Understanding the Various Views of Apologetics

Not all Christians approach the topic of apologetics in the same way. There are two main views regarding how we should go about defending the truth of the Christian faith.

Two Men in ConversationEvidentialism

The most well-known approach is often called evidentialism, although similar methods use names like “classical” or “cumulative case” apologetics. Evidentialism seeks to develop and counter challenges to the Christian faith with evidences for Christianity. And certainly there are strong evidences for every objection raise against the Christian faith. But there are drawbacks with this approach. Here are some of the main tenets of evidentialism and the problems that accompany them.

  1. A Rational Mind. Evidentialism assumes that the unbeliever’s intellect has not been damaged by original sin. When Adam disobeyed in the Garden of Eden, his sin—and the curse that resulted—passed to every human being born after him (with the exception of Jesus). All Christians believe that the will and emotions were corrupted by sin, but some, such as evidentialists, believe that man’s intellect remained (largely) untouched. As a result, evidentialists believe that the only thing holding unbelievers back from being saved is information—the facts. Therefore, this approach is focused on presenting the unbeliever with evidences whenever the unbeliever raises a challenge to the Christian faith. Evidentialists believe that if we could just present all the facts to unbelievers, then they will have to believe if they wanted to remain rational.

Problem: The Bible describes the mind of the unbeliever as futile, darkened, and ignorant (Eph. 4:17-19). This does not mean that non-Christians aren’t smart, or can’t be accomplished, but rather when it comes to the truth about God and the gospel, they close their minds to what is obviously true. We are also told that even when the unbeliever sees the truth, he refuses to acknowledge it as truth (Rom. 1:21-25), and accepts a lie in its place.

  1. The Mind as the Authority. For the evidentialist, what is rational or logical to the mind is true. The mind is the authority that determines truth and discerns it from error. Therefore, this approach focuses its attention on satisfying the demands of unbelievers for evidence that the unbeliever will accept.

Problem: If the mind is futile, darkened, and ignorant as we saw above, then it is unable to objectively determine truth because it is distorted in its thinking. Additionally, for Christians, the Scriptures are the ultimate authority for everything, and truth is what coincides with the Bible. The mind of the unbeliever is hostile to God and alienated from the truth (Rom. 8:7; Col. 1:21), so it cannot serve as the arbiter of truth.

  1. Truth as Neutral and Unbelievers as Objective. The evidentialist believes that truth is neutral and can be discovered objectively by unbelievers. Facts in the universe are brute facts and they will mean the same thing to the Christian and non-Christian. This is often packaged as “All truth is God’s truth”; and by this it is meant that whatever branch of human inquiry discovers facts, they are automatically true once they are called “facts.”

Problem: All data that can be discovered has to be interpreted. No fact carries its own interpretation. The unbeliever interprets all data from the standpoint of unbelief, and the Christian insists that every fact in the universe declares God’s glory (Psalm 19:1-2).

Although the evidentialist approach sounds good, it starts with a flawed theological basis. It assumes that logic and rationality are universally agreed upon (they are not), and that unbelievers will accept the truth if it is clearly shown to them. Some people even describe their conversion in such a way. Yet if the biblical description of the unsaved mind is true, no one is genuinely seeking God (Rom. 3: 11) unless God draws him (John 6:44). A biblical understanding of conversion, therefore, must begin with God’s drawing of the sinner to make the gospel clear.

The presuppositional approach takes the fallen state of the human intellect into consideration in its proposal for doing apologetics.

Presuppositionalism

The term “presuppositional” is derived from “presupposition,” which refers to a basic heart commitment, or a precondition for knowledge. While many presuppositionalists prefer other names for their approach, such as covenantal or transcendental, the name presuppositional is the most identifiable. Unfortunately, as New Testament scholar, Darrell Bock notes, some use this tern to describe an approach that answers every objection with “The Bible tells me so.” This view is actually more properly called fideism, which rejects the idea that any rational justification for our beliefs must be given. Fideism, however, contradicts the clear command in 1 Peter 3:15-16 to be prepared to give an answer to those who ask us for the reasons for our faith. A true presuppositionalism, then, seeks to get to the heart of the unbelievers challenge to reveal its irrationality before presenting the truth of the Christian faith in all its glory and true rationality.

A presupposition is a belief that serves as a foundation for all other beliefs. For the Christian, the triune God and his revelation serve as the foundational beliefs. Unbelievers often have never considered what their most basic heart commitment is, and therefore, their foundational beliefs are unexamined. For example, they often believe that certain actions are right and good, and certain actions are wrong or evil. When pressed to tell why certain actions are good or evil, they often cannot provide an answer.

Presuppositions, therefore, are very important, and everyone has them. The presuppositional approach to apologetics begins with biblical truth and seeks to get at the heart of the unbeliever’s rejection of the gospel. Here are some of the basic tenets of presuppositionalism:

1. God has revealed himself, and therefore every person knows him (Rom. 1:18-21). While the evidentialist says that every person has the capacity to know God, the presuppositionalist says, with Romans 1, that every person does indeed know God. The believer knows God in a relationship of grace, and the unbeliever knows God in a relationship of wrath. Because unbelievers know God, they are without excuse. Therefore, when I am sharing the truth of the Christian faith, I am speaking of a God who is already known by the unbeliever.

2. The Bible attests to its own authority. Because there is no authority higher than God, his Word is the highest court of appeals for any question of truth. We call this the self-attesting authority of Scripture. Most other systems of belief place reason as the highest authority or test of truth. While reason is a God-given capacity, it is not an authority. Rather, reason is a tool we use to know and understand the truth. Reason helps us to clarify our beliefs and avoid contradiction in our theology, but it does not stand over Scripture to judge what is “reasonable.”

3. Only the Christian worldview can adequately explain all aspects of the human experience in a way that is rational and provides meaning. The reason for this is that this is God’s world, and His description of our origin, purpose, and destiny, as well as what is wrong with this world, is the only one that works. In other words, non-Christian worldviews and belief systems are antithetical to the Christian faith. Because they do not accept the authority of Scripture, they oppose Christianity with their partial truths.

I am convinced of the presuppositional approach. It does not deny the importance of evidence, but begins with these Christian presuppositions. When encountering unbelief of any kind, this approach challenges the unbeliever’s presuppositions to show that they cannot rationally explain life and existence. I have found it to be easy to learn for the average Christian and very effective in conversations with unbelievers. It has the advantage of beginning with the same foundation as theology, and therefore allows us to be consistent in our approach.

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3 thoughts on “Understanding the Various Views of Apologetics

  1. Have you read / are you familiar with Douglas Groothuis Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. He appears to take a middle approach. Thoughts?

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