Humble boldness

Occasionally I run across a great apologetic work and want to share it with my friends and students. One I’ve had on my shelf for nearly 20 years is Greg Bahnsen’s Always Ready. Bahnsen asks and answers vital questions related to apologetics, but first he addresses the attitude of the apologist.

“Apologetics” comes from the Greek apologia, which means “defense.” Christians must be prepared to give an answer for the hope within them, according to 1 Peter 3:15. This is the purpose of the practice of apologetics.

Bahnsen uses the method of worldview, or presuppositional, apologetics. In brief, some apologists will begin by assuming all ideas are equal, and then argue toward the truth of God from that point. Bahnsen begins with the assumption that God’s word is true, then defends Christianity. Either method is useful in different circumstances; CS Lewis found the first method useful in his little book Mere Christianity.

Often the trouble with presuppositional apologetics appears in the attitude (or assumed attitude) of the apologist. Those of us who take the position of presuming the truth of God’s Word are sometimes seen as arrogant. The unbeliever in this discussion sees the apologist’s firm stance on the inerrancy of scripture, and he assumes the believer is arrogantly stomping all over him.

This is where Bahnsen comes in. Along with presenting a biblical worldview that adheres to the inerrancy of scripture, he also insists on an attitude check for the apologist.

First, Bahnsen teaches, the Christian recognizes that on his own he is not able to know anything about truth. How can a person, on his own, measure truth? My internal discernment is faulty. Every individual’s method of measuring of right or wrong is different. There must be some outside authority which shows me how to measure truth. That outside authority is God’s Word, which never changes.

Bahnsen says, “David’s testimony was that ‘the Lord my God illumines my darkness’ (Psalm 18:28). Into the darkness of man’s ignorance, the ignorance which results from attempted self-sufficiency, come the words of God, bringing light and understanding (Ps 119:130)” (20). When we renounce our own ideas of self-sufficiency, Bahnsen writes, then we are in the best position to present God’s truth to ourselves and others. He calls this “humble boldness.”

[P]resuppositional epistemology demands two attitudes. Both attitudes are inherent in the very position. First, the presuppositionalist must be bold, for knowledge is impossible aside from presupposing God’s truth. Second, he must be humble, for the reason why he presupposes God’s truth (and the only way any man can come to such a presupposition) resides in the grace of God alone. The fear of the Lord is foundational to wisdom, and hence the wise must be humble. The Christian scholar, then, must evidence a humble boldness in his confrontation with others in the world of thought. (35-36)

Undergirding all the apologist’s motives and thoughts is the knowledge that he has nothing without the grace of God. This is humbling.

In my Starting Points class (I call it “biblical worldview 101”) we take time to learn about the elements of other religions’ belief systems. We might be tempted to giggle at other religions that make no sense to us. However, when we take the position of absolute surrender to the truth of God, knowing that without him we are nothing, we cannot help but feel humble.

Similarly, as one who teaches according to the Classical Method, I know that this kind of learning can lead to a tendency toward arrogance. We love to learn, we love to read, and we love to write about what we have learned. We love to apply the truth that we are learning. 

However, if our Classical Education method is built on that same presupposition–that we are nothing without an all-knowing, Creator God–then we have no reason to become arrogant. Pride in our own intellectual achievements is worthless. Arrogance has no place.

This is the foundation of Classical Christian, biblical worldview education, as it is in apologetics as well: humble boldness. Because we know that without him we are nothing. As you look at your educational plans for next year (if you are a parent or a teacher), this is a great time to pick up Bahnsen’s book, evaluate your attitude about truth and apologetics, and once again remember that anything you know comes from God’s hand.



Filed under Biblical Worldview

3 responses to “Humble boldness

  1. JoshR

    Mrs. Howat,
    Thanks a lot for posting this essay. I really enjoyed it and your thoughts on humble boldness were compelling. However, in regards to presuppositional apologetics, I do have one question. I do believe that humans are extremely fallible and that we need an outside authority to guide us. Nevertheless, the question that I am always forced to ask is: if our internal discernment can tell us nothing, then how do we know that the Bible is the authority?
    Again, thanks for the article– it was very, well, humbling. 🙂
    Josh R

    • Hi Josh,
      I could tell you that God’s word tells us it is infallible and unchanging. That may not be good enough for some.

      Somehow in our fallible minds we have to find some standard that tells us right from wrong. Your idea of right and wrong will differ from someone else’s. So we have to find some standard, outside of ourselves, that is unchanging and provides those real answers for the very difficult questions of life.

      Think of it this way: I could ask you to tell me how big your table is, and you can use whatever feels right to measure it. You will come back with an answer, but it may differ from the other people I asked, because they all used whatever way of measuring that was right for them: their forearm, a piece of string, etc. But there has to be some definite system of measurement that is unchanging, and that’s a measuring tape, right? It is not my idea of a measuring tape; it is not one I devised on my own; it is an actual tape.

      That’s not an exact analogy, but I think it serves a purpose. Suffice it to say, if we relied on other people to set the standard of right and wrong, we’d have as many standards as there are people. That produces chaos. I need the Lord, I need his word to guide me. His word is the one unchanging standard in this world, and his word is truth.

      I hope that helps!

  2. Brian Jonson

    Thanks for the article. I just got this book for my Kindle and am eager to read it!

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