POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

An Introduction to Apologetic Systems

…Continued from Part 6

There have been many historical approaches to the academic discipline and practice of Christian Apologetics. There are camps that have formed around philosophical approaches and various ways thinkers have approached the relationship of faith and reason. Though this cannot in any way be exhaustive I wanted to provide a summary of the various ways believers have sought to intellectually and practically defend the faith. I have done this for you by using the titles of popular songs or ways of dancing. You’re welcome. After these brief descriptions will follow two figures which summarize the various views of these positions in tabular form. You’re welcome again.

Classical Apologetics – Two stepping the floor

Classical apologists trace their roots back to the philosophical theology of the early church and the high day of medieval thinking. They think philosophy should serve theology but can take an active role in shaping the necessary preconditions (prolegomena) for doing good theology. Many times the classical method is called a “two step” apologetic in that it first seeks to philosophically prove or demonstrate the existence of God and then secondly, demonstrate the reality of the Christian method, its miracles and revelation in Scripture. They argue that it is hard to talk to someone about the miracle of the resurrection when they don’t even believe God exists. They are not afraid to use the terminology “proving Christianity to be true.”

Evidential Apologetics – Don’t know much about history?

Evidential apologists think two steps are not necessary when one will do fine. This camp focuses on evidences for Christianity and makes inductive arguments based on historical facts. The evidentialists will point to fulfilled prophecy, build an historical case for the literal resurrection of Jesus and point to verifying miracles as reasons to think the Christian gospel is true. Like a good forensic specialist on CSI these dudes dig the pages of history and archaeology and point to biblical evidences that Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. Evidentialists love good learning history and think you should know much about it as well.

Some Reformed Approaches – Song References Below

In the reformed tradition there are actually several flavors of apologetic thinking. One unifying factor for people in this camp is that they hold the position that human reason is flawed and devastated by the fall of man into sin. They hold this for biblical and theological reasons. Due to his fallen nature man cannot reason properly so he cannot think his way into God. Fideism, which sort of means “faith only”, which we will handle in a moment, has been an historical presence in the history of reformation churches. In recent times two philosophical movements have come to the fore in the reformed churches. Pressupositionalism and Reformed Epistemology. The first is theologically oriented and the latter is a move in the analytic philosophy of religion. We cover each in turn.

We want Presup, We want Presup!

Cornelius Van Til was the most prominent recent figure in advocating for this methodology in apologetics. The claim here is that the human mind and reasoning is not neutral in that man is at enmity with God. He is suppressing the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18) so there is no point in “answering a fool according to his folly” (Proverbs 26:4). We need to get over the myth of common ground and reasoning to God. Humans are not this sort of creature so we should not act as if apologetics is a friendly match of intellectual tennis where truth will simply prevail by way of reasoning. However, the presuppositionalist does find a place for rational engagement and it is on the offense. The apologist should “tear down strong-holds of unbelief” with a transcendental argument showing that the Christian faith is the only rational option. All others deconstruct. Even the use of reason collapses unless we know we can trust it. This only comes from God. So when it comes to “answering the fools folly” (Proverbs 26:5) we must expose the flaws of unbelieving thinking that set itself up against the knowledge of God. I find this a great methodology but it does not produce great historical or philosophical arguments in defense of or in favor of the faith. Thankfully there are classical and evidential apologists for that. We can borrow their tools to use in our method. Hooray!

It’s my prerogative, I can believe if I can believe

In the last half of the 20th century men like William Alston of Syracuse, Nicolas Wolterstorff of Yale and St. Alvin Plantinga (sorry for my preemptive canonization of Alvin, but we do love him) of Notre Dame have made some interesting moves in the philosophy of religions. To get into it here would be either fantastically exciting or phenomenally boring. I’m going to hedge my bets and keep this short. Since the enlightenment atheistic and skeptical thinkers demanded someone be able to “prove!!!” that God exists in order to be rational in believing in him. Skeptics try to find escape clauses in arguments for God’s existence so that may say “see, you didn’t prove it, therefore you are a dumb-dumb for believing in God.” Or something like that. The skeptic thereby places the “burden of proof” on the theist as if unbelief is the only basic and default position. Plantinga has been making the argument[1] that it is purely and properly basic, epistemologically speaking, to believe in God without any argument for God’s existence and to do so is completely rational. One is rationally responsible to defeat arguments presented against belief in God and an intellectual believer should be happy to do so. Certainly St. Alvin has offered reasons to believe in God and he has shown that certain objections to God can be fully removed. His argument dealing with the problem of evil and suffering comes to mind.[2]

