A simple approach to apologetics


A lot of lay people have been asking me what Apologetics is, so I decided to put together this very short, but detailed explanation of what Apologetics is. It’s not meant to be an easy read, but to give a detailed fly-by on the issue, hopefully encouraging people to research it themselves.

What is Apologetics?

Within Christianity Apologetics is a tool that is used for the defense of the Christian faith. It comes from the Greek word apologia, which means ‘a ready defense.’ In the Greek the word has two meanings; one is militarily and the other deals with a courtroom. When the word is used in the New Testament (1 Peter 3:15) it is best ascribed to the court usage of the word.

When the word was used in a court setting, it was used with the defendant in the case. The defendant would bring forth evidence, logic, witnesses, and other proofs of his innocence – he would offer a logical and well thought out defense.

Christian Apologetics, then, is the rational defense of the Christian faith.

What materials are used for Apologetics?

There are four main sources that Apologetics draws on in making a defense:

1)   Biblical – orthodox apologists, such as Josh McDowell, will often appeal to the Bible in an effort to validate the Christian faith. Though all apologetics must start with the Bible, some say an adequate defense of Christianity cannot be made unless Scripture is found all throughout the defense.

 

2)   Philosophical – the philosophical defense looks to logic and philosophy in order to validate Christianity. One of the earliest – and most famous – proponents of this method is Thomas Aquinas.[1] Other famous arguments that belong in the philosophical category are the ontological, teleological, anthropological, and deontological arguments.

 

3)   Traditional – this method is often used by Catholics who appeal to the early Church Fathers as an authority on the proofs of Christianity. If the Pope and Church Fathers are in agreement on an issue, then the skeptic must find an adequate amount of evidence to overturn what the Pope and Fathers agreed upon. Of course, in the Catholic mind, there is no such thing. For Protestants and Evangelicals, appeals to the Church Fathers are merely used as a means to establish consistency of belief within the Christian Church.

 

4)   Evidential – appeals to the evidence for Christianity as justification of belief in Christianity. One often points to the scientific, historical, and archeological evidences for the validation of Christianity.

 

Are there different views of Apologetics?

There are five views of apologetics:[2]

1)   Classical – this was the main form of apologetics up until the postmodern age. It attempts to show the logical coherency within Christianity. It can make appeals to evidence, but often prefers to point to the fact that Christianity is logically valid, thus not irrational. Proponents of this view are Norman Geisler, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Aquinas, Anselm, Duns Scotus, and so on.

a.     Strength – shows that Christianity is rational and follows the laws of logic. Also shows that Christianity can be trusted without the use of physical evidence.

b.     Weakness – in the postmodern age, Aristotelian logic is viewed as a “Western Construct” that was “created” by Aristotle.[3] Regardless, logical consistency means little in a postmodern age.

2)   Evidential – This differs from classical apologetics in that it seeks to prove Christianity as factual based upon evidence. One believes in Christianity because it is plausibly true based upon the evidence. Classical apologetics seeks to first defend theism and then defend Christianity – evidentialists kill two birds with one stone; by using evidence they defend both Christianity and theism as the same time. Proponents are Clark Pinnock, William Paley, Joseph Butler, Josh McDowell, etc.

a.     Strength – it shows that there are traces of truth left over from God’s interactions with man. One knows Scripture is true from the various evidences found that support Scriptural claims.

b.     Weakness – it can often lead to erroneous beliefs. As there is no hard evidence that God knows the future, Clark Pinnock has accepted Open Theism (the belief that God has limited His knowledge of the future and thus doesn’t know the future entirely).

3)   Presuppositionalist/Reformed Apologetics – this is a relatively unknown and new approach to apologetics. It developed out of a need to respond to the secular modernism of the 1950’s. Classical apologetics no longer works because, though Christianity could be proven to be logically consistent, so could Islam and other beliefs. Likewise, Logical Positivism[4] was harming Evidentialist apologetics in that Evidentialists could not supply enough evidence. Presuppositionalists then responded with the idea of God as a basic belief. In other words, so long as the mind was functioning properly one would always come to the conclusion that God existed. One did not need evidence to justify belief in God; one merely needed to prove there was warrant in one’s justification for belief. Under this view, atheists would then have to use evidence to prove God didn’t exist, or explain how Christians lacked warrant while supplying warrant for their own beliefs. Major proponents are Cornelius Van Til, Alvin Plantinga, John Calvin, Herman Dooyeweerd, etc.

a.     Strength – It puts skeptics on the defensive position as they need to prove that God doesn’t exist. Likewise, it makes sense; no one is a default atheist. All cultures have always had some belief in a god, gods, or spirituality. There is not one exception. One, instead, has to work at being an atheist. History, then, would provide warrant for this belief.

b.     Weakness – can often ignore the logical arguments for Christianity as well as the evidences for Christian history. Likewise, it can appear to be extremely arrogant.

