Understanding Apologetics Part 1: A Light in the Darkness - What Method Do I Use?


Author's Note:This post is meant to explain my own personal view and use of apologetics.  It should be noted I am not advocating for only the styles represented here, but instead hope each Christian will use whatever tools they have at their disposal to make much of the name of Jesus.  - Dylan--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------As Christians, there are freedoms and rights we are afforded in Christ. The grace offered by Jesus brings us not only salvation and mercy, but also great joy; for the Christian Jesus, has broken the bonds of slavery and the yoke of oppression. We are able to enjoy this freedom within the confines of obedience. Truly, possibly and certainly the bubble of obedience is pierced we find ourselves treading on our own versions of truth which is an appallingly precarious place. Following the instruction given to us from the authority of the Bible, remains one of these particular truths. Be willing and ready to give a defense for the faith to which we cling. O of the epistles of Peter offers an excellent example, “but 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…”(1 Peter 3:15; ESV).For the Christian, defending and proclaiming our hope, our joy, our love, and the truth found in Jesus is not optional. This is why apologetics is not just a discipline for the scholarly or those in vocational ministry, but rather a branch of knowledge that all people who are under the banner of Christ are called to examine.  A question I've gotten time and again is "how do we do apologetics, and what style should we use?"  There are essentially four common apologetics methods: 1. Classical, 2. Presuppositional, 3. Evidential, and 4. Case Cumalitive.  All of these offer different approaches, but all of them agree that apologetics is not discretionary, in fact, “If you’re God’s, to tell yourself you can’t do what you’ve been called to do is to preach private heresy. You’ve been enabled by grace.”[1] With the culture in which we now live, there is an ever-increasing assault on the meaning of truth. Moral relativism and even nihilism are nearing a fever pitch. Nevertheless, the evidence seems to indicate that even those who reject the truth are still searching for some semblance of it, and realizing even when they run from truth, they unwittingly understand at some base level truth will always be present. Douglas Groothius notes:

Truth seems to stand over us as a kind of silent referee, arms folded confidently, ears open, eyes staring intently and authoritatively into everything and missing nothing. Even when an important truth seems out of reach on vital matters, we yearn for it and lament its invisibility, as we yearn for a long-lost friend or the parent we never knew. Yet when the truth unmasks and convicts us, and we refuse to return its gaze, we would rather banish it in favor of our own self-serving and protective version of reality.[2]

If Christians know the truth,  it stands to reason we are the harbingers of such immense news. The question then is not should we know and defend our beliefs, but how do we accomplish such a task?Christians are divided over many issues including doctrine, denomination, ordinances, etc. It should be no wonder that apologetic methodology is included in this seemingly expanding list. There are a few main apologetics methods that are used by both lay people and scholars, and each of these methods holds certain benefits and downsides. The good news is the Christian has a significant volume of material from which to draw. I have been engaging actively in apologetics for nearly a decade now, and I have used the primary methods of apologetics at different ventures and with different audiences. However, there are two distinct styles or methods of apologetics which I use with greater frequency than the others.It should be noted that I am doctrinally aligned with the reformed or Calvinist (as it is commonly known) view on Scripture and Christianity. Many Calvinists assert the only acceptable and Scriptural method of apologetics is the presuppositional model. This method was popularized most notably by Cornelius Van Til and Greg Bahnsen. The primary understanding of the presuppositional method is the Christian is not to use logic or reason outside of the strictly Christian worldview, but rather the argument must be made to the atheist or anti-theist that their worldview can actually only be understood by the lens of Christianity.In other words, all rational thought can only be understood and thereby explained from a biblical point of view, and anyone seeking to claim they understand such things, must presuppose the Bible and Christianity are true. Bahnsen articulates the following, “The Christian can show that the particular objections raised by the unbeliever would, within the Christian outlook, not prove to be legitimate objections or intellectual problems at all. Thus who really “knows” what he is talking about, the Christian or the non-Christian.”