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Apologetics: Survey of Methodologies (Lecture 1 of 4)

Apologetics Index
Date: MAY-19-01
Source: Evangelism and Apologetics Conference, Living Hope OPC, Pastor: Tristan Emmanuel
Keywords: classical apologetics, ontological proof, cosmological proof, teleological proof, reformed epistemology,
Comment: These notes were taken on a laptop during live lectures. Due to transcription errors and subsequent editing, these notes may not accurately reflect the original lecture content.
Posted: JUN-26-01

Church Planting, Evangelism and Apologetics Conference, Living Hope Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Vineland. Pastor: Tristan Emmanuel

May 19, 2001

Guest Speaker: Michael Butler, Professor at Bahnsen Theological College, holds Bachelor Degree in Philosophy, completing thesis on Transcendental Arguments, debated prominent atheist Michael Martin (and others)


Thereís a problem that Christians donít do evangelism because they donít know how to. They are intimidated because they know there will be objections. We need answers to the difficult questions. We know Christianity is true but it is difficult to articulate this convincingly to others.

The Christian faith is defensible and it is the only rational system of belief. You can demonstrate the certainty of the existence of the Christian God.

LECTURE 1 Survey and critique of apologetic methodologies, by Michael Butler

Christian apologetics is the defense of the Christian Faith. Muslims believe in defending the faith by the sword. Roman Catholics have held a similar view. Apologetics is the reasoned defense of the faith. There is a general agreement among Christians that we should do apologetics. But a few still think that we should not give a reason for faith. They say that is to undermine the faith. Kierkegaard believed that a vital faith must be held contrary to the evidence. We Christians similarly believe we should always trust Christ even if our experience is different. But Christianity says there is a faith which is objectively true, so there is no conflict between faith and reality.

Apologetics is unavoidable, because you cannot evangelize without doing apologetics. You are called to give an account for your hope. If we are called to share the gospel, then we must give a reasoned defense of what we believe.

How should we defend the faith? Which method is the best and which is most faithful to the scripture? This question is often neglected. Many Christians will answer ďwhatever works.Ē We must carefully analyze which method is most biblical so we can come to a correct conclusion about how to defend the faith.

Often we talk about methodology, but we donít actually do anything. Donít just talk about making disciples. Get out there and do it. That is the purpose of this conference. You need to take these principles and apply them in your circles of social interaction.

In the contemporary church, apologetic methodology is hotly debated. (Zondervanís books are popular for offering different views on a subject, and they have published one describing the opposing views of apologetics.) To analyze the debate, we will first consider the arguments of classical (traditional) apologetics.

Traditional apologetics gets its name because it believes it is the most ancient form of apologetics. It says reason precedes faith. You must first establish the truth of Christianity, then faith is possible. It tries to establish Godís existence by theistic proofs. Then follows faith in God. Special revelation, finally, gives you the details about God. Common theistic proofs are:

1. The oldest proof is the ontological proof about the nature of being. Postulated by Saint Anselm who served in the church 1093-1109. (Anselmís purpose was to prove the atonement without reference to special revelation). This proof was used by Descartes. It is difficult to understand but ingenious. ďGod is that than which nothing greater can be conceived.Ē In other words the greatest possible thing is God. Everyone can conceive of a greatest possible thing. If you have this conception of a being with all great-making properties (strength, power, omniscience, wisdom, righteousness) maximally, then it must exist. For what would be greater, a conception of the thing, or the actual thing. Certainly the actual thing is greater. If we have the conception of the thing which is greatest, then that thing must have the property of existence. The famous atheist Bertrand Russel was once convinced of Godís existence briefly by this argument, but then he thought he found a problem with it. Immanuel Kant said there was a problem with this argument. Now, modern logic has proved that existence is not a property, so it could not be a great-making property. Thus this proof is disproved. 2. Cosmological argument: Thomas Aquinas got it from Aristotle. This argument is about the nature of the world (cosmos). If there is smoke, what is the cause of it? One concludes, there must be a fire over there. So there must be an original cause for the world as we know it. There cannot be an infinite number of second causes (effects). So there must be an uncaused cause, who is God. Proponents of this argument may say this is not a good presentation of it, but itís basically as stated above. Problems: First, if every effect has a cause, and the effects we see today are finite, then only a finite cause is implied. A finite effect, needs only a finite cause, which doesnít get you the Christian God as a cause. Second, there are many different causes. When we look in the world we see political, biological, economic, and other forces (causes). So why canít there be many different causes for the world? A single cause such as the Christian God is not implied. Finally this argument commits the logical fallacy of division. If all the parts need a cause, it doesnít follow that the whole requires a cause. 3. Teleological proof: look at all the order and regularity and structure, and beauty out there in the world. You see there is a wonderful order and design to all these things. There must be a designer. An analogy is that if you found a watch on a deserted Island you would immediately conclude that there must be a designer. There is something valuable in this argument, but it is not formulated properly. The problem with it is that there are different designs in the world. When you see the various designs you would conclude there were various designers. Darwinians would say there is appearance of design.

