A Synthesis of Apologetics

Discussion in 'Apologetical Methods' started by Confessor, Aug 12, 2009.

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  1. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Recently, I have unsubscribed from "orthodox" Van Tillian presuppositionalism, and I thought I would offer my view on apologetics, which in my opinion does a decent job at synthesizing the various approaches.

    I believe there is a fourfold distinction to be made in the different types of apologetics: constructive, destructive, defensive, and fortifying apologetics. (This is alternative to the normal twofold distinction between positive and negative apologetics.)

    Constructive apologetics attempts to prove Christianity "from the ground up." It is the typical evidentialist mindset.
    Example: "God exists because the universe had to have a cause; here's some evidence that the Bible is historically reliable; here's some evidence that Jesus was God because He rose from the dead; therefore what Jesus says is true and the Bible is totally the Word of God."

    Destructive apologetics disproves an unbelieving worldview.
    Example: "Materialistic evolutionism cannot be true because if it were it would contradict the fact that the human mind is spiritual."

    Defensive apologetics guards Christianity from objections.
    Example: "God and evil are not logically inconsistent; here's why..." or "No, the earth is not really that old; you have faulty assumptions, etc."

    Fortifying apologetics strengthens the faith of those who already believe. Apologetics most often serves this purpose.
    Example: "Here is evidence for the resurrection of Christ. We have even more evidence that Christianity is true."
    [This is harder to give an example for because it's less starkly different from the other approaches.]


    I believe constructive apologetics are not only futile, because the Bible cannot possibly be proven to be intrinsically authoritative, but immoral. Everyone who encounters the Word of God, whether preached or written, is in some way obliged to accept it non-inferentially. Constructive apologetics tries to "prove the Bible," thereby denying that the Bible is already authoritative, which is a sinful thing to do.

    However, I do believe there is one field which may be included in constructive apologetics, and this is Plantingian Reformed Epistemology. RE basically establishes why people are prima facie justified in believing in God apart from evidence, such that the consideration of evidences is not required prior to believing in God. I believe his work can also be applied to the belief in Scriptural authority, and therefore I believe that RE can be used to demonstrate why Christians are permitted to start with the Bible and do not have to prove it first. (Here is particularly where I believe RE and presup are buddies.)

    It may be asked that if constructive apologetics (save RE) is sinful, then what of evidences? I reply that evidences and natural theology can be used in the other three ways. If someone is convinced of a solid cosmological argument for the existence of a first cause of the universe and that this first cause is a personal free agent, then he might see that this conclusion is inconsistent with his worldview (if he is an unbeliever) [destructive apol.] or that it strengthens his faith in Christianity (if he is a believer) [fortifying apol.]. If an unbeliever says that "science says" that the world is several billion years old, then the YEC apologist could give evidences that discredit the unbeliever's claims [defensive apol.], or he could go further and give evidence that the earth probably is 6000-10000 years old [destructive apol. again].

    As long as evidences are used for the right purposes, and as long as the permissibility of Christians' starting with the Bible can be established, then I see no reason why an apologist cannot use features of classical apologetics, Reformed Epistemology, and presuppositionalism all in one package.


    As I noted in Steven's "Against Fundamentalist Presuppositionalism" thread, I believe that many arguments used by evidentialists and presuppositionalists are actually identical in structure, to an extent at least. Take the moral argument:

    -The evidentialist argues that moral laws imply a Lawgiver.
    -The presuppositionalist argues that moral laws imply a Lawgiver, and that this Lawgiver is consistent with Christianity but not with the unbeliever's specific worldview.

    Seeing these two cases, we can see that they are basically identical, except that the presupper uses the argument not constructively, but destructively and fortifyingly (yeah, I made that word up). The substance of the argument is the same, but the use of it is different. Notice that the reason that the presupper can use it differently is because he recognizes that Christians can be justified in starting with Biblical authority -- which is ultimately a contribution of Reformed Epistemology.

