There are five basic methods Christian apologists have taken to defend the faith. In this post I will outline these methods briefly and then go more in-depth perhaps in future. Here they are in order of popularity and importance historically.
This method generally begins with philosophical arguments for God’s existence and works from there to establish Christianity in particular. They would use historical arguments (the resurrection and reliability of the bible) later on in their arguments but do not deem them sufficient to establish God’s existence. Typically classical apologists use the Cosmological, Teleological, Ontological and Moral arguments. One could list Anselm and Aquinas as holding to this view in the past and Geisler and Craig as its modern Representatives.
Evidentialists attempt to argue from historical arguments to the existence of God and the reliability of the scriptures. They would look to the biblical texts as well as secular sources of antiquity and try to establish that the best explanation of the data is the intervention of God. Evidentialists agree with the classical arguments but do not deem it necessary to get into them. History is clear enough, they would say. Though I know this view has its historical reps I do not know enough about it to cite them. Montgomery and Habermas would be its modern reps.
This view stands in stark contrast to most other methods in that it holds that unless we take the God of the Bible as our foundational presupposition we cannot know anything, let alone defend Christianity. Their arguments deal primarily with epistemology, attempting to show how other worldviews self-destruct and Christian theism alone stands. Calvin and Luther defended this view in the past. Van Til and Clark in the modern era.
Cumulative case Apologetics
Within this view the apologist does not look to any single form of argumentation or even any order in presenting the case. He takes elements from many views and believes that Christianity is proven cumulatively. The case cannot be made thru one argument or one strain of argumentation but all the arguments together form a very convincing case. Lewis and Feinberg would be in this group.
According to one of these guys there are truths that are ‘properly basic’. That is they are so obvious that one does not need to prove them to be. Amongst these would be your memory, the external world, basic morality and God. Since God is a properly basic truth one does not need to argue for Him so we find that reformed epistemology is mostly a defensive apologetic, defending itself from its critics. It is, I think, the new kid on the block. Its foremost defender would be Alvin Plantinga.
I think it would be helpful to do a little comparing between the various camps. Perhaps that would clarify further what the distinctions are.
Typically the Classical, evidentialist and cumulative case apologists have been thought of as being within the same strain of thinking. The chief difference would be that the evidentialist thinks a case can be made from history to God while the classical apologist does not think that case strong enough. Hume, an atheist philosopher said this; “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof”. The evidentialist is attempting to argue for the resurrection and God’s existence from history and the classical apologist just doesn’t think the evidence to be enough to argue that way. The evidentialist on the other hand would critique the classicalist for wasting time on complex philosophical argumentation when the history is clear. Cumulative case apologists take both positions in stride and incorporate them into their apologetic.
None of the aforementioned three have any tolerance for either Reformed Epistemology or Presuppositional apologetics. There is a chasm between them and also another chasm between these two. Reformed Epistemologists are as previously mentioned quite defensive in their apologetic, not thinking it the business of an apologist to try to prove God. It is quite sensible to believe in Him without proof, they would say. The presuppositionalist takes this quite a few steps further and in a sense comes against all the other methods by claiming that their foundational axiom is off and thus their argumentation is faulty. The presup guy would not agree that any of the other methods have sufficiently made their case for Christianity. Only when we start with the triune God of scripture can we know anything, is their claim.
Hopefully that was enough to show that there are real differences between these apologetic methods. I think though that the term differences is an understatement. Some of these methods deny the foundational assertions of others. Some of them would call the argumentation of others fallacious. There have been many books written from each of these camps but far and away the group with the most representation amongst Christians has been the classical apologists. Classicalists can be found in the ranks of the early church till today. The next post will be an attempt to outline this methodology further, present its arguments and then to critique them.