Last week I had the distinct pleasure of teaching the presuppositional approach to apologetics to a group of believers in Tanzania, most of whom had no more than an elementary education. More challenging to my goal than any deficiency of education, however, was a Traditional African worldview that was totally foreign to my Western sensibilities. Permit me to explain.
In an oversimplified nutshell, the presuppositional approach is to:
- Discover points of contact in an unbelieving culture where unbelievers have borrowed illegitimately from the Christian worldview.
- Mount an internal critique of the unbeliever’s whole worldview, exposing its illogic, inconsistencies, and its general inability to establish preconditions of intelligibility (transcendentals) that account for all of life.
- Invite the unbeliever to explore the Christian worldview, embrace its unassailable presupposition (that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has revealed himself inerrantly in the Protestant canon), and adopt the whole biblical worldview as the only valid response to Peter’s question, “What kind of people, then, ought you to be?” (2 Pet 3:11).
Usually, the whipping boy of the presuppositionalist model is evidentialism, and specifically, naturalistic evidentialism. The evidential approach allows the unbeliever to retain his scientific presuppositions but insists that the right use of reason will ultimately prove rather than disprove the Bible’s message. The presuppositionalist denies that such an approach can ever work because of depravity, and dismisses evidentialism as a glaring instance of indulging the native preference of some for “wisdom” over the “power of God” (1 Cor 1:22ff).
In Africa Traditional Religion, however, unbelievers generally put little to no stock in “wisdom.” They swiftly dismiss naturalism, evolution, and uniformitarian principles as laughable, and subordinate whatever laws of science that they recognize to supernatural forces like witches, departed ancestors, and other invisible beings. Here the evidential approach is nonsensical. Instead, the sub-Saharan African (like the Jew in 1 Cor 1–2) wants a miraculous sign—a supernatural force that is experimentally more spectacular, more exciting, and more powerful than the local spirits and deities.
So what is the apologist to do? Well, one could opt for fideism or some other existential approach to apologetics (a wildly popular approach among Pentecostals and other Charismatic Christians in Africa). But in point of fact, there is one approach that works just as effectively in sub-Saharan Africa as it does in the ivory towers of Western academia—the presuppositionalist approach. It works because it vests warrant neither in wisdom nor in signs, but in the power of God—the regenerating power of the Spirit in conjunction with the Word to overwhelm the penchant of believers everywhere to exchange the truth of God for a lie, no matter what lie that might be.
The best apologist has never been the one with the most wisdom or the most spectacular signs, but the one who most thoroughly understands the systematic theology of the Christian religion—the one who knows his Bible the best and depends most self-consciously on the power of God as a more effective, indeed the only effective, means of penetrating the darkened mind and leading men out of darkness into his glorious light.