Determining the Apologetic Starting Point

By Brian Chilton

I am fully immersed in a fantastic course describing apologetic methods. I have been engaged in apologetics since 2007. But, I never realized that there were so many various methodologies employed. One of the most off-putting of the methodologies that I have encountered has been one version of a method called presuppositional apologetics. Presuppositional apologetics (PA) holds that one should begin with the assumption that God exists and that the Bible is inspired as one evangelizes a person as opposed to more empirical methods such as classicalism (where one shows evidence for God’s existence and then shows evidence for the Bible’s reliability) or evidentialism (where one provides evidence for God’s existence by showing the evidence for the reliability of the Bible).

Determining the Apologetic Starting Point

At first, I was appalled at the system. I was especially troubled at how some in the PA movement disregarded all empiricist methods. However, after talking with some who hold to the PA methodology, I can see some viability in its use while I readily admit that it is not my preferred method. In reality, all apologetic methodologies may hold a place in the apologist’s toolbelt as he or she seeks to reach different kinds of people in different places in their lives. The starting point is, in many ways, based on three areas.

The Starting Point Depends on the Person‚Äôs Assumptions.¬†What does the person assume to be true about God and the Bible? It may be important for the apologist to combat those assumptions before engaging with the evidence. PA can have an influence in this area if the person holds some belief in God. However, if a person goes the route of PA, I personally think Alvin Plantinga‚Äôs¬†Reformed Epistemological¬†model works better than the traditional form of PA as found in Cornelius Van Til‚Äôs model. Plantinga argues that belief in God is a warranted belief‚ÄĒthat is, a belief that is so evident that one can accept the belief without substantial evidence. From there, he builds his apologetic defense for the faith.

Already, some of the readers will say to themselves, ‚ÄúOh yeah! That makes sense.‚ÄĚ Others will say, ‚ÄúCome on! Really?‚ÄĚ Thus, this model will not work for some because some people need hardcore evidence to back up the claim that God exists. For those, empirical apologetic models would work best. Quite honestly, PA would not have worked with me when I had doubts about the Bible‚Äôs reliability.

The Starting Point Depends on the Person’s Behaviors. Many apologists have noted that a person’s doubts come not so much from intellectual problems, but from emotional issues. If a person’s doubts come from issues of theodicy (i.e., why a loving God would allow evil in the world), then the apologist must first deal with the emotional issues blocking a person’s acceptance of Christian truths. The justification of certain behavioral issues may cause a person to doubt. This will cause different starting points with different people.

The Starting Point Depends on the Person’s Commitment. Does a person commit oneself to historical methods and science? If so, why not share the historical and scientific evidence for the Christian faith? Why argue over the use of the scientific and historical methods if we can use the scientific and historical methods to show the reasons to believe in Christ? It is odd that a person would avoid empirical methodologies if it would have a positive impact on the listener.

The point of the article is simple. Use whatever apologetic methodology that would be most beneficial for the person being evangelized. If a person’s presuppositions are the problem, then use a version of PA. If a person wants to know the empirical reasons to believe in God, use the classical method. If a person wants to know whether there is evidence for the resurrection of Jesus or the reliability of the Bible, use the evidential method. If a person wants to see the overall evidence for Christianity, use the cumulative method (evaluating all the evidence for Christianity and building a case out of the overall evidence). Use the method that would best benefit the person being evangelized. Such is necessary, along with the Holy Spirit’s involvement, for the obstacles to be cleared which stands in their path to faith. So, how does one determine the best apologetic starting point? It is determined by the person being evangelized. But, all in all, I think empirical methods will be more useful than PA methods with most people in society.

 


Brian G. Chilton is the founder of BellatorChristi.com and is the host of The Bellator Christi Podcast. He received his Master of Divinity in Theology from Liberty University (with high distinction); his Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies and Philosophy from Gardner-Webb University (with honors); and received certification in Christian Apologetics from Biola University. Brian is currently enrolled in the Ph.D. program in Theology and Apologetics at Liberty University. Brian has been in the ministry for over 15 years and serves as a pastor in northwestern North Carolina.

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