1 Peter 3 : 15

According to 1 Peter 3 : 15, Christians are commanded to always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is in us. The Christian discipline of apologetics is learning to explain and defend why we believe what we believe. God does not need anyone to defend Him, of course. What Christians are called to defend is the hope that is in us. There are good reasons for believing in God, and Christians are commanded to have them at the ready.

All Christians are commanded first of all to proclaim the good news that “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God,” in the glorious words of C.S. Lewis. Sometimes, all unbelievers need to hear is “a simple gospel presentation” to believe. In this increasingly antichristian era unbelievers are skeptical of the gospel and question the truth claims of Christianity. That is why all Christians are also called to defend the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Apologetics is nothing new. On the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit fell on the first Christians, some were amazed to hear God praised miraculously in all the languages of the Roman world. Others mocked, saying the Christians were only drunk. Peter defended the outpouring of the Spirit by quoting the prophet Joel. He pointed out the miracles of Jesus, and boldly testified that he had witnessed the risen Savior. Fulfilled prophecy, miracles, the eyewitness testimony the Apostles, and the resurrection of Jesus remain key points for Christian defenders today. Peter used apologetics, and God used Peter to save about 3,000 people on that day.

Do you want to lead people to Jesus? Ground yourselves in the redemptive message of the Bible first, and learn apologetics second. It’s a wise person that wins souls (Proverbs 11:30).

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How Should I Earnestly Contend for the Faith? Conclusion

Now that we have reviewed the five most common methods, which method of apologetics is the best? I would encourage my readers to do their own research, read Five Views on Apologetics for themselves, and make up their own minds. My personal opinion is that, more than any one method, Five Views… promotes what is gaining popularity as “integrated method.”

Rather than promoting one method above the rest, it shows that these methods have more similarities than differences. In fact, many of the authors admit openly to borrowing from each others’ methods. For example, William Lane Craig tempers his classical method with Reformed epistemology:

We know that our Christian beliefs are true because they are properly basic, warranted beliefs grounded in our vertical experience of the witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. … We can show that Christian theism is true by presenting arguments for theism and evidences for a specifically Christian theism, which go to show, when coupled with defensive apologetics, that Christian theism is the most plausible worldview a sufficiently informed, normal adult can adopt.

Dr. Craig’s concept of showing Christianity to be true is typical of the classical method, but his ideas on knowing Christianity to be true are derived from the Reformed epistemology of Alvin Plantinga. He has adopted this hybrid method in order to avoid becoming overly rationalistic in his defense of Christianity.

William Lane Craig is not alone mixing and matching methods. John Frame (unlike some other presuppositional apologists) affirms the role of evidence and even classical arguments for God’s existence.

… [O]ur argument should be transcendental. That is, it should present the biblical God, not merely as the conclusion to an argument, but as the one who makes argument possible. …We can reach this transcendental conclusion by many kinds of specific arguments, including many of the traditional ones. The traditional cosmological argument, for example…

Few people would disagree that William Lane Craig is among the best classical apologists, and that John Frame is among the best presuppositionalists. It is encouraging that, despite some disagreement on minor differences between them, they agree on the the most important things. It is also enlightening for the classicalists among us who have engaged the simpleton “presuppositional apologists” who really do insist on arguing in vicious circles, and the presuppers among us who have encountered the uber-rationalist “evidentialists” who are more committed to the latest evidence and arguments than biblical orthodoxy. We should judge the merits of each method on the best apologists, rather than the worst.

Personally, I lean toward the classical method. Like William Lane Craig, I also appreciate the Reformed epistemologists’ objection that belief in God is justified apart from empirical evidence, and I agree that we know God exists better via the inner witness of the Spirit than by arguments. I also love the presuppositional passion for the authority of the Bible and apologetics as evangelism. Finally, I love the imaginative literary nature of cumulative case apologists, who remind us that Christianity is more than a set of syllogisms.

No matter the method, there are some essential elements of quality Christian apologetics. All believers are commanded to always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. No particular method is described. Classical, evidential, cumulative case, presuppositional, or Reformed epistemology apologetics are perfectly fine from a biblical perspective. But we are to be ready with an answer, and we must deliver it with gentleness and respect. Our apologetics must be grounded in the Scriptures. We should always bear in mind the purpose of apologetics as well: to spread the gospel. Whether we use a particular method, or integrate various methods, goal of apologetics is not to show everyone how intelligent Christians can be, but to remove intellectual obstacles to encountering Jesus Christ.

Apologetics is Taking Off in East Tennessee!

First of all, I want to take an opportunity to remind everyone of the God’s Not Dead Apologetics Conference to be held at 6pm this Friday at Freedom House Church of God, Knoxville, TN.

