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 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.