Loose Screw #2: Presuppositionalism



We’re exploring the reasons why so many victims of abuse have been told by their churches to remain in an abusive relationship. “Abuse of authority,” or even just a plain misunderstanding of authority, was an easy place to start. Obviously, if anyone believes that he was ordained by God to do whatever he likes to you, even if he thinks he’s acting in your best interest, he’s going to override your God-given right to make your own decisions.

In survivor-land, we call that “abuse.”

However, this next “loose screw” is a bit more subtle. It’s called presuppossitionalism, (Dang, did I even spell that correctly?) and it takes a moment to make the connection between this eight-dollar-word and our discussion. You wouldn’t immediately say, “Oh, by believing in presuppossitional apologetics, I’m going to be stuck forgiving horrific abusers and sweeping their sins under the rug!” Heck, you might even be happy to know such a long, intellectual-sounding word! (I was. Wink, wink.)

Thanks to Hester at scarletlettersblog, my eyes were opened to how presuppossitionalism has infiltrated so many aspects of the Christian life.  Her work helped me realize that, when mixed with abusers, this is a truly toxic doctrine.

Let me add that I’m not a seminarian, or a trained theologian. However, since churches have to be filled with non-seminarians at some level, knowing how the laity filter and distill these doctrinal ideas should be important to any pastor. If I’m wrong about any doctrine, I don’t mind you pointing it out in the comments. Just don’t think for a minute that laity all across the Church aren’t seeing it the same way.

First, some definitions for the real world:

Presuppossitional apologetics is a fancy way of saying: It’s stupid to even try to reason with unbelievers about whether or not God is real, or Christianity is true, because God is the source of knowledge. God is the one who gives us the ability to reason. If this or that person isn’t in a relationship with God, his reasoning is inferior to the reasoning of people who are in a relationship with God.

On the surface, this might make sense to some believers. Obviously, if we’re in a personal relationship with the creator of the universe, then we night assume that Creator would be a source of knowledge about any subject you might be interested in studying.

However, presuppositionalists take it to the next level with statements like this:

The argument in favor of Christian theism must therefore seek to prove if one is not a Christian-theist [he means a regenerate believer] he knows nothing whatsoever as he ought to know about anything … On the contrary, the Christian-theist must claim that he alone has true knowledge about cows and chickens as well as about God.

Do you know anything about cows and chickens? I don’t, and I married an egg farmer’s son. I would probably kill a whole flock of chickens before I ever got an entry-level job at the Tyson factory. But, according to this genius (a dutch Calvinist theologian named Cornelius Van Til) I would naturally know more about chickens than the president of the Tyson corporation, because I know Jesus.


“Well, that’s ridiculous,” you might say. “I would never believe such a stupid concept!”

Maybe, but let me ask you this: would you rather hire a Christian plumber, or a non-Christian plumber? Does a Christian pastry chef make a better cake than a non-Christian pastry chef?  Would you trust your kids’ health to a non-Christian doctor?

“No, but we could trust that a Christian plumber would be honest, and wouldn’t over-charge me, or perform shoddy work.”

Really? Well, what if honesty or laziness is a sin that the Christian plumber or baker or doctor still struggles with? Should we plumb their spiritual lives to see if they’ve developed all the fruits of the spirit? Should we examine their Bible study habits to see if they bake a good cake, or can unclog a toilet, or can tell the difference between strep and the flu?

Christians have been called gullible for a reason. We genuinely want to believe the best about everyone—and for that reason, we can be exploited by almost anyone. If an abuser has a working Biblical vocabulary, and can turn on the tears at will, he or she can likely convince any of us that repentance, holiness, or spiritual growth is happening before our very eyes. This means that abusers are attracted to the church. We give them credibility. We give them social capital. We give them a convenient hiding place.

Like the pulpit. Or the youth ministry .

Boz Tchividjian quotes a convicted child molester who says, “[I] consider church people easy to fool…they have a trust that comes from being Christians.  They tend to be better folks all around and seem to want to believe in the good that exists in people.  I think they want to believe in people.  Because of that, you can easily convince, with or without convincing words. – convicted child molester –

(See more at: http://boz.religionnews.com/2014/04/26/sex-offenders/#sthash.a78s0EAY.dpuf)

If we genuinely have higher reasoning abilities than unbelievers, then why are we “easy to fool?” Why didn’t we know better than to allow child molesters into our doors?

