Here’s a thought: Discipleship is presuppositional.
“Oh come on, really? Why does everything have to be presuppositional?”
Perhaps a dead horse is being beaten, somewhere. I can definitely understand the reaction. Especially if you don’t like the word “presuppositional.”
Say it with me: pre-sup-po-si-tio-nal.
Honestly, it’s not just because I’m high on apologetics. I do enjoy the field, much more than I expected. But, that’s not the reason for attempting to justify a close, interdependent relationship between apologetics and discipleship. There actually is a reason.
In addition, everything is presuppositional in the sense that you can’t get any more foundational than presuppositions. Naturally, they are underneath everything else in our thinking.
Back to discipleship, in particular. Just to be clear, here I am using the term “discipleship” to refer to a Christian’s personal discipleship, one’s own following of the Lord Jesus.
How is discipleship “presuppositional”?
If you get that everyone has presuppositions, then it is obvious that any lifestyle is presuppositional in nature. People develop and live out their worldview. Their views on everything are based on their presuppositions. So, is the Christian‘s life, living as a disciple of Christ, just another option? Besides Christianity being true, the believer is self-consciously conforming his worldview to God’s Word. This is in opposition to everyone else living from the foundation of unbelief, whether they are conscious of it or not.
We get that presuppositions are involved in discipleship, because they are involved in everything. What I want to get at is, are we aware of which presuppositions are at work in our personal discipleship and our disciple-making?
Enter: Greg Bahnsen
This article by Greg Bahnsen could easily be in my top five favorite articles by him. Not like I have taken an accounting of that. I should . . .
Anyway, Bahnsen hath written:
Paul commands us to be rooted in Christ and to shun the presuppositions of secularism. In verse 6 of Colossians 2, he explains very simply how we should go about having our lives (including our scholarly endeavors) grounded in Christ and thereby insuring that our reasoning is guided by Christian presuppositions. He says, “As therefore you received Christ Jesus the Lord so walk in Him”; that is, walk in Christ In the same way that you received him. If you do this, you will be “established in your faith even as you were taught.” How then did you become a Christian? After the same fashion you should grow and mature in your Christian walk. Above, we saw that our walk does not honor the thought patterns of worldly wisdom but submits to the epistemic Lordship of Christ (i.e., his authority in the area of thought and knowledge). In this manner a person comes to faith, and in this manner the believer must continue to live and carry out his calling – even when he is concerned with scholarship, apologetics, or schooling.
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).
—Greg Bahnsen, “Evangelism and Apologetics“, Synapse III (Fall, 1974)
The same shift in ultimate commitment that occurred at regeneration also guides the rest of life. This is a mandate for conversion of worldview following regeneration.
One does not come to faith in Christ via autonomy. That is what we must be saved from. God commands that we submit to Christ as Lord in every respect, and certainly this includes our thinking and knowledge. By God’s grace, we shift from asserting our authority, from elevating ourselves as the ultimate reference point and judge of truth. We shift to submitting to the Word of Christ, Christ as Lord. Our ultimate authority for all of life has changed. Indeed, in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The fear of the Lord is the beginning (not the conclusion) of knowledge. As a result, we are given the mind of Christ, and our mind begins to be renewed, no longer are we to be conformed to the patterns of this world. It’s part of sanctification.
That submission to Christ’s Lordship doesn’t just stay at conversion. We don’t leave Christ’s epistemic Lordship at the door. It’s also the hallway. It’s the whole house. As Jesus said, the one who hears his words and does them is like the wise man who builds his house on the rock. Discipleship means building on the rock, still. Building on the rock isn’t just for when one initially believes the Gospel. We don’t transfer to beachfront property after becoming a Christian. Sadly, that is often what happens. The conversion of many stops after believing the Gospel, never proceeding to self-consciously reconstruct their worldview according to Christ’s Words.
One does not come to faith in Christ by building on the sand. If the foundation is unsound, the structure is unsound. One does not climb up to Christ from presuppositions that rule out the possibility of the true God in the first place. One does not begin from suppressing the truth in unrighteousness and arrive at God. One does not conduct his investigation based in his own authority and then conclude that Christ is his authority. We should all agree, we do not come to belief by unbelief.
