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5.0 out of 5 stars

on 5 September 2010
**A few months later I have read Zondervan's "Five Views on Apologetics" and have found it much more helpful in understanding presuppositional apologetics as the other contributors ask Frame the same questions/objections you are thinking and he answers them. Definitely recommend you go to that book first to understand the debate.**

If you want to understand what presuppositional apologetics is all about then this book is a much easier place to start than John Frame's longer work 'The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God'. John Frame is a very smart man and it is not always easy to track with him. He is one of those writers who you are reluctant to write off as mistaken if his point seems silly, because you just know he has thought of every objection already and is deliberately phrasing things in a certain way that if you were tracking with him you would realise it is air-tight.

Some important points that stood out to me in the book are:

In a crucial footnote on pp12-13 Frame clarifies what is meant by the term 'presuppositional'. It does not mean that the use of evidences is despised, or that it is making an 'arbitrary, groundless supposition' or a mere hypothesis.

So what does it mean? Frame says 'The 'pre' should be understood mainly as an indicator of eminence (e.g., preeminence)'. 'We must not do apologetics as if we were a law unto ourselves, as if we were the measure of all things. Christian thinking, like all of the Christian life, is subject to God's Lordship' (p223). 'An ultimate presupposition is a basic heart-commitment, an ultimate trust... since we believe him more certainly than we believe anything else, he, (and hence his Word) is the very criterion, the ultimate standard of truth. What higher standard could there possibly be? What standard is more authoritative?'. (p6-7). '... the apologist chooses, evaluates, and formulates these evidences in ways controlled by Scripture' (p14). Presuppositional apologetics seeks to be biblical in engaging in discussions with unbelievers. It eschews any idea that the Christian must temporarily surrender some of his beliefs for the sake of 'neutrality' in a discussion. Frame says that this 'is actually to think disobediently, replacing God's standards with the unbeliever's own' (footnote p5). Frame very much rejects the unbeliever's autonomous use of reason - setting himself up as the ultimate arbiter of truth by means of his own human reasoning. He is careful to give heed to the bible's teaching on the 'noetic [intellectual] effects of sin' (Romans 1), stressing that unbelievers minds are depraved and at enmity with the truth, thus their standards cannot be described as 'neutral'. 'In the traditional [evidential] apologetic, inquirers are told not to presuppose the full authority of Scripture as God's Word until after that authority has been proved by the apologist... However... we should never tell inquirers to presuppose less than the truth... I recognize that people have to begin where they are. If one does not believe in biblical authority, he cannot simultaneously presuppose it. There are ways to communicate with someone in this position [Oscar, see below], but it is a defective point of view, and the apologist should never encourage it' (p128).

Frame says that according to Romans 1 all unbelievers know God at one level, but that they repress this truth even though deep down somewhere they know that Scripture's standards are right. So unbelievers know the Word of God is true, but suppress this knowledge in favor of autonomous human reason being their ultimate standard.

Frame defines presuppositionalism as '(1) a clear-headed understanding of where our loyalties lie and how those loyalties affect our epistemology... (2) a determination... to present the full teaching of Scripture... without compromise... (4) an understanding of the unbeliever's knowledge of God and rebellion against God, particularly... as it affects his thinking' (p88).

Frame grants the place/necessity of the Holy Spirit witnessing to his word (p11, p135, 147). On p12 he gives a practical example of how in practice people use a presuppositional approach anyway. He imagines a paranoid, Oscar, who believes everyone is out to kill him. Every bit of evidence to the contrary is twisted to fit that presupposition. Any act of kindness is interpreted as a plot to catch him off guard and plunge a knife into his ribs. Oscar does what Romans 1 says unbelievers do - exchange the truth for a lie. Frame then asks what we should say to him - what standards, what presuppositions we should employ. He answers 'Certainly not "neutral" criteria, for there are none. One must either accept his presupposition or reject it. Of course, the answer is that we reason with him according to the truth as we perceive it, even though that truth conflicts with his deepest presuppositions... Oscar is, after all, a human being. At some level, we assume, he knows that everyone is not out to kill him... Paranoids do sometimes, after all, revert to sanity. We speak the truth to him in the hope that that will happen... in the knowledge that if words are to help at all in this situation, they must convey the truth, not further error...' (p12).

