Back To The Basics: Apologetics Pt4 – Classical Apologetics


ApologeticsClassical apologetics is a two step approach to arguing for the Christian world view.  First it argues for a god, and after offering what it views as satisfactory arguments, it then progresses to arguing for the Christian triune God.

There are some positive aspects of classical apologetics.  It seeks to show that faith and reason are consistent, which is a noble aim and has been of service to countless believers, buttressing their faith.  Also the classical approach historically has been at the forefront of the apologetic efforts of the church as the preferred method of many staunch defenders of orthodoxy like Augustine, Hugo Grotius and B.B. Warfield.  That said, while I love and respect many who hold to the classical apologetic method, I don’t think that it is the best approach to defending the Christian faith.

Classical apologist William Lane Craig describes the classical apologetic method as:

first to present arguments for theism which aim to show that God’s existence is at least more probable than not and then to present evidences, probabilistically construed for God’s revelation in Christ.

While there are a number of methodological problems with this approach, this statement reveals the chief (and fatal) flaw with the classical approach to apologetics.  Apologetics is, at its root, an evangelistic enterprise, and the classical approach functionally forgets that souls are at stake.  In that context “more probable than not” is simply not good enough.  When engaged an apologetic/evangelistic encounter we must show with certainty that Christian faith is the only right world view, and the only way to salvation.

Another key problem with this two step approach to apologetics is that it leaves the door openantony_flew for an unbeliever to accept a theistic world view yet reject Christianity.  A person may acknowledge a god yet still deny the existence of God and thus be as lost as any atheist.  This in fact happened to noted atheist Antony Flew, who at the age 81 announced that the teleological argument for God convinced him that there must be a super-intelligent creator.  However he did not become a Christian, but rather a deist, and so he died in his sins, a theist, but with no hope of salvation.

kalamThis is not surprising.  One of the most popular arguments for theism used by classical apologists is the kalam cosmological argument (which essentially states that everything observable has a cause, there cannot be an infinite chain of causes thus there must have been an uncaused first cause and that the uncaused cause must be God).  This argument however was not formulated by Christians, but by Islamic philosophers, so clearly classic apologetics leaves the door wide open for deviant theism which does not save, but rather condemns.  Moreover if the God of the Bible is not presupposed there is no justification for holding to the universality of the laws of causation.  Apart from His created order there should be no expectation of any universal truths.

Craig’s approach also reveals a faulty and dangerous presuppositional basis for his method; he writes “A good deductive argument will be one…whose premises are both true and more plausible than its contradictories.”  And after describing his preferred argument concludes “that to deny this proposition is therefore for a normal adult irrational.”  The revealed presupposition is that man’s reason determines what is true, however such an approach fails to take into account the noetic effects of sin and the fall and ignores clear teaching of scripture such as Jeremiah 17:9 which states “the heart (the seat of reason, not merely emotion in biblical thinking) is deceitful above all things.”  Although most classical apologists would deny it, in fact they stress that they do not make reason the arbiter of truth (what can be called the magisterial use of reason) but rather that it is a servant of truth (the ministerial use of reason), their approach functionally elevates human reason far too high.

And flowing out of this elevation of human reason is a dangerous tendency to accommodate scripture to the current theories of science.  The great problem with doing this is that while scripture is infallible science is fallible, and while scripture is unchanging scientific theories are constantly being overthrown.  Science has time and again proven itself to be unreliable while Scripture is unchanging and always reliable, (think how Netwonian physics was overthrown by relativity theory or how less than 200 years ago medicine was convinced that a train travelling at 55 miles per hour would kill all of its passengers).

A practical outworking of this tendency is that many notable classical apologists such as Craig and Norman Geisler advocate an “old earth” theory of the age of the earth.  This is a clear example of the elevation of the reasoning of man above the revealed truth of Scripture and must be condemned. (It must be noted that some classic apologists, such as R.C. Sproul hold to a young earth and a literal six day creation.)

There also seems to be a misunderstanding of the work of the Holy Spirit on the part ofHS_dove some classical apologists.  They readily recognize the value of the internal testimony of the Spirit to believers and root their “knowing” of the truth of Christianity in His testimony, however when it comes to “showing” the truth of Christianity they dismiss the power of the work of the Spirit though the inspiration of the Bible.  Leading classical apologist William Lane Craig takes misunderstanding the role of the Spirit a step further, arguing that the Holy Spirit will convict the unbeliever of the weight of the evidence for Christianity.  There is simply no biblical warrant for this assertion however.  The role of the Spirit in the unbelieving world is to convict of sin and the coming judgment (John 16:8) not to help unbeliever weigh evidential arguments and reach conclusions based on their own reasoning.  While Craig’s position may not be universally held, it is illustrative of the kinds of errors that can arise when arguments are not rooted firmly in scripture.

And aside from a too high view of man’s reason classical apologetics has too low a view of scripture.  By conceding “neutral” ground to the unbeliever and recognizing a need to argue for the existence of a God and then the Christian God, it not only operates according to the presuppositions of the unbeliever, but also disregards the clear teaching of Scripture that all men have a knowledge of God (Rom 1:18-21).

For these reasons I believe that classical apologetics should be avoided and that a presuppositional approach is best.

Read Pt 1 Here

Read Pt 2 Here

Read Pt 3 Here


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About John Chester

John serves the saints of Piedmont Bible Church, a Grace Advance church plant in Haymarket Virginia, as their shepherd, a position he has held since 2012 and hopes to serve in the rest of his life. Prior to being called to ministry John worked as a lacrosse coach, a pizza maker, a writer, a marketing executive, and just about everything in between. John is a graduate of The Master’s Seminary and The Grace Advance Academy. He hails from The City of Champions, Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and is unbelievably blessed to be married to his wife Cassandra.