Apologetic Methods of Presupposition and Evidentialism
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    Apologetic Methods of Presupposition and Evidentialism


    Apologetics is defined as the reasoned defense of the Christian faith. The historical origin of apologetics could be found in the legal procedures in ancient Athens. The plaintiff brought his accusation before the court. The accused had the right of making a reply (apologia) to that accusation. Apologetic examples of Jesus (Matthew 22) and the apostles (Acts 22:1, 23:1, 24:1 and 26:1) can readily be found in the Bible. Augustine simply defined apologetics as the Christian defense of the Gospel. Christians are commanded by the Scripture to be ready to make a defense to everyone about our faith (1 Peter 3:15). Apologetics lay the groundwork and give a reasonable basis for building a theology structure. There are generally two schools of thoughts, namely Presupposition and Evidentialism. In this paper, the concepts of Presupposition and Evidentialism are studied and analyzed. A balanced approach is then proposed combining the pros of each method and abandoning the cons.

    Definitions of Presupposition and Evidentialism

    The Evidential position believes in a common ground which both Christians and non-Christians can agree upon, setting aside the existence of God, the claims of Christ, and the authority of the Bible. A common ground is sought, depending on the background of the audience, the non-Christian. This common ground can range from simple foundations of logic and science to historical evidence that support the presence of God and the truth of the Bible. The evidentialist thus proceeds to urge the non-Christian to take the Bibles claim seriously and consider its message. . A good example of the Evidential approach is that of Josh McDowell (Reference 1).

    The Pressupposition position on the other hand stresses that there are certain truths that take precedence over others (Reference 1), like the claims of God, Christ and Scripture. This approach believes that one should not try to isolate the apologetic task from the evangelical witness and the theological context. The presuppositionist does not concede a common ground, which he believes, is the abandoning of Christ, "who is the source to all wisdom and knowledge." Without the presupposition of Christ, the non-Christian will not be able to understand the truth of God, not to mention accepting Him.

    These two approaches seem to be diametrically opposed with presupposition emphasizing Gods sovereignty and mans faith in seeking Him, and evidentialism stressing mans wisdom in proving the existence of God. However, before rejecting one approach over the other it is important to weigh the pros and cons of each method and come up with a balanced approach. The advantages and disadvantages of both Evidentialism and Presupposition can be summarized in the following tables.

    Table 1- Advantages of Evidentialism and Presupposition




    Logical Approach-

    Both approaches are quite logical with Evidentialists emphasizing on a common ground that is less threatening to the non-Christian and the Presuppositionalists presupposing Christian elements that cannot be proven.

    By emphasizing on the Axioms of logic and science, with the support of historical evidences, one of the biggest advantages of this method is that it tends to capture the interest of the non-Christian by discussing common (ground) interest. This stages a friendly atmosphere for communication by talking about something that the non-Christian can associate with and thus is more receptive. After all isnt this the whole idea of Christs incarnation? The Word became flesh so that we can experience God and let his love be evident to us. Without God becoming flesh to live in the midst of man, it would have been difficult for man to understand Gods love. Thus it is important to start the apologetic with a common ground that non-Christians can relate to.

    There are certain Axioms in science and philosophy that are accepted without proofs. It seems logical that the Presuppositionalists take the same approach.

    By Choice or Freewill

    Both camps do believe that the fallen man is blind to the truth of God, but they have different interpretations. Evidentialists believe that one should avoid issues that the fallen man cant see (like the claims of God, Christ and the Scripture) and emphasize on issues that are evident to the non-Christian, so that he can choose to believe by his freewill judgment. Presuppositionists believe that only God can convert non-Christians, therefore one should proclaim these Christian elements up front and let God do the rest (by Gods choice).

    It avoids religious elements that could offend or threaten the non-Christian who might cause the individual to alienate himself from Christianity. The fallen man has a radical sin bias that blinds him to the truth about God, Christ and the Scripture. He suppresses the truth in unrighteousness and exchanges the truth of God for the lie (Roman 1:18, 25). Therefore, a non-Christian tends to find the knowledge of God repulsive. By avoiding these issues (elements of Christianity) that are blind to the fallen man and concentrating on evidences that are apparent to them, the non-Christians are thus more receptive to the Gospel, by exercising his freewill judgment.

