While not a full-scale list of Apologetic Approaches, the following methods represent the most popular and accepted argumentative procedures in the scholarly Apologetics community:*
“As is turns out, the apologist defends what the theologian has learned, with the tools and insights refined by the philosopher, for the evangelistic purpose of seeing the unbeliever’s heart and mind changed.”
Classical Apologetics, known as the “two-step” method, is the approach which first makes the case for Theism before arguing the case for Christian Theism. Rational reasons and evidences are presented by the Apologist in deductive and inductive format to ultimately show that Christianity is true. Showing is secondary to knowing, which is the work of the witness of the Holy Spirit.
One of the strengths of this method is that it finds common ground with non-Christians, acknowledging the reasonableness and truth held in some aspects of beliefs currently held. Moreover, this approach also benefits in emphasizing the importance of worldviews. The faulty, self-refuting views held by non-Christian worldviews can be exposed by this method because it focuses in its “first-step” on establishing the truth of the Theistic Worldview.
The Evidential Approach, known as the “one-step” method, seeks to prove Christian Theism by the use of specific evidences and historical arguments often utilizing a “minimal facts” approach. The “minimal facts” approach uses data that is well-evidenced and accepted by scholars on opposing sides of an issue. Evidentialists, in “one-step”, offer that their method’s factual data simultaneously prove God’s existence when the facts prove inductively that Theism is probably true.
Empirical evidence is popular and preferred by most non-Christians, and a great strength of this approach is its use of factual evidences for Christian Theism. Non-Christians are prone to consider the Evidentialist because the approach is similar to their epistemic norms. Another strength of this approach is its assent to the probabilistic nature of all argumentation through its use of inductive argumentation.
Cumulative Case Method
The Cumulative Case Method is an approach that, through the use of many subjective and objective elements, makes the case for Christian Theism offering rational inferences to the best explanation. Understanding Christianity like other religions and Atheism as systems of belief, it informally argues from broad-based internal (subjective) and external (objective) elements to establish the Christian Worldview. The Cumulative Case Method does not seek to “prove” through argument, but through cumulative arguments which infer the best explanation when all evidence is considered.
A considerable strength of the Cumulative Case Method is in its inherent integrative approach to apologetics. As the name of the approach indicates, it seeks to draw evidences for argument from broad-based internal and external elements which inevitably borrow from other Apologetic Methods. Although the religious epistemology inherent to each approach often dictates where arguments start and may end, the Cumulative Case Method may find some integration in an approach which, used by many Apologists, takes advantage of the unity of the diversity in each approach throughout the process. Hence, this method appears to be suitable for any situation.
The Presuppositional Method of Apologetics, like the name of the method implies, presupposes that Christian Theism is the true worldview and that unregenerate mankind’s reasoning is tainted due to the noetic effects of sin. As such all arguments and proofs which do not presuppose Christian Theism, and are not transcendental, are flawed. The significance of Apologetics is to rekindle the sensus divinitas, the knowledge of God that we all have from creation. Biblical presuppositions convey truth and the Apologist communicates that truth.
One strength of presuppositionalism is that it shows us that all arguments have presuppositions. It is beneficial to the Apologist to reveal and openly debate them. In doing so the Apologist may be able to show the non-Christian inconsistencies with the presupposed worldview with which they critique an argument. Another strength of this method is that is demonstrates that indirect proofs, or transcendental arguments, can be powerful tools to assert that without God no aspect of human experience would be possible.
Reformed Epistemology Method
Reformed Apologetics is closely related to the Presuppositional Method. It may even be said that all Presuppositionalists are Reformed, but not all Reformed Apologists are Presuppositionalists in their methods. The differenece is that while Presuppositionalists assume that unregenerate man cannot know things, the Reformed Apologist believes that unregenerate man can reason by means of God’s common grace, though unregenerate man is morally impaired. The chief means of argumentation is indirect, or transcendental, and they avoid argumentation on the basis of pure reason or fact. This approach holds to the view that belief in God, like any other person, does not require evidence or an argument to be rational. God gives man an awareness of Him that needs no theistic argument—sensus divinitas. Therefore, this method argues from the position of presupposition in the self-attesting authority of God through special revelation of Scripture like all Presuppositionalists.
A strength of this approach is that, like Presuppositional Apologetics, this method forces us to acknowledge that Apologetics presupposes Theology. The Apologist understands Christian Theology which informs her method and presentation of Christian Theism. And similarly, the Apologist should point out to the non-Christian that they have their own presuppositions they bring with them. Another strength of this approach is its ability to show epistemological differences in Christians and non-Christians with respect to assumptions about belief and knowledge. Challenging the non-Christian’s assumptions in light of highlighting the differences can be fruitful. The transcendental, or indirect, argument which presupposes God as the source of all meaning, knowledge, logic, fact, morality, and judgment is a powerful argument because it is true.
*Please consult the reference list below, from which this summary was compiled, for more information.
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Boa, Kenneth D., and Robert M. Bowman Jr. 2005. Faith Has Its Reasons: Integrative Approaches to Defending the Christian Faith, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
Cowan, Steven B. 2000. Five Views on Apologetics, Grand Rapids: Zondervan.