Apologetic Methods

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While there are an array of methods and strategies used in apologetics, they all should seek to define truth, defend the faith, and move individuals closer to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Truth, faith, and reason are among some of the most contested topics debated over in philosophical engagements, so a proper understanding of each of them is crucial. Douglas Groothuis defines faith as:

Believing something without or against evidence and logic, [meaning] the less evidence and logic [available], the more need for faith, [while] the more evidence [present,] means the less of a need for faith… Fideism is the term Groothuis uses to designate the highest and most commendable faith in an attempt to protect Christian faith against the assaults of reason by means of intellectual insulation and isolation.[1]

The logic of truth began with Aristotle’s logic of law, which classified specific laws of logic and contradictions to enforce, “Nothing can both be and not be at the same time, in the same respect.” Groothuis uses this law to demonstrate, “anyone who claims this basic principle of thought is false must also assert to the principle, in order to deny it.”[2] When dealing with worldviews, Groothuis claims:

The best method of apologetic reasoning is hypothesis evaluation and verification, which first commends the Christian worldview, secondly, presents itself as a candidate for the most important truths, and lastly, presents an apologetic argument for the Christian worldview by applying the same criteria or tests of truths to each of the contending worldviews.[3]

Interestingly, as Groothuis points out, some argue that the criteria for truth are worldview dependent, meaning specific criteria cannot be used to assess competing worldviews. To overcome this obstacle, the apologist must be able to develop objective criteria for any contending worldviews. For example, since God is ultimately the source of all objective truth, this declaration becomes a core aspect of any Christian’s worldview. Competing worldviews, such as truth relativism teaches there is nothing that is objectively true, but rather everything is subjectively true. Edward Martin further defines truth as a property of propositions, and knowing as having reasonable justification or confidence about truth. Martin then demonstrates how knowing is a human exercise, whereas truth is an extra-human exercise.[4]

While there is no clear apologetic method, which can be used in all cases, there has been success by using a variety and combination of methods. The relationship between faith and reason have become bookends to the question of whether, “do we start with faith and only then try to explain or justify it, or do we provide reasons for Christianity and only then, on the basis of those reasons commit in faith?”[5] Within the continuum of faith and reason, this writer relates most to the Reformed Theology popularized by Augustine and Calvin, who “gave universal primacy to neither reason nor faith. In some contexts and for some people, reason will lead; in other contexts and for other people, faith. Moreover, faith is absolutely reasonable, and utilizing one’s reason is, in an important sense, an act of faith.”[6] James Beilby, thus proposes doing apologetics well requires three things:

(1) One’s argument must be effective, [meaning] they must be logically valid and persuasive, and they must directly address the objections offered by the skeptics; (2) one must have a proper conceptualization of the nature of both Christian belief and unbelief; and (3) most important, one’s attitude and approach to apologetic conversions must be appropriate, [because] too often, Christians are condescending, arrogant, and dismissive in their apologetic encounters.[7]

Three popular schools of apologetics include: evidentialists, presuppositionalists, and experientialists. Groothuis defines evidentialistism as, “a method in apologetics that argues that the most significant historical events in Christianity – particularly the resurrection of Jesus are matters that can be established through proper historical argumentation, even apart from any prior arguments for the existence of God.”[8] Evidentialists rely on the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible and the truth claims of Jesus. An area of caution for evidentialists occurs when one is convinced a supernatural event occurred in history, but he or she lacks the ability to place the event in a coherent worldview. Beilby adds, “Evidentialist apologetics needs to be distinguished from evidentualism, a position that involves a claim that one who accepts a belief without basing it on arguments is irrational.”[9] Within the Evidentialist family, there are classical apologetics, which use a two-step approach, historical apologetics, which emphasize rational and evidential arguments, and cumulative-case apologetics, which converges a multiplicity of arguments.

Groothuis explains, “presuppositionalism as a school of apologetics influenced by Reformed Christianity that rejects the tools of classical apologetics… claiming that the Christian should presuppose the entire Christian worldview and reason from this conviction with unbelievers.”[10] Groothuis then demonstrates, “The problem with this approach is it limits positive apologetics and claims unless a person presupposes Christianity, he or she cannot make any sense of the world morally, logically, or scientifically, since Christianity alone supplies the required conditions for these areas of life to be intelligible.”[11] Beilby further explains, “Presuppositionalists believe the problem with non-Christians is not a lack of good reasons, but innate sinfulness manifested as rebellion against God, a rebellion that first and foremost amounts to a refusal to acknowledge God’s proper place.”[12] Revelational presuppositionalism teaches, truth, logic, meaning, and value can exist only on the presupposition that the Christian God exists. The rational counterpart places a higher value on logical arguments, while the practical side emphasizes the necessity of starting from fundamental Christian truths, rather than arguing to them.[13]

Lastly, proponents of experientialism view God as being infinite and omniscient. Beilby illustrates, “experiential apologists do not rely on logical arguments or evidences, because their reasons for rejecting an exclusively rational approach is different. They do not hold that the truth of Christianity must be presupposed; rather they hold that is must be experienced.”[14] However, the major issue with this approach is it limits one’s perception of God due to humanity’s finite minds. This approach also prevents the individual from aspiring to anything more than some metaphysical union or religious experience.

Once again, each of these strategies contains strengths and weaknesses, so this writer believes an eclectic apologetic approach and strategy will be most effective. That being said, it is necessary to not view one’s own approach as the only viable one, while at the same time not viewing other methods as being only problematic or ineffective.

Bibliography

Beilby, James K. Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.

Martin, Edward. Liberty University. APOL 500, Week Three Presentation “Truth.” (Video), 2013, 18:38, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_317469_1&content_id=_13462356_1 (accessed September 14, 2016).


[1] Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 45 & 60.

[2] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 46.

[3] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 49-51.

[4]Edward Martin, Liberty University, APOL 500, Week Three Presentation “Truth.” (Video), 2013, 18:38, https://learn.liberty.edu/webapps/blackboard/content/listContent.jsp?course_id=_317469_1&content_id=_13462356_1 (accessed September 14, 2016).

[5] James K. Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is and Why We Do It, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011), 88.

[6] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 89.

[7] Ibid., 157.

[8] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 69.

[9] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 96.

[10] Groothuis, Christian Apologetics, 62.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Beilby, Thinking About Christian Apologetics, 99.

[13] Ibid., 100.

[14] Ibid.

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2 thoughts on “Apologetic Methods

  1. Jake Byrd says:

    Hey Jeff! I enjoyed this article and think you did a good job giving an overview of apologetic methodology. I myself enjoyed reading Groothuis and Beilby. I think that one of the great and timeless principles in apologetic method was pioneered by Justin Martyr with his focus on the divine Logos. In other words, no matter what particular worldview that we engage with or what methods we prefer to use, the key is to keep our apologetics Christocentric. By doing this we will likely never go wrong! I also think that this helps to unify the “divide” between faith and reason. In fact my next article will likely be on that very topic!

    • Jeff Davis says:

      Thanks Jake. Glad you enjoyed the article and look forward to reading yours as well! God bless. JD

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