The Humanism of Evangelistic Apologetics: Part 13.16

Review and Critique:

"Evangelism and Apologetics"
Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen

[Key: direct quotes from author.]

The article header is:

“Apologetics is no mere matter of 'intellectual jousting'; it is a serious matter of life and death—eternal life and death.”

While I appreciate the gravity expressed by the author for (what is presumed at this point to be) evangelism, unfortunately, the author never formally defines what he means by the term “apologetics”. There is a passing reference:

“Hereby the demand for neutrality arises in the realm of apologetics (defense of the faith).”

then another, larger inference at the very end of the article where 1 Pet 3.15 makes its requisite appearance in articles on apologetics:

“Therefore, in light of the character of evangelism, the nature of the unbeliever, the nature of the regenerated apologist, the nature of conversion, the nature of genuine knowledge and salvation, the Christian apologist ought to use a presuppositional approach in his defense of the faith. The evangelistic character of apologetics demands nothing less “But set apart Christ as lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to every one who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and respect,” (1 Pet. 3:15) …”

So, about the best we can do is that apologetics, according to Dr. Bahnsen, is the “defense of the faith”.

[Note that Dr. Bahnsen, in the excerpt above says “defense of the faith”, but then accurately quotes the text “to give an account for the hope”

These are not the same, especially in the typical language of the evangelistic apologist.

In my research, I’ve found only a single apologist who properly maintained their distinction. However, this author did not do so and falls into the same, typical error of encountering the term “hope” in the text but interpreting the term “faith” instead, replete with the attendant baggage of "defense".]

That the noun and verb forms of the words

ἀπολογία, noun [G627, apologia: defense]; 8 occurrences
ἀπολογέομαι, verb [G626, apologeomai: to make a defense; to defend oneself]; 10 occurrences

have as their root meaning “defense”, there can be no contest.

[See my chapter here for a thorough presentation and review of the biblical use of these terms.]

So, because Dr. Bahnsen appeals to it (at least at the end of his article), let’s first review what Peter actually said.

Here, I quote from myself:

So, what is the context of 1 Pet 3.15? Well, one common theme that began in chapter 2 is submission:

1 Pet 2.13
yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution …

1 Pet 2.18
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect …

1 Pet 3.1
In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands …

1 Pet 3.5
… the holy women … being submissive to their own husbands …

As Peter continues in chapter 3 with a summary:

1 Pet 3.8-9
To sum up
, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.

This is nothing less than submission, described in terms related to the results of that submission, rather than merely the fact of its mention. He continues the same theme in verses 10 through 12 by admonishing Christians to abstain from evil, to seek peace and righteousness. The life of the Christian is to be expressed in every way with humility and sympathy.

He then asks a provocative question:

1 Pet 3.13
Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good?

Of course, Peter argues from the ideal state in which good behavior is rewarded by, at least, not being harassed by those in authority. He knows, however, that this is frequently not the case. (He had his own run-ins with the religious authority of his day in Acts 5, including a night in the local jail. He also had full knowledge of how brutally the Christians of his day were being treated.)

Therefore, he asks—and answers—the question “But what happens if you (Christian) actually are intimidated, harassed or persecuted?”

Well, first, the command is “do not fear”. And, second, “sanctify Christ as Lord in your heart.” It is at this point we are ready for verse 15.

1 Pet 3.14-17
But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong.

Sanctify is an aorist active imperative—a command without reference to time. Though wordy, I suggest that we can understand this command as

“let your constant perspective and existence be to sanctify Christ …”.

The next phrase in Greek is quite interesting and is followed by a close-to-literal reading in English:

ἕτοιμοι ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς λόγον περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος
“ready always a defense-to-all-asking you the rationale concerning the in-you hope”

"Asking" is a present active participle; it implies that those who are doing the persecuting are having a difficult time mentally reconciling the submissive, humble, non-confrontational attitude of their victims. They must keep asking (present tense)  “How can you do this? What is that hope that continues to bear you up under our intimidations and trials?”

