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Tearing Down Strongholds: And Defending the Truth Paperback – March 1, 2002
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"A gem that no thinking Christian living in these remarkable days will want to be without. This primer on apologetics makes good biblical sense out of bad worldly nonsense."
About the Author
R. C. Sproul Jr. (MA, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando; DMin, Whitefield Theological Seminary) is a pastor at St. Peter Presbyterian Church, Bristol, Tennessee, and director of the Highlands Study Center, Meadowview, Virginia. He is also editor-in-chief of Every Thought Captive.
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Now, I understand why it made no sense. Dr. Sproul, destroys these systems of so-called intellectualism with the greatest of ease and precision. He reduces each argument down to simple english and then uses their own statements and logic to refute them.
If you are looking for an incredible introduction to the world of non-presuppositional apologetics, look no further. Dr. Sproul tore down every stronghold he opposed.
In my humble opinion, the book delivered on all of its promises. As an author myself, I understand how difficult it is to convey ideas in book format and then to present complete arguments that cover all the details that readers may expect or anticipate. With that said, I don't think you will be at all disappointed by reading this book!
In the introduction (pp. 1-11), Sproul distinguishes between negative and positive apologetics. In his explanation of the purpose of positive apologetics he claims that he wants to demonstrate that the Christian faith is true. His "goal is not only to tear down the strongholds of the devil, and not only to repel the assaults of the very gates of hell, but to show that the foundation upon which our faith stands is firm" (p. 11). He does this for the "truth" and "truth's name: Jesus" (p. 11). Amen. The problem, though, is that he nowhere argues for Christianity! Indeed, in the positive apologetics section of the book, Sproul tells us that he "cannot demonstrate" and "has not" demonstrated that the "god" he argued for is the God of the Bible (p.185). He gives a "layman's" cosmological argument for his positive apologetic, which could prove a number of gods besides the Christian God. He nowhere argues for the resurrection, the inspiration of the Bible, the Trinity, or other specific Christian doctrines. Thus Sproul never accomplishes what he said was one of his purposes for writing the book.
Sproul's book is also part critique of an apologetic method known as presuppositionalism. The first thing that must be pointed out is that Sproul nowhere interacts with any published presuppositionalist. No footnotes, no names, no quoting their work, nothing. He irresponsibly critiques "our friends in the presuppositionalist camp (p. 150)." Sproul confidently argues against "those who argue that God is... the beginning of knowledge" (p. 138). Sproul seeks to show his keen insights by putting his "opponent[s]" in a "dilemma" (p. 138). But, we are never told who these friends, opponents, and abstract "thoses" are! It is to his critique(s) that I now turn.
Sproul's main, and number one critique, is about the presuppositionalists (alleged) very idea of "start with" or "begin with" God. First, Sproul is not very clear here. For example, on pages 137, 138, 150, and 186 he mentions those who "start with God," but on p. 174 he refers to the same group as those who "start with the Bible." Surely this is a major difference in starting points!
Sproul takes "start with" in a temporal sense. He makes this clear in many places. Take, for example, what he says on p. 138. He says although it "is attractive" to say we "start with God," we cannot because the "difficulty with this view" is that we "cannot begin with God." Why? Sproul continues:
"To those who say, 'I begin with God' or 'I presuppose God,' we ask, 'Who begins with God?' One might try to get around this problem with the semantic trick, and affirm instead, 'God is.' While it is certainly true that God is, and that his being is in no way dependent upon our acknowledgment of it, we nevertheless ask, 'Says who?' We do not start with God but with ourselves."
Thus, we can see that Sproul takes "start with" in a temporal sense because the "I" comes before the God in the sentence: "I start with God." But, Sproul seems unaware of previous discussions over this very critique. This is the same critique given by Gerstner et al. in Classical Apologetics (p. 185, 212). This very critique was likewise rebutted by John Frame in Van Til and the Ligonier Apologetic, Westminster Theological Journal (47, 2 (Fall 1985), 279-99). This was discussed 17 years before Sproul's JR.'s book! Sproul shows absolutely no familiarity with the debate.
Maybe Sproul missed that article. Well in 1987 Frame's Doctrine of The Knowledge of God addressed this topic as well. Maybe Sproul didn't read pgs. 125-26? If so, then we have Frame's 1994 book, Apologetics to The Glory of God (p.13) in which he discusses this critique. Since that was a footnote Sproul might have missed it. If so, we have Bahnsen's tome, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings and Analysis, where he defines "start with" in non-temporal terms (p.2). What is the basic gist of the above answer to the critique? Frame writes,
"They stress the pre in presupposition and thus take it that a presupposition is something someone believes before (temporally) one believes anything else. This is wrong. The pre should be understood mainly as an indicator of eminence (e.g., preeminence), not temporal priority" (AGG. p.12).
