Why they need each other: Evidential and Classical Apologetics

By James.B

ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS - December 22, 2016) -- Just a few days ago I was having tea with noted archeologist, Dr. Steven Collins. Amidst our normal archeology discussion, we hit upon the topic of approaches in apologetics, namely classical and evidential. Being that I was tutored in both areas [1], and Steve, as an archeologist, leans towards evidential [2], our conversation was lively and informative. Our conclusion -- and I think many would agree -- is that both approaches are needed: God's existence can be demonstrated as reasonable through theistic arguments (classical), but evidence is needed to verify the claims (evidential). And Steve and I both agree that archeology is the main scientific approach that can substantiate the Biblical, historical claims (and to a different degree -- though still important -- logic, biology, mathematics, and physics).

As a quick summary, classical apologetics is based upon the historic proofs of God's existence as expounded upon by various individuals through the ages, with the big-three A's, Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas, leading the way. The proofs can be summarized as the ontological argument, the teleological argument, the cosmological argument, and the moral law argument. Modern proponents of classical apologetics are C.S Lewis, Norman Geisler, R. C Sproul, and William Lane Craig. Brian K. Morley, summarizes the classical approach as: "God is proved by theistic arguments, and Christianity by evidences" [3]. In our conversation, Steve reminded me that classical arguments are not Biblical approaches, per-se, in that the Bible doesn't use them in any formal way, but, rather, the Bible presumes God's existence, not needing to prove it. Duly noted.

FaithFoundedonFactEvidential apologetics is evidence and facts-based. Evidential apologetics begins with the New Testament documents, then moves to the contents of the documents (including Jesus' miracles and the resurrection), and then on to broader areas of investigation: science, law, philosophy, and the like. Brian K. Morley summarizes the evidential position as thus: "Facts point to interpretations, and critical facts point to Christianity." Two of the main proponents of evidential apologetics are John Warwick Montgomery and Gary Habermas, along with many science-related scholars such as Steven Collins (archeology), John Bloom (physics), William Dembski (math), and Peter Zöller-Greer (quantum physics and logic. Zöller-Greer's, Logic, Quantum Physics, Relativism and Infinity is a must read!) [4].

This isn't the place to argue the pros and cons of each approach. Other people have done a fine job at this [5]. And I dare say that most of the above mentioned individuals would agree with the conclusion that both classical and evidential approaches are needed.

The question is why? Why are both approaches needed in today's world? My answer to the question is that we live in what Stratford Caldecott calls a dualistic world; the contemporary mind has been taught to separate faith from reason [6]. And I believe the role of any defense-based discourse is to demonstrate the reasonableness of the Christian faith -- by any truth-means possible. So whether one uses either metaphysical arguments (such as the classical) or those based in law, reason, and science (evidential), all are warranted and needed. And, yes, I'm well aware of the differences of each approach, the pros and cons. But lets face it: there's not perfect model. A concurrent conglomeration (using the finest available arguments and evidence) is the best way forward.

Even more so, as an educator I'd argue for the realignment of the two worlds -- faith and reason, much like Thomas Aquinas and others proposed in their day. And this integration of faith and reason would be implemented largely through the liberal arts, a comprehensive paradigm of broad research and learning, with the outcome of finding the true, beautiful, and good in all fields of inquiry. When broad learning is in view the learner, presumably, has a grander model of the universe, both horizontal -- science/reason, and vertical -- faith/morals. But this is for another article at another time.

DefendableFaithMy point is this: faith is not in opposition to reason, as God is the author or both books-the Bible and nature. And as the author of two books, the truth manifest in both will be in harmony and agreement, properly understood and interpreted. But until our culture (or maybe, "if" our culture) conjoins that which as been separated, using arguments from both worlds -- classical and evidential-is necessary to provide answers to inquiring minds needing philosophical proofs and fact-based evidence.

So here are recommended books from each group:

Classical Apologetics

Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis

Christian Apologetics, Norman Geisler

The Big Book of Christian Apologetics, Norman Geisler

Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig

Classical Apologetics, John Gerstner, R. C Sproul and Arthur Lindsley

Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Peter Kreeft and Ronald Tacelli

Defending Your Faith, R.C Sproul

Evidential Apologetics

Faith Founded on Fact, John Warwick Montgomery

Evidence for Faith, John Warwick Montgomery, editor

The Defendable Faith, Steven Collins

The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, Gary Habermas

Tough MindedChristianityTough-Minded Christianity, edited by William Dembski

Evidence For God, William Dembski and Mike Licona

Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Josh McDowell

1) I studied under both Norman Geisler (classical) and John Warwick Montgomery (evidential).

2) Dr. Collins, too, studied under John Warwick Montgomery in evidential apologetics and wrote the book, The Defendable Faith.

3) To get a deeper look at the various approaches, I recommend Mapping Apologetics, Brian K. Morley.

4) Evidential apologetics have come under criticism recently. But in a fine article published by the Global Journal of Classical Theology, Dr. John DePoe responds to the critics: http://www.globaljournalct.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/DePoe-Vol-13-No-2-Whats-Not-Wrong-with-Evidentialism.pdf 

5) http://www.apologeticsindex.org/374-five-apologetics-methods or http://www.yutopian.com/religion/theology/Apologetic.html or https://bible.org/seriespage/4-issues-and-methods-apologetics 

6) See his book, Beauty for Truth's Sake.

Photo captions: 1) Classical Apologetics, John Gerstner, R. C Sproul and Arthur Lindsley 2) Faith Founded on Fact, John Warwick Montgomery. 3) The Defendable Faith, Steven Collins. 4) Tough-Minded Christianity, William Dembski. 4) Brian Nixon.

Brian NixonAbout the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, artist, and minister. He's a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Evangelical Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon.

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