So why would you do that after? Why would we submit to Christ’s Lordship to believe the Gospel, then continue our life based on autonomy, on secular presuppositions that were abandoned? The point is that we did not so learn Christ that way, so our discipleship should not be that way. How we came to Christ should be how we live in Christ.
That submission to Christ’s authority over your thinking that happened when you first believed? Yeah, that’s supposed to continue. Hence, discipleship is presuppositional. The life of a disciple is one of shunning the presuppositions of unbelief, and thinking and living according to Christian presuppositions. Keep building that house on the rock, not on the sand.
Apologetic Approach to Discipleship
As I have said often, this apologetic is more than just an apologetic method. It shows how to live the whole Christian life. The foundation is laid. The apologetic methodology is simply based on and guided by the theology of Scripture. It’s just another application of the same theology that also grounds discipleship. And because the foundational beliefs behind this apologetic are so strongly emphasized, you see the immediate relevance to all of life. The moment it hits you, you see that these biblical convictions change everything, not just apologetic method. I’m not the only one whose whole Christian life has been upended by this apologetic. The presuppositions that determine the apologetic, the theology that drives methodology, also determine all of life. In short, discipleship.
This of course, is what the teaching of Scripture is supposed to do anyway. We’re just hard of hearing.
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.
That’s why I begin discipleship (in the sense of helping others follow Jesus) with apologetics, right up front. Theology, it’s defense, and the importance of presuppositions. What to believe, the implications for all of life, and how to defend that belief. That’s “first things.” No divorce of biblical teaching from what it means for all of life.
Just as important is what I do not mean. I don’t mean this:
Warfield (and the old Princeton tradition) held that apologetics must lay the foundation upon which systematic theology can work. For Warfield, the inspiration of the Scriptures was not the foundational doctrine upon which the Christian scholar should proceed, but the last and crowning conviction to which he comes—based upon the demonstration of Scripture’s general trustworthiness by man’s right reason: “Surely he must first have Scriptures, authenticated to him as such, before he can take his standpoint in them. . . . [Faith has] grounds in right reason.” . . .
Christ is made one’s final authority only after He has been authorized by one’s own reasoning (which is, therefore, the real “final” authority). In principle, each and every teaching or action of Christ could then be required on its own to pass the scrutiny of human reason, lest that particular provide the reason for refusing to have general (implicit) trust in Christ.
—Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis pg. 47-48
What would that be? In the context of teaching disciples, that would be not walking in the same way they received Christ. That’s beach house building, whether talking to believers or unbelievers. We don’t drop autonomy to receive Christ then pick it back up again. So when teaching apologetics as part of discipleship, it is not apologetics independent from Christian presuppositions (theology). It’s Christianity and it’s defense, together. Apologetics does not lay a foundation for theology. It’s merely one application of it. As was the evangelism that started this whole thing. As discipleship begins, learning everything Christ taught, even then will there be an apologetic edge. It really shows in a concrete way how the Word of God is the framework for understanding everything. It takes what begins as a theoretical commitment to Christ, and shows a very concrete manifestation of it.
God’s Word is logically primitive. So presuppositional apologetics isn’t just about the defense of the faith, but about the epistemic Lordship of Christ. It’s about interpreting all of life. Believing in order to understand, as Augustine said. Leaving no area of thought outside Christ’s jurisdiction.
Apologetics is an application of that. The reality is, your whole discipleship, growing into maturity, rides on presuppositions.
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.
—Greg Bahnsen, “Evangelism and Apologetics“, Synapse III (Fall, 1974)
Everyone’s discipleship needs to get that down, up front, ASAP. No one comes to Christ from the starting point of intellectual self-sufficiency. No one attains faith independent of God. No one believes in Christ while claiming neutrality. Therefore, no one should follow Jesus in that way, either. And that is why we have apologetics in the beginning of personal discipleship. It just drives home the presuppositions and authority of Christ which are the basis for their whole life, including apologetics.
[W]e must not artificially separate positive statement (theology) from its defense (apologetics) . . .
—Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic pg. 54
Both the beginning and the whole of Christian discipleship is submissive to the Lord Jesus. We do not receive Christ through independent human reason, neither should discipleship be based on independent human reason. Both are founded on Christian presuppositions. Both are under the epistemic Lordship of Christ.