    Take another example, the laws of logic. The presupper basically argues that laws of logic imply a universal Mind, and that this fact is consistent with Christianity but inconsistent with the unbeliever's specific worldview. In such a case, the presupper is using an argument the classical apologist would love (that laws of logic imply a universal Mind), but he uses it differently.

    Aight, I'm done.
  2. Brian Bosse

    Brian Bosse "The Brain"

    Hello Ben,

    Thank you for your thoughtful post. :up: There is much good in it; however, I hope you do not mind me pushing back on a few things. Specifically, I feel your criticism of evidential apologetics is off base, and that your apologetic distinctions are not as tight as they could be.

    Evidential Criticism

    Your argument is along these lines…

    Premise 1: All constructive apologetics are apologetic methods that try to “prove the Bible.”
    Premise 2: All apologetic methods that try to “prove the Bible” are apologetic methods that deny that the Bible is authoritative.
    Conclusion: All constructive apologetics are apologetic methods that deny that the Bible is authoritative.

    Really, this does not quite get you to the conclusion that constructive apologetics methods are immoral, but we will let that slide for the moment. For the sake of argument let’s grant premise 1. I think premise 2 is false, and as such you would need to argue for this. Just because a method might provide arguments for why the Bible is true does not mean that the method asserts that the Bible is not authoritative. In fact, one of the stated aims of classical apologetics is to demonstrate the authority of the Bible. Even if people are required to accept Scripture "non-inferentially" (which I do not agree with and which is not what Plantinga and Reformed Epistemology teaches), to provide inferential arguments is not wrong in and of itself.

    Apologetic Distinction Issues

    Using your terms, it seems to me that Constructive, Destructive and Defensive apologetics can all be Fortifying. Perhaps, fortification it is not really a different apologetic, but rather is simply an outcome of apologetics like conversion and condemnation (hardening of a heart) are possible outcomes? With that said, you acknowledge that there are similarities between Constructive and Destructive methods. But you say one is ok because it is defensive, and the other is bad because it is constructive. However, this so-called distinction is to miss precisely the point as to where they are similar - which is that they are logically equivalent. Consider the following arguments…

    Argument 1 – the “Good” Argument

    Premise 1: If God does not exist, then there are no moral absolutes.
    Premise 2: There are moral absolutes.
    Conclusion: God does exist.

    This is a valid Modus Tollens argument. So, the “good” argument is valid (and it is also inferential). The contraposition of premise 1 is simply “If there are moral absolutes, then God does exist.” This proposition is logically equivalent to premise 1. Now, let’s use this proposition in the same argument simply substituting it for its logical equivalent in premise 1…

    Argument 2 – the “Immoral” Argument

    Premise 1: If there are moral absolutes, then God does exist.
    Premise 2: There are moral absolutes.
    Conclusion: God does exist.

    This is a valid Modus Ponens argument. In fact, this “immoral” argument has the exact same logical content as the “good” one above. There is *nothing* in this argument that entails a moral distinction between it and the previous argument. (This is the point of my comments in the Evidentialist Criticism section.) In other words, the so-called Constructive and Destructive, at least from a logical point of view, are equivalent.

    I think once you begin to get clear on what your true objection is, you will find out that the root of the issue is not method, but rather motivation. But of course, none of us are perfect in our motivations, and as such all of us practice apologetics in an immoral way. Thank God for His grace and mercy!

    Last edited: Aug 12, 2009
  3. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Brian, I'm about to get some dinner, but I look forward to interacting with your contributions afterward.
  4. cih1355

    cih1355 Puritan Board Junior

    Your description of "fortifying apologetics" does not sound like a method for defending the faith. It sounds like you are describing one of the effects of apologetics.

    Suppose you are talking with a Muslim. You show him from the Bible alone that God is one being who exists as three persons, that Jesus is both God and man, that Jesus came to save His people, that He rose from the dead, that man is justified by faith alone, and so on. If you prove that those things are true by using the Bible alone, what kind of apologetics is that?