The fundamental problem with these arguments is that they try to prove Godís existence by appealing to reason alone. The try to establish the proof of God apart from the Bible. Evidentialism is similar the traditional method; it says you should weigh the evidence in the world and which ever side it comes down on is the truth. There are historical, archeological, philosophical and literary evidences, and these evidences are used to judge the truth of the Bible. For example, look at the evidence for Christís resurrection. An evidentialist would argue that Apostlesí boldness and the martyrdom of Christians through the ages proves the truth of the biblical account. Naturalists by contrast look at all the evidence and say it is more probable that this man Jesus lied and that all these early Christians lied about the resurrection. The naturalist knows there is another way to account for these supposed miracles, including the resurrection. The evidentialist marshals evidence, but the opponent does the same thing. They canít agree what the facts mean. As Van Til said, the facts are mute.

Epistemology is the theory of how we answer questions about how we can know anything. A serious and growing apologetic method is Reformed epistemology. It says Christianity does not have to answer the epistemology of the world. It takes a traditional epistemological theory, and then shows that it is wrong, and demonstrates an alternative.

Take the unbelieving system of classical foundationalism to begin with. It is a theory to justify knowledge. It begins by asking what are your foundational beliefs. First there are beliefs about our thoughts right now which are indisputable. Then there are beliefs about facts around us, that is, our undeniable sense perception. Finally, there are analytic truths, such as the law of non-contradiction. Upon these basic truths they reason to other truths. In order to have knowledge, it must be one of the foundational beliefs or attached to the foundation. But, says Reformed epistemology, the theory of foundationalism itself is not properly basic, nor is it axiomatic, nor is it from the senses, nor is it justified on the grounds of other basic beliefs. So the unbelieverís challenge is based on a faulty premise, i.e. the theory itself. Then positively Reformed epistemologists add to the basic beliefs another basic which is the belief in God. They say Christians are rational to believe the truth of Christianity even if they cannot provide an answer to justify their belief in God. There is something right about this. We donít want to borrow the Worldís foundation. But on the other hand, the unbeliever doesnít share the basic of belief in God. So the unbeliever can be properly rational within his system, and this is unacceptable from the Christian standpoint. The Bible says that persons who are not followers of Christ are without an excuse for their unbelief. The bible says man doesnít have an excuse, so our method of apologetics must not allow the unbeliever to have an excuse. Thus Reformed epistemology is a deficient apologetic method.

The last view is Clarkian presuppositionalism. Gordon Clarkís methodology was ultimately deficient, but there is a great deal of value in it. He said you should compare the Christian system of thought with the unbelieverís system. First, take Christianity and take the propositions in the Bible and make them into axioms. Then deduce theorums from these axioms. So having taken propositions from scripture and using them to form axioms, use the laws of logic and derive a system of belief. Competing belief systems (religions) can similarly be reduced from axioms to theorems. Each unbelieving system is proven to be internally inconsistent. On the basis of the consistency of the Christian system, you can show that the unbeliever is inconsistent. This is basic Clarkianism. First of all, you can show that all the world views out there are irrational and contradictory. Then you show that the Christian system is logical and consistent. But in answer to Clark, maybe there is another world view out there which we havenít thought of yet. Maybe all non-Christian worldviews we know is irrational, but we may discover that there is another worldview out there which is actually better than the Christian worldview. Furthermore, consistency is not enough. If consistency is the only test there could be other consistent worldviews. Moreover, to prove Clarkianism it would be necessary to take all the propositions in the Bible and show that they are consistent. Finally, Clarkianism says that logic is the ultimate standard of truth, and holds it over and against the Bible. God says there was the Logos and the Logos is God. God according to Clark is logic. But the correct translation of John 1:1 is ďWordĒ not ďLogic.Ē Ultimately Clark is saying logic tests Godís Word rather than the Word testing logic.

We can learn from all these systems of apologetics. But they are all deficient. Next lecture we will develop a system of biblically consistent apologetics.

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