Fideism – cause you gotta have faith, faith, faith

Fideism is represented well by Martin Luther’s now infamous quote “Reason is the devil’s whore”[3] and is entirely suspect of any project of human reasoning apart from the divine illumination of the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit. Faith is a leap but one worth your life. After all, if faith is in GOD who is fully and entirely worth your trust, you should just flow with that. Other apologists see the fideistic position as self-refuting as you must use reason to make an argument against reason. Yet the fideist gives good warnings based upon good theology so let’s listen to him that faith alone, in Christ alone, by the grace of God alone is the only thing that saves. We should give an amen.

Pragmatic – Born, in the USA, I was, born in the USA

So which is right? I think they all offer something helpful in the apologetic enterprise of the church. As a pragmatic American I think our tool belt should have a little of all of these in the mix so that the Spirit can use reasons, arguments, preaching, testimony and whatever else he chooses to bring people to faith in Christ and find the knowledge of God.

OK, enjoy the tables below.

Table 1: Meta-Apologetic Issues[4]





















Anselm, Aquinas

Butler, Paley

Calvin, Reid

Luther, Kierkegaard

20th Cent

CS Lewis, Geisler




Van Til, Plantinga

Barth, Bloesch


God exists

God has acted

God speaks

God loves me


Internal Coherence

External coherence

Scriptural Fidelity

Fidelity to Christ


AP as Prolegomena

As Polemics

As Theology

As Persuasive Theology


Uses Phil Ideas

Uses Phil Tools

Confronts false Philosophy

Confronts all Phil


Table 2: Apologetic Issues






Is the subject of AP


Rationally Verified Authority of God

Source of AP


Factually Verified Story about Christ

Standard for AP


Self-attesting Authority of God

Story of AP


Self attesting story about Christ


Disprove the Worldviews Underlying Religions

Present the unique, factual, and miraculous character of Christian Religion

Presents the antithesis between Christian and Non-Christian principles.

Explain Christian faith is not religion but relationship


Show that theism is the only or most rational worldview

Use various lines of argument and evidence to build a case for Theism

Show that God’s existence is basic or foundational to all knowledge or proof

Explain that knowing God is a relational matter


Deductive Problem


Is Theism Inconsistent?

Evidential Problem


Is Theism Likely?

Theological Problem


Is God Sovereign Over Evil?

Existential Problem


Can God be trusted Despite Evil?


Miracles are Possible if God exists – validate special revelation

Specific Miracles are probable – serve as evidence in Biblical History

Biblical Miracles are Prophetical – miracles are credible to those who accept Biblical authority

Miracles, internal and external are given to those who respond in faith.


Alternative Views of Jesus cannot be rationally held

Detail evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, fulfilled prophecies etc.

Jesus’ claim to be God as His self-attesting Word, confirmed by Spirit

Call people to meet God’s Love in Jesus


Apologetic methods are cool but they are a bit empty without developing clear thinking, sound theology, good arguments and Christian evidences for use by missional churches and believers.

In the next post I will give, ever so briefly, some important areas of knowledge that apologists must cover in our day.

Continued in Part 8 - The Content of Apologetics


[1] Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).


[2] Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977).

[3] It should be noted that Luther’s ranting against reason was in a particular setting of use of reason apart from Scripture in the formation of theology in the Romans church. Philosophy unguided by the words of God is target here.

[4] These tables are adapted from those in Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman Jr, Faith Has Its Reasons, an Integrative Approach to Defending Christianity (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2001), 542-544.