Apologetics Lecture 4 Methodology

Apologetics Methodology

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How do you do apologetics? What are the different methodologies? The following are the major systems: Classical, evidentialist, historical, presuppositionalism.

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[1]The following systems overlap more than they seem to. Just because there are different types of apologetics systems, doesn’t mean that they don’t share some similar characteristics and methodologies.

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The Classical Apologetic Method

 Characteristics

This method stresses the importance of arguments for God’s existence and evidence that support the truth of Christianity. There are two steps: theistic and evidential arguments.

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1.Prove God exists.
a.Miracles are possible.
b.Creation is possible.
2.Prove Christianity is true.
c.NT is reliable.
d.Jesus is Son of God
e.Jesus says Bible is God’s Word

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This method does not appeal to special revelation, that is, the Bible. They rely upon logical proofs for God and proofs that the Bible is reliable.

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Prove God exists, then, if God exists, miracles are therefore possible. Creation, a miracle, is also then possible.

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Next, historical evidence is used to substantiate the truth of Christianity.

 The New Testament documents are historically reliable.
 Having proven that, Jesus is shown and miraculously proven to be the Son of God.
 Jesus is quoted to then confirm the Old and New Testaments as God’s Word.

This is the progression of argument for the classical apologetic method.

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 Proponents

Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas. Modern classical apologists include Winfried Corduan, William Lane Craig (evidentialist?), Norman L. Geisler, John Gerstner, Stuart Hackett, Peter Kreeft, C. S. Lewis, J. P. Moreland, John Locke, William Paley, R. C. Sproul, and B. B. Warfield.

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 Comparison with other methods: Evidentialism.
 Use of similar evidence. The evidentialist approach and the classical approach can overlap when both methods use the same basic evidence. This may also include miracles, fulfilled prophecy, the unity of the Bible and other proofs for the supernatural origin of the Bible.
 Theism required before moving to proving truth of Christianity. Whereas the classical apologist views the establishment that we live in a theistic universe as a first priority, the evidentialist does not see theism as a logical necessity before moving on to proving the truth of Christianity.

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The Evidentialist Apologetic Method

 Characteristics

As the name suggests, evidential apologetics stress the need for evidence in support of Christian theism. Evidence can be historical, rational, experiential or archaeological. Evidentialists use evidences similarly to the classical apologetic method. For example, proofs for the existence of God. However, evidentialists tend to use a lot more evidence. The classical apologist believes that rational evidence is absolutely necessary; however, the evidentialist does not believe that rational evidence is necessary, since they can also use historical, archaeological, or experiential evidence as well. Classical apologist relies more on rational evidence, that is, evidence based on reason.

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Regarding proving Christianity to be true, the evidentialist will combine evidences from a vast array of various fields that are used in support of Christian theism. Many evidentialists use archaeological evidence and show that both the Old and New Testaments have been proven to be reliable from thousands of archaeological discoveries. Prophetic evidence is used in a similar way.

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Some evidentialist use experiential evidence, that is, the fact that people’s lives have been changed. The testimony of Christians is used as evidence for the truth of Christianity.

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 Proponents

Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict is a classic example.

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 Comparison with other methods

Whereas both classical and evidentialist apologists use theistic arguments, for the evidentialist, establishing God’s existence is not a necessary step. It is merely one piece of evidence that supports Christianity. For the classical apologists, it is logically prior and a logically necessary step. For the evidentialist, it is not logically prior or necessary, but helpful.

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The Historical Apologetic Method

 Characteristics

This historical approach emphasizes historical evidence for demonstrating that Christianity is truth. Historical evidence, for this approach, is absolutely necessary. In this sense, it differs from evidential apologetics, which merely uses historical evidence.

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 Proponents

Early proponents include Tertullian, Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. Modern day examples include John Warwick Montgomery and Gary Habermas.

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 Comparison with other methods

As noted, historical apologetics is much more narrow than evidential apologetics. Evidentialists use all sorts of evidence whereas historical apologetics focuses on historical evidence.

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The Presuppositional Apologetic Method

I appreciate and use all the above approaches, but presuppositionalism is my ‘base method’ because it explains and relies upon the revelation of human nature as found in Scripture. It also clearly demonstrates the authority of the Scripture. All men in all these camps would hold to the authority of Scripture, but the Presuppositional approach makes scriptural authority clear within the presentation. Seems to reflect “setting apart Christ as Lord in our hearts” better (1 Pet. 3:15-16).

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 Characteristics

A presupposition is something assumed beforehand. Presuppositionalists argue that the thoughts and actions of non-Christians demonstrate that they know certain things about God, man and the world, although they claim they do not believe (Romans 1). They have presuppositions about God.

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Presuppositional apologetics can be separated into at least three different types of methods.

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Revelational presuppositionalism: This method teaches that without God, it is impossible to prove anything. Without the Trinity, it is impossible to make sense out of the universe, life, history, or language in any way or sense. This is also seen as the transcendental argument for the existence of God.

