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Review: Every Thought Captive, by Richard L. Pratt Jr.

Book description


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 defence of Christianity. Illustrations and review questions help to make this a valuable tool for individual or group study.


About the author


Richard Linwood Pratt Jr. is an American theologian, author, and founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries. Pratt is actively involved in all aspects of ministry, including writing, teaching, and global advancement. He has travelled extensively throughout the world to evangelize and lecture.



At a glance


On the back of the book, Frame writes that 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.


Most of what I've learned so far regarding presuppositional apologetics comes from conversations with people on social media. The first book I read that came from a presuppositional approach is Jason Lisle's The Ultimate Proof of Creation. I no longer consider myself to be an outright beginner in understanding presuppositional apologetics (although I'm do find the more I learn, the more I realize how much there is to learn), therefore this book is not really meant for someone who's already made some strides into understanding Van Til.


I have an appreciation of Pratt's use of Scripture thought-out to substantiate his claims. I can see myself returning to this book in the future to investigate the Scriptures he used to build the case for a Biblical apologetic.


Another feature of his book is the use of visual aids to help the reader understand what he's after.


The book is not divided into chapters, but lessons. Each lesson is rather short (it contains the basics but doesn't investigate the detail of the claims), and after the lesson, it contains questions for use in group discussions. I can see how this book can be used quite naturally in the context of a Bible study group, or an apologetics course presented to church congregants.


The book spends quite a bit of time on the Christian life, and the necessity of the apologist's life to reflect the truthfulness of his words. For example, we cannot hope to argue people into heaven if we're living as people heading for hell. In this section, he made me pause and reflect on my own Christian walk. The apologist who lacks daily prayer and Scripture reading simply isn't a Christian apologist. He's an inconsistent defender of his own ideals since he doesn't know nor serve His Creator.


I appreciated the final few lessons in the book the most. After providing us with the theory, he sketches a practical picture of how to defend Christian truth. Pratt indicates the failures of the traditional method in providing a successful defence against sceptics (with regards to the existence of God, the resurrection etc.) and then outlines the Biblical method of defence which he gathers from Proverbs 26:4,5.

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26:4,5 ESV


Rating: 7/10.


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Contents at a glance

  1. A firm foundation

  2. Where it all began

  3. The character of man before sin

  4. The character of man in sin

  5. The character of man redeemed by Christ

  6. The non-Christian point of view

  7. The Christian point of view

  8. Attitudes and actions

  9. Popular tactics

  10. Structure of Biblical defence

  11. Defending the faith (1)

  12. Defending the faith (2)

  13. Defending the faith (3)

  14. An apologetic parable


Pratt's Biblical method for the defence of the faith

  1. A particular issue arises that often gives rise to the presentation of the Gospel, and an opportunity to defend the Christian truth.

  2. Admit your faith commitment.

  3. If an answer is known, give a biblical answer and biblical evidence for the particular issue in question [Dependet certainty].

  4. If an answer is not known, give justification for your ignorance and show by Christianity is no less certain [Dependet uncertainty].

  5. If the unbeliever is not convinced, show him that his disbelief is founded on his commitment to independence.

  6. That the commitment to independence cannot be justified.

  7. If the unbeliever is certain that the evidence is against Christianity, show him that he has not and cannot know enough to be sure he understands his evidence correctly.

  8. If the unbeliever is totally uncertain because there is not enough evidence to be sure, show him that he has not and cannot know enough to be sure that he must be uncertain.

  9. Challenge the unbeliever to recognize his commitment to independence as the source of his futility.

  10. Present the Gospel message of repentance and faith.


Possible critique and defence

It was indicated to me by a follower on the Apologetics Central page that Pratt's view on the "answer a fool according to this folly" (as indicated in steps 7 and 8 above) does not follow a presuppositional approach. The individual writes:

These suggested methods of answering the fool according to his folly are not presuppositional, nor Bahnsenian. You can go on Youtube right now and find William Lane Craig giving these exact same answers to atheist objections. These suggestions are pleas to the ignorance of the unbeliever, and the improbability of the finding "certainty" given their beliefs. That is, these are arguments based on probabilities. That is not presup.

I agree. The challenge against the folly of the unbeliever is not that the unbeliever cannot know enough to be certain about the existence of God, as that seems to indicate that the unbeliever can know some things (using their principles), just not enough on the particular topic to disprove Christianity or to be sure of his or her own position.


But we must perhaps read Pratt in light of what he mentioned in the previous parts of the book, specifically lessons 1 through 7. He mentions near the end of lesson 6 that:

No matter what he may claim or profess, the unbeliever is inevitably absolutely certain and totally uncertain. Consequently, he is left unable to say anything about God, the world, or man - even that he is uncertain about them. Non-Christian philosophy is based on a commitment to independence and that commitment has brought man into futility and hopelessness.

And on the previous page regarding the unbeliever's knowledge of the external world, writes,

The dilemma of unbelieving philosophy shows itself in what non-Christians say about their created environment as well. The claim of absolute certainty is made, for instance, when the non-Christian says that the world is in some sense orderly and understandable. He is absolutely certain that the order he discerns is in reality actually there. Yet, the non-Christian is faced with the fact that he has not investigated and cannot investigate the entire external world in such a way as to avoid total uncertainty. The presence of the unknown calls into question what the unbeliever claims to know. Total uncertainty regarding the external world often involves the notion that the world does not have order and is ruled by chance and makes no sense to the man. It is obvious that even when the unbeliever denies the possibility of knowing the world in this fashion, he is making a statement of absolute certainty about the character of the world. He knows for certain that the world is of such character that it is unordered and that it is the product of mere chance. Once again, the unbeliever is faced with the dilemma of being absolutely certain, and totally uncertain at the same time.

Taking this into account, although it might sound that Pratt appeals to the ignorance of the unbeliever when making his defence, (stating that the unbeliever "does not know enough"), he does not believe that the unbeliever knows even some things regarding the external world correctly (according to their principle). In this way, he is consistent with Van Til and Bahnsen.


It is the case that the unbeliever goes about categorising and investigating the world around him, attempting to build his system apart from any concrete guidance from his Creator. Since man is not all-knowing and omnipresent (nor the creator and sustainer of all that is), it is not possible for him to come to true knowledge of the external world since his finite system cannot in and of itself guarantee that it correctly describes the external world, or that it will continue to correctly describe the external world. Perhaps this is what Pratt means in the later sections of the book when he outlines his defence in practical terms.


I do agree with the individual that Pratt's example of the defence does come close to simply appealing to gaps in the knowledge of unbelievers. It also struck me as strange. Either he was inconsistent on this point, or we must interpret him in a favourable light. I lean to the latter - simply because Pratt attempted to put practical flesh to the theoretical overview of lessons 1 through 7.


Conclusion


I would recommend anyone interested in Van Til's apologetic to read this book. I find his practical guide to the defence of the faith to be helpful, and to be a useful model that we can employ when discussing with our unbelieving friends and during our evangelistic efforts.


I agree with Frame that Pratt's book was somewhat of a breakthrough. It's sad to see that the Reformed world has not produced books like Pratt's provides additional discussions and guides. The other book that is similar to this book is Lisle's book, but Lisle does not come from a Reformed perspective.

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Published by Apologetics Central

At Apologetics Central, we are committed to providing biblically grounded, Reformed presuppositional apologetics resources to equip believers in defending the Christian faith. As a ministry, we strive to uphold the truth of God's word and present it winsomely to a world in need of the gospel.

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