Apologetics Methods used by Christians—A Brief Overview

I am presuppositional (Van Tillian to be precise—think Drs. Greg Bahnsen, Ken Gentry, and Jason Lisle). This should be clear in my writings—though I am not without error in my execution. The goal is to start with God and His Word, the 66 books of the Bible, as the ultimate authority in all matters.

Though other methods exist for apologetics, they often fall tragically short. But I wanted a concise table to summarize them. Some are more common than others [classical (sometimes known as traditionalist), evidential (apologetical—really a variant of classical), and presuppositional (Van Tillian)]. But presuppositional is typically in reference to Van Tillian and evidential is usually seen as apologetical evidential unless otherwise denoted.

I still wanted to insert some lesser-known methods into the table. I wanted to “cut to the heart” of the discussion and point out what is the underlying authority for each method, even methods that borrow much presuppositional material and methodology but then deviate.

I also wanted to have a column that pointed out the overall view of evidence, since there is much confusion over this by Christians who have not read much on apologetic methods. For example, some might mistakenly think that evidential apologetics means that you use evidence (because of the name) and conclude that presuppositionalists don’t use evidence since that is what evidentialists are using! Of course, both use evidence! But the difference is the starting point – human logic or God’s Word to look at that evidence.

The three other “presuppositional” methods by Drs. Clark, Carnell and Schaeffer are dealt with in great detail by Dr. Greg Bahnsen in his book “Presuppositional Apologetics”. So more detail could be ascertained there. Quotes are provided after the table for the three main methods used by Christians—classical, evidential, and presuppositional. In some cases the quotes were in the context of both evidential and classical. Even a couple of quotes from Dr. Gordon Clark on his variant of presuppositionalism was listed.

My hope with this was to give the reader a quick comparison of the overview of these methods as well as a better understanding of the presuppositional view as the only legitimate method that starts with God and His Word as the ultimate authority that it is. Consider. Why would one start with logic as the first authority to argue that God and His Word are the first authority? Isn’t that self defeating? At any rate, enjoy.

Table of Apologetic Methods (in brief)

Absolute authority Use evidence? Bible proves true? Basic argument:
Classical Logic Yes Probably (Logical analysis of philosophy supports the Bible) This method assumes that human rational thought[1] is the absolute standard regarding philosophical debates. Evidence is used in conjunction with the argument. Rational thoughts first to point to the Bible’s truthfulness.[2] Favors deductive reasoning.
Apologetical Evidential (a subset or variant of classical) Logic Yes Probably (Logical analysis of scientific, historical, archaeological evidence supports the Bible) Rational thought is the absolute standard and when viewing evidence outside the philosophical realm (e.g., historical, scientific, archaeological, etc.). Assumes people can come to the right conclusion when viewing evidence, evidence ultimately speaks for itself; i.e., evidence first to point to the Bible’s truthfulness.[3] This method assumes people are “neutral.” Favors inductive reasoning and empiricism.
Epistemological Evidential Logic Yes (no basis outside of evidence) Probably (Logical analysis of evidence supports the Bible) Like apologetical evidential but pigeonholed to Clifford’s dictum: “it is wrong, everywhere, always, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”[4] Many reject it due to the arbitrariness of how much is sufficient? Furthermore, does Clifford have evidence to believe this?
Cumulative case (similar to classical and evidential) Logic Yes Can’t know Cumulative case tries to piece together several arguments and lines of [external] evidence to make a single theory or idea and that conclusion is seen as better than other theories. It works by testing God’s Word to see how well it does.
Reformed epistemology Logic No (not necessary) Probably (As long as it can be warranted and defended) No evidence; “grounded” beliefs are warranted as long as they can be defended against known “objections”. Evidence is not necessary to believe things. Though not fideism, it has a similar component but unlike fideism, one must defend against alleged problems.
Fideism (faith only) Self No Probably (on faith alone is it true) Faith alone, no arguments needed and no response is necessary to objections.
Van Tillian Presuppositional God’s Word Yes Yes (Unless one starts with the Bible, one can’t make sense of even asking the question) God and His Word are the absolute standards of all things (e.g., morality, logic, uniformity in nature, dignity, etc.) The Bible is the only basis for a worldview that makes knowledge, logic, premises, truth, etc. possible. All other worldviews must borrow from the Bible to make some sense of the world; i.e., Bible first and final to look at all things.[5]
Clarkian Presuppositional Logic is God[6] No/