    What would you say to someone who asks you, "What is the proof that the Bible is God's word?"
  5. Myshkin

    Myshkin Puritan Board Freshman

    I say the following not out of being personally offended (which I am not), but simply as suggestions.....

    1. Please actually read "Classical Apologetics" by Sproul and Gerstner, not just a review of it by Frame or others, nor from the perspective of an arminian such as Geisler. I suggest this not to persuade you to the position, but simply and only for a correct understanding of what it actually is. Try Kim Riddlebarger's online lectures about Francis Schaeffer also.

    2. It is my understanding that Van Til himself considered Classical apologetics to be an arminian method; that's fine, it might be, though of course I don't think it is. But at least twice now you have referred to this school as actually pelagian and/or sinful. I know of no reformed/presbyterian body that has officially in its understanding of the confession condemned classical apologetics as pelagian or sinful, much less arminian, considering that the view is still allowed in confessing bodies. I think trying to prove that Warfield was a pelagian in his methods is a steep hill to climb. CA's may be in error, even serious error, but this has not been proven by a synod/general assembly (to my knowledge) to be so. Perhaps pelagian and/or sinful is not the best way for you to refer to a view that has historical practice amongst reformed believers until Van Til arrived. I understand that this may be your personal view/label of CA, but that is different from writing in such a way that readers will assume it is the established case.

    3.Classical apologetics ("constructive" as you have called it) does not hold that "one must prove the bible because if it is not proven then it is not authoritative". CA's agree that the bible is "already authoritative", they are simply trying to show that there is objective evidence that goes along with (not creates) the fact that the bible is objectively already true. Obviously the bible does not have to be proven authoritative in order for it to actually be authoritative. The proving is simply for the dissenting subject/person to deal with his claims that the bible is not authoritative, the proving is not to actually make the bible authoritative.

    CA's are only trying to say that there is objective evidence (reasons) for the objective truth (faith) that exists. They are not saying that faith (objective truth; in this case the bible's authority) is established/created/necessarily determined by reason (objective evidence).

    Where you get this idea from sounds more like Roman Catholic views of being/matter/righteousness, than it does CA, at least of the type proposed by Reformed believers. Maybe arminian CA's are different from Reformed ones (in ways other than thinking that the evidence actually converts), but I wouldn't know because I only understand the CA position from a Reformed point of view (i.e. Sproul/Gerstner).

    Anyways, I offer this in a spirit of brotherhood, not as intended offense or as offense taken, but simply asking for fair representation of what has to this day not been pronounced anathema by confessional reformed bodies.

    Thanks for your consideration.

    Grace and Peace-
  6. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior


    Thank you again for interacting with my ideas.

    In discussing my critique of evidential apologetics, you said the following:

    I think when you say that "one of the stated aims of classical apologetics is to demonstrate the authority of the Bible," you are helping to pinpoint the issue. The WCF (1.4) states, "The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or Church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God." The WCF (1.5) also states that besides abundant evidences for the divine authorship of the Bible, "our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts."

    The Bible carries its evidence in itself, and the Gospel is proclaimed on the self-attesting authority of its Author, not on the authority of evidences. Constructive apologetics focuses on proving the authority of the Bible by appealing to some other standard, and therefore, inasmuch as it is not pointing to Scripture itself as the ultimate authority -- whose authority is given to it by God Himself and not by, for example, evidence of the resurrection -- it is a sinful apologetic.

    To summarize, the Bible is authoritative in itself and therefore cannot possibly be authoritative derivatively. Constructive apologetics, if it assumes that the Bible is not authoritative in itself and tries to "prove" its authority by some other standard, must necessarily deny that we can accept the Bible on its own authority.

    First, I am saying not that providing inferential arguments is intrinsically wrong, but that acting as if the Bible is not intrinsically authoritative is.