[3]This method is proven by many adherents and has been quite fruitful for me on a numerous occasions. I have most often used this method with people who have some foundational information regarding Christianity. These are people who perhaps were once parishioners of a Christian church or maybe even at one point claimed orthodox Christianity as truth, but they have now rejected the biblical claims and have become either agnostic or in extreme cases embrace a view like Gnosticism. I really enjoy this method when dealing with individuals who have a basic grasp on the Christian worldview yet reject it because I am able to use their knowledge to show them why their new version of truth is in fact erroneous. If I can pinpoint how their ideology is not only untenable and the Christian worldview truly is the only possible way to legitimize rational thought then a great blow has lands on the non-believer.Using the presuppositional method provokes the non-believer to understand or at least consider their claim and framework may be fallacious. Their worldview becomes at best inconsistent or contradictory and at worst unviable options altogether. Perhaps the best success with the presuppositional method for me has come when the person with whom I am dialoguing is not an anti-theist but rather a person from a different religious background such as Islam or Mormonism. In cases like this I am pointing out inconsistencies within the varying religious texts. These are found by showcasing how and where these other texts borrowed from and then departed from the Bible. Cross examining this kind of rationale with the Bible in a presuppositional way provides evidence for a mistaken worldview, and it provides evidence through Scripture with accuracy and honesty.On several occasions, I have offered answers to Muslim friends by way of presuppositionalism. One of the primary ways I have been able to accomplish this is by invalidating the truth of the Qur’an by not only offering evidence of the contradiction and fallacy found within its pages, but I follow up with the reasonable and logical consistencies of the Bible. One might argue that Islam and Christianity could be engaged in a classic version “your word against mine”, but this too can be defeated because both holy texts differ in critical ways. Again, to quote Bahnsen, “Islam can be critiqued on its own presuppositions…The Koran acknowledges the words of Moses, David, and Jesus to be the words of prophets sent by Allah – in which case the Koran may be, on its own terms, refuted because of its contradictions with earlier revelation (cf. Deuteronomy 13:1-5).”[4]This same methodology proves helpful and effective in dialoging with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), or Mormons, as they are commonly known. I have an absolute passion when it comes to conversations with Mormons. For reasons unbeknownst to me God has laid upon my heart both a love and passion for reaching the member of the LDS church. I seek out these conversations as often as I can, and even try to make the trip to Salt Lake City at least once a year. My approach to speaking with Mormons is a presuppositional approach. Again, pointing out discrepancies and illogicalities within their holy books is not only a good idea, but it is essential. In the case of Mormonism, for example, there are over 27,000 words directly plagiarized from the Bible.[5] It is clear how using a presuppositional approach with members of the LDS church is both effective and necessary.Another great example of presuppositional thinking when dealing with Mormons has to do with what their founder, Joseph Smith, pronounced. He claims that after the time of the apostles, the church went into a dark and apostate age and remained in such a state until he [Smith] was given the restored and true religion via, proxy: an angel named Moroni. This is not only inconsistent, but it stands in blatant obstruction to the words of Jesus. Ron Rhodes clarifies this by stating, “There is no indication in Scripture that there would be a time when the entire church would fall away from the word of the Lord that ‘endures forever.’”[6] The same approach can be used by pointing out the contradiction between the claim of an angel giving Smith the true and restored gospel and Paul’s claim, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8; ESV).It is clear presuppositional methodology offers a great sense of direction and a wealth of logic through Scripture. Using this approach has garnered effectiveness when talking to most theists. It can also be effective when talking to non-theists. I have often maintained, while conversing with atheists the irrational foundations on which their worldviews are predicated. Asserting the Christian worldview alone offers answers to the logical and philosophical quandaries to which they are espoused. For instance, if the Christian worldview is wrong and God is simply a man-made creation, nothing matters. Sproul agrees by asserting, “Without God, nihilism, as nonsensical as it is, makes more sense than a hybrid humanism or any other intermediate position…God’s existence is the chief element in constructing any worldview. To deny this chief premise is to set one’s sails for the island of nihilism…the ultimate paradise of the fool.”[7]However, as much as I love presuppositional apologetics and the approach of its methodologies, I often find myself not adhering strictly to this approach independently. I am also a proponent for the classical apologetic methodology. The classical apologetics approach can be understood as the validity of theism through rational arguments, claims, and then use of historical evidence to garner support for the claims of the Bible and Christianity.