The first method of apologetics presented in Five Views on Apologetics is the classical method, which is presented by Dr. William Lane Craig. Currently, Dr. Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University. In addition to his academic career, Dr. Craig has a popular apologetics ministry, Reasonable Faith. The Reasonable Faith website has numerous apologetics resources, including articles, videos, and podcasts. Reasonable Faith chapters meet across the country and around the world to discuss Christian apologetics. As part of his ministry, Dr. Craig is well known for debating scholarly skeptics of the traditional Christian worldview. Dr. Craig has also written several books on apologetics. For more detailed explanations of Dr. Craig’s apologetic method, read Reasonable Faith or On Guard.
The classical method, promoted by Dr. Craig, is often referred to as a two step method of apologetics. The first step is to persuade the skeptic that God exists based upon widely agreed on observations of the world around us, and then the second step is to argue that Christianity is true based upon uniquely Christian arguments.
This approach is comprised of natural theology and Christian evidences. Among its practitioners are such great figures as Thomas Aquinas with his famous Five Ways of demonstrating God’s existence and his appeal to the signs of credibility (miracles and prophecy) to validate Christian doctrines not demonstrable by reason alone; Hugo Grotius, the father of modern apologetics, whose De Veritate Religionis Christianae drew upon the traditional arguments of natural theology and inaugurated the historical approach to the truth of the Gospels; and one of my heroes, William Paley, whose Natural Theology is one of the most brilliant defenses of the teleological argument ever written and whose A View of the Evidences of Christianity was so impressive that it remained compulsory reading for every applicant to Cambridge University right up to the twentieth century.
– Dr. William Lane Craig, from Chapter One: Classical Apologetics, Five Views on Apologetics
According to classical apologists, Christian evidences will not be persuasive unless it is proven that it is reasonable to believe in God first. The skeptic will probably not be convinced that the Bible (special revelation) is true, unless she is convinced by evidence for God’s existence outside the Bible (natural revelation).
Paul wrote to the church in Rome that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20, ESV). Since human beings can perceive God’s existence and even know His nature through His creation, the classical apologist might begin with an argument for a Creator who made the universe, or a Designer who fashioned the universe with precision and wisdom. He might argue that a theistic god is the best explanation of morality, logic, or beauty. Some argue that a Perfect Being exists by necessity. There are a host of possible arguments and many classical apologists use more than one, forming a cumulative case for God’s existence.
After establishing that a theistic god exists through natural theology, the classical apologist moves on to arguing that this god is the Christian God of the Bible. He will move from arguing to the existence of a god based on observations of the world as we know it to arguing that the Christian worldview best explains the world as we know it. At this point the apologist might appeal to the historical reliability of the Bible, or to fulfilled prophecy. The central truth claim of Christianity is that Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the dead, validating not only the truth of His religious teachings, but His claim to be God incarnate. If it can be shown that He was crucified, buried, and on the third day arose from the grave, then He is God in the flesh, who bore the penalty of sin so that all who put their trust in Him can be reconciled to a pure and holy God.
Dr. Craig differs from the typical classical apologist in that he places great emphasis on the difference between knowing and showing that Christianity is true. He argues that it is rational to believe in God apart from arguments and evidence on the basis of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. This view is influenced by Reformed epistemology, which holds that belief in God is properly basic. I will explain more thoroughly what properly basic means when I get to Reformed epistemology in this series. All the reader needs to know for now is that because belief in God is rational on the basis of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, Christians who have no knowledge of apologetics can still be justified in their belief in God. It also means that Christians can rationally maintain faith in God when evidence seems to contradict their belief. This is not to say that Christians maintain their beliefs irrationally in spite of the evidence. In fact, Dr. Craig would argue persuasively that the evidence is on the side of Christianity. Rather, it means that the Christian can know God exists, even if she cannot show God exists based on the evidence available.