minimal

Can’t know, but probably (It is the most logical and one must start with God’s Revelation to arrive at showing the Bible to be self-consistent logically) With aspects of Van Tillian but argues that the best worldview is the most logical and Christianity is the most consistent in its logic. So Christianity appears to be the best.[7] Clark’s view was similar [regarding evidence] but different from Fideism. It was similar to Classical, but recognized that God’s Word must precede logical argumentation (e.g., non-autonomy). Clark argued that we couldn’t know anything outside the Bible (particularly on the basis of sensation).
Modified Presuppositionalism (or Shaefferian) Logic Yes Probably (It has the best answers to life) With aspects of Van Tillian but argues that the best worldview will give the best answers to life. Christianity gives the best answers to life. So, Christianity appears to be the best.[8] His methodology allowed for the use of some classical arguments, autonomy, and neutrality.
Carnellian Presuppositional Logic Yes Probably (It is the most coherent) With aspects of Van Tillian but argues that the best worldview is the most coherent. Christianity is the most coherent via the internal text. So, Christianity appears to be the best.[9] He mixed many aspects of classical form (autonomy) with presuppositionalism, which is really a combinationalist.

Quotes by leading adherents of some of these popular positions

Classical Apologetics:

Classical: “In the case of apologetics, we consider it self-evident that it must start with the person who is making the intellectual journey. One simply cannot start outside himself.”[10]

Classical: “The issue of starting point is crucial to the debate. The presuppositionalist maintains that you cannot get to God by starting with the self (cf. chap. 10), and the traditionalist argues that the self is the only possible starting place (cf. chap. 11).”[11]

Classical: “Nevertheless, for Van Til, theoretically, the proper starting point is not man at all, but God. If man were the starting point, we all would have this in common and thus and initial point of contact. But this is not so, there is no point of contact – nothing in common.”[12]

Classical: “If we did not start with ourselves, we could not have come to Him.”[13]

Classical: “To briefly recapitulate our discussion of the starting point: we have given three arguments why we must start with ourselves rather than God: 1. It is psychologically impossible for us to start with God (as it is impossible for God to start with us). 2. It is logically impossible for us to start with God for we cannot affirm God without assuming logic and our ability to predicate.”…3. It is logically impossible to show rational necessity of presupposing God except by rational argument.”[14]

Apologetical Evidential/Classical:

Apologetical Evidential/Classical: “Evidentialism in Christian apologetics seeks to show the truth of Christianity by demonstrating its factuality. Whereas classical apologetics characteristically regards logic or reason as the primary criterion of truth, evidentialism characteristically assigns this priority to fact. (This difference can be understood largely a matter of emphasis; of course, both classical apologists and evidentialists consider reason and fact to be both essential to apologetic argumentation.)”[15]

Apologetical Evidential/Classical: “The difference between classical apologists and evidentialists may be identified from one perspective as the difference between two broad conceptions of the task of philosophy.”[16]

Apologetical Evidential:

Apologetical Evidential: ‘Montgomery states: “facts must carry their own interpretations”[17] and “the very nature of legal argument (judgments rendered on the basis of factual verdicts) rests on the ability of facts to speak for themselves.”’[18]

Apologetical Evidential: “Evidential apologists of all stripes hold in common a second crucial aspect: the conclusions of the apologetic arguments they employ are shown to be probable rather than certain.”[19]

Apologetical Evidential: Montgomery states in defense of evidential apologetics against Clarkian presuppositional method: ‘”Here we have the root of the problem with Clark’s philosophy of history: Can one “begin with God” (the Christian God) without benefit of objectively discoverable historical facts? I say No,…’[20]

Apologetical Evidential: “In other words, evidentialism in apologetics places a certain burden of proof on the apologist to show non-Christians why it is rational to believe in Christ. At the same time, evidentialists claim that the truth of the Christian message cannot be successfully or properly denied without a fair consideration of the factual basis for the Christian truth claim.”[21]

Clarkian Presuppositional:

Clarkian Presuppositional: “The intelligibility of the Scriptures presupposes logic. Therefore anyone who is in the business of selecting first principles would seem to do better by choosing the law of contradiction as the axiom rather than Scripture.”[22]

Clarkian Presuppositional: “The well-known prologue to John’s Gospel my be paraphrased, “In the beginning was Logic, and Logic was with God, and Logic was God…In Logic was life and the life was the light of men.” This paraphrase, in fact, this translation, may not only sound strange to devout ears, it may even sound obnoxious and offensive. But the shock only measures the devout person’s distance from the language and thought of the Greek New Testament. Why is it is offensive to call Christ Logic, when the New Testament calls him a word is hard to explain….Any translation of John 1:1 that obscures this emphasis on mind or reason is a bad translation.”[23]

Van Tillian Presuppositional Apologetics:

Presuppositional (Van Tillian): “God’s revelation is more than the best foundation for Christian reasoning; it is the only philosophically sound foundation for any reasoning whatsoever.”[24]

Presuppositional (Van Tillian): “Therefore, the authority of Christ and His Word, rather than intellectual autonomy, must govern the starting point and method of his apologetics, as well as its conclusion.”[25]