[8] The list of most influential and famous classical apologists contain the names of C.S. Lewis, William Lane Craig, J.P. Moreland, B.B. Warfield, and R.C. Sproul.As a Calvinist, I am often critiqued and in special cases rebuked for using such a method. The main reason for this occurrence is “classical apologists do not hold that we must presuppose the Christian God in order to know anything.”[9] The idea that God is the Author of all knowledge is certainly an undeniable claim, but the presupposition that no knowledge may be had independently of the Christian God is an unverifiable claim.The presuppositional approach would mandate no talk of logic or philosophy until the person with whom you are dialoging acknowledges their error that logic and philosophy can be understood only and totally through the Christian worldview. In contrast, the classical approach argues a person can use reason and logic to arrive at the conclusion of Christian theism, the strict presuppositionalist maintains until the skeptic admits their foolishness and agrees with Christian worldview as the chief truth, then no logic or reasoning should be entertained even at the perfunctory level.Although many Calvinist look at classical apologetics in a pejorative context fellow Calvinist and classical apologist, the late R.C. Sproul, surmises,

If one is going to reason with people who will never admit, or even appreciate, your reasoning it seems reasonable to abandon reasoning. But there is a very good reason for reasoning with people who will not accept reasons, who will use all their intellectual energy to refute reasons, and who will only spurn reasons they fail to refute. That very good reason is this: God commands Christians to give a reasoned defense of the Christian religion.[10]

An example of reasoning and a motivation for my embracing the classical apologetic methodology occurs when I am challenged by atheism. On several occasions, the point has been made by the atheist that all things are accidental and happen because of a random, blind, and unguided process. In fact, renowned atheist Richard Dawkins puts it this way, “All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind’s eye. Natural selection…has no purpose in mind.”[11] What Dawkins, and many atheists for that matter, argue is despite the best evidence there is absolutely no proof for the existence of God. Using classical apologetics I can seek to refute this fallacy by posing some logical assertions.Let me explain. One argument I could make would be that of causality. If Dawkins and other atheists are correct, then evolution is the primary mechanism by which life emerged, but where and how did it start? The answer lies in spontaneous generation. It sounds fine on the surface. The universe was primed and earth was in a perfect place in regards to location, temperature, and necessary elements (hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, etc.). Because of this perfect balance life spontaneously burst onto the scene. The problem with this assertion is that even science disavows this happening according the Laws of Thermodynamics. So the atheist is left with quite a bit of explaining. Either he denies the laws of physics in exchange for a biological theory (and a poor one to boot) and deny any causality, or he must retort and contemplate further.To take this a step further the atheist, just like all people, is an effect of a cause. All people have biological parents that caused them to come into existence. No human being, or any other biological creature, causes their own existence. The reason we come to this obvious conclusion is because obviously a person does exist, but there is also a possibility of nonexistence. In other words, “in order to cause one’s own existence one must simultaneously exist and not exist, which is impossible.”[12]If I am able to show an inconsistency or wrinkle in the atheist’s logic then it can be expounded upon. A preferred method I use in connection with the classical approach is that of objective morality. For the atheist, if everything is blind process, then no objective morality can exist and thus no tangible definition of right and wrong survives. All morality and ethics are subjective. Raping a child and taking a bullet to protect another person are on equal footing. However, if theism is true then it explains how we can feel and sense certain things are good and others are inherently bad. Esteemed Christian philosopher William Lane Craig regards it this way, “To kill someone or to love someone is morally equivalent. For in a universe without God, good and evil do not exist – there is only the bar, valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say you are right and I am wrong.”