 8:20).
The New Testament, far from rejecting this emphasis on the authority of God’s Word, endorses the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures (Matt. 4:4; 5:17-20; John 5:45ff.; 10:35; Rom. 3:1ff.; 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:15-17; James 1:22-25; 2:8-12; 4:11; 2 Pet. 1:19-21). It also presents us with new Words from God, the words of Jesus and the apostles. These too are words of absolute authority, and obeying them is a matter of life or death (Jesus: Matt. 7:21-29; Mark 8:38; Luke 8:21; John 6:63-68; 8:47; 12:47ff.; 14:15,21,23ff.; 15:7,10,14; 17:6; 1 John 2:3-5; 3:22; 5:2ff.; 2 John 6; the apostles: Rom. 1:16ff.; 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:10-13; 4:1; 14:37; Gal. 1:1,8ff.,11ff.,16; 2:2; Eph. 3:3; 2 Pet. 3:16; Rev. 1:11)5.
So we live under God’s authority. Among other things, this means that we are to draw a sharp distinction between the Word of God and fallen human wisdom6. Deuteronomy 18:20 pronounces a curse upon a would-be prophet who “presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded him to say.” Isaiah 29:13 attacks the people as hypocrites because “their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” Jesus quotes this passage in Matthew 15:8ff. and Mark 7:6ff. in his attack upon the “traditions” of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. Paul attacks those who submit to human ethical rules as if they were God’s (Col. 2:20-23; cf. Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8–10). See also Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; 15:33; Ecclesiastes 12:13ff.; Isaiah 33:6; Jeremiah 7:24; 11:8; 13:10; 16:12; 18:12; 23:17; 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16; 3:18-23. To confuse God’s Words with mere human words is to leave ourselves with no clear divine authority.