Presuppositional (Van Tillian): “The apologist must content that the true starting point for thought cannot be other than God and His revealed word, for no reasoning is possible apart from that ultimate authority.”[26]

Presuppositional (Van Tillian): “The presuppositional challenge to the unbeliever is guided by the premise that only the Christian worldview provides the philosophical preconditions necessary for man’s reasoning and knowledge in any field whatsoever.”[27]

Presuppositional (Van Tillian): “Therefore, when the apologetic debate centers (eventually) on the issue of conflicting presuppositions, the believer must defend God’s Word as the ultimate starting point, the unquestionable authority, the self-attesting foundation of all thought and commitment.”[28]

Cite this article: B. Hodge, Apologetics Methods used by Christians—A Brief Overview, Biblical Authority Ministries, October 19, 2015,https://biblicalauthorityministries.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/apologetics-methods-used-by-christians-a-brief-overview/.

[1] Unaided or autonomous human reason and this is the same with Evidential, Cumulative Case, and all others on this list except Van Tillian and Clarkian. Human logic is seen as the absolute standard by which all debate, thought, analysis, and conclusions are judged.

[2] Popular Classical apologists are William Lane Craig, Thomas Aquinas, Norm Geisler, R.C. Sproul, and J. P. Moreland.

[3] Popular Evidential apologists are B.B. Warfield, William Paley, and John Warwick Montgomery. Classical and Evidential have much overlap and many call themselves either-or depending on the topic at hand. The difference lies in the view of inductive or deductive method when dealing with philosophy.

[4] Variant of evidential by W.K. Clifford

[5] Named for Cornelius Van Til who articulated it in modern times, espoused by Van Til, Greg Bahnsen, Kenneth Gentry, Michael Butler, and Jason Lisle. Early presuppositional apologetics examples are claimed from the Bible itself, as well as numerous others such as Augustine (in some aspects) and John of Damascus. Logic is seen as a tool resulting from God and His Word as the ultimate authority.

[6] Unlike the unaided or autonomous human basis of logic, Clark viewed logic as God per his famous restatement of John 1.

[7] Variant developed by Gordon Clark.

[8] Variant developed by Francis Schaeffer.

[9] Variant developed by Edward J. Carnell.

[10] Classical Apologetics, R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley, Academie Books (through Zondervan Publishing House), Grand Rapids, 1984, p. 212.

[11] Classical Apologetics, R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley, Academie Books (through Zondervan Publishing House), Grand Rapids, 1984, p. 212.

[12] Classical Apologetics, R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley, Academie Books (through Zondervan Publishing House), Grand Rapids, 1984, p. 214.

[13] Classical Apologetics, R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley, Academie Books (through Zondervan Publishing House), Grand Rapids, 1984, p. 214.

[14] Classical Apologetics, R.C. Sproul, John Gerstner, and Arthur Lindsley, Academie Books (through Zondervan Publishing House), Grand Rapids, 1984, p. 223.

[15] Evidential Apologetic: Faith Founded on Fact, http://bible.org/seriespage/evidentialist-apologetics-faith-founded-fact

[16] Evidential Apologetic: Faith Founded on Fact, http://bible.org/seriespage/evidentialist-apologetics-faith-founded-fact

[17] Evidential Apologetic: Faith Founded on Fact, http://bible.org/seriespage/evidentialist-apologetics-faith-founded-fact

[18] Montgomery, “The Jury Returns: A Juridical Defense of Christianity,” in Evidence for Faith, 335

[19] Evidential Apologetic: Faith Founded on Fact, http://bible.org/seriespage/evidentialist-apologetics-faith-founded-fact

[20] Montgomery, J.W., The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark: A Festschrift, Ed. Ronald Nash, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Philadelphia, PA, 1968, p. 383.

[21] Evidential Apologetic: Faith Founded on Fact, http://bible.org/seriespage/evidentialist-apologetics-faith-founded-fact

[22] Clark, G. H., The Philosophy of Gordon H. Clark: A Festschrift, Ed. Ronald Nash, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, Philadelphia, PA, 1968, P. 64.

[23] Clark, G. H., Logic, The Trinity Foundation, Jefferson Maryland, Second Edition 1985, pp. 120-121.

[24] Bahnsen, G., Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, P & R Publishing, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1988, page 4-5.

[25] Bahnsen, G., Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, P & R Publishing, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1988, page 6.

[26] Bahnsen, G., Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, Covenant Media Press, Nacogdoches, Texas, 1996, 72-73.

[27] Bahnsen, G., Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, P & R Publishing, Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1988, page 5.

[28] Bahnsen, G., Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith, Covenant Media Press, Nacogdoches, Texas, 1996, 72-73.

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Apologetics Methods used by Christians—A Brief Overview

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