    Presuppositionalists believe that it is God who chooses us and the Holy Spirit who converts his elects; Christians are simply called to preach the Gospel. Thus there is no need for a common-ground approach which tends to rely on mans wisdom instead of Gods sovereignty.

    Biblical Approach-

    Both approaches are well supported by Biblical verses.

    Evidentialism is biblical. After all Jesus did present Himself alive, after His suffering, by many convincing proofs (evidence). The Lord did not chastise Thomas when he doubted His resurrection by saying to other disciples, Until I see the nail marks in his hands and thrust my finger into the wound in His side, I will not believe! (John 20:25) But instead, He graciously offered exactly what Thomas had demanded as concrete, empirical evidence for His deity.

    Moreover, Jesus fulfillment of the Old Testament (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53, etc.) is yet another support of the evidential approach.

    Jesus also pointed to his miracles as the ultimate verification (evidence) of the truth of His claim concerning Himself. Do not believe me unless I do what my Father does. But if I do it, even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me , and I in the Father. (John 10:37,38).


    Presupposition is biblical too- Non-Christians cannot comprehend Gods truth (1 Corinthians 1:21, 1 Corinthians 2:14, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Isaiah 6:9, Isaiah 29:12, Acts 28:24-28). Thus unless God opens their eyes, they will not accept God. So why waste time on the common ground. One should instead dive into the key elements of the claim of God, Christ and the Scripture.



    Table 2- Disadvantages of Evidentialism and Presupposition




    Fundamental Problem-

    To certain extend, both approaches have fundamental problems. Setting out to prove Christianity with evidences, Evidentialists find the task almost impossible. On the other hand, Presupposition technically cannot be considered as apologetic, because it starts with theology instead of proving it.

    Not only does evidentialism concede too much, it seeks to prove too little. The most evidentialism claims to be able to do is to prove the probable truth of Christianity.

    Even if one can prove that all the claims in the Bible about Jesus is true, its close to impossible to prove that Jesus is the Son of God. Also, no matter how compelling the evidences are, they do not convince those who have not submitted to Gods Word in faith (Luke 16:31). Barth (Reference 3) also maintained neither Scripture nor the saving events recorded in Scripture can be objects of proof to the unbeliever. Rather, faith is the way to know that the Bible is Gods word or that the resurrection took place.

    Strictly speaking the presupposition approach does not fit the definition of apologetics because it proclaims rather than defenses. It begins too close to theology, and does not lay a sufficient philosophical groundwork to support its assertions. It starts with theology rather than proving theology. If one presupposes rather than proves, has one not abandoned apologetics rather than performed it? In displacing evidentialism, does one not abandon apologetics in the process?

    Blind Faith or Concession?

    On one hand, Presuppositionists accuse Evidentialists of conceding too much to the non-Christian. On the other hand, Evidentialists accuse Presuppositionalists of having blind faith.

    This method tends to abandon the basic religious elements of Christianity and thus not sit well with Presuppositionalist, who believe that common ground denies the existence of God, for Whom, through Whom and to Whom are all things (Roman 11:36). To say that the impersonal axioms of logic and science are the basic principles of reality is to deny the Christ who is before all things. Evidentialists are often criticized as judging God.

    By taking away the ability to judge the truth, the presuppositionalists take away our ability to tell real prophets from false ones and to judge the accuracy of prophecies, both are clearly stated in the Bible. Also, if one surrenders his autonomy to God, why shouldnt he surrender to the Allah of the Quran, or to the flesh and bone God of the Mormons doctrine, or to the Buddha.

    Does Experience Count?

    Both camps tend to stress mans experience, implicitly or explicitly. However experience is biased by ones worldview.