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Previously, it was announced that the conference would be held in the youth room. We have moved up to the main sanctuary. In addition to the speakers I have already profiled, Darris Brock will be speaking on the importance of critical thinking, Allie Peters will be speaking on the problem of evil, and Ray Weedon will be speaking on the fine tuning of the universe.

Next month, on the 12th, Dr. Hugh Ross will be speaking at Blount Christian Church in Maryville, TN.

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Dr. Ross is a Christian astronomer and pastor, as well as the president and founder of the science and apologetics ministry Reasons to Believe.

I am very excited about these upcoming events and the future of Christian apologetics in eastern Tennessee. I look forward to meeting you all at Freedom House and Blount Christian!

How Should I Earnestly Contend for the Faith? Part 3

The second method of apologetics presented in Five Views on Apologetics is evidential apologetics, presented by Dr. Gary Habermas. Dr. Habermas is
Distinguished Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University. He has written over 30 books, but is probably best known as the co – author of The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, along with Dr. Michael Licona. Dr. Habermas is notable for pioneering a minimal facts case for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

In distinction to the two step classical method, evidentialists use a one step method. As I pointed out in Part 2, classical apologists argue in two steps for the existence of a theistic god through natural theology, and that this god is the Christian God of the Bible through Christian evidences. Evidentialists contend that Christian evidences are sufficient to persuade skeptics. Therefore only one step is necessary. Evidential apologetics is sometimes referred to as historical apologetics due to its emphasis on the historical case for the life, death, and miraculous resurrection of Jesus.

The chief interest of this method is the postulating and developing of historical evidences (one species of propositional data) for the Christian faith. This is its single, major contribution to the issue. Not only is it thought that these evidences provide the best means of deciding between the theistic systems of belief, but also that they can be utilized as an indication of God’s existence and activity.
– Dr. Gary Habermas, from Chapter Two: Evidential Apologetics, Five Views on Apologetics

Aside from Dr. Habermas, prominent evidentialists include John Warwick Montgomery, Josh McDowell, Greg Koukl, and J. Warner Wallace.

The historical case for Christianity is nothing new, but is rooted in the Bible itself. Paul appeals to the eyewitness testimony of the earliest followers of Jesus.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
– 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, ESV

Paul does not merely support his claims about the resurrection of Jesus Christ with eyewitness testimony, but says that the truth of Christianity depends entirely on whether Jesus rose from the dead or not.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
– 1 Corinthians 15:12-22, ESV

If we should ever discover the grave of Jesus of Nazareth, it would disprove Christianity. However, the Christian apologist should take heart–Paul made his claims at a time when people who heard Jesus teach, and possibly even witnessed His public crucifixion, might have said, “I was there, and this is what really happened…” We should also keep in mind that before he became the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul was a violent persecutor of the early church. Something radically changed him. Jesus appearing to Paul is the most reasonable explanation of his transformation.

Dr. Habermas’ minimal facts argument is currently the dominant historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus. It is used not only by evidentialists, but by classical apologists such as William Lane Craig.

In a nutshell, the minimal facts case for the resurrection argues certain facts are agreed upon as historically reliable by the majority of New Testament scholars. These scholars cover the spectrum of belief from conservative Evangelicals to skeptical atheists and agnostics. The minimal facts argument does not require that the Bible be the inerrant and infallible Word of God, or that it even be treated as holy or authoritative [this is a tactical move, and not a statement one way or the other on the inspiration or authority of the Bible]. It need only be treated as an ancient manuscript purporting to give a testimony of the life, ministry, execution, and resurrection of Jesus, and is treated as any other ancient document which makes historical claims.

There are twelve minimal facts as follows:

1. Jesus died by crucifixion.
2. He was buried.
3. His death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope.
4. The tomb was empty (the most contested).
5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus (the most important proof).
6. The disciples were transformed from doubters to bold proclaimers.
7. The resurrection was the central message.
8. They preached the message of Jesus’ resurrection in Jerusalem.
9. The Church was born and grew.
10. Orthodox Jews who believed in Christ made Sunday their primary day of worship.
11. James was converted to the faith when he saw the resurrected Jesus (James was a family skeptic).
12. Paul was converted to the faith (Paul was an outsider skeptic).

Virtually all New Testament scholars agree to these facts whether they believe Jesus actually rose from the dead or not. This is not the nose counting fallacy, because the point of the minimal facts case is not that the resurrection is true because most New Testament scholars say it is. In fact, the skeptics would stop short of saying Jesus rose from the dead. As the reader can see, minimal fact number five is that the disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus. The point of the argument is that given the minimal facts that even most skeptical New Testament will concede are reliable, the best explanation is that Jesus of Nazareth rose bodily from the dead.