    Second, Plantinga argues that belief in God can be rational apart from evidences for it. Is there a difference between accepting the existence of God apart from evidences and accepting His existence without inference?

    I realize that Plantinga does not teach that Scriptural authority can be accepted non-inferentially, but I believe his arguments can be used to support such a proposition.

    Yes, that is correct. It seems that I should remove this from being a distinct apologetic category, although I don't believe (and you didn't imply) that it is a useless concept.

    You then followed by showing the "good" argument as a modus tollens form of the "bad" argument, thereby showing that they are in fact logically equivalent, since the first premise in each one is the contraposition of the other. I have two things to say in response:

    (1) I would actually say that both of those arguments are "bad," both logically and morally speaking. Moral absolutes do not imply the existence of the Christian God, but of a less specific divine Lawgiver, making them logically bad; God's Word cannot derive its authority from another basis, making them morally bad -- but I have a qualification to make to this:

    (2) It is not necessarily that I believe an argument for the veracity of Christianity, i.e. for the existence of the specifically Christian God, is morally wrong; rather, it is wrong only if it is not believed that the Bible is intrinsically authoritative. In this case, then, constructive apologetics would add another "layer" why the Bible is authoritative, without denying the "inner" authority of it -- the problem is therefore not merely saying that the Bible is extrinsically authoritative (e.g. the Bible is true because of these evidences that Jesus rose from the dead, etc.), but saying that the Bible is only extrinsically authoritative, and not intrinsically authoritative.

    Brian, you'll notice that (2) is a retraction of what I said earlier, viz. that constructive apologetics is immoral. I apologize for speaking that, for it is false; it also sinful of me to say that, since I was imputing sin to other Christians who may have been utilizing constructive apologetics without committing that alleged sin, i.e., while also respecting the intrinsic authority of the Bible.


    -----Added 8/12/2009 at 08:59:13 EST-----

    Yes, I agree. I think it would be much clearer if I restrict apologetics to the first three categories.

    That's not really apologetics, just a lesson on what the Bible teaches.

    I would tell them ultimately that it is self-evidently true, but that there are some other evidences which make more sense if the Bible is God's Word, e.g. fulfilled prophecies, evidence for the resurrection, etc.

    -----Added 8/12/2009 at 09:06:39 EST-----

    I think I will get that book. Thank you for the recommendation.

    I recently repented of my error, and I thank you for pointing it out as well. I did not make a distinction between constructive apologetics that believe the Bible is both intrinsically authoritative (being self-attesting in its authority) and extrinsically authoritative (being supported by other evidences), and constructive apologetics that believe the Bible is only extrinsically authoritative. (You explain this in your 3rd point.)

    I should have imputed sinfulness only to the latter, but I foolishly imputed sin to the former, and for that I am sorry.

    Thank you for your charity; I appreciate it.
  7. steven-nemes

    steven-nemes Puritan Board Sophomore

    I'm not convinced constructive arguments are immoral; what of the apostles telling people about eyewitness testimony of the resurrection if they want proof? Are they immoral?
  8. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    You are right, Steven. I just corrected my mistake in subsequent posts.

    My correction: constructive apologetics are immoral only if the Bible is not seen as intrinsically authoritative, e.g. "I believe in the Bible only because of historical evidences."
  9. steven-nemes

    steven-nemes Puritan Board Sophomore

    I'm not convinced of that either--why should it be immoral for a person believe the Bible only because he is also convinced it is historically accurate?
  10. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Because the Bible has its evidence in itself, and people ought to accept it upon its immediate testimony. Unbelievers are absolutely without excuse when they reject the Gospel -- Bertrand Russell is not going to help his case if/when he tells Jehovah, "Not enough evidence!"

    -----Added 8/12/2009 at 09:29:23 EST-----

    Allan (RAS),

    If you are correct in saying that evidentialists also profess the intrinsic authority of the Bible -- and I'm not saying you're wrong! -- then it appears that I am not really providing a synthesis of apologetics, but rather just becoming an evidentialist.

