Christian apologist, Paul Copan, published a post over at The Gospel Coalition blog critical of presuppositional apologetics. He titled his post Questioning Presuppositionalism, even though he doesn’t really ask any specific questions of presuppositionalists. A number of individuals have responded to it. James White gave an outstanding response on his Dividing Line worth your time considering.
Rather than retreading ground where good men have already trod, I want to sketch out my "questions for classic apologetics" though I’ll probably just make a bunch of statements like Copan did. Moreover, I’ll admit up front that my points will be for the most part generalizations. I am sure any detractors will fault me for that and accuse me of providing anecdotal testimony.
But I make my observations based upon what I hear from the popular promoters of classic apologetics when they engage the unbelievers in debate or dialog in the public arena. If my detractors believe I am being unfair, then I challenge them to remedy these concerns. If anything, address them and give an account for them. It’s my conviction that the glory of God is at stake.
– Classic apologists have a fixation on the value of Greek philosophy and its impact on theology. I noted this in a previous post where I offered the same criticism. Classic apologists have this notion that because pagan Greek philosophers, made in God’s image, used their "reasoning" facilities retained after the Fall to systematize the laws of logic that we as Christians must be familiar with them in order to study the Bible and to rationally engage unbelievers. Of course that just pushes the question back a step. Do we need some other rule book to properly understand the Greek philosophy BEFORE we can use it to read the Bible? It really is an absurd idea. It’s like saying that before I can work out mathematical equations I need to be familiar with Persian Zoroastrianism.
– Classic apologists diminish biblical authority. It’s like classic apologists are ashamed of the Bible. They will deny that of course, but they definitely give the impression they are ashamed of its sufficiency as a credible, reliable, and certain source of truth that can be presented alone, without external attestation to its authority. Some will go so far as to say Christians are overly dependent upon the Bible as a source of authority and question if the "Bible alone" is really enough when it comes to building an apologetic methodology.
Now, a smart thinking classic apologist is going ask, How do you know the Bible is in fact God’s revelation? As I responded to my recent classic apologist commenter under this post,
We know the Bible is in fact God’s revelation because it says so. Notice that I didn’t shift my certainty to "my experience" or "the evidence says" like a Mormon burning bosom experience. It is the Bible that is claiming this for itself as God’s Word. As Paul writes, Scripture is God-breathed. It is a revelation from the true and living God and so Scripture is tied to God’s character. The very fact that God has demonstrated His sovereignty, power, trustworthiness in time and space, is the grounding where we trust the infallibility and truthfulness of Scripture. This has been the historic protestant Christian position for centuries, especially since the Reformation, and what is articulated in the classic creeds both in Presbyterian and Baptist denominations. It is what is described as the self-authenticating nature of Scripture. If the Bible makes this claim for itself, which it does, then we trust it on that basis as believers. I will also add that ultimate persuasion of the Bible’s claims can only come from the regenerating work of the Spirit that affirms its truthfulness.
– They present a minimalist gospel presentation. Assuming the gospel is even presented in an apologetic encounter, it is usually presented after a drawn out philosophical presentation that allegedly proves the authority of the Bible and the Gospel message. If the gospel is given, the message is the bare essentials of Jesus died, rose again, and we need to believe on him. Catholics and Mormons believe that. Rarely, if ever, is there a proclamation of man in rebellion against His Creator, God’s wrath justly coming against the sinner, and the only hope is fleeing to Christ for salvation.
– Classic apologists grant way too much to sinners. Classic apologists naively think sinners hostile to God, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, will play by the same intellectual rules of debate and logic. It’s assumed they can be reasonably met at a neutral place so as to rationally discuss differences and draw similar conclusions about the evidence for Christianity. These hostile unbelievers, however, think the Christian apologists are nothing but a bunch of bumpkins, and will never grant them the same intellectual respect the apologists unwittingly give to the unbeliever.
I recall corresponding with an atheist who was an apostate from the Christian faith. He would complain bitterly to me how I was unfairly harsh with him in my emails. In contrast, he told me how all these well-known classic apologists warmly welcomed him to their "fellowships" during the ETS conferences and respectfully "dialoged" with him about his atheistic views. But once he got back home and started blogging, he’d bad-mouth those same apologists as morons, calling them intellectually dishonest and out-of-touch with reality.
– Makes evangelism too complicated. Places evangelism into the realm of the philosophical where normal Christians rarely if ever venture because Greek philosophy doesn’t have any meaningful impact in their lives.
Classic apologists, however, see that as a serious problem and one of the reasons Christianity isn’t taken seriously be the world. If more churches would teach philosophy to their congregations they too could rationally engage unbelievers and give them logical reasons for believing in Christianity. In fact, when I recently began surveying the apologetic blogs and "ministry" websites of a number of young apologists, many of them advertise how they are trained, "certified" apologists from such-and-such apologetic camp, seminar, or college program. And they would be happy to come and teach your youth group how to do apologetics right!
I don’t want people to believe I am devaluing education. Christians certainly benefit from knowing their faith, the Bible, Church History, world religions, cults, etc., but honestly, does Mrs. Harper really have to be a "certified" apologist before she can challenge her grandson who just returned from his first year at the state college and believes Zeitgeist is the most important documentary ever made? I imagine my classic apologist detractors will say no. A person doesn’t have to be certified before he does apologetics, but they certainly give the impression that they do.
– The overall methodology leads to a bait-and-switch tactic. In other words, the apologist presents a generic deity who has the “greater” probability of existing. If he is successful in getting the unbeliever to agree with him on the existence of “a” deity, he then switches into an evangelistic mode insisting it is the Christian God who meets the criteria for that “generic deity.”
The same can be said about the reliability of the Bible. The Bible is presented as just another ancient book among many, like the works of Pliny or Tacitus, and once you supposedly demonstrate its uniqueness among all those other books to the unbeliever, THEN you tell him how it contains all these fantastical stories about God creating the world in six days and corpses rising from the dead and the person is to believe it with conviction as a guide to his eternal destiny.
– There exists a compromised ecumenism among the league of the popular classic apologists. I also noted this point in more detail in a previous post. Catholics and Protestants, along with non-Christians like Moonies and atheists in the case with a number of the main ID promoters, all arguing for the existence of this generic deity and insisting how all the “evidence” proves this deity. If you express a problem with having heretical people joining along on the apologetic enterprise, then you are labeled as being too narrow and in danger of sounding like JWs or worse, the Fundamentalists.