Today is the day after Christmas and as a “gift” to my readers, I thought I would publish an extended edition of “Ten Questions With…”, featuring Douglas Wilson. Pastor Wilson is the minister of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho and a faculty member at New Saint Andrew’s College. He is well-known for being a prolific author, theologian and a presuppositional apologist. Please enjoy this bonus edition of Ten Questions with Doug Wilson.
Dayton: Pastor Wilson, for those who do not know, how would you describe presuppositional apologetics?
Doug Wilson: There are two basic ways to approach this. You can either try to come alongside the unbeliever and reason to the Bible, or you can approach the unbeliever and reason from the Bible. The former is an evidential approach, and the latter is the presuppositional approach. The two approaches are commonly assumed to be mutually exclusive, but I don’t think that is necessary at all.
Dayton: Could you provide a basic recounting of some fundamental arguments that presuppositional apologists use when engaging atheists?
Doug Wilson: The basic argument in dealing with atheists is this. You ask the atheist what he is presupposing about the universe in order to reject God. Well, the fact that he is arguing for atheism presupposes that the universe is a rational place, that arguments matter, and that there is a coherence between the noises coming out of his mouth, and the way the external world actually is. But, given atheism, is that kind of universe actually out there? The answer is no. The atheist has to presuppose a God-given kind of universe in order to deny God.
Dayton: Was there any particular author or professor that sparked your interest in presuppositional apologetics?
Doug Wilson: One of the first books I ever published was a book of practical apologetics entitled Persuasions. It was picked up by a Christian book catalog company, which I appreciated, and when the catalog arrived I found my book in it. Someone else had written the blurb for it, and it said that this was fine little introduction to Van Tilian apologetics. I thought, “It is?” Yikes. I had better read some Van Til. So I got his The Defense of the Faith, and enjoyed it very much. But since I had not gotten my presuppositionalism from Van Til, where had I gotten it? Surprisingly, the answer is C.S. Lewis — particularly the early chapters of his book Miracles. Lewis was presuppositional or evidential, depending on the circumstances. But I initially learned this kind of argumentation from him.
Dayton: If someone were to come to you and say, “I want to learn more about presuppositional apologetics but I don’t know where to start.” What would you say in response?
Doug Wilson: I would recommend Greg Bahnsen’s book entitled Always Ready. That’s a great introduction.
Dayton: You did a series of debates with Christopher Hitchens, what was that experience like?
Doug Wilson: It was fun. Christopher is a delightful companion, and we got along very well. He is very quick, and so you have to watch your step constantly.
Dayton: Do you have any future debates planned? How do you think debating benefits the apologetic effort?
Doug Wilson: Nothing is currently on the schedule. We have talked about trying to set something up with Sam Harris, but nothing yet. I do think that debates are a scriptural way to encourage the saints, and appeal to unbelievers who are searching (Acts 18:27). I have received some very encouraging feedback from unbelievers who watched Collision, for example. [Here is Pastor Wilson's book responding to Sam Harris]
Dayton: What do you make of the resurgence of atheism? What factors are contributing to the popularity of the new atheists?
Doug Wilson: This may sound strange, but I think a great deal of it is Euro-panic about the resurgence of red state America. This is most clear in Dawkins, but I think it is present everywhere [Pastor Wilson's book responding to Richard Dawkins]. We are a century or more after Darwin, and it has begun to dawn on unbelievers that an awful lot of people aren’t ever going to buy it. In the early years, unbelief had the self-confidence to pat the rubes and cornpones on the head and say that it’s too bad that some people never got an education. But with the rise of the ID movement, and with political conservatism a real threat to them, it has begun sink in that in this battle of ideas, they actually might be able to lose. The myth of inevitability is gone — and I think that is why their critiques are now so strident.
Dayton: How have your apologetic studies affected your ministry as a pastor? How has pastoral ministry shaped your apologetic approach?
Doug Wilson: The influence has gone from pastor to apologist much more than the other way. The thing that must be constantly kept in mind is that you are dealing, not with argument machines, but with people created in the image of God, struggling under the weight of guilt and sin. The point is always to win people, not arguments. That is the pastoral impulse.
Dayton: Are there any trends in the apologetics world that currently make you cringe?
Doug Wilson: Sure. There are always uneducated attempts to appear educated that are cringe-worthy. But I don’t worry a lot about it. God draws straight with crooked lines.
Dayton: On what front would you like to see more apologetic energy being spent?
Doug Wilson: I would like to see apologetics expand into multiple areas — presenting a defense of the Lordship of Christ in all the various areas of human endeavor. By this I mean music, architecture, engineering, literature, and so on. We should have apologetics proper, and apologetics on the road.
Dayton: You have authored numerous books, are you working on anything now? Any recent releases?
Doug Wilson: The most recent release is a book called What I Learned in Narnia. I recently turned in a manuscript of Study Questions for Calvin’s Institutes, which should be out this spring. And I just completed a short manuscript called Read Until Your Brain Creaks. That is a book of advice for aspiring writers.
Dayton: In closing, you have written a great deal on education. Are you in favor of young Christians attending secular schools?
Doug Wilson: Once they are prepared for what they will encounter, I have no objection. But that preparation has to consist of a Christian education. Some students are ready for a secular university after receiving a Christian primary education. Some are not. Students in secular settings have to be equipped to have more of an impact on their surroundings than their surroundings will have on them.
Dayton: A great closing word Pastor Wilson. If only all Christians would strive to have more of an impact on their surroundings than their surroundings have upon them. Thank you for your time!