9/25/12

Christian Apologetics - 5 Methods

I am currently reading Douglas Groothuis' Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. In the opening three chapters he does a very good of describing both the landscape and goals of Christian apologetics.

The following are his introductions to the various approaches to Christian apologetics:

1) Fideism
"Fideism is an attempt to protect Christian faith against the assaults of reason by means of intellectual insulation and isolation. Some, who believe apologetics does not comport with the nature of Christian faith, see fideism as an antidote to apologetics. There are various stripes of fideism, some more defensible than others, but they all share the strategy of making belief a self-certifying and self-enclosed reality that needs no intellectual fortification from the classical arsenal of apologetics-natural theology, evidence for biblical reliability and arguments against other worldviews."
2) Presuppositionalism
"Presuppositionalism claims that the Christian should presuppose the entire Christian worldview and reason from this conviction with unbelievers. It thus limits positive apologetics to showing the logical coherence of Christian doctrine and relies on negative apologetics to refute non-Christian perspectives. It claims that 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. We cannot find sufficient common ground with unbelievers to build successful arguments for Christianity based on reason and evidence."
Groothuis is clearly not a fan of presuppositionalism and unfortunately he overstates its limitations. As a result, he does a disservice to presuppositionalism as advocated by John Frame and Greg Bahnsen. Frame has written extensively about how critics have misunderstood Van Til, whom Groothuis cites. Groothuis seems to have done just that. I refer you to a short introduction to presuppositionalism as defined by one of its most skilled defenders, Greg Bahnsen. Intro to Presuppositionalism - Read Here.

Bahnsen, for example, states the following:
"Notice we do present the facts; we are evidentialists. But we present them within a presuppositional framework where they make sense. And that framework is that God is the sovereign determiner of all possibility and impossibility."

3) Reformed Epistemology
"Reformed epistemologists argue that secular thought has placed an undue burden on Christian apologetics. It demands that Christians offer proof for their beliefs on pain of being irrational. Plantinga has extensively argued that this demand is based on a self-refuting epistemology known as classical or narrow foundationalism.

Roughly put, classical foundationalism holds that a belief only becomes knowledge if that belief is true and if either (1) the belief is self-evident or necessarily true or evident to the senses, or (2) the belief can be supported in some way by what is self-evident, necessarily true or evident to the senses. Beliefs of type (1) serve as the foundation (hence, foundationalism) for all other beliefs of type (2) and not the converse.

Both Christians and critics of Christianity worked within this paradigmatic epistemology for centuries, but Plantinga rejects it for two reasons. First, many beliefs do not fit within the strictures of classical foundationalism; nevertheless, we take them to be true and reasonable. For instance, memory beliefs (such as what we had for breakfast) are not self-evidently true, necessary truths or evident to the senses; neither are they based on beliefs outside of memory itself. Yet we take memory to be generally reliable. Such "properly basic beliefs," as Plantinga calls them, are not held on the basis of other beliefs and are not necessarily true (as is the statement, "All bachelors are unmarried men"). Second, classical foundationalism suffers from self-referential failure. It cannot fulfill its own requirements for knowledge. The tenets of this epistemology are not themselves self-evident, necessarily true, evident to the senses or based on such items of knowledge. Therefore, classical foundationalism is faulty and should not be employed for testing knowledge, including religious knowledge.
 Plantinga's key philosophical move in light of the failure of classical foundationalism is to argue that belief in God and the entire Christian worldview is one kind of belief that may be properly basic. If it is, we need not argue for God's existence on the basis of things we already know through different forms of arguments (reasoning from premise to conclusion). Rather, we come to believe in God "in the basic way." This belief may be occasioned by looking at the beauty of nature or feeling divine displeasure over something we have done, but the belief in God is not evidentially based on these events. These events are "nonpropositional" experiences that serve as episodes for coming to belief in God."
You might have to read that one a few times to get it. And it might help if you read Plantiga's short paper outlining his Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism - Read Here. This argument is even cited by atheist philospher Thomas Nagel as unraveling some of the claims of Darwinian Evolution.


4) Evidentialism
"Evidentialism is 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. Classical apologists argue first for the existence of a monotheistic God and then argue for the particulars of Christianity-the reliability of the Bible and the claims and credentials of Jesus. This is a two-step strategy which trades on the idea that if monotheism is first established, the probability of God working in history-through miracles, special revelation, and the incarnation and resurrection-increases dramatically. In this sense it is easier intellectually to move from theism to Christianity than to move from a nontheistic worldview directly to Christianity through the evidence for Christian particulars. Evidentialism either minimizes or dispenses with arguments for God's existence from nature and instead opts for a one-step argument for Christianity."
This methods current "rock star" is William Lane Craig. He has debated extensively for the reliability of Scripture, the existence of God, the truth of the resurrection, etc. To grasp the nature of his craft, it is best to hear him in action. Two of his best are his debate with James Crossley on the resurrection and his debate against Peter Millican on the existence of God.


5) Groothuis' Approach
"I will neither presuppose Christianity is true apart from the need for positive evidence (fideism, presuppositionalism or Reformed epistemology) or suppose that by amassing legions of historical facts we can convince someone of Christian truth (evidentialism). Rather, I will offer a variety of arguments that verify or confirm the Christian worldview as superior to its rivals, thus showing that Christianity alone makes the most sense of the things that matter most. This chapter has stated worldview criteria rather technically, but the chapters that follow need not cite them verbatim to make the needed points. Simply put, if a worldview fails to explain what it promises to explain, fails to make sense on its own terms (internal consistency), fails to describe what is there (objective and inner reality), fails to give intelligible meaning to life, or fails to be intellectually and culturally productive, it is disqualified from consideration. I will argue that Christianity passes these tests better than any of its competitors."

My personal take is that all of these approaches, except for the first, should be known and used by all apologists. I have read far too many wise words from advocates of all the sides to suggest for a minute that one approach is better than any other.

Having said that, if the Gospel work of Jesus Christ is not the ultimate end to any of these methods, we have a problem.