2017 Symposium Recap: Adam Holloway on Presuppositional  Apologetics

Matt Pinson

The burden of Adam Holloway’s well-done paper was to make a case that presuppositional forms of apologetics are the most effective type of apologetics in dealing with the postmodern condition. Holloway aimed to show in the paper that an approach to apologetics that starts with the “inescapable questions of life” (Forlines) and deals with unbelievers’ false presuppositions (things that they assume to be true at the outset) is best-suited to deal with intellectual objections of people in a postmodern context. This approach considers holistic worldviews, testing each one and showing the inconsistency and inadequacy of non-Christian worldviews. Holloway suggested that evidential apologetics places too much confidence in human reason and is naïve about the ability of unbelievers to interpret evidence rationally and objectively.

Holloway began his paper with a consideration of Francis Schaeffer’s approach to apologetics. He emphasized Schaeffer’s comment that “presuppositional apologetics would have stopped the decay” of Christian belief and confidence in absolute truth that was occurring in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He discussed Schaeffer’s concept of a “line of despair,” which occurred in Western thought during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Prior to the “line of despair,” everyone in Western culture was thinking with the same basic presuppositions about ultimate reality regarding universal truth, right and wrong, the nature of knowledge, etc. After they crossed the line of despair, they no longer shared basic Judeo-Christian presuppositions.

Thus Schaeffer thought that evidential apologetics was inadequate below the line of despair. The attempt—following medieval scholasticism as represented by the thought of Thomas Aquinas—to get people to believe in the existence of God by reason alone, without any recourse to faith or special revelation, failed to reckon with presuppositions. As Holloway explained, Schaeffer believed that this method of apologetics was “talking past” modern people who had abandoned the basic presuppositions needed to understand the Thomistic proofs for the existence of God and evidential arguments for the rationality of Christianity. Thus the best way to reason with unbelievers, for Schaeffer was by showing the irrationality, inconsistency, or inadequacy of their non-Christian presuppositions, then presenting the Christian worldview as the rationally consistent alternative that gives the most satisfying answers to the inescapable questions of life. Holloway also showed, later in the paper, that this is the approach of Leroy Forlines.

Holloway summarized Alvin Plantinga’s and Ronald Nash’s view that all people have a basic, in-born knowledge of God “preprogrammed” in their consciousness. He also considered more robust presuppositionalists such as Cornelius Van Til and his mentee Greg Bahnsen, quoting Bahnsen as saying that an apologetic argument should “pit the unbeliever’s system of thought as a unit over against the believer’s system of thought as a unit. Their overall perspectives will have to contend with each other, rather than debating isolated points in a piecemeal fashion.”

Holloway did a good job of making a case for the need for an apologetic that probes the inadequacy of non-Christian worldviews, as a whole, in addressing the rational and existential needs of the human person, and showing the adequacy of the Christian worldview, as a whole, in addressing those needs. It is worth noting that Holloway’s approach is right in line with the approach Leroy Forlines takes in chapter 7 of his Quest for Truth.

One shortcoming of the paper was that it failed to distinguish adequately between different sorts of presuppositionalists. Thinkers he examined such as Schaeffer, Forlines, and Nash, though more Augustinian and presuppositional in their framework and starting point, take into account the need to test worldviews for their logical consistency and ability to meet existential needs. Van Tilian presuppositionalists are less apt to stress logic and empirical data and more likely to emphasize the internal inconsistencies of non-Christian systems. In a future revision, Mr. Holloway would do well to distinguish Van Tilian presuppositionalism from the moderate presuppositional approaches of thinkers such as Nash, Schaeffer, and Forlines. Notwithstanding this criticism, Mr. Holloway did a fine job in his paper of showing why a more worldview-oriented, presuppositional approach to the apologetic task will bear more fruit in the postmodern intellectual context.

Adam Holloway: Presuppositional  Apologetics in a Postmodern Age

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