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 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.

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.