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Classical Apologetics: Confusing Effect and Cause

I’ve not studied the issue of classical (or evidentialist) apologetics as contrasted with presuppositional, beyond understanding the general approaches of each (and affirming presuppositional apologetics).  Fred Butler’s recent blog post, Questioning Classic Apologetics, gives a great summary of questions for classic apologists, along with his own reference to James White’s work.

I’m familiar with evidentialist apologetics, from my earliest Christian years and time spent reading Josh McDowell (Evidence Demands a Verdict) and even Norm Geisler’s “When Skeptics Ask” (though I’ve forgotten much of that one).  As Fred points out so well, classical apologetics puts too much emphasis on non-biblical Greek philosophy, considering that the Bible alone is insufficient to convince sinners of their need to repent and come to Christ.

Now I want to focus on one particular issue:  confusing the effect with the cause.  Josh McDowell shared his testimony, that his conversion came about as a result of directly trying to “prove” Christianity wrong.  He met a group of Christians at the college, hated what they believed so much that he set out to prove the resurrection of Jesus Christ a fraud, and ended up being convinced by the evidence FOR the resurrection.  Therefore, he apparently reasoned, other unbelievers would also be convinced by the non-biblical evidences available.

Those who emphasize the need for evidentialist apologetics are unaware of the real cause for their own conversion, the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration.  In the case of McDowell, I observe that he was the one who initiated the investigation.  Arnold Fruchtenbaum similarly set out, as an unbelieving Jewish teenager, to disprove the claims of the Jewish Christians he met at the local missionary agency.  But it is one thing for a hostile unbeliever to “set out” to disprove the claims of Christianity, as a result of meeting up with Christians (when, behind the scene, the very providence of the encounter with the Christians, and the desire to disprove them, has been brought about by the Holy Spirit’s work on their heart), and quite another for a believing Christian to actively seek out unbelievers to debate with, to hope to win them over by evidentialist human reasoning.

Classical apologists see the effect from their own lives: extra-biblical evidence convincing someone to come to faith.  Similarly, the Pelagian observes the effect — his own desire to “choose God” — and thus mistakes that which is an effect of the Holy Spirit in regeneration (the real reason behind why the sinner “chose God”), for the “root cause” of the matter.

  1. March 27, 2012 at 3:55 am

    I agree with you…some non-presuppositionalists do make it a big deal about their intellect leading them to the Lord in a fashion that confuses the cause and the means.

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