Presuppositional apologetics is a powerful weapon in the arsenal of the street evangelist. It isn’t difficult to crush a person’s godless worldview. But if that is all that is accomplished, so what?
Crosswalking at Locust and Harrison
The sun was out, but the temperature was only in the low 40’s. The wind chill dropped the temperature into the 30’s. It’s late in the year, so the sun is low in relation to the horizon most of the day. This meant that my usually bright and sunny corner was now shrouded in shade.
I had made a last-minute decision to crosswalk while I was out running errands. I always have my “Stop and Talk” cross and gospel tracts in my car so I can go crosswalking whenever the desire hits me. What I don’t keep in my car is extra clothing. That might change after this afternoon’s time on the chilly corner of Locust and Harrison.
For more than an hour, I stood on the corner, carrying my “Stop and Talk” cross, waving to passing motorists. Two teenagers came by the corner and received gospel tracts.
I turned toward the gas station behind me and saw a man walking toward me.
The Biblical Scholar and Philosopher
“Hi, there!” I tried to make sure my greeting was warmer than the cold, winter air.
“It’s my understanding that you would like for someone to stop and talk.” The man said, understating the obvious.
The man seemed to slur his words. Was it a speech impediment, or the result of trying to talk while trying to keep your teeth from chattering? After all, the disheveled man was not dressed at all for the weather–baggy sweat pants and a t-shirt. Or might it have been something else? Could it have been alcohol intoxication with the odor being masked by the wind and the cold?
“Yes, I would” I answered. “I’m Tony.”
“Good to meet you, Zack. First I’d like to give that to you.” I said as I tried to hand him a gospel tract.
“The truth: I’d like you to keep that because I’m probably not going to keep it,” Zack said.
“I just want you to read it, and then you can give it back to me if you want to,” I replied.
“I’m a biblical scholar, sir.” Zack asserted.
When a stranger approaches me and begins the conversation by presenting his bona fides, it usually means the person is about to explain to me why what I’m doing is wrong, or why he disagrees with me (before ascertaining what I believe). It’s also not uncommon under such circumstances for the person to present himself with an air that non-verbally expresses the assumption that he must be smarter than me because only a dimwit would stand on a street corner, in the cold, with a cross.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“I have read the book of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. I have a master’s degree in philosophy and a minor in comparative religion.” Zack explained.
“So, can you tell me what the gospel is, then?” I asked.
“Gospel is Latin for truth,” Zack said.
The English word “gospel” is Latin for “truth?” No; I wasn’t buying the resume the man was trying to sell me. I was confident Zack was not a biblical scholar.
“No. The word ‘gospel’ actually comes from the Greek word ‘euangelion,’ which means ‘good news.'” I answered.
For the moment, Zack was speechless. I think he realized at that moment the conversation was not going to go as he planned. I sensed Zack wasn’t interested in a conversation. Instead, I think he saw me on the corner and thought it would be easy to assert his self-perceived intellectual dominance over me.
The First Signs of Frustration
“Look; I would love to talk to you, but I’m not looking to debate you,” I said.
When I told Zack that I wasn’t interested in debating, it was the first indication to me that I was getting frustrated. It didn’t take long. Zack and I had been talking for only a few minutes, at this point. Was it the cold weather? Was it that Zack might have been intoxicated? Or was it his condescending demeanor?
Whatever the reason for my growing frustration, I was surprised how quickly I got to that state of mind. To be sure, there was a time not too many years ago in my ministry when a short fuse had almost become a default position for me. But God (who alone gets the credit and receives the glory) has given me more patience with people–whether heckler, reviler, or arguer. I am thankful to Him for this.
Another indicator of personal growth in this area was how quickly I realized I was getting frustrated with Zack. In times past, it wouldn’t have been until I debriefed an open-air sermon or conversation–debriefing either with myself or someone else–that I would realize how and when I had become frustrated, even angry.
However, even though I could sense the frustration building, Zack would soon say something that would result in me giving him a pretty sharp rebuke.
Zack as Judge
“Alright. Okay. Sir, to be honest, I’ve always envied people who had the kind of faith that…well, not faith, but the kind of fortitude to just stand out here and just share your belief. You believe it strongly. I see no evidence. I see no evidence.” Zack asserted.
“So, in a courtroom who do you give the evidence to?” I asked.
“The jury,” Zack answered.
“The judge,” I said, correcting him.
“No, you don’t give it to the judge. He’s just a facilitator. You don’t give your evidence to the judge.” Zack argued.
“Sure you do. The judge is the one who determines if the evidence is admissible.” I replied.
Of course, a jury hears evidence and renders a verdict. But again, the judge determines what evidence is admissible. He determines on what basis the jury can render a verdict. He also has the authority to override or set aside a jury’s decision, in the interest or furtherance of justice.
“No. The judge presumes whatever is procedurally correct.” Zack said.
“Basically, what you’re doing is putting yourself in the place of the judge. Do you deny the existence of God?” I asked.
“Yes. We’re just never called upon to prove a negative.” Zack said.
“You know that God exists the same way I do. You’re simply suppressing the truth in your unrighteousness.”
“What is your proof of that?”
“God testifies to His existence in creation, and He also testifies to His existence in that He has given you a conscience,” I explained.
“But you can’t support a negative without any proof of a positive,” Zack said. I think he was confused by his own statement.
Did He Just Call Me “Pontius?”
“So what is truth?” I asked.
“All right Pontius.” Zack sardonically replied.
