Evidential and Presuppositional Apologetics: What’s the Difference?

Cornfield Theology
Cornfield Theology
Evidential and Presuppositional Apologetics: What's the Difference?

“I call on you to confess with me: Jesus Christ our great God and Savior” was the closing line of Dr. James White in his opening statement. He was debating a Christian Cult called Iglesia Ni Cristo and the topic for that night was on the Trinity. I was 19 and drove 8 hours to Rapid City, South Dakota, that morning to watch the debate live. From watching the debate, I grew in my love for apologetics.

In studying apologetics, two primary schools of thought emerged. One was evidential apologetics, and the other presuppositions apologetics. It is worthwhile for Christians to understand both schools of thought. It helps the Christians defend their faith if both are understood.

What is Apologetics?

First, before diving into the details, it is helpful to have a basic definition of apologetics. The word comes from 1 Peter, which says:

but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,

1 Peter 3:15

The word “defense” in greek is ἀπολογίαν (apologian) which is where we derive the term apologetics. Therefore, the basic definition of apologetics is a reasoned defense of the faith. This defense could be a public and formal debate. However, apologetics will happen on a personal and individual level for the average Christian.

When a friend asks you why you believe in God or why you believe in the Bible, you are engaging in apologetics. How you answer is where the two schools of thought come into play.

Evedential Apologetics

Evidential apologetics is sometimes called classical apologetics. If we break down the two words, the basic definition is a defense of the faith that is based on evidence. Usually, the evidence is empirical evidence or a reasoned argument.

Firstly, empirical evidence is things like historical data and artifacts. An example of this would be physical documents outside the Bible that mention the existence of Jesus and his followers. For example, one of the familiar works cited for the existence of Jesus is the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus. Also, some Christian archeologists have discovered ancient artifacts such as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Secondly, reason is another tool in evidential apologetics. There are classical arguments for the existence of God, such as ontological, cosmological, teleological, and moral arguments. Each of these arguments warrants its own blog post, but a simple example can be useful here. We will look briefly at the teleological argument, also known as the argument from intelligent design.

Let’s say you are walking in the woods and come upon a watch. When you open up the watch, you can see the complex gear and spring system working inside. You can conclude that there must have been a skilled watchmaker that made this watch. When we look at creation itself, it is far more complicated than a simple watch. Therefore, it is probable that just as the watch had a watchmaker, creation itself has a Creator.

In conclusion, evidential apologetics focuses on using physical proof and reason to argue for the Christian faith.

Presupositonal Apologetics

Next, let’s consider presuppositional apologetics. Where evidential apologetics seeks to prove the Christian faith, presuppositional apologetics aims to show the Christian worldview as the only consistent worldview with reality. The Chrisitan worldview is presupposed or preassumed. Hence the name presuppositional apologetics.

How exactly does this bare out? First, the presupositonalist does not seek to prove the existence of God. They believe that everyone already knows that God exists. Although atheists claim that God does not exist or that they do not know, the Bible says otherwise. Romans 1 makes it clear to us:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Romans 1:18-20

Therefore, God does not need to be proven as he is already known. Instead, time is spent on showing the flaws of the non-Christian worldview.

Here is an example. Murder is wrong. Why is it wrong? If it is because society says it’s wrong, what happens if a different society says it’s right? If it is wrong because it is illegal, let’s say that it is legal in a different country. Is it now right? Maybe it is wrong because it brings harm to others, but that brings up the question of why is harm wrong? In simple terms, the question that is always asked is “by what standard?”

For the presupositonalist, murder is wrong because the infinite, holy, good, and just God says it is wrong. This provides an objective standard. The Christian worldview is defended by showing the flaws in other worldviews.

Which to Use

There are very passionate apologists in both schools of thought who argue that Christians should use their form of apologetics. It would be a shame to choose one over the other. Christians should study both to have more tools in the tool belt. We may not have the answer to every question that comes our way, but our call as Christians is to be as prepared as possible.

Logan Kane is a pastoral intern at Redemption Hill Church.