Therefore, Sproul's number one critique is based off a major misunderstanding of the idea of "start with."
Next, Sproul uses this shaky foundation to stand on and launch another criticism. Sproul discusses "logic and the presuppositionalist" on page 150. He talks about "our friends" in the presuppositionalist camp who "start with God" and the "problem" that they have by doing this. What is this problem? Well, to say "I do not start with logic; I start with God" invites this sharp critique by Sproul: "I'm delighted to hear that you do not start with God but with logic." That is to say, since the presuppositionalist is set up as "starting" with God temporally, he can not have logic yet. He must get there next as in, 1 and then 2. So, since he does not have logic yet then he cannot ward off a contradiction; and, hence, if he "starts with God" then he "does not start with God." There's no "logic," yet, to stop Sproul's attack. There are many problems here:
(i) Sproul says in a parenthesis that God "is, of course, logic." Is Sproul saying that presuppositionalists don't believe this? (Well, it is vague and Sproul would need to tell us what he means by saying "God is logic.") But on page 148 Sproul tells us that presuppositionalist Gordon Clark translates John 1:1 as God being logic. So, maybe Sproul just means that Van Tillian presuppositionalists don't believe that God is logic? If he does not mean this then when the presuppositionalist says, "I start with God," he is, by definition, also "starting with logic;" since "God is, of course, logic." Sproul seems to not even understand this problem.
(ii) Van Tillian presuppositionalists "start with" an entire worldview (cf. Bahnsen, Van Til: R & A, pp. 461-67), one which already has logic (and its metaphysical and epistemological justifications) included. Therefore, Sproul is again caught having a severely diminished understanding of Van Tillian apologetics.
(iii) Most devastating, Sproul says that we need to "start with the rules of logic" (p. 151). Well to this I simply respond, "Who starts with the rules of logic?" If Sproul replies, "Logic is" then I simply ask, "Says who?" You see, unless Sproul is equivocating on "start with," he has the same problem he leveled against the presuppositionalist! Indeed, when Sproul says that he "starts with himself" I can simply say, "I'm delighted to hear that you do not start with yourself." Since Sproul does not have logic yet then I can contradict him! Thus the very sword Sproul yields to cut the presuppositionalist actually ends up cutting himself! It is also interesting how he "starts with" logic, and also "starts with" himself. If "starts with" is viewed "temporally," this this is problematic.
Perhaps Sproul thinks that he can start with many things (he seems to say this on p. 152, though later seems to contradict it). The problem here is, where did he get this worldview? Does he accept it as a package or does he build it up block by block? How can he "start with" himself, logic, and the senses? Should we start here? Or does he also "start with" morality? Whose morality? What is this worldview called? Is it a Christian worldview? If so, then he "starts with" the Christian worldview to prove the Christian worldview. If not, then does he "start with" a non-Christian worldview? The point is not to have Sproul answer all these questions (though that would be nice), the point is to point out that if this is what he is doing then he doing exactly what the presuppositionalist has been doing. Therefore, his critiques against presuppositionalism fail.
Not only that, but Sproul's own arguments end up refuting his entire case for theism. His foundation (himself) is not his foundation (because there's no logic yet, per his critique). The nail in the coffin for Sproul is that on page 153. There Sproul indicates that he does not "start with" logic but he "starts with [himself], ... and then move[s] on to logic..." (, seemingly refuting what he said just one page earlier!). Therefore, if Sproul "starts with himself" then he does not "start with himself" because he does not yet "have logic" he has yet to "move on" to it.
The last thing I wish to comment on is another egregious misunderstanding on the part of Sproul. After his cosmological argument he mentions what "his friends call the transcendental argument for the existence of God." But Sproul conflates "transcendental" with "transcendent" (pp. 187-88). He says that the argument is to show "how those things [i.e., logic, our senses, etc.] came to be." They must have "a source, a source that is transcendent." God's existence, ontologically, "precedes the existence" of logic (p. 187). So, there is a point in time that logic does not exist (this also gets us into God's relationship to time). But on page 150 Sproul tells us that "God is logic." If so, does He "precede" Himself!? Actually, Sproul's idea of what is called the "transcendental argument" is really another cosmological argument.
I think this is an underwhelming apologetics book. None of the above is to say that Van Tillian presuppositionalism, or the so-called transcendental argument for God's existence (TAG), is without its problems. It is to say that one should look elsewhere for those problems. The above is not to say that there are not good arguments for God's existence and against atheism. It is to say one might want to look elsewhere for those positive and negative arguments. ...less