It is at precisely at this point that many modern evangelistic apologists “miss the forest for the trees”: the persecutors, the mockers, the intimidators, those who force evil on the people of God are most assuredly not asking

  • Why do you trust the Bible?
  • How can you believe in a book written thousands of years ago by a bunch of disconnected authors?
  • How can you trust that the manuscripts were copied reliably?
  • How can you reconcile the “errors and contradictions” of the Bible?
  • How can you possibly defend a belief system that is obsolete?
  • What about history and archaeology?
  • ad nauseum …

No! Their question is “What is this ‘in-you' hope?’”

Evangelist! Do you not see that? The life that is to be lived in view of the lost, whether they are our persecutors or our neighbors or co-workers, is a humble, sympathetic one that actually engenders this question. “Who/what are you and why do you have the type of hope that I see?” At that moment, they could not care less about manuscripts or history or archaeology or believability or any of a number of other extraneous questions. At that moment, they are asking you for a witness of the gospel! And, then, do you throw away that opportunity by discussing anything and everything but the gospel? μὴ γένοιτο (“May it never be!” Rom 4.3)

Have you considered, evangelistic apologist, that perhaps— just perhaps—there is something in your witness that simply doesn’t prompt the question (“What is the hope … in you?”), seeking to “defend” the Bible rather than to actually present the gospel in all its beauty and power?]

So, how well does the author coincide with this context of the true use of 1 Pet 3.15? Let’s find out…

The author’s lead statement is a masterpiece of "I-can't-believe-he-just-said-something-so-utterly-absurd-and-unnecessary!":

“The very reason why Christians are put in the position of giving a reasoned account of the hope that is in them is that not all men have faith. Because there is a world to be evangelized (men who are unconverted), there is the need for the believer to defend his faith: Evangelism naturally brings one into apologetics.”

The first part of this statement (“not all men have faith”) reminds me of something the owner of a company I worked for (while I was in college) told me, particularly when I said or did something particularly stupid:

“Dave, stand up and I’ll show you how your feet touch the ground.”

Today, the equivalent is “duh!”.

Of course “not all men have faith”! I'd be hard-pressed to find a more useless statement anywhere on the Internet (and there is an abundance of useless statements on the Internet)!

You need only read Gen 6.5, Isa 1.18, Jer 17.9, Rom 1.18-32 or Rom 3.9-18 (as only a very few examples!) to figure that out.

But, Dr. Bahnsen, because of the fact that the every person is born spiritually lost and dead the Lord did not say

“Go therefore and defend your faith …”;

He did say

“Go therefore and make disciples …”.

I have yet to encounter a modern, evangelistic apologist who doesn’t distort the clear meaning of the Lord’s commission in the same way as you have done in your article.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, it isn’t what Peter said either. Perhaps this biblical distinction will help:

The Lord’ commission in Mat 28.18-20 is proactive; it is something the disciples were supposed to initiate in their interactions with the lost. The gospel (the good news) was preeminent in this initiative.

Peter’s command is reactive; the lost, in their unrelenting intimidation, hatred and persecution of believers (those whom the Lord delivered into their authority) cannot help but be mystified by the humble and submissive behavior of the very believers they actively persecute. Then, and only then and only when asked, do the believers defend the hope that is in them. The believer’s hope was preeminent in this initiative.

You will search in vain to find a proactive command to defend the faith in Peter’s command.

[In all my reviews, I’ve found only one modern apologist who was careful to maintain that distinction between faith and hope. He still pushed the current notion of the apologetics, just not as incompetently as every other apologist I reviewed for this series.] 

However, Dr. Bahnsen, the burden of biblical proof for your premise

“Evangelism naturally brings one into apologetics.”

remains. A profound, humble respect for and fear of the Word of God constrains me to require more than just your humanistic assertion that "Evangelism naturally ...". You have merely expressed your opinion—an unbiblical opinion, at that—but an opinion nonetheless.

As I’ve maintained from a thorough review and assimilation of all relevant Bible texts and their contexts, there is not a single example of biblical apologetics used in the context of evangelism. I dare any apologist to show me even one.

