If you think defending the Christian faith is just a small discipline within theology, you might be surprised that there are several styles. These styles come with their own extensive literature. There are four main types of Christian apologetics: Classical, evidential, presuppositional, and fideism.
In this video I would like to look with you at classical apologetics. I am not going into depth, but I would like to explain a bit more about what it is and how we can use it.
Oldest Type of Christian apologetics
You might have guessed already that the word ‘classical’ isn’t there for just the sound of it. The classical apologetical tradition is the prevailing approach to apologetics in the history of the Christian church. This approach was especially popular prior to the modern times.
From the Apologists to the dawn of our own era, this has been the central teaching of the church, Eastern, Roman, Protestant, the teaching of the creeds and of the theologians.
Justin Martyr might ring some bells? He was a very known apologist from the second century. He started to use elements of the classical method and later we see people like Augustine, who used philosophical proofs for the existence of God. Later we see Augustine using the argument of miracles and fulfilled biblical prophecy, to demonstrate that God really revealed Himself in Christ. He also used the remarkable growth of the church during the severe persecutions and suppression. Not only growth but also the fact that the church came out of this period as victorious, was used by him to show that God really intervened with His people.
Later, in the Middle Ages, we have theologians like Anselm who started to systematically formulate this approach of apologetics. It is Anselm who came up with the ontological argument. Interestingly Thomas Aquinas rejected Anselm’s ontological argument. Instead, he liked to use different forms of the cosmological argument. However, both kind of arguments are very philosophical, and our still being used today to prove theism.
These philosophical arguments are nowadays being used to counter the atheistic world-view. This is the kind of world-views which probably wasn’t on the minds of Anselm and Aquinas. They also emphasised these proofs couldn’t function as a foundation of faith. They strongly believed that this kind of arguments may help, but they can never function as a way to gain the deeper knowledge of God.
In the 1900s, several Roman Catholic philosophers, like Étienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain, started to use the tactics of Aquinas again. They did a very good job and this might be the reason this approach is still very popular among Catholic and Protestant apologists today.
So, What Does it Do?
Okay, that was some history. Let’s recap a little of what this form of apologetics tries to do. Basically, classical apologetics uses philosophical arguments to prove the existence of God. I have done a whole series on these classical arguments. If you like to see them you can click on the link in the description of this video. These classical arguments argue that the God of the Bible is the only logical option.
A very cool argument is for example the argument of morality. If pushed, most people will admit that there is something like absolutely wrong. I don’t think I have to come up with examples, right? I mean, we have all seen the attacks on civilians in Israel. However, to say that the attacks from an Islamic terrorist organisation is wrong, demands the existence of objective morality. And if there is something like objective morality, we need a fixed standard by which we can measure this morality. As history has shown us, humans are no candidate. So, the only logical conclusion is that God most exist because we need Him to show us the absolute standard.
Apologists Who Emphasise Reason
A classical apologist will say that reason and faith are not at war with each other, and that reason can be used to support faith.
The classical apologists often use a so-called two-step tactic. First they would try to establish the existence of God. As said, they have a whole array of arguments to use. This does not yet prove Christianity, only monotheism. Once they see that their argument lands in the heads of their listeners, they will proceed with the second step. This second step can be an entire range of different proofs to show the listener that the Bible is reliable.
For this they might use for example the evidence from fulfilled prophecy. But they can also demonstrate the historical reliability of Scripture, or the plausibility of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. In this way they show that Christianity stands completely apart from all other religions.
It might see to many that classical apologetics is almost the same as, what we call evidential apologetics. It is not. I’ll let Norman Geisler explain it to you.ii
The difference between the classical apologists and the evidentialists on the use of historical evidences is that the classical see the need to first establish that this is a theistic universe […] Evidentialists do not see theism as a logically necessary precondition of historical apologetics. The basic argument of the classical apologist is that it makes no sense to speak about the resurrection as an act of God unless, as a logical prerequisite, it is first established that there is a God who can act.
