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Theological Book Reviews - Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics

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Do we presuppose God, or do we begin with our own mind when thinking about the metaphysical? What is “classical” apologetics in comparison to “presuppositional” apologetics?

Theological Book Reviews – Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics
Reviewed by Dr. C. Matthew McMahon

Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics

by R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI: 1984.
364 Pages, Paperback.

Is it true that a person must accept Christianity on the basis of faith alone, or is it that Christianity houses a reason for faith? Is there a rational defense of the Christian faith? This is the main premise of the book by Sproul, Gerstner and Lindsley, namely that Christianity is reasonable and it is rational. It is not that the heart is disregarded, but that the heart acts upon what the mind knows to be true. The more we know about God the more we will love and become more intimate with Him. Without knowledge it is impossible to know God. To appeal to faith without knowledge, or knowledge presupposed, is to take away from the very fact that the Bible exists as objective special revelation at all. Here these authors prove their case well.

The book is divided into three sections: section one deals with the problems and methods of apologetics. They cover Classical Natural Theology and place it in the crisis of secularism which has worn away at the rational defense of the faith to the “feeling-oriented” appeal to emotional attachment. They cover the task of apologetics, the nature of Natural Theology and Fideism, the Biblical evidence to confirm Natural Theology and what we as Christians ought to do to confirm our trek up the mountain of Natural Theology once again.

Section two deals with Classical Apologetics in relation to Theistic Proofs, the Deity of Christ, and the Infallibility of Scripture. Here they traverse the theistic arguments for proving God (Ontological, Cosmological and Teleological), with strong persuasion and some new insights.

Section three critiques the “other side of the fence” – Presuppositional Apologetics. The authors outline Presuppositional Apologetics, show from history the giants who held the classical position in variance with Presuppositionalism, and demonstrate the starting point of the primacy of the intellect and human autonomy. Next they cover such crucial elements as the Noetic influence of sin, the Self0Attesting God and Analogical Thinking. Brick by brick they take down the house of the Presuppositionalist.

This book is deep and requires some thoughtfulness to work thorough. It deals with philosophy and apologetics to a greater degree than most books on the subject, and affirms the classical positioning in contrast to the Presuppositional apologetics made by Cornelius VanTil. It is an excellent volume on the subject (one of my favorites) and I heartily recommend this to anyone who has already become familiar with the more critical aspects of apologetics. If you have never studied the subject, it is a book that takes some time to work through especially if this is your first exposure to these important aspects of the Christian faith, but it would be well worth your time.

Some Quotes:
“Again, what most people mean when they say that the finite cannot grasp the infinite is that the finite cannot totally, perfectly, or exhaustively comprehend the infinite. The finite can know that the infinite is. Not only can it know it, it cannot not know it. More than that the finite does not and cannot know except as the infinite is willing to reveal Himself further.”

“Classically, natural theology does not stand in contradiction to divine revelation nor does it exclude such revelation. In fact, natural theology is dependent upon divine revelation for its content.”

“Presuppositionalism burns its evidential bridges behind it and cannot, while remaining Presuppositional, rebuild them. It burns its bridges by refusing evidences on the ground that evidences must be presupposed. “Presupposed evidences” is a contradiction in terms because evidences are supposed to prove the conclusion rather than be proven by it. But if the evidences were vindicated by the presupposition then the presupposition would be the evidence. But that cannot be, because if there is evidence for or in the presupposition, then we have reasons for presupposing, and we are, therefore, no longer presupposing.”

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