4)   Fideism – Fideism teaching ‘by faith alone.’ It teaches that Christianity simply cannot be understood unless one is first a Christian – one cannot argue for the existence of God, for Christ’s death, or anything else in Christianity because only Christians can understand such things.  Once people are Christians, they do not accept these things off evidence, but instead off their own experiences and faith. Proponents of this belief are Martin Luther, Blaise Pascal, Soren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, Brian McLaren, etc.

a.     Strength – it is true that certain truths in Christianity must be experienced. This form of apologetics helps people to realize that there is an element of faith that is necessary in order to believe everything in Christianity.

b.     Weaknesses – it’s almost an anti-apologetic. It denies reason, evidence, and God as a basic belief. It basis all of its beliefs upon experience – one cannot know truth until truth is experienced. This, of course, leads to subjectivity as often times two people can be convinced that mutually exclusive experiences are equally true.

5)   Integrative Apologetics – This belief takes the previous four and uses elements in all of them. There is no one set system for integrative apologetics, but it generally teaches that God is a basic belief (presupposition), but humans are fallen and often need evidence to remind them of this basic belief (evidential), that belief in God is logically rational and consistent (classical), but in the end, the salvific knowledge of Christ only comes through faith; no amount of reasoning will ever bring someone to Christ (fideism). Proponents of this view are Francis Schaeffer, John Frame, Edward John Carnell, myself, etc.

a.     Strength – it realizes that people learn in different ways and that all forms of Apologetics do have truth to them. Instead of bickering over which one is best, it simply uses all the methods in the appropriate situation.

b.     Weakness – it is difficult to know when to rely on certain types of apologetics, thus the integrationist requires more effort and more knowledge of what is out there. It is difficult for a layperson to be an integrationist simply because of the level of knowledge that is required – thus, it becomes impractical at times and can prevent Christians from fulfilling 1 Peter 3:15.

Should we use Apologeics for evangelism?

The answer is absolutely not. We cannot reason people into Christianity. Christianity is rational, has evidence, and is a basic belief, but it is also a relationship that one enters into. A marriage relationship is rational, but this does not mean that men propose to women in logical syllogisms. Likewise, when presenting the Gospel we must allow for the Holy Spirit to bring that person into a relationship with Christ.

Apologetics is used as a defense of Christianity. When someone attacks the rationality of Christianity, Christians are called to show how it is rational. Schaeffer argues that this is because apologetics is pre-evangelism; it knocks down intellectual barriers that might prevent people from truly listening to the message of Christ. Example: someone cannot believe Christ died for their sins if they don’t first believe that man is sinful, that Christ literally existed, and that He held the power to do so. If there are intellectual barriers that prevent the aforementioned beliefs then they must be knocked down prior to conversion occurring.

 


[1] He took Aristotle’s ‘unmoved mover’ and applied it to Christianity. According to Aquinas, if P then it must be moved by something (M). If M moves, then it too must be moved by something (N). Because infinite regression is a logical fallacy, there must be a stopping point, that is, an unmoved mover. Thomas Aquinas, then, supported the idea that logically there had to be a God.

 

[2] Some combine classical and evidential apologetics. Others drop fideistic apologetics since it really is an anti-apologetic. I, however, believe there are five schools.

[3] The laws of logic (e.g. A cannot both be A and non-A) were no more created by Aristotle than Columbus created America.

[4] Logical Positivism is a philosophical belief that teaches we can only know that which can be physically observed, tested, etc. Supernatural things cannot be observed physically and cannot be tested; therefore one cannot know anything about them or make factual claims about supernatural forces. The inherent weakness in Logical Positivism, of course, is that it cannot meet its own standard – how does one observe and physically test L.P.’s criteria when the criterion is not physical?

 

 

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