Different Apologetic Methods
For many folks, when they hear the term “Christian apologetics” they rightly think about defending the biblical faith. Their mind quickly jumps to 1 Peter 3:15, which says “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; yet do it with gentleness and respect.” Certainly, this passage has become something of a flagship verse for Christians as they ponder giving a defense of the faith.
All of these facts being stated, it comes as a surprise to many folks when they first hear the phrase “apologetic methodology.” By using that term, theologians are trying to understand what exactly is the best and most faithful approach for defending the faith. There are several different ideas on this subject, but there are three dominant approaches. First, there is classical apologetics. Here is a brief description of this approach:
Classical apologetics is a method of apologetics that begins by first employing various theistic arguments to establish the existence of God. Classical apologists will often utilize various forms of the cosmological, teleological (Design), ontological, and moral arguments to prove God’s existence. Once God’s existence has been established, the classical apologist will then move on to present evidence from fulfilled prophecy, the historical reliability of Scripture, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus to distinguish Christianity from all other competing forms of theism.
Classical apologetics (also known as traditional apologetics) has as its distinctive feature a two-step approach to establishing a Christian worldview. Classical apologists are often hesitant to make an argument directly from miracles to the biblical God. Rather, they prefer to appeal to miracles after having already established a theistic context. Modern proponents of classical apologetics include R.C. Sproul, William Lane Craig, and Norman Geisler.1
Secondly, we have evidential apologetics. Here is a description of that camp:
Evidential apologetics is a method of Christian apologetics that emphasizes positive evidences in favor of the truth of Christianity. The distinctive feature of evidential apologetics is its one-step approach to establishing Christian theism. Evidentialists will utilize evidence and arguments from several areas including archeology, fulfilled messianic prophecy, and especially from miracles.
In distinction from classical apologetics, the evidential apologist believes that the occurrence of miracles acts as an evidence for God’s very existence. In this way, the evidential apologist does not believe that the philosophical and scientific arguments for God’s existence must logically precede arguments from miracles to establish biblical Christianity. However, the evidential apologist is not opposed to the use of natural theology to help to confirm God’s existence. These arguments are an important weapon in the arsenal of the evidentialist as they help to undergird the case for Christianity by giving further confirmation that God exists and has created and designed our universe. Evidentialists simply do not believe such arguments must be presented prior to moving on to evidence from miracles.2
Lastly, we have Presuppositional apologetics. Here is a description of this approach:
Presuppositional apologetics is an approach to apologetics which aims to present a rational basis for the Christian faith and defend it against objections by exposing the logical flaws of other worldviews and hence demonstrating that biblical theism is the only worldview which can make consistent sense of reality.
Presuppositional apologetics does not discount the use of evidence, but such evidences are not used in the traditional manner—that is, an appeal to the authority of the unbeliever’s autonomous reason. Presuppositional apologetics holds that without a Christian worldview there is no consistent basis upon which to assume the possibility of autonomous reason. When the materialist attempts to refute Christianity by appeal to deductive reason, he is, in fact, borrowing from the Christian worldview, hence being inconsistent with his stated presuppositions.3
At initial sight, it may seem as though there is not a tremendous amount of difference between these three approaches. However, there is a significant amount of distinction in how they defend the faith. Should we question the existence of God while seeking to defend biblical Christianity, or should we not? How do we present evidence to the unbeliever? What about the unbeliever themselves, how should we view their ability to reason, and what is their disposition towards Christianity? Each one of the three methods will answer these questions differently and handle them according to their respective ideas.
My Journey To A Presuppositional Approach
Admittedly, the study of apologetics has always fascinated me. When I first started diving into the subject years ago, I was a classical apologist simply because I had never encountered the presuppositional approach . . . thus I was a classicalist simply because I knew nothing of different methods or this entire debate. To be clear, I should take a quick moment to say that a presupposition is essentially an elementary assumption in a person’s worldview.4 Once I began to study the apologetic method of individuals such as Dr. Voddie Baucham, Dr. James White, Dr. Greg Bahnsen, and Dr. Cornelius Van Til, I began to see the validity of their approach. It was not that I found it compelling because they were the ones holding it, but because it was the most biblical. The Apostles nowhere seek to make a defense of the faith while simultaneously acting in a way which questions the validity of God’s existence or the Bible . . . or do they?
It was at this point of thinking I was solidified as a presuppositionalist that I began to encounter the robust argumentation of Reformed classical apologists like R.C. Sproul and partial-presuppositionalists like Francis Schaeffer.5 Schaeffer and Sproul have both impacted me a tremendous amount from afar, and I especially found Schaeffer’s method to be very intriguing. He outlines his apologetics in The God Who Is There, and his writings as a whole are certainly valuable. Reading Dr. Sproul is how I was given a robust introduction to reformed theology, so needless to say, I am incredibly grateful for the ministries of both these men.
How A Comment By R.C. Sproul Ending Up Confirming My Presuppositionalism
Intriguingly, it was actually a remark made by Dr. Sproul (a classical apologist) which set me on the path of presuppositional apologetics again. He made a statement about the fact that rational arguments presuppose reason.6 At this point, I began to scratch my head a bit. Schaeffer said that we must presuppose God, Sproul says we presuppose reason, and presuppositionalists say that we must presuppose both God and the Bible. Thus, the famous saying by presuppositionalists was validated. Everybody truly does have presuppositions in their worldview.
Throughout this process, I had also been preaching through the book of Colossians. Colossians 2:3 says that all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ. The Apostles truly never make an argument for the existence of God, nor do they question the authority of Scripture. They always show the folly of the unbeliever’s worldview and assert that Christianity is the only true and reasonable position. In the end, it was the presuppositional argumentation which won out, and I am a firmly committed presuppositionalist. Since it is true that all three of these apologetics approaches both have presuppositions and use evidence, I found the presuppositional approach to be the most faithful because it holds firm to the Scripture. It bases the entire method for apologetics upon the biblical method. In the future, I am sure that I will give a more robust defense and explanation of presuppositional apologetics. For now, I wanted to write some information as to how I came to this approach and give some basic insights. Perhaps it might be of some benefit to you if you are thinking through this entire issue. I will put recommended apologetics resources at the end of this post, let me know if you have any questions!
4 Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, ed. Robert R. Booth (Nacogdoches: Covenant Media Foundation, 2011), p. 12.
5 Note: I call Schaeffer a partial-presuppositionalist because he says in The God Who Is There that we should presuppose God but does not go so far as to say we should presuppose God’s Word. Thus, it seems to me he is in between the classical approach and the presuppositional method.
The Ultimate Proof of Creation by Dr. Jason Lisle
Always Ready by Greg Bahnsen
Christian Apologetics by Dr. Cornelius Van Til
Expository Apologetics by Dr. Voddie Baucham
The City of God podcast by Dr. Owen Strachan
Alpha and Omega Ministries Podcast by Dr. James White
This blog post: Presuppositional Apologetics | Biblical Science Institute
This YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC73IkqTseO-dI1qVuqrJ16A
Tiffany C. says
It was interesting to read about the three different types of apologetics, Jared! I look forward to your future articles on presuppositional apologetics. It would also be great if you could contrast the three approaches even more at the same time, and show exactly why you think the classical and evidential approaches are not “good enough”. 😉
Jared Lincks says
Thanks so much, glad that you enjoyed the post! There will definitely be articles in the future on presuppositionalism and other topics in the realm of apologetics 🙂