Different methods in apologetics


[ updated after re-reading chapter 3 of Douglas Groothuis’ Christian Apologetics ] [ updated again after reading the introduction to Five Views on Apologetics by Stephen B. Cowan, as well as John Frame’s main article on presuppositionalism, and his response to Bill Craig’s classical view. ]

Apologetics, rather than being the study of really great ways to apologize, is the rational defense of the Christian faith, and there are five main methods of doing apologetics: Classical, Historical, Presuppositional, Reformed and Cumulative Case. I am just barely becoming familiar with these methods, so this post is subject to updates. By the way, thankyou so much to Eric Chabot for most of the links below.

A review of four of them is here. A book on all five is here

Classical Apologetics: From God (through natural theology) to miracles–not vice versa. Two-step approach.
Classical apologists, like William Lane Craig, believe that, before expecting someone to even consider possible the miraculous bodily resurrection of Jesus (as recorded in the Bible), you must: 1) Start with natural theology to provide evidence that God exists and therefore miracles are possible. 2) Provide evidence for the specific miracle of Christ’s Resurrection.
 Chart here.

Historical Apologetics or Evidentialism: From miracles to God. One step approach.
Whereas classical apologists take the “two-step” approach, historical apologists like Gary Habermas, Michael Licona, and Tim and Lydia McGrew cut to the chase and argue in “one step” from the historical evidence that an act of God (miracle) occurred in the resurrection of Christ, to the truth of Christian theism. So, instead of first arguing that God exists so that one can then believe the resurrection miracle to be possible, or rather than presupposing that God exists, this method is a direct argument for God’s existence via the truth of Christ’s resurrection.
Article here. Another good article here

Presuppositional Apologetics: From the revealed Word to both God & miracles. Treat God as a given or it’ll all be nonsense.
Presuppositionalists like John Frame and Ken Ham agree with classical apologists that we cannot argue from miracles to God and must first believe God exists in order to accept the possibility of miracles–however–they go even further and argue that we cannot argue for God’s existence, but must presuppose the truth of Biblical revelation. A presuppositionalist believes we should not start on common ground with an unbeliever (as in classical apologetics), because such ground is godless and sin has mucked with our reason so that such methods do not work. We should only use positive apologetics to show the logical coherence of Christianity, never to build up a case for accepting it, because no one will accept the evidence who does not already accept Christ.
 Chart here.

Reformed Epistemology Apologetics (here): From the sensus divinitatis, &/or the Holy Spirit, to both God & miracles. Deep down, you know God…you got nothin’ to prove (to yourself!).
Reformed epistemologists, like Alvin Plantinga, believe that Christian belief is a properly basic belief, like memory beliefs. We don’t need to provide evidence to others in order to know our memories actually happened, and likewise do not need to provide evidence to others in order to know the Holy Spirit saved us, or to know God through the sensus divinitatis (Calvin). Showing others the truth of Christianity is another matter. This view does not rule out other methods–it just validates that there can be this sort of knowledge without the sort of evidence that is accessible to others.

Cumulative Case Apologetics: Natural theology, miracles, the witness of the Holy Spirit, and how it all just makes perfect sense if you see it through the assumption it’s all a “given”…all make a pretty airtight case for Christian theism.
Cumulative case apologists focus on Christianity as the worldview that best explains the available evidence (cosmos, religious experience, objective morality, historical facts surrounding resurrection, et cetera). Individual arguments are not the focus, rather this “best explanation” idea is central. The cumulative case method uses “inference to the best explanation,” or “abduction,” or “hypothesis evaluation and verification” (Groothuis, Christian Apologetics). This method compares competing worldviews to show that Christianity (treated as an hypothesis) best accounts for the evidence: religious experience, natural theology, historical, and so on.


I am most comfortable with this last method, because I can see how there is historical evidence supporting the resurrection and therefore God’s existence, but I also think that our hunger for true meaning (a clue to the existence of objective morality) should be the presupposed evidence we start with, for it is that hunger that Jesus satisfies when he demonstrates God’s contra-conditional love in switching perspectives with us on the cross. Also, I think the historical method uses “inference to the best explanation” when it rules out competing naturalistic theories in favor of the resurrection being the best explanation of scholar-accepted historical facts. All of that combined with the arguments from classical apologetics makes for a good avalanche. :)

Much of this post was used in the CAA Catechism on this topic.

This entry was posted in Apologetics, Apologetics Toolbox, Groothuis' 'Christian Apologetics', Reviews and Interviews. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Different methods in apologetics

  1. Jonathan H says:

    Hi Maryann,

    Interesting stuff. I agree that we should use the whole spectrum of evidence – historical, theological, philosophical. Frankly, I think reformed epistemology is a cop-out, since Plantinga doesn't seem to explain why belief in God is properly basic in a way other beliefs are not. Historical apologetics is just too problematic – I'd prefer my faith not rest on changing historical theories, and the only Jesus we encounter in the Gospels is an interpreted Jesus. So even if we can show that a historical resurrection is the best historical theory, we are confronted with John's, Paul's, Matthew's, Mark's, and Luke's portraits of Jesus, portraits that seem to differ a lot.

    I would go with a combination of classical and presuppositionalist approaches. Classical covers natural theology and presuppositionalist covers revealed. But even more importantly, any kind of apologetics necessitates pastoral care, which argumentation alone isn't very good at. The approach that we have to have the last logical word on the answers doesn't sit well with me because I don't – and not just about details but big things, like the problem of evil or the free will-omniscience paradox.



  2. Hi Jonathan. It's good to hear your thoughts on this. For a few minutes I thought maybe you deleted this but then checked my spam folder on blogger and it was there, so I unspammed it. I don't know why blogger relegates good posts to the spam folder! Anyway, I'm glad you didn't delete it :) I will have to wait until I have a bit more time to reply, though, but I do look forward to talking more about this :)

  3. Ok hello again :) I have blogged elsewhere about questions I have regarding properly basic beliefs so I can empathize there.

    As far as the different perspectives of Jesus given by the authors of the Gospels, the important thing is they are compatible with eachother. It would be odd if they were identical at every point.

    I agree with your thoughts on pastoral care. Jesus was sensitive to the condition of the soul of whomever he spoke to and we should be as well.

    The problem of evil, and omniscience/freedom, is emotionally charged. I think there are, however, rational resolutions that take the stakes into account.

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