Misguided Tribalism in Apologetic Methodology

Much has been made of the categorization of apologetic methodologies. But perhaps apologetic methodologies need not be so sharply separated from one another. Perhaps such separation between apologetic methodologies is actually more confusing than constructive and more harmful than helpful. More importantly, perhaps there is not enough difference between apologetic methodologies to be able to maintain the distinctions between the supposed schools of apologetic methodology.

The aforementioned thought came to fuller expression in the words of Paul Helm. During a class break, Helm was answering questions some of his students had regarding his own take on apologetic methodology in terms of schools. Helm was taken aback by the fact that such a discussion should even exist, much less that he should be questioned about it.

Questions about apologetic methodology readily lend themselves to a misguided tribalism. By pointing out this observation I do not intend to dismiss questions of apologetic methodology completely. Unfortunately, pagan philosophers with pseudo-Christian methodologies will always plague the realm of Christian apologetics. But disputes between apologetic schools are of a different sort than disputes with obviously unbelieving approaches to apologetics.

Suffice it to say that I have a difficult time discerning the radical differences between various ‘schools’ of apologetic methodology. For example, the easiest illustration of a supposed difference in apologetic methodology is between ‘presuppositionalism’ and ‘evidentialism.’ So you get a guy like Sye TenBruggencate, a self-proclaimed presuppositionalist, who clearly believes that presenting evidence to unbelievers is not just a waste of time, but actually sinful. But doesn’t he present evidence when he makes arguments to the unbeliever regarding logic and certainty and the like? Isn’t he working off of agreed upon premises just like the evidentialist? Isn’t he setting forth his arguments to the unbeliever only to have the unbeliever stand as judge over whether or not the conclusions to those arguments should be accepted?

Or take Greg Bahnsen as another example. Bahnsen is considered a presuppositionalist par excellence. And yet, Bahnsen differs from TenBruggencate in that he clearly does present evidence to the unbeliever. And why not? After all, Bahnsen also offers arguments regarding logic, using shared premises, and expecting the unbeliever to stand as judge over the conclusions to those arguments. Bahnsen was also clear that natural theological arguments need not be rejected, if they are formulated as to be consistent with Christian theology. What Thomist wouldn’t agree?

Much more can be said, but I will save it for another time.


6 responses to “Misguided Tribalism in Apologetic Methodology

  1. Hi there!

    Just a quick question, you noted in the above:

    “After all, Bahnsen also offers arguments regarding logic, using shared premises, and expecting the unbeliever to stand as judge over the conclusions to those arguments. ”

    You mentioned ‘shared premises’.

    From PA210, “presuppositional proceedure”:

    “Take anything about which the unbeliever is committed or concerned – anything which seems uncontroversial and agreed upon by the unbeliever and believer alike – and from that point display that it would be unintelligible, or meaningless, or incoherent if the unbeliever’s worldview, instead of the believer’s, were true. The illustrations are as wide as human experience – from the curing of polio, to the composing of an opera, to the condemnation of police brutality, to the balancing of your checkbook. And the philosophical issues about which Van Til wrote we should broach to prove the unbeliever’s epistemology and discredit the unbeliever’s were extensive and varied. To consider a few, we read about the problem of making sense of (or possibility of):

    predication, reason, explanation, interpretation, learning, certainty, universals, possibility, cause, substance, being, or purpose, counting, coherence, unity, or system in experience or in a conception of a “universe,” logic, individuating of facts, unchanging “natures” or laws in a chance universe, uniformity, science, connecting logic and facts or predication to reality, avoiding contradictions, avoiding the irrationalism or scepticism which arise from the tension between knowing discursively and knowing-asystematic, etc.”

    I may be misunderstanding you, but it seemed like Bahnsen was saying specifically that you take anything that would be considered uncontroversial or agreed upon (cf “shared premises” above) and use that very thing to show how it is in disagreement with CT, and thus unintelligible.

    Can you clarify what your thoughts here were? Many thanks sir! 🙂

      • I don’t recall mentioning anything about ‘neutrality.’ I mentioned that Bahnsen appeals to shared premises to make his arguments. Your quote from Bahnsen shows him agreeing with me. I am having difficulty figuring out where you think I have differed with Bahnsen in how I presented his view.

      • From your quote, a shared premise could be “anything which seems uncontroversial and [is] agreed upon by the unbeliever and believer alike.”

        Just look up the definition of “premise” and “shared” and that should help. You’re making it more difficult than what it needs to be.

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