Author: Richard L. Pratt, Jr.
Page Count: 166
Publisher: P&R Publishing
Description: A popular presentation of Reformed (or “Van Tillian”) apologetics for the layperson. Suitable for students, especically undergraduates. In down-to-earth language Richard L. Pratt, Jr. has given us this helpful study manual on apologetics, the task of defending the faith. Far from a theoretical exposition, this training manual teaches how to answer nonbelievers and to “take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” Pratt shows how the biblical doctrines about humanity and our relationship to our Creator determine how we should do apologetics. Within this theological framework he examines the premises, attitudes, and specific steps involved in a genuinely biblical defense of Christianity. Illustrations and review questions help to make this a valuable tool for individual or group study.
About the author: Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is a graduate of Roanoke College. He holds the M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary in Virginia and the Th.D. in Old Testament Studies from Harvard Divinity School (while at Harvard he gained a reading knowledge of eleven languages.) He is currently a Professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. He is author of the books Designed for Dignity: What God Has Made It Possible for You to Be and He Gave Us Stories: The Bible Student’s Guide to Interpreting Old Testament Narratives and has been a contributor to several books and journals.
Endorsements: “Richard Pratt has written a manual to help ordinary people engage in apologetics along the lines of Van Til’s approach. In the process he has translated the philosophical terminology of Van Tillian apologetics into everyday language…both sound and stimulating.” – Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
“Presents Reformed (or ‘Van Tillian’) apologetics in genuinely popular language…In this respect, Pratt’s book is something of a breakthrough. I would expect and hope that this accomplishment will give the book a wide hearing.” – John M. Frame
Amazon Reviewer Nunja Bidnet: Van Til for the rest of us
“We’ve heard often in Evangelical circles the declaration that “No one has ever come to Christ by losing an argument.” These declarers are just using the wrong arguments, or at least have failed to ground their argument on a proper foundation. I would contend, after reading Richard Pratt’s Every Thought Captive, that in order for one to come to Christ, one must lose an argument. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God,” (I Cor. 2:14) so all who have been saved lost an argument with – no, a war against – God and have been convicted by His revealed Word in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Pratt’s goals in Every Thought Captive are simple but lofty. Heavily influenced by Van Til, but cognizant of the general inaccessibility of the revered apologist’s writing, Pratt hopes his work brings Van Til’s “worthwhile writings” within “the grasp of the average layperson.” Having minimal direct exposure to Van Til, I can’t say whether justice has been done to the man’s work, but Pratt does effectively outline a strategy that properly encourages, orients and humbles any rank-and-file would-be apologist for the daunting work we are called to do.
Pratt dedicates better than two-thirds of his book laying a “firm foundation” for the defense of Biblical Christianity. While many – maybe most, particularly those of evidentialists – apologetics works jump directly into “point-counterpoint,” Pratt wisely puts first things first. Pratt does not pay passing lip service to the idea that commitment to faith in Christ, with Scripture as its foundation, is the only Biblical approach to apologetics and evangelism. He hammers the point relentlessly. Not a bad thing, since the tendency of most is to default to what is comfortable. What is comfortable is what is found in most apologetics works – load us up with a bursting binder of facts and an exhaustive chronicle of cute one-liners meant to score rhetorical points then send us on our way to play the game on the non-believers’ turf by the non-believers’ rules. For Pratt, this method plays directly into our opposition’s hands. Pratt makes clear that the Christian apologist must use the Bible as the foundation for our defense, but also that the Bible itself, an object of scorn for the enemy, must be defended. The kings and generals analogy (p. 4) was effective – “It is clearly the generals’ responsibility to defend the king…according to the directives of the king himself.” A full clip of clever sound bites cannot accomplish Peter’s directive regarding a ready defense.
Pratt continues outlining the basis for an apologetic defense for ten “lessons.” The primary strength of the book is here. Pratt orients the believer in such a way that places him properly in relation to God. When one understands that it all began with God, who man was before sin, who man is in sin and what our redemption is in Christ, our function as apologists comes into clear focus. The only independent agent in the universe is God. Everyone and everything else is dependent and finite. The Christian must never attempt to loose himself from that anchor, or he becomes as deluded as the denier and an impotent apologist. Only our dependence on God produces “true knowledge.” Our attempts at independence are rebellion against God. And these attempts at independence are not merely futile, but death (Gen. 2:17). “Independence” results in reckoning all things, to quote Calvin, “by the yardstick of their own carnal stupidity.” (p. 31) As believers “restored according to the original character of the image of God,” dependence on God involves not “merely some portion of man…[but] his whole character.” (p.39)
This is not to say, as Pratt makes clear, that never may a believer refer to extra-Biblical sources to demonstrate Truth. He cites Paul to make the point that we may do so, but we must “see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception.” (Col. 2:8) The non-believer will insist that logic, reason and philosophy must be based on human “independence” and “neutrality,” an idea that Pratt prepares the apologist to dismantle completely. Fatal violence is done to the non-believer’s illusory regard for his “independence” by illuminating the contradictions on which he must rely in order to sustain his argument – absolute certainty and total uncertainty. On the other hand, “Christians are able to know and follow God’s revelation and therefore produce a philosophy which is not according to independent human perspectives.” (p. 51)
Pratt admits that both the believer and non-believer are committed to circular arguments, but the Christian holds to an objective, eternal and limitless God outside himself as the center, while the non-believer holds to himself and his limited, subjective perceptions, as if the world around us would cease to be once that non-believer did. The “neutral” non-believer’s circular reasoning sets himself up as the explanation for, or at least the explainer of, the universe. The believer need not be so arrogant. And Pratt implores the believer to avoid arrogance by maintaining a consistent life, a careful approach and correct procedure. (Lesson 8)
When Pratt moves to the “basic structure of a Biblical defense,” he does his best, in relying on Proverbs 26:4-5, to construct a practical apologetic approach. The “two-fold justification” model includes two three-step methods – the “argument by truth” and “the argument by folly.” Understanding that Pratt meant this to be a study manual, not an exhaustive, answer-every-challenge guide, the structure he lays out is not quite as simple for the layperson as he intended.
The steps in the “argument by truth” has the apologist properly place faith in Christ first and at the center, then offer Christian evidence for belief in the existence of God, then expose the non-believer’s rejection of the first two steps as arising from the non-believer’s commitment to independence. Pratt instructs that to be prepared to make such a defense, the Christian must know Scripture and maintain Christ as the center. Fair enough, true enough and easy enough, conceptually anyway.
Overall, Every Thought Captive proved to be a useful and accessible primer on the proper approach to the defense of Biblical Christianity. As John Newton in A Review of Ecclesiastical History (1769) wrote, “So long as the gospel of Christ is maintained without adulteration, it is found sufficient for every valuable purpose; but when the wisdom of man is permitted to add to the perfect work of God, a wide door is opened for innumerable mischiefs.” Pratt relates this message well in encouraging Christians to rely on the unshakable foundation of God’s revealed Word in preparing our defense.”