Read an Excerpt
Steven B. Cowan
Fairly early in my life as a Christian -- somewhere in my late teens, I think -- I discovered apologetics. This discovery was very timely because I had also discovered that the faith I had in Christ was not shared by everyone. In fact, I discovered that some people outright rejected, even ridiculed, my faith. What's more, I found out that skeptics had raised arguments against my faith. And being the inquisitive fellow that I am (I hate unanswered questions!), I wondered myself, quite apart from all of these skeptical challenges, what reason or reasons there might be for believing the religious beliefs that I embraced. Thus, Paul Little's little book, Know Why You Believe, and Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict came at an appropriate time in my life, introducing me to apologetics. And from Little and McDowell, I jumped right into Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley's Classical Apologetics -- the book that sparked an insatiable thirst in me for apologetics, philosophy, and theology.
No sooner had I discovered apologetics, however, than I also uncovered the fact that not every apologist did apologetics the same way. It was Sproul, Gerstner, and Lindsley's fault, if the truth be known. They distinguished between something they called "classical apologetics" and this bogeyman called "pre-suppositionalism." And I soon discovered that there were other varieties of apologetic methods as well, and that the disagreements between them could sometimes be sharp. As a young college student, I had a hard time trying to figure out who was right and who was wrong in this debate. I distinctly remember (this was in the early 1980s) wishing that someone would publish one of those "multiple views" books on apologetic methodology so that I could see all the different views side by side and have an easier time making up my own mind. I waited and waited for well over a decade, and no such book appeared. Then I decided to do it myself! And Zondervan has been gracious enough to assist me.
The Nature of Apologetics
This is a book about apologetic methodology, not a book of apologetics per se. That is, it is not a book that seeks to do apologetics as much as a book that discusses how one ought to do apologetics. But for the sake of some of our readers, it may help at this point to spell out what apologetics is. Apologetics is concerned with the defense of the Christian faith against charges of falsehood, inconsistency, or credulity. Indeed, the very word apologetics is derived from the Greek apologia, which means "defense." It was a term used in the courts of law in the ancient world. Socrates, for example, gave his famous "apology," or defense, before the court of Athens. And the apostle Paul defended himself (apologeomai) before the Roman officials (Acts 24: 10; 25: 8). As it concerns the Christian faith, then, apologetics has to do with defending, or making a case for, the truth of the Christian faith. It is an intellectual discipline that is usually said to serve at least two purposes: (1) to bolster the faith of Christian believers, and (2) to aid in the task of evangelism. Apologists seek to accomplish these goals in two distinct ways. One is by refuting objections to the Christian faith, such as the problem of evil or the charge that key Christian doctrines (e.g., the Trinity, incarnation, etc.) are incoherent. This apologetic task can be called negative or defensive apologetics. The second, perhaps complementary, way apologists fulfill their purposes is by offering positive reasons for Christian faith. The latter, called positive or offensive apologetics, often takes the form of arguments for God's existence or for the resurrection and deity of Christ but are by no means limited to these. Of course, some apologists, as we will see, contend that such arguments are unnecessary or perhaps even detrimental to Christian faith. These apologists focus primarily on the negative task and downplay the role of positive apologetics. Nevertheless, most, if not all, would agree that the apologetic task includes the giving of some positive reasons for faith.
The Question of Taxonomy
Although apologists agree on the basic definition and goals of apologetics, they can differ significantly on the proper methodology of apologetics. That is, they disagree about how the apologist goes about his task -- about the kinds of arguments that can and should be employed and about the way the apologist should engage the unbeliever in apologetic discourse. To use a military analogy, differences of opinion exist regarding the best strategy to use in defending the faith. These differences in apologetic strategy usually turn upon more basic disagreements with regard to important philosophical and theological issues. This leads me to the question of taxonomy.
How do we delineate the different approaches to apologetics? Of all the other books on apologetic methodology, no two classify the various methods in exactly the same way. For example, Gordon Lewis classifies apologetic methods according to their respective religious epistemologies. He distinguishes them by what each one takes to be the correct approach to acquiring knowledge of religious truths. On this basis, he differentiates six apologetic methods.
Religious epistemology can be the decisive factor in distinguishing one apologetic method from another. For example, two of the methods Lewis distinguishes are pure empiricism, defended by J. Oliver Buswell Jr., and rationalism, defended by Gordon H. Clark. Buswell's methodology requires us to make observations of the world and draw causal inferences from those observations, which, he believes, will lead the objective observer to belief in God and in the truth of the Christian faith. He uses the classical theistic arguments and appeals to historical evidences for the resurrection of Jesus. Clark, on the other hand, repudiates the use of such arguments and evidences, largely on epistemological grounds. Instead, he argues that the apologist must begin with Scripture as a first principle. That is, Scripture serves as a rational axiom by which all other truth claims are tested. Clark then argues that Christianity is the only coherent system, all other worldviews being logically inconsistent. Thus, the religious epistemologies of these two apologists lead them to very different apologetic approaches.