[And, I think by now I’ve seen and rebutted every flimsy, vapid, stupid, useless, cloying and biblically-antagonistic attempt by the modern evangelistic apologist.]

Once again, the author uses terms for which he provides no initial working definition (much less a biblical definition):

“I believe, therefore, that the evangelistic nature of apologetics shows us the need to follow a presuppositional defense of the faith. In contrast to this approach stand the many systems of neutral autonomous argumentation.”

Ok… I’ve been exposed to the term “presuppositional faith”, but “neutral autonomous argumentation”? That’s a new one, at least to me.

Let’s continue:

“Sometimes the demand to assume a neutral stance, a noncommittal attitude toward the truthfulness of Scripture, is heard in the area of Christian scholarship (whether it be the field of history, science, literature, philosophy, or whatever). … We are told by some apologists that they would lose all hearing with the unbelieving world if they were to approach the question of Scripture’s truthfulness with a preconceived answer to the question. We must be willing, according to this outlook, to approach the debate with unbelievers with a common attitude of neutrality—a “nobody knows as yet” attitude. We must assume as little as possible at the outset, we are told; and this means that we cannot assume any Christian premises or teachings of the Bible. Thus the Christian is called upon to surrender his distinctive religious beliefs, to temporarily “put them on the shelf,” to take a neutral attitude in his thinking. … More than anything else, this would make professing Christians impotent in their witness, ineffective in their evangelism, and powerless in their apologetic.

So, “neutral autonomous argumentation” appears to be the term the author uses to describe a “hands-off” (my interpretation) attitude toward the Scripture. To borrow a phrase from one of the well-known news organizations, this is the apologetic equivalent of “We report, you decide.” statement of intended non-bias. And, up to the point of the “… powerless in their apologetic”, I agree with the author.

I also agree with this author regarding presuppositionalism: the Christian accepts the Bible as true, the only and authoritative Word of our Creator. Period.

Heb 11.6
And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Where I disagree with the author, and as I have shown extensively from the Scripture in this series, is that apologetics, as defined by the typical modern apologist (and, as we’ve seen, by this author as well), has no place in evangelism. But, nonetheless, Dr. Bahnsen then proceeds to tell us the six ways that evangelism requires not only apologetics, but presuppositional apologetics. I critique them one by one…

[Note: the author states “in the following seven ways”, but enumerates only six.]


Regarding “In Attempting to Bear Glad Tidings to the Unbelieving World, the Neutralist Is Robbed of His Treasure”

Overall, this section is well-written and well-documented from the Scripture. Dr. Bahnsen makes a cogent and convincing case that any type of intellectual neutrality in the face of the fact that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in Christ” and that Christ is “the truth”. So, from the perspective, the Christian cannot possibly remain neutral in the midst of the incredible scope of truth the Lord has provided.

Where the author failed—miserably—is to make, with his first point, the case that this disposition is needed in evangelism. Until the lost is “born from above”, he/she cannot understand spiritual truth:

1 Cor. 2.14
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

So, until the nature of the lost is changed, something that occurs with the gifting of the “birth from above”, all of the wonderful truths the author marshaled in this section are completely null and void relative to that lost person and are therefore completely irrelevant.

Also, the author appears to have forgotten these as well:

Eph 2.1,5
And you [lit. being] dead in your trespasses and sins … even when we [lit. being] dead in our transgressions”

Col 2.13
When you [lit. being] dead in your transgressions”

it should go without saying that a dead man understands nothing; he’s dead. End of story.


Regarding “The Neutralist Overlooks That Antithesis between the Christian and Non-Christian which Explains Why the Believer Is in a Position to Aid the Unbeliever

As above, the author makes a very good case that the believer must live in a manner that is consistent with the Word of God and therefore diametrically opposed to the life of the world and unbeliever.

“In Ephesians 4:17–18, Paul commands the followers of Christ that they “no longer walk as the Gentiles also walk, in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance in them, because of the hardening of their heart.” Christian believers must not walk, must not behave or live, in a way which imitates the behavior of those who are unredeemed; specifically, Paul forbids the Christian from imitating the unbeliever’s vanity of mind. Christians must refuse to think or reason according to a worldly mind-set or outlook.”

