Apologetics: Basic Approaches

There are three basic approaches or schools of what is called “apologetics”

“Numerous weaknesses to each of these arguments have been made.  For our purposes here, the most important one is that none of them necessarily leads to the one true God who has revealed himself uniquely in Scripture and in his Son.  These classical arguments can lead to a general concept of God; but at some point, if these arguments are used, one will need to make the assumption that the God to whom these arguments point is the God of the Bible.”

 

There are three basic approaches or schools of what is called “apologetics.”  This word comes directly from the Greek, which has to do with the idea of giving a defense.  So what is being talked about is how one goes about trying to defend the truth of the Christian faith.  That there are three approaches, however, does not mean that everyone fits neatly into one of them.  People do borrow from each; and while a person might prefer one school over another, it is not uncommon for such a person to grant the value, and even, at times, the necessity, of the others.

The first approach is classical apologetics, which historically has used five arguments for the existence of God.

1.) Cosmological argument—This is the argument from cause to effect.  Every effect, that is, everything that happens, must have an appropriate cause. The only appropriate cause for the existence of everything is God.  No one or nothing else can account for the existence of the universe.

2.) Teleological argument—This is the argument from purpose and design.  That the world is characterized by precise and intricate order and regularity shows that it cannot have come about by chance, that is, by mere mathematical probability.  There must be one who designed the universe to work as it does.  This designer must be God.

3.) Ontological argument—This is the argument from existence.  We are finite and imperfect beings who live in a world that is finite and imperfect.  Nevertheless our minds are able to conceive of a being who is absolutely perfect and infinite.  Because we are able to do this, such a being must exist, and this being is God.

4.) Anthropological or moral argument—This is the argument from the makeup of mankind. People possess both intelligence and a sense of right and wrong.  They can only have these qualities if the being who brought mankind into existence is both intelligent and moral. This intelligent and moral being is God.

5.) Ethnological or religious argument—This argument appeals to the universality of religious beliefs. Everyone has some form of belief in a deity, even if that deity ends up being another person or even themselves.  For this basic belief in deity to exist (even though such beliefs may be idolatrous), there must be a universal cause for it, and this cause is God.

Numerous weaknesses to each of these arguments have been made.  For our purposes here, the most important one is that none of them necessarily leads to the one true God who has revealed himself uniquely in Scripture and in his Son.  These classical arguments can lead to a general concept of God; but at some point, if these arguments are used, one will need to make the assumption that the God to whom these arguments point is the God of the Bible.

The second approach is evidentialism.  As the name indicates, it is concerned with providing evidences for the truth of Christianity.  Those of this school tend, therefore, to focus on arguments from fulfilled prophecy and miracles, particularly the resurrection of Jesus.  Their initial goal is to show the reasonableness of believing that the Bible’s account of history is trustworthy, and that the prophecies and miracles are credible.  The evidentialist will then go on to make the concluding case that Jesus was indeed God and that one needs to repent of his sin and trust in Christ.

Probably the most common critique of this approach is that it can, even unintentionally, depend too much on human reason and the skill of the one making the case.  No matter how good the presentation might be, one’s acceptance of the gospel is rooted in the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing clarity to the mind and conviction to the heart.  In addition, there is the challenge of trying to overcome biases against the historicity of the Bible.  If someone believes from the beginning of the discussion that there are errors in Scripture and that it is more concerned to relate religious truth than historical truth, it is going to be rather difficult to change such a person’s mind by trying to argue from the Bible itself.  Because of this, sometimes evidentialists will appeal to scientific observations and other arguments from classical apologetics to try to establish some common ground at a more basic level, before moving on to arguments from prophecy and miracles.

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