How should Christians defend the faith?
There have been five main approaches that Christians have used throughout church history. Mapping Apologetics: Comparing Contemporary Approaches by Brian Morley summarizes these primary methods and leaves it up to the reader to decide which approach is best.
Part One of the book deals with the foundational issues of what the Bible says about apologetics and also contains a brief survey of the history of apologetics. Part Two takes up the the bulk of the book and dives into the five approaches. They are:
(1) Presuppositionalism with Cornelius Van Til and John Frame
(2) Reformed Epistemology with Alvin Plantinga
(3) Combinationalism with E.J. Carnell, Gordon Lewis, and Francis Schaeffer
(4) Classical Apologetics with Richard Swinburne, William Lane Craig, and Norman Geisler
(5) Evidentialism with John Warwick Montgomery and Gary Habermas.
Presuppositionalism began with Cornelius Van Til, who argued that we should presuppose the existence of God and then work our way out from there. Presuppositionalism differs greatly from the other methods that seek to build a case towards God’s existence. Van Til maintained that is his transcendental argument is the only valid argument, which claims that Christianity must be assumed in order to have any basis for knowledge at all.
Frame follows closely behind Van Til with one glaring difference, in that Frame does not think we can get to the Christian God through one argument alone. He is fine with using traditional arguments for God’s existence as long as the goal is still to show that knowledge cannot exist apart from the Christian God.
Plantinga argues for what he calls Reformed Epistemology. He argues that belief in God is properly basic, which means a Christian can be rationally justified in believing in God even without traditional evidence. He also argues that the Holy Spirit produces faith in the believer and this constitutes knowledge. Thus we don’t trust in God because of an argument per se, but we believe in God through an immediate awareness of Him just like seeing a desk would give someone an immediate awareness that a desk is in the room.
The chapter on Combinationalism looked at the views of E.J. Carnell, Gordon Clark and Francis Schaeffer. Combinationalists differ from Presuppositionalists in that they believe Christianity can be tested using the three-aspect test of the rational, empirical, and existential. The Combinationalist basically asks three questions when assessing a worldview:
(1) Is the worldview self-consistent?
(2) Does the worldview fit the relevant facts?
(3) Can the worldview be lived out?
The largest section of the book is on Classical Apologetics, which is a method where you first give arguments for general theism and then give arguments for Christianity specifically. The idea behind this method is that once you give good reasons to think that God exists, then evidence for events like the Resurrection of Jesus become more plausible. This is the dominant method used today by Christian apologists.
The final view is Evidentialism, which follows closely behind Classical Apologetics. Evidentialists disagree with Classical apologists in that they think theistic arguments are useful but not necessary in apologetics. For example, John Warwick Montgomery argues that we can know Christianity is true and that God exists because of the evidence for the Resurrection without using theistic arguments at all. Evidentialists like Gary Habermas use virtually undisputed historical facts surrounding Jesus to prove his Resurrection.
I really enjoyed reading this book and learned at least one thing about each viewpoint. Even though I was very familiar with these approaches, this book still helped me develop my own approach better. My personal approach is more of an integrated one which borrows various tactics from each of the approaches.
I like that Presuppositionalists begin with Scripture as the starting point and argue that God’s ultimate authority is self-authenticating. I also like Van Til’s transcendental argument, which shows that only the God of Christianity can provide the basis for knowledge and any other basis for knowledge will eventually fail.
I agree with Reformed Epistemology in that I think knowledge for the believer is properly basic. It is the Holy Spirit who gives the believer an immediate awareness of God which counts as knowledge.
I like the threefold test that Combinationalists use to validate worldviews and also think that this test is helpful in finding flaws in other worldviews.
I personally find many of the arguments used by Classical Apologists to be persuasive and useful when engaging with unbelievers. Finally, I like that Evidentialists use historical arguments like that of the Resurrection to show that Christianity is true. I would probably be closest to an Evidentialist. Although I love the classical arguments for God, I think the historical evidence for Jesus is strong enough to show that God exists without having to use them.
Even if you have know a lot about apologetics, you will still learn something from this book. Additionally, it can help refine your approach to doing apologetics. I highly recommend this book to others.
2 thoughts on “Book Review: Mapping Apologetics by Brian Morley”
This was nice and concise- I was wondering what the difference was between Plantiga’s Reformed Epistemology and the Presup view- thanks for helping me get clarity!
It was interesting to see that you take things from each view, because I have generally seen these views pitted against one another in the past- but I guess if you take the presuppositional approach and begin with God’s word epistemologically, you could still use evidentialism etc, but built ‘on top’ of that epistemological foundation. Is that the way you are taking it? Thanks!
Thanks for commenting! Those sections were helpful for me as well!
You are right, usually the views are pitted against each other. I guess I would be closest to an Evidentialist. I think it would depend on who I am talking to. Obviously I am coming to the table with a prior belief that Scripture is God’s Word. What I liked about Van Til was he started with the Bible, where many apologists start with natural theology. But I guess the difference is that I wouldn’t presuppose its truthfulness when talking with an unbeliever like he would. So I would disagree there.
I would begin with Scripture as the starting point and specifically focus on the historical person of Jesus instead of beginning with the classic arguments for theism. That’s why I’m closer to an Evidentialist. And I think Van Til’s transcendental argument can be used by non-presuppositionalists.
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