“No such compromise is even possible. ‘No man is able to serve two lords’ (Matt. 6:24). ‘Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world maketh himself, an enemy of God’ (James 4:4).”

I agree with the author, as far as his statements go. But, there is nothing in the four paragraphs in this section that has anything to do with evangelism and its purported need of presuppositional apologetics.

So, he failed to prove his assertion with point #2.


Regarding “The Nature of Conversion Is not Continued Neutrality and Autonomy, but Faith and Submission to the Lordship of Christ”

This point is really an extension of point #2. And, once again, the author makes a good case from the Scripture that the life of the believer causes his/her mind/heart/spirit to work differently, to be granted a wisdom from God that stands in stark contrast with worldly thinking:

“This is to say that the way you receive Christ is to turn away from the wisdom of men (the perspective of secular thought with its presuppositions) and gain, by the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:12–16). When one becomes a Christian, his faith stands not in the wisdom of men but in the powerful demonstration of the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:4–5).”

The Scriptures he marshals are clear and powerful. But, where is the conclusive demonstration that these are “needed” in evangelism, especially when the author states

“As Lord over the believer, Christ requires that the Christian love him with every faculty he possesses (including his mind, Matt. 22:37); every thought must be brought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5).”

How does this apply to the lost and the evangelization of the lost?

Point 3 is therefore a complete fail for proving his premise.


Regarding “Therefore, the Evangelistic Apologist Must Come and Reason as a New Man if He Is to Direct the Unbeliever; His Argumentation Must Be Consistent with the End Toward which He Aims”

The author summarizes this fourth point:

“Therefore, the new man, the believer with a renewed mind that has been taught by Christ, is no more to walk in the intellectual vanity and darkness which characterizes the unbelieving world (read Eph. 4:17–21). The Christian has new commitments, new presuppositions, a new Lord, a new direction, and goal—he is a new man; and that newness is expressed in his thinking and scholarship, for (as in all other areas) Christ must have the preeminence in the realm of apologetics and evangelism (Col. 1:18b).”

Yes, Dr. Bahnsen, the believer has a renewed mind. And yes, this has everything to do with evangelism. But, the believer was not commanded to engage the lost with “argumentation”; the commission was to preach the gospel. And, when you think about it, if the believer faithfully presents the gospel—with all its authority, beauty and power—it will be “consistent with the end toward which he aims.”; it simply can’t be otherwise.

The responsibility for actually turning the lost to the Lord Christ belongs to the Lord and His Word alone; it is not the responsibility of the apologist’s “argumentation”.

You still fail to make your case that apologetics—presuppositional or otherwise—are needed in evangelism.

So, point 4 fails as well.


Regarding “If the Evangelist Is to Be Compelling in His Witness He Must Stand on a Firm Foundation of Knowledge”

As in the preceding points, the author makes a good case that true knowledge is at least a part of the foundation of the believer:

“However, what God has written to us (i.e., Scripture) can “make you know the certainty of the words of truth (vv. 20-21). The truth is accessible! However, in order to firmly grasp it one must heed the injunction of verse 17b: “apply your mind to my knowledge.””

“Thus Augustine correctly said, ‘I believe in order to understand.’ Understanding and knowledge of the truth are the promised results when man makes God’s Word (reflecting God’s primary knowledge) his presuppositional starting point for all thinking.”

But what has any of this to do with the premise that evangelism “needs” apologetics? (Yes, I know that this is getting old…) Point 5 fails to establish the premise.


Regarding “The Neutralist Forgets the Gracious Nature of His Salvation”

Here, the author begins with something that, if we take it at face value, actually destroys the very premise that he is attempting to prove: that presuppositional apologetics is needed in evangelism.

“To make God’s Word your presupposition, your standard, your instructor and guide, however, calls for renouncing intellectual self-sufficiency-the attitude that you are autonomous, able to attain unto genuine knowledge independent of God’s direction and standards. The man who claims (or pursues) neutrality in his thought does not recognize his complete dependence upon the God of all knowledge for whatever he has come to understand about the world.”