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Proponents: Cornelius Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, and John Frame. Cornelius Van Til is the father of this method.

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Rational Presuppositionalism: The test of truth is the law of noncontradiction. Apologist describing this method would demonstrate that Christianity out of all the other worldviews is the only one that is internally consistent. It alone does not contradict itself in some way. This is reasoning to the best explanation (abductive reasoning, e.g., Paxton with a crayon in hand and crayon on wall).

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Proponents: Gordon Clark and Carl FH Henry, Ronald Nash ascribe to this view.

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Systematic Consistency Presuppositionalism: This method goes a step further than rational presuppositionalism by demonstrating that not only must a system be rationally consistent, it must also take into account all other facts as well (e.g., experiential and historical tests). One example would be the necessity of such a system to be able to meet life’s basic needs. Edward John Carnell and Gordon Lewis hold to this view.

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Francis Schaeffer is also a presuppositionalist. It is difficult to decide which he holds to, but it is likely a kind of practical presuppositionalism. Christianity alone contains truth that is livable. This is in the sense of it being consistent. In contrast to other worldviews, Christianity alone is a worldview you can take to the grave as well as live out in your daily life.

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 Comparison with other methods

Presuppositionalism argued that conventional theistic proofs for the existence of God are likely to fail in some way. Presuppositionalists debate their position between themselves.

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Whereas evidential apologetics attempts to build from a common starting point in neutral facts, presuppositional apologetics claims all facts for the Christian worldview is the only framework in which they are intelligible. There is no neutrality. [Note 5 views book.]

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Randomly, I’d like to address and defeat a common criticism of the Christian worldview, the God-of-the-gaps argument.

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This is a type of argument that invokes God as an explanation for what cannot be explained naturally or scientifically. Critics of this style of argument claim that such a strategy will inevitably make God’s role in the universe appear to diminish as scientific explanation advances. Critics of the Christian worldview allege that the attempt to argue for an intelligent cause of the universe is a God-of-the-gaps argument, but Christians could argue that there is positive empirical evidence for intelligence as the cause of the complex systems in nature.[2]

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Example of the God-of-the-gaps argument

For example, when Isaac Newton devised his mathematical equation for the force of gravity, there were distortions caused by interplanetary interaction that he could not explain. Without going into the details, Newton suggested that God must necessarily intervene occasionally in order to “tune up” the solar system and restore order. Newton also believed that God (a direct cause; i.e., He uses nothing else to ‘tune up’) was necessary in order to explain why the planets traveled around the sun in the same direction and in the same plane. Newton thought then, “I don’t have an explanation for some naturalistic phenomena already present in the universe. Therefore, God is the direct cause.”

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However, now we do have naturalistic explanations (the direct cause) for these kinds of things. If the naturalist of today lived back then, he would have said, “we do not have the answer as to why this is the case, but we will have to wait and see.” That is a good response, but only when we are dealing with scientifically observable phenomenon.

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Now, when we deal with those things that are not in the realm of scientifically observable phenomenon, it’s not a good response, e.g., when we’re dealing with philosophy and origins.

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And that’s the point: When we’re dealing with scientifically observable phenomenon, God-of-the-gaps is not a good explanation. But when it’s origins we’re dealing with, or something unobservable, then the “God did it” explanation may be the best explanation.

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“Biological evolution has not brought us the slightest understanding of how the first living organisms emerged from inanimate matter on this planet and how the advanced eukaryotic cells—the highly structured building blocks of advanced life forms—ever emerged from simpler organisms. Neither does it explain one of the greatest mysteries of science: how did consciousness arise in living things?”

http://time.com/77676/why-science-does-not-disprove-god/

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However, the naturalist will still respond the same way to arguments concerning philosophy and origins as he does with scientifically observable phenomenon. To them, this is valid. They don’t have an answer to some unobservable issue with their worldview, so they will “wait and see.” But they will never “see”! It’s unobservable! You can’t wait and see on origins, …you’ll never see the origins!

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This is a logical fallacy that’s got its own category, Argumentum ad Futuris (Argument to the Future)

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Since you don’t have your evidence in hand, you appeal to the future as proof of your assertions: future research, future explorations, future discoveries, future evidence. It appeals to the authority of progress, not proof! It is an argument by speculation, not demonstration (oort cloud as example).

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Against Argumentum ad Futuris

But, of course, no one knows the future for sure. The hoped for, yet unknown future data supports no position in the present. Rational decisions must be made by hard and fast evidence that is now known. Truth claims are established by proper, accessible evidence, and this is a timeless truth.

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Go to BibleTrove.com Home Page from Apologetics Lecture 4 Methodology

Go to Theology Main Page

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  1. Notes from Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker reference library (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 1999), 42.

  2. C. Stephen Evans, Pocket Dictionary of Apologetics & Philosophy of Religion (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 50.

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