[13] For the atheist even if their response is, “Yes. That is true,” they already admit the error contained within this line of thinking. Chiefly without objective morality the atheist is unable to articulate the correct nature of their position or conversely the wrong nature of mine.Another key reason for my bent toward classical apologetics is the miraculous nature of the resurrection. If I am able to prick pinholes in the atheistic view where no God exists and at least move them toward theism, I am able to really talk about biblical accuracy and the claim of the resurrection. This is the most important event in all of history because if the resurrection is true and Jesus really did walk out of the grave it changes literally everything for people. The non-theist will most likely deny the resurrection because it denotes a move from naturalism to supernaturalism. A common argument I have heard is the resurrection claims in the gospel of John were given much later and therefore had an ulterior motive to propagate Christianity. This presents a problem though because if the resurrection narrative was invented later to convince others of the truth of Jesus, why did the narrative include not only women, but Mary Magdalene? “An invented story, made as convincing and airtight as possible, would never have used such a dubious woman; it would surely have had men as the discoverers of the empty tomb. Accordingly, the case for the empty tomb looks strong.”[14]Numerous other factors exist which lends evidence to the resurrection. Over 500 witnesses who saw the risen Christ and extra-biblical historians are just two more pieced of evidence for the empty tomb. Using a classical approach I am able to navigate the contesting of this miracle (and all miracles) by necessitating the Bible is true and history and archaeology affirm this claim. It is at this point where often the atheist moves from a resolute hardened approach in a denial of God’s existence to a possibility that perhaps the evidence says otherwise. Archaeology has done a marvelous job at corroborating the biblical claims. Gerstner writes,That is to say, in very many instances what men have though was not and could not be true, archaeology has shown could be and was true. Incident after incident, custom after custom, narrative after narrative have been substantiated by the spade. The Bible has not only ‘come alive,’ but it has come with a new ring of historical authenticity. The stones have indeed cried out their hosannahs.[15]Historical accuracy and archaeology only help the argument of Christian theism. In fact it should bolster certain levels of excitement for historians and skeptics to look into the authenticity of not only the biblical stories but also the truths therein. To quote the late Dr. Sproul once more, “If any area of biblical scholarship has given us reason for optimism concerning the reliability of Scripture, it is the area of historical investigation.”[16]Using the classical approach of apologetics, I am able to facilitate a discussion between the non-theist and myself where we can discuss logical, scientific, and philosophical rationale. The aim is to show the erroneous nature of atheism and move the skeptic to recognize the probability of theism. By using this methodology I am able to bring rationalism and faith on a collision course. It truly is an outstanding and useful tool.In conclusion, I stand in many ways as one who gives much praise and admiration to the presuppositional apologetic method. I believe it has inherent strength at getting skeptics to recognize and admit their preconditions are flawed, but I also strongly admire and practice the classical approach. Once again, my preferred style could best be described as a hybrid of the two approaches. Both possess value, worth, and are effective and useful. My personal philosophy is not to get so caught up in the method that I leave no room for the Maker. The Holy Spirit cannot be stopped and ultimately His will be done. To argue God can only use one style of apologetics makes less of God and places Him in a position of limitations; however the prophet Jeremiah writes, “There is none like You, O LORD; You are great, and great is Your name in might” (Jeremiah 10:6; ESV).  [1] Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014), 171.[2] Douglas Groothuis, "Why Truth Matters Most: An Apologetic For Truth-seeking In Postmodern Times," Journal of Evangelical Theological Society 47, no. 3 (2004, September): 441.[3] Greg Bahnsen, "Presuppositional Procedure," Penpoint 7, no. 8 (1996, September).[4] Greg Bahnsen, "Presuppositional Reasoning With False Faiths," Answers In Genesis (blog), accessed July 13, 2018, www.answersingenesis.org/apologetics/presuppositional-reasoning-with-false-faiths/.[5] Ron Rhodes and Marian Bodine, Reasoning from the Scriptures With the Mormons (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1995), 121.[6] Ibid., 47.[7] R.C. Sproul, The Consequence of Ideas: Understanding the Concepts that Shaped Our World (Wheaton: Crossway, 2000), 171.[8] Norman L. Geisler, The Big Book of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012), 93.[9] Brian K. Morley, Mapping Apologetics: Comparing Contemporary Approaches, kindle ed (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 2015), 183.[10] Robert Charles Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley, Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 17.[11] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1986), 9.[12] Norman L. Geisler, Christian Apologetics, 2nd ed. Kindle (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 288.[13] William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision, 1st ed (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010), 35.[14] Stephen T. Davis, Rational Faith: A Philosopher's Defense of Christianity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2016), 72-73.[15] John H. Gerstner, Reasons For Faith, Kindle ed (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 2016), 78.[16] R.C. Sproul, Reason to Believe, 2nd ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982), 26.