Do you see the logical contradiction here?

The author is attempting to make the case that evangelism (with its coincident “defense of the faith”) requires presuppositional apologetics. But, all he has accomplished is a (really a reasonably) good marshaling of Scripture to show the fact that the believer is completely dependent on the Word of God for everything. There is no need for the unique activity of what this author terms “apologetics”. And, therefore, point 6 fails to prove the author’s premise.


Is this—utter dependence on the Lord and His Word—the antithesis of “neutral autonomous argumentation”? Yes, absolutely! And, that really is the only valid point of the entire article.

Apologetics is evangelistic in nature. The apologist deals with people who have darkened minds, running from the light of God, refusing to submit to the Lord. The apologist must not demonstrate the same mind-set by striving for a neutrality which in effect puts him in the same quagmire. He must aim for the conversion of the unbelieving antagonist, and thus he must discourage autonomy and encourage submissive faith. The apologist must evidence, even in his method of argumentation, that he is a new man in Christ; he uses presuppositions which are at variance with the world. He makes the Word of God his starting point, knowing that it alone gives him the assured knowledge which the unbeliever cannot have while in rebellion against Christ. The non-Christian’s thinking has no firm foundation, but the Christian declares the authoritative word from God.”

“Apologetics is evangelistic in nature.” This, Dr. Bahnsen, you’ve failed to prove in any way in your article.

How, exactly, Dr. Bahnsen, does the use of a presuppositional apologetic change the fact that the lost “have darkened minds”. As I showed above, 1 Cor 2.14 teaches me that the lost is unable to understand anything spiritual.

I am able to take only two elements from your article:

  • Your deep, sincere, and profound desire to draw near to the Lord and His Word and be completely dependent on it for all facets of a believer’s life. With this point I am in complete and genuine agreement.
  • Your misunderstanding of exactly what preaching the gospel to the lost means. You appear to use the term “evangelism” as would be expected, but then state that evangelism "needs" presuppositional apologetics. With this point I am in complete disagreement. The Lord’s gospel needs nothing else; it is required of believers only that it be the message preached with nothing added or removed.

A text comes to mind at this point. Notice how the Apostle, inspired by God’s own Spirit, refers to the Word of God:

1 Cor 1.18-21
For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.”

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

There is no hint here of anything apologetic in nature; there is only the Word of the Cross.

All you have accomplished here is to put a fancy, pseudo-scholarly label on simply learning the Word of God as the Word of God and then declaring it to the lost as the Word of God. I’m convinced that the early disciples would scratch their heads after reading your article and say “What is he talking about? I just want to tell the lost about this One who saved me!”

Your impassioned argumentation from the Scripture only reinforces that the believer is dependent on the Lord for all things, including evangelism. Why do you persist in “muddying the waters” (Eze 32.13) of the simple gospel message—the only message that is divinely sanctioned and commissioned to bring to the lost—by insisting that the believer needs something else, namely, apologetics? This is very similar to what the OT Jews did by their addition of hundreds of traditions that were elevated to be equivalent to the Scriptures.

Yes, the more I learn and understand the Scriptures, the better suited I become as a Christian and an evangelist. But I maintain that I can do my job as an evangelist simply by sharing the message of the gospel of grace with the lost without ever hearing or maintaining anything of “presuppositional apologetics”.

This is my goal:

Act 4.13
Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.

In summary, there is nothing in this article that establishes anything more or less than this:

The believer, having experienced the true life gifted from God alone, is renewed in every possible way and is therefore expected to live a life consistent with that gracious calling. The believer is to make it his/her life’s work to learn as much of their Creator from the Word of God as can be done, and this maturity is to be lived out in every possible way, including the evangelization of the lost.

Instead of the fancy and convolved terminology of this article (“presuppositional apologetics” and “neutral autonomous argumentation”), it could have been summarized with these:

Phi 1.21
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

2 Pet 3.18
but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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