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A conversation with John Frame

BENYOLA: Can you summarize the major objection to presuppositionalism, and your counterpoint to it? In your understanding, why do people distance from presuppositionalism in favor of the traditional method? Why do people think it’s wrong?

FRAME: Because it doesn’t work in real evangelistic situations. People will say, “Well, that’s your presupposition and that’s very nice. I have a different presupposition and I don’t accept yours and you don’t accept mine.” So that’s the end of the argument, and we can’t make any progress.

BENYOLA: Yeah, you present the truth of God and when they resist it, you just end up saying, “You’re suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.”

FRAME: Yeah, you don’t want to get yourself into that bind. So the only thing the apologist can do is to say, “Well, okay, I won’t refer to my presuppositions. I’ll just present some important facts. Let’s talk about the resurrection, and let’s talk about the cosmological argument.”

BENYOLA: And you disagree with people going in that direction?

FRAME: I have to be careful about this, I don’t think you have to mention presuppositions all the time. I think it’s entirely legitimate if somebody comes to you and says — and this actually happened — in my case, somebody came and said, “I’d really like to become a Christian, but I can’t wrap my mind around the resurrection. I don’t really believe that Jesus rose out of the grave.” At that point, I became Josh McDowell. I just started saying, “Well, look, we have these witnesses to the resurrection. We have the five writers of the New Testament, we have the 500 who saw Him at once, we have all these accounts, and the tomb was empty. Nobody was able to produce the body. Jesus’ enemies couldn’t produce it. Jesus’ disciples couldn’t produce it. They went back and forth on it, but eventually they all agreed that the body was gone, and they just couldn’t agree on why the body was gone.” You just go through all that. I think the historical argument for the resurrection is very cogent. Sometimes that’s all that people need.

Now, if somebody comes and says, “All right, David Hume taught us that even though the evidence for the resurrection is very good, it’s impossible for us to find sufficient evidence or to get good enough testimony to prove that a miracle took place, because it’s always more probable that there’s a natural explanation than that there’s a supernatural explanation.” At that point, I have to get into presuppositions. I have to talk about Hume’s epistemology, a sensationalist epistemology, and show how that doesn’t work. And I have to talk about the presuppositions that we need to have if we’re going to make sense of natural events, let alone supernatural events. And if you say that you can’t have evidence for a supernatural event, then you’re really ruling out evidence for natural events, too.

So, you know, in some apologetic conversations, I can just present the facts, and sometimes that’s enough, because people realize, “Hey, if this fact is true, if Jesus is really raised from the dead, I’ve got to change my whole thinking around. I’ve got to change my presuppositions.” But that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes you need to go back and talk philosophy. Sometimes you have to go back and talk epistemology. When that happens, then you go to Van Til and you go to the biblical presuppositions. We all use our reason. God gave us that, and we can’t really use the Bible without using our reason to apply the Bible, and exegete the Bible. So under ideal conditions, the Bible and reason work together. There’s a synopsis there. But beginning with the Fall, and exaggerated by later historical events, there has historically been a tradition of saying that the Bible is not God’s Word, the Bible is just a work of a primitive people. So we have to set that aside and use our reason alone. Well, if you study a book like my book, you see that you can’t work with reason alone, you have to reason, presuppose as some premises, and you believe those premises because you believe other premises, and you believe those because of others, and eventually you work your way back to presuppositions. So you can’t construct a logical argument without presuppositions. Ultimately, the Bible tells you what those presuppositions ought to be.

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