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.

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.

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.

The Direction of the Blog

Up to this point I’ve been posting on any subject that struck my fancy at the time. In the coming months I plan on building a cumulative case in defense of the Christian worldview. I am fully persuaded that biblical Christianity is the only consistent worldview.

My purpose is twofold: First of all, my purpose is evangelism. Many non-Christians do not believe that Christianity is a defendable view. I plan to show them that it is, in fact, supported by a vast wealth of evidence. Second of all, I want to strengthen the faith of those who already believe, and equip them to defend the Faith to the unbeliever.

I will begin by defending absolute truth, and move on to epistemology (that’s a fancy philosophical word for the study of how we know what we know), and basic logic. After that, for the most part I will stick to the classical arguments-the cosmological argument, the teleological argument, the moral argument, the ontological argument, and so on. I may even take a stab at arguments from beauty, reason, and love. At some point, I’d like to cover a relatively new argument-the minimal facts case for the Resurrection. I think it’s also important to cover arguments for the reliability of the Bible. Sprinkled throughout I will include tactics and other practical suggestions for presenting the case for Christianity.

If some of the bigger words like “teleological” frightened you a little, fear not. I will present these topics in such a way that the average person can understand them. It is my firm conviction that apologetics is not just something for the highly educated and/or Christians of above average intelligence. With a little study, anyone can master the arguments, with or without an advanced degree. I have no formal education beyond high school myself.

I will be drawing on several resources. The primary and most authoritative source of Christian faith and doctrine is the Bible. I prefer the English Standard version, and I suggest my readers study from a reliable and easily understood modern translation. Outside scripture, my primary source of arguments will be Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith by Douglas Groothuis. In my opinion, Christian Apologetics is the best apologetics resource for a cumulative case for Christianity. It is a mighty volume of 700+ pages, but is a joy to read and is faithful to the Bible, as well as philosophically consistent. I will also be drawing on arguments from the apologetic works of C.S. Lewis, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler, Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig, Tactics by Greg Koukl, Common Sense Logic by Ric Machuga, and any other apologetics literature and resources that I find useful, including podcasts an blogs by my fellow Christian apologists. My ultimate goal is not merely to show that Christianity is reasonable, but to provide evidence that the gospel message is actually true.

Have you ever wondered whether the Christian faith actually makes any sense? Do you have questions that need answers? Do you want to learn how to effectively persuade others that Christianity is true? If so, stay tuned!

Ecclesiastes 7:19 ESV

Wisdom gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers who are in a city.