How Should I Earnestly Contend for the Faith? Part 4

The third method of apologetics presented in Five Views on Apologetics is the cumulative case method, and is defended by Paul Feinberg. Until he passed away in 2004, Paul Feinberg was the professor of systematic theology and philosophy of religion at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Before he Taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Professor Feinberg taught at Moody Bible Institute 1966-1970, and at Trinity College 1970-1972. After this he served as a field representative for American Board of Missions to the Jews (now known as Chosen People Ministries) until 1974 when he began teaching at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where William Lane Craig was one of his students. In addition to his academic career, Professor Feinberg was an ordained minister in the Evangelical Free Church of America, and served as president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society in 1977.

The cumulative case method is sometimes referred to as inference to the best explanation. Like the classical and evidential methods, the cumulative case method of apologetics seeks to argue the case for Christianity based on evidence, but argues in a different way. Rather than formulating formal arguments that seek to either prove Christianity or show that it is probably true, it presents an informal case for Christianity. Although classical and evidential apologists often build a cumulative case for Christianity by using a variety of different arguments, this is not the same as using the cumulative case method of apologetics.

The model for defending Christianity is not to be found in the domain of philosophy or logic, but law, history, and literature. This does not mean that the apologist may ignore the deliverances of philosophy or logic, but that the nature of the case for Christianity is to be found in a different feild. …

Because the term cumulative case is used in apologetics in ways other than the way I am using it, it will be helpful to try to explain my precise terms.

First, the argument for theism and Christianity is an informal one. There are neither premises nor derivations. It is more like the brief that a lawyer brings, or an explanation that a historian proposes, or an interpretation in literature.
– Paul D. Feinberg, from Chapter Three: Cumulative Case Apologetics, Five Views on Apologetics

Personally, I find that I know what Paul Feinberg means better by writings of of cumulative case apologists, than by his description. Professor Feinberg lists two of my favorite authors as cumulative case apologists–G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis. Lewis is arguably the most influential Christian apologist of the 20th century, and he himself cited G.K. Chesterton as an influence in his own conversion to Christianity from Atheism.

In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere–“Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,” as Herbert says, “fine nets and stratagems.” God is, if I may say, very unscrupulous.
– C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy

Both Lewis and Chesterton wrote explicit defenses of Christianity, as well as excellent fiction influenced by their Christian worldview, often called literary apologetics. The apologetics writings of Lewis include Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, Miracles, and The Abolition of Man. His fiction includes Out of the Silent Planet, Peralandra, That Hideous Strength, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Pilgrim’s Regress, and Till We Have Faces. Chesterton’s apologetic works The Everlasting Man, Heretics, and Orthodoxy. Among his fictional writings are Manalive, The Man Who was Thursday, and the Father Brown mysteries (short stories).

I list these books so that those who have read them will have a better grasp of what Professor Feinberg means by informal arguments found in the domain of law, history, and literature–especially literature. I also list them as recommendations for those who have not read them. While I think that Professor Feinberg accurately describes what he means by cumulative case apologetics, I believe the method is difficult to pin down. As a result, I believe some of the other apologists misunderstood Professor Feinberg in their counterpoint critiques. I will explain this in greater detail in the conclusion of this series.

Speaking of difficult to pin down–there is more to the cumulative case method than being informal and literary.

Second, it is a broadly based argument that is drawn from a number of elements in our experience, which in turn either require explanation or point beyond themselves. …
Third, none of these elements that constitute this case has any priority over any other. In the classical approach to apologetics, priority is given to the proof that God exists. For this reason, natural theology and its arguments usually have priority. Once it has been shown that God exists, his nature and love for the sinner are defended. Such an argument is cumulative in the sense that Christianity is defended in terms of more than a single argument. It is not, however, cumulative in the sense that I am using the term because, in the classical approach, God’s existence must be proven first. In the approach I am defending, one may start with any element of the case, and depending on the response, appeal may be made to some other element to support or reinforce the claim that Christianity is true.
– Paul D. Feinberg, from Chapter Three: Cumulative Case Apologetics, Five Views on Apologetics

Per this aspect of cumulative case apologetics, it is argued that Christianity is the best explanation of all the evidence available. Various arguments for Christianity are combined into one case. While one argument may not provide a convincing case for Christianity by itself, multiple arguments combined in a single case may be highly persuasive.

Previously I offered Lewis and Chesterton as examples of the literary aspect of cumulative case apologetics; as an example of the broadly based combined arguments method, I offer Richard Swinburne and Dr. Kenneth Samples. Although I have not read any Swinburne yet, based on what I have read about him, he is very well known Oxford professor who argues in the cumulative way described by Professor Feinberg. His books are on my wish list, and I look forward to reading them in the future. I am more familiar with Dr. Kenneth Samples, who is part of the apologetics ministry Reasons to Believe. In his writings and podcasts he emphasizes the cumulative case for Christianity, with a special emphasis on abductive reasoning.

The informal nature of cumulative case apologetics is advantageous in certain situations. For example, it is more akin to a deep conversation between friends. Sometimes, aspiring apologists will use formal philosophical syllogisms in debates with their non – Christian friends, and unless the friend has a philosophical background this probably is more confusing than convincing, and a little weird too. For similar reasons, the cumulative case works well in sermons. Also, as I pointed out previously, the method lends itself to literary apologetics.


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