Talking about Geisler. He stands in line with several, modern, well known, apologists who all like to use classical apologetics. Names like R.C. Sproul, William Lane Craig, Frank Turek are, among others, just some champions within this field.
The Strength of Classical Apologetics
The classical approach is a game-changer. Romans 1:19-20 tells us that we can know about God through nature.
because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse
So, if we can know God by looking at nature, then it is possible that this knowledge can be put in the form of a logical argument. The so-called theistic arguments are well proved throughout the years and most of them have withstand the trails, and they are considered to be sound and strong from a rational point of view.
These arguments help us to establish some awareness of reality and the absolute nature of truth. In an age of relativism this is very important. There can not be more truths. That what is true for me cannot be false for someone else. That is relativism and as said earlier most normal thinking people will admit that there is something like an absolute truth and morality.
Once we have established the existence of a God, this approach allows us to continue to prove Christianity. You will have a hard time to convince someone of the resurrection of Jesus if God’s existence hasn’t been established first. Likewise, wonders and miracles, and all the other stuff happening in the Bible and church history. Without God, people can easily dismiss these things. The evidences for Scripture and Christianity make more sense and are more convincing after they are put in a theistic context.
If you are like me, you might be rather lazy than tired. But trust me, laziness is not bringing forth any fruits. Defending the faith is hard work! The enemy knows all the arguments, and it is our task to not only knowing them better but also understanding them better.
Classical apologetics is a brilliant tactic to bring people closer to the truth. But, it also means you need to put some time and effort in it. When I came into the bakery as a young 16-year-old know-it-all, my Christian boss did not waste his time with the typical christian one-liners. He, and his church prayed diligently for me. Besides praying, he also work hard to show me that there has to be a God. He showed me that it is much more logical to believe in a Creator than in the idea that everything came into existence out of nothing.
When, after a very long time, I admitted that there must be a God, he continued to show me why the God of the Bible is the most coherent compared to all the other ideas… Including aliens, the Hindu gods, the god of Islam etc. I tried to object time and again, by throwing in these other options. He managed to show why the Christian world-view was the most logical of them all.
Finally, I gave in. I admitted that he God of the Bible had to be real. Now, my boss started to show me that I wasn’t right with God. Since I already knew that the Bible had to be true, this step wasn’t that hard to grasp. Slowly, but surely he lead me towards a good grasp of the impoverished state I was in. My final attempt to avoid the inevitable was to say that I wouldn’t mind going to hell. I said “I am a bread-baker, I like the heat of an oven.” There you go! I came to that point where a human-being is no longer able to do much more. Now it was completely up to the Holy Spirit to give that last push.
I didn’t have to wait long. I burned my underarm in the oven. My skin curled up, and I can tell you that this is rather painful. All of a sudden it dawned on me. That evening I gave my heart to Christ!
The process took very, very long! My boss invested a lot of time in researching the arguments he gave and in presenting them to me. Step by step, he led me from a non-believer to a god-acknowledging person, to a God-fearing Christian.
He was ready to give an answer of the hope that was within him! We need to be ready to do the same! And the classical style of apologetics is a brilliant way to help people. But you, like my boss, also need to be prepared to spend time and to invest in your knowledge of God’s word and your faith!
In any case, do let me know what you think in the comments. Maybe you disagree on certain things? Just leave a comment. Remember! I am mostly active on my Odysee channel. You’ll find a link to that channel in the description of this video or on my website. If you like what I am doing you can subscribe to my channel and don’t forget to hit the notification bell if you want to be informed every time I upload a new video!
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God bless you, thank you for watching, and, Lord willing, we’ll see each other in the next video!
i Sproul, R. C., Gerstner, J., & Lindsley, A., Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan – Academie, 1984), p. 210.
ii Geisler, N, L., Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics, (Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 1999), pp. 78, 80.