    Since reasoning and interpretation are affected by ones existing worldview, the meanings derived by Evidentialists may not arise out of bare facts and are biased.


    On one hand, presuppositionalists down-talk the ability of the fallen man in knowing the truth (based on his experience). On the other hand, Presuppositionalists like Van Til, tell non-Christians that Christianity can offer a more meaningful life, which in itself is based on experience (Reference 4).

    Begging the Question-

    Both approaches tend to beg the question in different ways.

    In appealing to miraculous evidences, Evidentialists claim miracles in the presence of anomalies in nature. But by calling anomalies miracles, they begged the question, because, miracles presuppose God.

    If Christianity is incredible to non-Christians with evidences, how far-fetched it would be without them? If fallen man is so depraved that he cannot see how reasonable Christianity is when confronted with evidences, then how is he ever going to presuppose such an inexplicable doctrine as the Trinity?

    From the above comparison, one can see that both approaches are logical and biblical. Both approaches are biased by ones experience, they tend to beg the question in their own ways, and when stand alone are not entirely fundamentally sound. Both approaches stress that non-Christians in their fallen state cannot understand God's truth, but tend to have different interpretations. Evidentialists believe that apologetics should start from a common ground with issues that non-Christians can comprehend. Presuppositionalists on the other hand believe that God is the one who converts non-Christians, thus one should dive directly into theology and let God do the job. As one can see, the main difference in the two approaches is that Presupposition stresses God's sovereignty and Evidentialism emphasizes man's ability to judge God in the light of evidences. This is very similar to the contrast between Calvinism and Arminius, with the former stressing Gods choice and the latter on mans freewill ability. To summarize, Presupposition versus Evidentialism can be thought of as invisible (e.g., claim of God) versus visible (e.g., evidence), non-empirical versus empirical, Gods choice vs. man's freewill, Calvinism versus Arminium.

    The comparison of Calvinism vs. Arminius is out of the scope of this work (for a brief comparison of the two, please click here). In short, Calvinists believe that the sovereignty of God presupposes everything and are more likely to adopt the presupposition approach in apologetics. As a matter of fact, the great presuppositionalist, Van Til, has often been referred to as a Calvinist (Reference 5 and 6). On the other hand Arminians tend to believe in mans freewill and probably feel more comfortable with Evidentialism which allows areas of human reason. These are the areas of common grounds, which are conceded to the non-Christian.

    To a Calvinist, if a non-Christian refused to accept the authoritative claims of God, Christ and the Scripture, it was not due to a lack of common ground, which turned the non-Christian off, but that this person was not chosen by God in the first place.

    A Balanced Approach

    Both approaches in Apologetics, namely Presupposition and Evidentialism have their advantages and shall be considered seriously. One should come up with a balanced approach, adopting the strength of each method while abandoning their shortcomings. Presuppositionalists want to begin with God, Evidentialists with man; the balanced approach start with both God and man simultaneously. As a result, any valid Evidentialist method assumes and promotes Christian presuppositions. Similarly a presupposition method is truly Biblical only if it argues, from a Christian world-view, the evidence of the Christian faith. This balanced approach is also brought out by biblical data itself. John 14:17, for instance, clearly identifies the presuppositional deficiencies of the non-Christian.

    The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. (John 14:17)

    Yet the same gospel urges us to appropriate the evidence, particularly that of Jesus miracles.

    Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is Christ, the son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

    In Act 2:14-40, Jesus identity was presupposed, Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ, as well as using the evidential approach, Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you know,

    In Act 9:20-25, Saul proclaims Jesus as the Son of God, while proving that Jesus is the Christ.

    During the healing the crippled man in Lystra, Paul and Barnabas combined both evidential act (the healing itself) with presuppositional claims, We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them.


    The balanced approach should be an apologetic method that is:

    1.     Fundamentally Sound- Presuppositionalism starts with God (too close to theology) and Evidentialism starts with ourselves (fails to prove a 100% with evidence) and neither is fundamentally sound when stand alone. The balanced approach should start with both God and ourselves simultaneously, as these cannot be broken apart.

