Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Five Views on Apologetics - An Overview - Stanley N. Gundry (Editor)

This is a book about Christian apologetic methodology. The book does not aim to present apologetic material per se, but to have various authors present their differing view on how they approach apologetics. Firstly, what is apologetics? Apologetics comes from the word apologia which means defence; that is, apologetics is defined as presenting a 'defence' of the Christian faith. Some of the debate within apologetics may involve the following:
  • Arguments for the existence of God
  • The role of the Holy Spirit in apologetics
  • The role of Scripture in apologetics
  • The place that experience has when producing convincing apologetic arguments
  • Postmodernism and the debate about absolute truths, relativism and the like.
The Five Views on Apologetics was published in 2000, and the following five authors presented their views: William Lane Craig, Gary R. Habermas, John M. Frame, Kelly James Clark and Paul D. Feinberg.

William Lane Craig (pictured) argues strongly that the kalam argument for the existence of God is a convincing apologetic. The premise for the kalam cosmological argument is that 'whatever begins to exist has a cause' (: 50).

One of the interesting angles that William Craig takes, is his prominence on the work of the Holy Spirit in the apologetic journey. He says, it is important to insist on the self-authenticating nature of the Spirit's witness. 'The claim that the Spirit's witness is self-authenticating entails that belief grounded in the witness of the Holy Spirit is an intrinsic defeater of the defeaters brought against it; that is to say, it is a belief enjoying such a high degree of warrant that it simply overwhelms any putative defeater' (: 34). Naturally, more questions arise from this discussion, including the question about people who adhere to belief systems outside of Christianity, who claim to have an encounter with a divine presence. Robert Oakes (: 29) defines a self-authenticating religious experience as a 'veridical experience of God which is sufficient to guarantee that the person having that veridical experience could never in principle have any justification for questioning its validity'.

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Another highlight from William Lane Craig's 'Classical Apologetics' methodology is his view that apologetics falls into one of two categories; that of showing Christianity to be true, and that of knowing Christianity to be true. Many Christians may know in their deepest heart of hearts that they know Christianity to be true but may in turn struggle to show Christianity to be true. Nonetheless, their faith in Christ is still rational, despite their inability to articulate convincing arguments/evidence for the belief that they hold.

Gary Habermas highlights the apologetic methodology called 'Evidential Apologetics'. He says that what defines this a part from the other four views in the book, is its focus on using historical evidences for the Christian faith (: 94). You could take the death and resurrection of Jesus, for instance, and look at the probability of its historical occurence or rather look at the evidence to see whether it was more probable that Jesus did in fact rise from the grave on the third day, or not. For example, some of the historical evidence used would be the witnesses who saw Christ following his resurrection (including the Jewish leaders of the time - who offered no polemic against the premise that Jesus rose from the grave). The methodology is about presenting historical evidence for the Christian faith.

The third apologetic methodology is from Paul D. Feinberg, and he argues for the 'Cumulative Case' methodology. This is really saying, that while apologists like Craig might argue firstly for the proof that God exists, the cumulative case takes any argument, evidence, experience it can muster to present the Christian faith as more probable than its alternatives. He believes that while apologetics could be labelled as either, the establishment of the truth or rationality of belief or thirdly the persuasion of the unbeliever, it should be for the persuasion of the unbeliever.

Fourthly, the apologetic methodology discussed is 'Presuppositional Apologetics', from John M. Frame. This takes a completely different approach. Frame will position himself with the assumption that God exists, and that the Bible is God's Word for humanity. Then after making that assumption, humanity can engage with the God who created them and the Scripture that we have, and find the truth of the Christian faith. He says, the process is God's rationality -> human faith -> human reasoning. The other four authors are very critical of John Frame's seemingly circular argument. He is an example of Frame's circular argument (: 356).
  • Premise 1: Whatever the Bible says is true.
  • Premise 2: The Bible says it is the Word of God.
  • Conclusion: Therefore, the Bible is the Word of God.
Lastly, in the Five Views on Apologetics is Kelly Clark's 'Reformed Epistemology' methodology. He thesis is that while evidence can be persuasive it is not imperative to have evidence to rationally believe that God exists. I hope not to misinterpret his apologetic methods, because of lack of understanding, so I will quote him: 'I am inclined to think that the theistic arguments do provide some noncoercive evidence of God's existence. By noncoercive I mean that the theistic arguments aren't of such power and illumination that they should be expected to persuade all rational creatures. Rational people could rationally reject the theistic proofs. Rational people-and this is a fact with which we must live-rationally disagree. Nonetheless, I believe that someone could rationally believe in God on the basis of theistic arguments, but no one needs to do so' (: 273).

The Five Views on Apologetics at times feels like it delves into semantics a little, but such is the realms of philosophy and intellectual debate. The format though is so engaging, with one author presenting their apologetic methodology, and then one by one the other four authors provide a short reply. Then the next apologist offers their methodology, and one by one the authors reply. Then, the end sees the authors each provide some closing remarks and intellectual debate on the content and responses of the other authors. The Five Views on Apologetics is a great book for understanding the realm of Christian Apologetics, and its enough to wet the appetite for engaging in apologetics in the future.  

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