If presuppossitional thought trickles down from the leadership, imagine the thought process in a church member who goes to report abuse:

1) You report the abuse the leadership
2) The pastor assures you that the abuser is repentant, and urges you to
1. forgive the abuser and
2. examine what role you may have played in the abuse.

Now, mix “presuppossitional” theology with the first loose screw, “abuse of authority,” and see what rattles around. The very act of stepping out of the leader’s umbrella is sinful. Plus, the leaders know more than the secular authorities.

Would you honestly think you had any other options at this point, besides doing what the pastor says? If Christians know more about cows and chickens than any farmer does, (cluck, cluck, moo!) wouldn’t they know more about abuse than any police officer or women’s shelter?  Would you doubt the abuser’s repentance?  Would it even cross your mind to do a google search through (gasp!) unbelievers’ web pages, about other ways of dealing with an abuser? I mean, heck, these so-called “victims” or “advocates” don’t have the Spirit of God! They can’t lead me in to all truth! And with all those pesky mandated reporting laws, what about the redemption of the abuser?

Which brings us to loose screw #3…



8 thoughts on “Loose Screw #2: Presuppositionalism

  1. Oh dear, I’m hardly an expert on presuppositionalism but I tried my best. 🙂 Cindy Kunsman at Under Much Grace can give you much more complete info than me. I also suspect there’s intramural Calvinist politics going on behind the scenes that I’m not familiar with.

    That being said, I do think you’re right that this plays a role in Christians fearing/ignoring psychology, because they see the mind (“soul”) as something that only the Bible is allowed to comment on, and psychology as the world’s faulty attempt to explain it without God. Ergo, they can ignore psychology whenever they feel like it because, hey, those unbelievers are just gonna get it wrong anyway.

    And yeah, I’ve never gotten the “cows and chickens” idea either. If presuppositionalism had stopped at pointing out when people are being inconsistent with the stated premises of their own worldview, it would have been fine. Why it had to morph into what looks from outside like astounding arrogance and elitism, I don’t understand.

  2. Great job showing how doctrine that has some basis on Scripture (presuppositionalism is based at least in part on 1 Cor. 2:14, right?) can be messed up when not screwed down tightly with Scripture itself (the loose screw motif you use so well).

    • Thanks, Tim. 🙂 And thanks for dropping by! The crazy part about all of these “loose screws” is that, alone, they would fly right under our radar screen. However, when all of them fly out, an abused person’s faith, health, soul, and very life can be at risk.

  3. Pingback: The Theological Loose Screw(s) | Taylor Joy Recovers

  4. Taylor Joy

    WOW – Youse must be highly edjumacated…

    I first read here about “ presuppossitionalism” a week or so ago. Ouch!!! 😦
    Never heard of that word before. – I think that’s because God Loves Me. 😉

    Tried reading it again today. Tried reading Van Tils – “In Van Til’s own words,”

    Well – I’m still NOT a happy… This stuff sounds Screwy-Louey…

    Seems – Learning about “ presuppossitionalism” has loosened all my screws…

    And now my brain hurts. Oy Vey!!! 😉

    • Ha! I was traveling when you posted your comment, Amos, and I think I laughed for 20 miles. 🙂 I actually got a private message from a pastor who said I just didn’t understand presuppositionalism at ALLL, but he was still grieved about the abuses that happened in the church. I was like, “By all means, please, tell me how I misunderstood it. I really want to know, because I’m not a theologian. I won’t bite, I promise.”


      Amos, I don’t know what’s scarier—1) that a bunch of people critiquing and living these teachings at a local church level REALLY DON’T UNDERSTAND THEM, or 2) that
      theologians who THINK we don’t understand them just haven’t thought about what kind of fruit their teachings might actually bear. 😦

  5. Pingback: Loose Screw #3: Predestination of…Everything? | Taylor Joy Recovers

  6. Pingback: The Advice My Church Gave to an Abused Woman, Part 2 | Explorations in Egalitarianism

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s