Zack probably didn’t realize the button he just pushed. Or maybe he did. Either way, the button was pushed. He just referred to me as the man who ordered the execution of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“Okay. If you’re going to call me names, I’m not going to talk to you. I know who Pontius is. He was a wicked, evil man who crucified Christ. So, if you’re going to play those games, I’m not going to talk to you.” I firmly answered–probably with a “cop eyes” look on my face.
“I’m sorry. It was an attempt at humor.” Zack said.
“It wasn’t funny. So, what is truth?” I pressed.
“I’m sorry,” Zack said.
“It’s fine. I forgive you. What is truth?” I pressed a little harder.
Zack’s Worldview Was About to Dissolve
“Truth is whatever can be imperially defined by hypothesis, experimentation, observation, and uh…” Zack was really beginning to stammer, now.
“But how do you determine what is true?” I asked.
“The imperial method, sir,” Zack said.
“But how do you determine what is true? Do you use your reasoning?” I asked.
“It depends on how you would define it,” Zack replied.
“How do you know your reasoning is valid?” I asked.
“Well, the thing is; here’s the thing; I can’t.” Zack asserted.
“So, you can’t know anything for certain?” I asked.
“No,” Zack replied.
“Do you know that?” I asked.
“Uh, I can tell you that the abstract concept of one plus one equals two.”
Zack had just given up knowledge. In other words, with the level of absurdity self-deception often brings, Zack believed he was certain he couldn’t know anything for certain–completely oblivious to his self-defeating and contradictory position.
“How do you know that, when you can’t know anything for certain?” I asked.
“Well, there are certain rules of logic . . .” Zack was beating at the air, now.
“And where do those laws of logic come from?” I asked.
“Math,” Zack answered.
“And where do the laws of mathematics come from, since they are immaterial?” I asked.
“You see without God you cannot account for that which is immaterial in your materialistic worldview. So how do you account for the laws of logic? How do you account for the laws of mathematics in your materialistic worldview?” I asserted.
“All right. Um.” Zack stammered.
“You see, sir, you can’t,” I said.
“No, actually I can. I’m just trying to be polite. I was just curious enough to come and get your worldview. Now I got it.” Zack said.
“So, how do you justify your worldview without the existence of God since you have to draw from my worldview just to account for the ability to reason?” I asked again.
“No, I don’t,” Zack replied.
“Sir, where do the laws of logic come from, according to your worldview, since they are immaterial and your worldview is materialistic?” I asked again.
“For every cause, there is an effect. Is that true?” Zack tried again to change the subject.
“Yes,” I answered.
“Now, for every cause that had an effect, we cannot explain why that effect is that effect,” Zack said.
“I can,” I said.
“Well, that’s because you have a God that did it,” answered Zack.
“Correct. You cannot have creation without a Creator. God is the uncaused cause.” I said.
“Evolution is a scientific fact.” Zack asserted.
“Actually, it’s not, It’s a theory, sir,” I said, correcting Zack.
“Here’s where we part ways,” Zack said. He was getting ready to leave.
“Darwinian Evolution is neither testable, observable, nor repeatable,” I explained.
And the Wicked Flee
“Actually, it is. But it was nice meeting you.” Zack said as he started to walk away.
“And now, what you’re going to do is walk away, because the wicked flee when no one pursues. Sir, you can’t account for your worldview. You’ve simply relegated yourself to absurdity, sir. You arrogantly approached me thinking you were going to simply assert your worldview. You know God exists. You simply hate him and have put yourself on the throne. Professing to be wise, sir, you’ve rendered yourself a fool.” I said.
Zack walked toward his car, which was parked in front of the convenience store. A woman was waiting for him at the front passenger door of the car. As he walked, Zack looked back at me, smiled, and dismissively waved.
I Crushed His Worldview; So What?
As I watched Zack climb into the driver’s seat of his car, the sense of disappointment welled up inside me. Some might read that and think, “Why? You communicated truth to Zack. You showed him the absurdity of his worldview, whether he would admit to it or not. You made a defense for God the Creator without offering Zack evidence and placing him in the judge’s seat. So, why are you disappointed?”
I was disappointed because all I did was crush his worldview. I never got to the gospel.
Look; I’m the one who always says “the only time we fail in evangelism if we’re doing it biblically is when we fail to evangelize.” I tried to give Zack a gospel tract, but he wouldn’t take it. My hope was to present the gospel to Zack, but it didn’t happen. Yes, I tried. But there was little solace in the fact that it just didn’t work out this time.
There was a time when watching Zack walk away defeated would have put a smile on my face as I relished in the small victory of winning the argument. But there was nothing about my encounter with Zack that made me want to rejoice. Zack is lost. If he’s honest with himself, his once-thought coherent and superior worldview is nothing more than a stroll down Absurdity Lane. He knows God exists. Now someone else knows that He knows.
I crushed his worldview. So what? He didn’t get to hear about the hope of Jesus Christ in the gospel.
Presuppositional apologetics is a powerful, biblical tool in the Christian’s evangelistic tool bag. But it should only be employed as a means to an end. The desired end, the goal is to use biblical apologetics not to simply crush a lost person’s godless worldview. The goal is not to win arguments or debates. If that’s all that’s accomplished, so what?
The gospel must always be the goal. Bringing people to the knowledge of their sin and their need for salvation from the righteous, holy wrath of their Creator, through faith in Jesus Christ, should be the desired end to every evangelistic conversation with lost people. If your use of presuppositional apologetics is for any other, any lesser purpose, so what?