    Huh. Interesting.
  11. AThornquist

    AThornquist Puritan Board Doctor

    I know God is real cuz He lives in my heart. What should I be classified as? :)
  12. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Mormon. :)
  13. steven-nemes

    steven-nemes Puritan Board Sophomore

    Are you sure it isn't indigestion?
  14. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Volcano nachos?
  15. Brian Bosse

    Brian Bosse "The Brain"

    Hello Ben,

    It seems like after most of our interactions you and I continue to come closer together on things. I move a little this way, you move a little that way. I don’t know if this is necessarily good or bad, but it does make me happy. :)

    Yes, I caught that. Thank you for your humility. This next quote gets right at the matter…

    This is worthy of a thread in and of itself. For now, I will just point out that the Bible being authoritative in and of itself does not necessarily entail that it “cannot possibly be authoritative derivatively.” It could be both. Authority in and of itself and derived authority are not mutually exclusive. Also, Classical and Evidential apologetics would assert that the Bible is self-authenticating and is the highest authority. They just do not think this means that using evidences to argue for this is bad. I do not think it is bad either.

    Plantinga’s position is that there are beliefs that can be said to be properly basic and as such are justified on that basis alone. Yes, one might argue that belief in the Scriptures can be properly basic. However, Plantinga’s epistemological position is independent of his Christian beliefs in that for some Muslim the belief in Allah or in the Koran can be properly basic and as such justified. None of this implies that belief in the Bible (or the Koran for that matter) must (in a moral sense) be properly basic. Also, a properly basic belief in X is not the same as accepting X on its own authority. Your appeal to Reformed Epistemology on this point is slightly off even though I see why you are trying to tie the two together.

    This surprised me a little. Here is why: (1) The premises are Biblically true, and (2) both valid argument forms are found in the Bible. As such, the conclusions are logically necessary and Biblically sound. To say that they are logically and morally bad seems to be very wrong.

    It seems to me that you are concerned with the intention of the person putting forth the argument – and not the argument itself. I was getting at this in my last post when I said…

  16. cih1355

    cih1355 Puritan Board Junior

    I have a question about what some presuppositionalists believe. Do some of them believe that if something proves that the Bible is inspired by God, then something would have more authority than the Bible?

    Do some presuppositionalists think that the methodology of classical apologetics leads to the conclusion that there is something that has more authority than the Bible? Do they think that this methodology is Arminian because it leads to the conclusion that something has more authoritive than the Bible?
  17. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Yes, you are correct. I foolishly omitted an "only." What I should have said is that if the Bible is authoritative in itself, then it cannot possibly be only derivatively authoritative.

    Yes, I realize the differences. I should have stated myself better: I believe that principles of Plantinga's RE can be helpful with the topic of Christians' accepting Scripture on its own authority.

    My calling it "morally bad" should also have been retracted. :( My apologies, again.

    Otherwise, I agree that they are logically sound when discussed between two people who both share a Biblical presupposition, but it cannot be used to show to an unbeliever that Christianity is true. It also might be the case that I read too much into your conclusion; by "God" you might have meant other than "the Christian God."

    Okay, I understand you. Yes, the arguments would be identical -- e.g. a layman could use an argument by a classical apologist who rejects the intrinsic authority of the Bible, and in doing so he would not necessarily be sinning.

    I believe it might be accurate to consider a rejection of intrinsic Biblical authority as more than just a sinful motive, but that is a separate discussion.:)

    -----Added 8/12/2009 at 10:43:38 EST-----

    Speaking as an (I think) former presuppositionalist, yeah. I just searched for the word "authority" on a few articles by Greg Bahnsen from the apologetics section of reformed.org, and oftentimes he contrasted the presuppositionalist and the evidentialist by saying that the former accepts God on His own authority while the latter waits for it to be proven. This would mean that the evidentialist views something else as a higher authority (one example he gives is the scientific method).

