Apologetics professor discusses when, how to reason for God using presuppositionalism
by Peter Benyola
As long as he’s on campus, John Frame’s office door usually sits open six to eight inches. Walking into his office, I see a line of books propped up across his desk — all books he’s written — and pick up a heavy white hardback volume at the end. “Look at this. You could give someone a concussion with this thing.”
It’s Dr. Frame’s 2013 Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief, and next to it is one almost the same size, the more recent A History of Western Philosophy and Theology.
“It’s the White Whale,” he grins. “The exercise regimen is that you carry that in one hand and carry that in the other hand, lift your arms from time to time, and that’ll make you a healthy person.”
Despite its size, the 1200-page Systematic Theology isn’t really as intimidating as it looks once one starts reading it. There have been many good systematic theologies written since the Protestant Reformation and this is one specifically targeted for the modern reader, so most of the chapters are reasonably concise and digestible. A few of his other works are The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, The Doctrine of God, The Doctrine of the Christian Life, The Doctrine of the Word of God, and Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief.
Apologetics, of course, is not an apology for Christian belief. The Greek word apologia means “to speak to,” such as the “rational defense” referred to in Philippians 1:7, 16. All Christians are called to give an answer for the hope we have (I Peter 3:15). We study the Scriptures and when we follow great minds who stand on the shoulders of other great minds throughout the annals of church history, we can better engage in defending the faith once delivered to the saints.
Dr. Frame is a professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, who specializes in a school of apologetics called presuppositionalism. One of the modern fathers of presuppositionalism, Cornelius Van Til, in the early 1960s taught Dr. Frame as a student at Westminster Theological Seminary Philadelphia. Presuppositional apologetics posits that the Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. In building a case for God, this view presupposes that the Bible is divine revelation and assumes that standard as the gauge of all other worldviews. Presuppositionalists believe that in engaging with an unbelieving world, while making whatever arguments we may for the faith, we never should compromise by conceding to any notions of God’s nonexistence or the fraudulence of His Word — for we must not if we are to be consistent in our declaration of belief. Laboring this point, the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen wrote, “We must not be satisfied to present Christianity as the most reliable position to hold among the competing options available. Rather, the Christian faith is the only reasonable outlook available to men.”
Dr. Frame is generous with his time. In this transcript of one of our conversations, we broach several subjects, visiting and revisiting apologetics.