Apologetic Journey Pt. 4: The 4 forms of Apologetics

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Senior Member
Feb 9, 2014
When going about answering atheist questions, I have done two things- read their main source texts to get the full force of their arguments and then prioritize my reading of apologetic based on who may provide the best response.

I've determined this by weighing the merits of the 4 main apologetical schools. When I do my apologetical book reviews, I will identify the school or schools to which the author belongs.

1. Classical Apologetics

Arguably the oldest form of apologetics, the Classical method of apologetics takes a sort of two-step approach in the Grecco-Roman tradition.

First, arguments are devised for the existence of a God through use of formal logic and observation in nature.

Second, the Classical apologist moves on to explain the validity of Christianity in light of what we know about theism. Christianity is determined to be the most probable of religious systems given what nature and our rational faculties can tell us about God.

A modern variant of the Classical approach is the cumulative case method, which messes with the order of things a bit. Instead of following classical logic, it seeks to prove the same claims via legal reasoning as it has developed in the Western World.

Prominent figures: CS Lewis, RC Sproul, Augustine, Aquinas

Strength: It's a time-tested approach with strong philosophical chops.

Weakness: Classical apologists tend to get bogged down in step one without making an admirable attempt at step two.

2. Presuppositional Apologetics

Seeks to explain the world in terms of presuppositions. Each person comes to the argument about God with a set of fundamental axioms and beliefs, mostly accepted on faith.

The Presuppositionalist understands their own Biblical presuppositions and the array of non-Christian presuppositions. Their main goal is to then inform the believer and non-believer of how the Christian presuppositions best explain the nature of reality and where the others fall short.

Prominent figures: Francis Schaeffer, Cornelius Van Til, Jonathan Frame

Strength: They're great at identifying the array of assumptions Christians and non-Christians make. They make competing worldviews give an account of their own reasons for believing- a great innovation in the history of apologetics.

Weakness: Presuppositionalist claims tend toward circular reasoning. Their foundational philosopher, Van Til, openly admitted as such.

3. Evidentialist Apologetics

Evidentialism is a very wide school. It seeks to prove the existence of God by citing observable data which confirm Biblical testimony in numerous areas.

Some evidentialists focus on the account of creation, so their focus is more scientific. Others are historical or literary in nature, seeking to prove the validity of the Bible by how it relates to reliable, extrabiblical sources and archaeological finds.

The most prominent evidentialists tend to focus on the resurrection of Christ and its high probability. Some only use the word evidentialist to describe this group.

Either way, evidentialism is mostly a one-step sort of approach. There is no initial search for the existence of a God, but rather the existence of the Christian Lord and claims in the Bible.

Examples: Ken Ham, Gary Habermas, Mike Licona

Strength: Evidentialism provides almost every other school of thought with observational firepower. There are very good reasons to believe.

Weakness: Evidentialists, in their zeal to find evidence for a Biblical claim, tend to double down on possible misinterpretations of scripture or accept faulty evidence.

4. Existentialist Apologetics

Existentialists dispense of the need for a reasonable argument, claiming none can reason their way to God. The only way is to find him through lived experience in faith.

This school was largely formed in the era of Romantic Transcendentalism and, yes, Existentialism.

Examples: Soren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, (arguably) Martin Luther

Strength: I think it cuts to the heart of why most people believe and it is how most Christians would uncritically describe their conversion experience.

Existentialsts, in their zeal to recognize and sate one human need, forget the hunger of our rational faculties and the Biblical command to love the Lord with all our mind.

Also, apologetics is a fundamentally intellectual pursuit. The Existentialist arguments, when over-employed, come across as non-sequiturs if they are arguments at all.

Weighing Our Options
Each school has its own strengths and, sometimes fatal, drawbacks. They are unique tools in our toolbox for different situations.

Of course, we all have our base and I think that correlates pretty strongly with temperament and type of education. My base is certainly in classical apologetics.

No matter which school we employ to answer questions, I think it's important to approach things with epistemological humility.