Alternative theories fall short. If the experiences of the risen Jesus had been hallucinations, the authorities would simply have refuted the disciples’ testimony by displaying Jesus’ corpse. If Jesus had not actually died on the cross, but only fainted and came to later, the disciples would not have celebrated Him as a risen savior, but encouraged Him to seek medical attention. It is implausible that the disciples would have been able to defeat a unit of a Roman soldiers in order to steal the body away from the tomb. This is not an exhaustive explanation of the minimal facts case, nor is it intended to be. I recommend that the reader studies this argument and the historical case for the resurrection in greater depth for themselves. My primary purpose is to demonstrate how the evidentialist method might work.

Dr. Habermas emphasizes that evidentialist apologetics is eclectic. The central focus is Christian historical evidences, but the evidentialist is free to use any evidence supporting Christianity that she finds useful. Although the difference between classical and evidential apologetics is small, evidentialists distinguish themselves in that they claim only one step of Christian evidences is necessary to persuasively present the case for Christianity. Many evidentialists would argue that going straight to Christian evidence is an advantage because it gets to the gospel more quickly.

How Should I Earnestly Contend for the Faith? Part 2

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.

God’s Not Dead Conference Speaker Profiles: Dr. Kevin Birdwell

Dr. Kevin Birdwell will be presenting a talk entitled Cosmic Creation Event. The scientific evidence for the origin of the universe points beyond the universe to a supernatural, personal Creator. In fact, there are striking parallels between the scientific evidence and the biblical accounts of creation. Science and Christianity are not in conflict, but complement one another in important ways. Come hear his presentation at the God’s Not Dead Conference at Freedom House Church of God on September 26th.

Dr. Kevin Birdwell attended Iowa State University, Central Bible College (Evangel University), Murray State University, and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. He holds degrees in Bible (A.A.), Geography/Math (B.S.), and Physical Geography (M.S. and Ph.D.) with emphasis areas in math, remote sensing, meteorology, paleoclimate, and environmental change. He has been a Christian apologist for more than 20 years and a physical science researcher in the Knoxville area for 25 years. He is currently on the part-time faculty of Lee University (teaching earth and space science). Dr. Birdwell is a licensed minister (exhorter) with the Church of God. Dr. Birdwell is also a regular visiting scholar with Reasons To Believe in Covina, CA where he focuses on the relationship between climate and human civilization.

The God’s Not Dead Conference will be held at Freedom House Church of God in Knoxville, TN on September 26th at 6pm. The conference will be held downstairs in the youth room.

How Should I Earnestly Contend for the Faith? Part 1

1 Peter 3:1, ESV

In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.

The question is how?

Even I, after several years of studying apologetics, began to wrestler over the best method of defending the Faith. I was most familiar with the classical method from the ministries of William Lane Craig, Frank Turek, and Douglas Groothuis. I also read or heard apologists that described themselves as “evidentialists”–but weren’t the classical apologists also arguing from evidence? What was the difference between evidentialists and classicalists? Many of these apologists also said they were building a cumulative case for Christianity, but differentiated their arguments from another school of apologetics known as the the cumulative case method. Still other apologists argued that the biblical method of apologetics was to presuppose the truth of the Bible, and to convince the unbeliever that they already knew the truth of Christianity as well. There were still other Christian apologists that did not seem to fit with any of these methods. All the apologists agreed that the truth of Christianity needed to be defended, but disagreed on the details. They all used similar terms, but seemed to mean different things at times. Of course, every apologist seemed convinced his or her own method was the best.

In order order to weigh the options, I decided to read Five Views on Apologetics.

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Five Views on Apologetics presented five major schools of thought on apologetics in a point/counterpoint format. Each apologist was given a chapter to presented his own view, followed by critiques from the other four apologists. In the last chapter, each apologist was given a chance to respond to the criticisms from the previous chapters.

As the title of the book implies, five views of apologetics were described and critiqued. The classical method was presented by William Lane Craig, evidential apologetics was defended by Gary Habermas, cumulative case apologetics was explained by Paul Feinberg, presuppositional apologetics was promoted by John Frame, and finally Reformed epistemology was expounded by Kelly James Clark. I found the point/counterpoint format very helpful, since all these apologists were brilliant and persuasive. As I read each chapter, I often found myself won over to the method I was reading about until I read the critiques of the method.

In this series I will present a basic summary of each of the five views. I will attempt to be objective at first, presenting the pros and cons of each view in order to inform the reader so they can make up their own minds which method is best. In the last post of the series, I will present my own conclusions.

Based on the Google searches I made, I am apparently the last apologetics nerd to actually read Five Views on Apologetics and blog about it. However, perhaps there are some new students of apologetics who aren’t yet familiar with the book who may find this series helpful.