    And (since I am apparently now an evidentialist, though I say this cautiously), I disagree with this. Evidentialists can still accept the Bible on its own authority.
  18. Brian Bosse

    Brian Bosse "The Brain"

    Personally, I subscribe to the classical reformed presuppodentialist apologetic method, and I claim that my ultimate authority is God's Word. However, there is indwelling sin in me that causes me to fall short of this commitment. :(
  19. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

  20. Reformed Thomist

    Reformed Thomist Puritan Board Sophomore

    One thing: Let's be careful not to confuse Evidential Apologetics with Classical Apologetics. There is some overlapping, but these are separate traditions with different concerns. For one thing, a CA would not offer any kind of objective 'evidence' to 'prove' to all that Jesus was resurrected or that the Bible is the Word of God. To the CA, this kind of activity would be disrespecting the act of faith and would be offensive the nature of divine revelation, to say the least. (Although it would be within the CA's right to point out the errors in anti-Christian arguments against such articles of faith.)

    The CA is normally concerned just with rationally or philosophically establishing/defending the preambles to the articles of faith (natural theology), showing that the articles of faith proper (which cannot be 'reached' rationally/philosophically, or with any kind of evidence common to all) rest on the firm foundation of right reason... so that "there is no excuse..."
  21. Philip

    Philip Puritan Board Graduate

    That's a misrepresentation.

    When we in the classical school of apologetics say that we are trying to demonstrate the truth of Scripture, we aren't at all implying that Scripture's authority is based in our argument--our argument merely lends strength to our claim that Scripture is authoritative.

    If I am a defense attorney and present evidence showing that my client is innocent, his innocence does not rest upon my evidence--my evidence merely corroborates the fact. My argument attempts to show that the evidence favors my client rather than the prosecution.

    The classical apologist is not necessarily presenting an airtight argument, but is simply showing that he is reasonable and justified in his belief in the truth of the Bible. In a way, it isn't the Bible on trial at all--it's me on trial.

    I also strongly disagree that scripture is authoritative in itself--it derives its authority is derived from God Himself and His character. You cannot trust the scriptures unless you trust God.

    In essence I accept the Bible on God's authority. What I am doing in constructive apologetics is to justify myself intellectually.

    I do think, Ben, that we need to add a fifth category--Works-Based Apologetics--James 2 provides a criterion for an apologetic method that is harder to demonstrate than the TAG.

    And BTW, welcome to the group of those of us who don't quite fit in either camp ;).
  22. Confessor

    Confessor Puritan Board Senior

    Yes, I later corrected myself (and was corrected by others too), for I was making a false dichotomy.

    That's what I mean when I declare it intrinsically authoritative -- it is authoritative and ought to be believed by the mere fact of its divine authorship. Evidences may support it, but evidences are not the ground of belief in the Bible.

    For what it's worth, I doubt a single person, in holding Scripture as intrinsically authoritative, means that it is authoritative apart from God and His character.
  23. steven-nemes

    steven-nemes Puritan Board Sophomore

    About the Bible having intrinsic authority: I will agree that if God gives a command, it is authoritative and ought to be obeyed just by virtue of his giving it. But the question to be answered in apologetic method is, generally I think, why think there is a God? And if he does exist, why think that he has spoken to us in this book and not another, or even at all?

    It is true that the Bible has authority in itself if Christianity is true, but that's not very interesting for someone who is being presented with the gospel and doesn't see why he should believe the Bible comes from God at all. Our method, if its purpose is to help persons along in the faith, is to prove to the unbeliever, best as we can, that the Bible does come from God and therefore has authority. Presuppositionalism fails here; the classical and evidentialist approaches (natural theology and contemporary work in textual criticism, for example) are more compelling and more likely, it seems to me, to actual help in bringing people to Christianity.
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