Frame deals with the charge of circularity, firstly noting that 'every philosophy must use its own standards in proving its conclusions; otherwise, it is simply inconsistent' (p10). For example, a rationalist can only defend his rationalism by use of the very thing which he is seeking to prove - reason. There is more here, but he says 'Some circular arguments, indeed, should rightly be dismissed as fallacious' and in a footnote 'even many non-Christian authors... concede this sort of point about circularity. It is simply not responsible... to dismiss all circularity as a mere logical fallacy' (p231).

Frames notes that 'Some fear that apologetics... may be seeking to subject Scripture to the judgment of something beyond Scripture. That is, of course, a great danger for the "traditional" [evidential] apologetic, and it may happen unintentionally even when an apologist seeks to be "presuppositional".... It is sometimes hard to rid ourselves of the notion that when we argue the truth of Scripture bases on facts outside of Scripture, we are elevating those facts (ultimately our own fact gathering) to a position of greater authority than Scripture. It seems that we are measuring Scripture by those facts - that we are judging Scripture on the basis of their (presumably higher) authority... But this is not necessarily the case' (p19). 'when we use extrabiblical data... it is simply to expose, as we saw above, the rationality of Scripture itself' (p19). He says that with some arguments (e.g. design in nature) that we are getting the premise from Scripture itself 'In Scripture's teaching, nature points to God; so, the obedient Christian apologist will show the unbeliever the various ways in which nature reveals God, without claiming neutrality and without allowing the use of non-Christian criteria of truth' (p25). Frame concludes that 'we may use extrabiblical data in apologetics, but not as independent criteria to which Scripture must measure up' (p21) and 'we may freely use extrabiblical evidence as long as we use it in ways acceptable to Scripture' (p60).

'Van Til urges us to find some way - whether in the argument itself or in the behaviour/language accompanying the argument - to communicate that our stance is not a neutral one... there are... ways to communicate our Christian "bias"...' (p87). Frame breaks with Van Till on the use of indirect arguments and says 'It may no longer be possible to distinguish presuppositional apologetics from traditional apologetics merely by externals - by the form of argument... Perhaps presuppositionalism is more an attitude of the heart...' (p87).

Chapter 9 is very good, it is a fictional dialogue between an unbeliever and a Christian done from a presuppositional apologetics perspective.
[AL: But you're using the Bible to prove the Bible.
JOHN: Yes, but just as you used reason to prove reason...]

The book has a very good treatment of the problem of evil and critiques of many of the common answers. A random quote:

'So many traditional treatments of the problem [of evil] assume that God's ultimate purpose is to provide happiness for man, and of course that is not so. God's ultimate purpose is to glorify himself... At the same time, theocentricity does not require us to ignore the happiness of man... God's greater glory does bring with it a "greater good"... for those who love God (Rom8:28) but not for every individual person or thing in the universe. So at points the glorification of God does conflict with the happiness of some human beings' (p185-186).

After reading the book I do have a few questions/thoughts remaining though:

1) It is sometimes hard to see why Frame does not see the 'witness of the Spirit' as negating circularity. I suspect he might say something like that if something is self-evident (witness of Spirit) then you can always still ask 'How do you know that is true?' and the answer boils down to 'I just know' - in effect 'I know it is true because I know it is true'. In which case circularity remains.

2) I agree that we should never compromise our presupposition (preeminent place) of the truth of Scripture, but does Romans 1 really say unbelievers also have that knowledge? It just says they know God. Do they really have an innate knowledge at some level that they are repressing of the truth of Scripture? What of those who have never even heard of the bible? Is not belief in Scripture something that God works in a persons heart at a different time? If so, then is it not fine to reason with an unbeliever on the basis of what they do currently accept, all the while being clear that we believe Scripture, but saying to them 'look, even on the basis of the common ground we share (logic, morality etc...), Christianity must be true'.

3) It would be nice to see Frame use some more Scripture when talking of this knowledge of God that all have. It is fine to major on Romans 1, but more would be good.

**A few months later I have read Zondervan's "Five Views on Apologetics" and have found it much more helpful in understanding presuppositional apologetics as the other contributors ask Frame the same questions/objections you are thinking and he answers them. Definitely recommend you go to that book first to understand the debate.**
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