    2.     A Logical and Biblical Approach- Using the wisdom that God has given us, devise a methodology that is logical yet well-supported by the Bibles teaching. This approach should prepare a friendly atmosphere, making it less threatening and more receptive to the non-Christian. It sets the stage for theology, drawing knowledge and strength from the Bible.

    3.     Based on Our Experience- Although experience can be biased by our world-views and the way we were brought up, experience is also the only way we can relate to the non-Christian, because we share similar world-views. However, care should be taken not to let our experience misinterpret the Biblical truth.

    4.     Of Both Choice and Freewill- The fallen man is indeed blind to Gods truth, therefore it is our duty to enlighten them. For those whose hearts are harden, we should persist with our freewill and not excuse ourselves by thinking that they are not Gods elects. Have strong faith and pray for the salvation of these people, because its God who ultimately converts.

    5.     Not Conceding- It should be an Evidential method which assumes and promotes Christian presuppositions (elements of Christian claims). Gods word, i.e., Biblical presuppositions, should be the guiding force in our attempt to spread the gospel (Psalm 119:11-13; 41-48; 129-130). Not only that, the apologist must be on his guard while preaching to the non-Christian. He should have a strong presupposition believe so that he shall not be swayed while under the non-Christians attack. The apologist must realize that the non-Christian who he meets share a different world-view. He is sinful (Psalm 51:5; 58:3) in nature and does not operate by the same standard as Gods people. This, in turn should produce a determination to avoid compromises that would concede ground at the expense of the Christian's claims.

    6.     Not a Blind Faith- It should be a presupposition method argued from a Christians world view, with the evidence of the Christian faith. Instead of asking the non-Christian to believe blindly, the apologist should provide evidences to support his claims, like prophesies and miracles in the Bible, historical evidences, etc. It should be build upon a wealth of biblical evidences, so that the apologist can tailor a common ground to the non-Christians interest; the fishers of man should have the correct bate - the common ground.

    7.     Not Self Centered- The pure evidential approach tends to be self-centered relying on ones intelligence in bringing followers to God. However the apologist has to understand that we are Gods tools in His evangelistic assignment. It is God who ultimately converts. Thus we should humble ourselves and have strong faith in God, praying for wisdom and strength to carry out His work.



    The apologetic methods of Presupposition and Evidentialism are studied in this paper, with similarities drawn between the theology concepts of Calvinism and Arminius. It was concluded that Calvinists are more likely to adopt the Presupposition method and Arminians more receptive to Evidentialism (Reference 5 and 6). Since both of these views are well supported by the Bible, a balanced approach is proposed in this paper. It is a method that does not abandon the basic elements of Christianity (like the claims of God, Christ and the Scripture), while uses evidences to convince non-Christians without asking them to believe in blind faith. Last but not least, this balanced method shall not be self-centered, but should draw strength and wisdom from this sovereign God who had elected us believers, while giving us a freewill to choose.



    1.     McDowell, Josh, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, San Bernardino: Campus Crusade for Christ, Inc., 1972.

    2.     Van Til, C. (1967), The defense of the faith. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed.

    3. Barth, Karl, "In Christ, God's unveiling is also veiling, and so man's relation to God is always that of faith, never sight. The distance, the incommensurableness remains. One does not possess revelation as an object, but one is given the gift of faith."

    4. Lai, R.R., (1981), Facing the Challenges An Introduction to the Thoughts and Methods of Christian Apologetics. Tien Dao Publishing House, Ltd.

    5. It was, therefore, not until the fully developed trinitarian theology of Calvin, which says that Christ is authoritative because autotheos, that there was therewith developed a truly Christian methodology of theology and aplpogetics, Van Til, C., "My Credo," Jerusalem and Athens, Festshrift ed. E.R. Greehan (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reform, 1980).

    6. general presuppositional apologetic is grounded in a Calvinistic view of salvation, Strawbridge, G., Defending the Lion: Presuppositionalism or a Classical Approach, Must We Choose?

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