P&R Books has just released John Frame’s book, Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief, a redeveloped and expanded version of Frame’s previous work, Apologetics to the Glory of God. This was one of the most influential books I’ve read on defending the Christian faith, and helped me bring together theology, Bible, and apologetics in a clear and compelling way.
James Anderson offers a similar testimony:
If I were asked to list the top three books that have had the greatest impact on me as a Christian thinker, John Frame’s Apologetics to the Glory of God would undoubtedly be one of them. It brought about a paradigm shift—one might even say a “Copernican revolution”—in my understanding not only of apologetics but of all other intellectual endeavors as a Christian. Ever since then, it has been the first book I recommend to those looking for an introduction to Christian apologetics, and it is required reading in my apologetics classes.
You can read for free online Vern Poythress’s foreword and Frame’s first chapter.
Dr. Frame, the J. D. Trimble Chair of Systematic Theology and Philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, answered a few questions for me about this new edition:
How would you summarize your approach to apologetics?
I am called a “presuppositionalist,” following the work of Cornelius Van Til. That is probably not the best label for what I do, but I don’t quibble much over words. My emphasis is
- to base all my argument on the truth of God’s revelation,
- to apply that revelation to each apologetic encounter differently as the situation calls for it,
- to move as quickly as possible to the Gospel,
- always expressing “gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15).
What makes your approach different from evidential or inference-to-the-best-explanations apologetics?
I can use the same evidence as they, and some of the same arguments. But I argue that no evidence and arguments make sense unless the God of the Bible exists. So in discussing causality, the point is not just that causality implies God, but that all discussion of causality presupposes God. You really cannot even talk coherently about causality if the universe is nothing but matter, motion, time, and chance.
What is different about this new edition? Have you changed your mind or nuanced any of your particular arguments?
The substantive argument is the same as the 1994 edition. Joe Torres, editor of the new edition, has added some clarifying footnotes and essays. He has also added an additional chapter dealing with the discussion of “transcendental argument” that occurred after the 1994 edition was published.
What criticisms of covenantal-presuppositional apologetics to you find most frustrating?
The argument that presuppositional apologetics is “circular” (that is, that it presupposes what it intends to prove). We’ve answered that argument scores of times, it seems, but it keeps coming back again. My reply:
- Presuppositional apologetics does not endorse all circular arguments, but only a small class of them, namely those designed to prove an ultimate authority for human reason.
- All arguments of this type are circular in a way. If a rationalist, for example, tries to prove that human reason is the ultimate rational authority, he can do nothing else than appeal to a rational argument, using reason to prove reason. He cannot appeal to anything higher than reason, because he believes reason is the highest authority.
- The same is true with any other attempt to prove an ultimate authority: the Islamic appeal to the Qur’an, the empiricist appeal to sense experience, the existentialist appeal to feeling, etc., etc.
- The circular argument is not the end of discussion. In addition to that circular appeal, the presuppositionalist is able to show that alternative presuppositions (i.e. alternative circles) deconstruct: they cannot account for their own meaningfulness without themselves appealing to the biblical God.
- This view is biblical, for the God of Scripture presents himself as the origin of all things: all meaning, all rationality, all goodness, and his Word claims absolute authority.
How has the state-of-the-discussion and the popularity of these arguments changed since you wrote the first edition of this book?
As I said earlier, there has been a renewed interest in “transcendental” argument. To me, “transcendental” is a synonym of the “presuppositional” argument I have outlined above. But the substantive apologetic arguments haven’t changed much. In 2000, we published Five Views of Apologetics (ed. Steve Cowan, Zondervan Publishers), and the five views debated there are pretty much the same as those debated today.
I think the development of “postmodern” thought since the 1980s has made people more responsive to the idea that presuppositions underlie all human thought. We dealt with postmodernism somewhat in the Five Views book. But we don’t seem to have impressed sufficiently on the Christian public the astonishing fact that the Biblical God is the source of all meaning, rationality, truth, beauty, and goodness.