The word apologetic doesn’t mean what it sounds like. It comes from the Greek word ἀπολογία–to speak in defense of one’s worldview. In our case, Christianity. Therefore, when discussing the 4 different types of apologetic systems, I am referring to the various methodologies Christians use to defend their faith. Are you ready to learn? Let’s begin.
The first methodology is entitled: Classical Apologetics. It focuses on the use of logical criteria such as the law of noncontradiction, self-consistency, comprehensiveness, and coherence. A famous apologist, William Lane Craig, often uses the classical approach when debating the Christian worldview.
For example, he may argue for the teleological argument, which states the intricate design in nature points to an intelligent Creator. Other common classical apologetic positions include the moral, ontological, and cosmological arguments.
Christian philosopher Norman Geisler summarizes this position well: “The basic argument of the classical apologist is that it makes no sense to speak about the resurrection as an act of God unless, as a logical prerequisite, it is first established that there is a God who can act” (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics).
The second approach to apologetics is known as Evidentialism. Its primary focus is to ground the Christian faith on historically verifiable facts. Instead of arguing for unequivocal proof of God through logical necessity like Classical apologists do, Evidentialists argue that a high degree of probability can be articulated in favor of Christianity. The evidence for creation, prophecy, deity of Christ, and especially the historical significance of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead are the main subjects in this apologetic approach.
The apologist who pioneered the evidentialist approach was Joseph Butler (1692-1752). In 1736 Butler published The Analogy of Religion, Natural and Revealed, to the Constitution and Course of Nature. Butler wrote this work to transform the old metaphysical and rationalistic argumentation in Britain to a more scientific and empirical form of reasoning.
He admitted that revealed religion like Christianity was gripped with intellectual problems, but could still be found probabilistically reasonable and justifiable. But not objectively definitive like the Classical approach.
The third apologetic position is Reformed apologetics. It attempts to argue for the Christian faith on the authoritative word of God through revelation rather than empirical or scientific knowledge.
This position would encourage the believer to base their truth in God, not through scientific inquiry, but with the presupposition or fundamental assumption that the Christian faith is already true. There is no need to ground reasoning in God by the physical sciences alone since it’s already intuitively understood by all human beings. Thus, all are without excuse (Rom. 1:20) when they deny the existence of God.
This approach was inspired by John Calvin from the 1500s and has become popularized in recent times by Cornelius Van Til. This is what Dr. Van Til said that summarizes his perspective:
“I hold that belief in God is not merely as reasonable as other beliefs, or even a little or infinitely more probably true than other belief; I hold rather that unless you believe in God you can logically believe in nothing else.” -Van Til
The main criticism of this view is that it uses circular reasoning to argue it’s case. Circular reasoning is a logical fallacy that occurs when the conclusion of an argument is used as a premise of that same argument. In other words, the premise would not work if the conclusion wasn’t already assumed to be true.
Proponents of this view have offered a rebuttal to this claim.
“We agree that presuppositional apologetics is the ultimate biblical approach to apologetics. The common accusation that the presuppositionalist uses circular reasoning is actually true. In fact, everyone uses some degree of circular reasoning when defending his ultimate standard (though not everyone realizes this fact). Yet if used properly, this use of circular reasoning is not arbitrary and, therefore, not fallacious.” – Answers in Genesis Darius and Karin Viet
The final apologetic system is called fideism. The term comes from the Latin word fide, meaning “faith.” Instead of being rational (Classical), empirical (Evidentialist), authoritarian (Reformed), it is intuitive (Fideist). Furthermore, fideism maintains that human knowledge of truth is most especially found in the heart or will rather than in the intellect. For example, Fideists would contend that no matter how intellectually sophisticated an argument becomes for the existence of God, those who are living a rebellious sinful life will reject it.
People reject Christianity because Christianity is found in a person, not a religious system or intellectual program. A person requires a relationship. So then, you may know about someone, but until you meet them, intellectual knowledge makes no difference. Fideists would argue the same is true in Christianity.
Fideism was popularized by Martin Luther and was further stressed by Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. He once said, “It is so hard to believe because it is so hard to obey.” This statement expresses the idea that belief and obedience are interconnected. Therefore, if one doesn’t love God or obey Him, it’s almost impossible to convince him or her to intellectually commit to God.
What are your thoughts? Which apologetic approach do you find most beneficial? Do you think all of these approaches are valid? Why or Why not? Please comment below. Have a good day!
Article written by Chad A. Damitz (M.Div)