Apologetic Methods in Diverse Historical and Contemporary Contexts

          Introduction

            There will not be a detailed definition given here for Neoplatonist, Aristotelian, Modernity, and Post-Modern for the purpose of brevity. The two methods of Apologetics that will be discussed here are best labeled Classical and Evidential. They are born in response to the issues faced by the generations that practiced them. Both are built around the purpose of demonstrating that the Christian faith is reasonable. This, demonstrating that the Christian faith is reasonable, is the primary purpose of apologetics as McGrath explains, “our task is not to be nostalgic about the past, but to deal with the challenges of the present.”[1] It is, as McGrath says, the Christian Apologetic task to be ready to respond to the issues of the culture and bring to bear the truth that God has planted in the world; by applying McGrath’s six step[2] approach, the apologist can faithfully fulfill the scriptural mandate to give an answer for the hope within them.

            Classical Apologetics

           Classically, Classical Apologetics is a philosophical approach to demonstrating the necessity of God for rational thought. The classical apologist will either show that the philosophical musing of their day finds the best explanation in the God of scripture or they will use philosophy to create arguments for the existence of God, such as the teleological argument for God.

Diverse Historical-Cultural Settings

            An argument can be made that the classical approach goes all the way back to Paul in Acts 17. Paul appeals to the altar of “the unknown god”[3] and cites from contemporary philosophers and poets in verse 28 to begin his case for the God of scripture. There are two people in 400 AD. and 1200 AD. that can certainly be called titans of the classical approach.

Influence of the Historical-Cultural Setting

The first is Augustine. Augustine’s day brought challenges from Neoplatonist views of reality that made distinctions between the value of material and immaterial things. William, Edgar, and Scott stated that “Augustine situated the Christian faith within a larger metaphysical [philosophical] system.”[4] Augustine addressed the philosophical issues by appealing to the love of God shown in creation which would “terminates all the controversies of those who inquire into the origin of the world.”[5] This would be called the teleological argument for God. The next person is the angelic doctor Thomas Aquinas. The Prologue to The Summa Theologica states that Aquinas used the works “Aristotle has proved”[6] because “philosophical science treats of all being, even God Himself.”[7]

Primary Themes and Emphases        

As stated previously, Classical Apologetics focuses on the philosophical argumentation for the existence of God. Aquinas is a great example of this because it is rightly stated that Aquinas was able to show that Aristotle’s prime mover was none other than the God of scripture.

         Evidential Apologetics

             Evidential Apologetics can also be linked to Pauline thought in Romans 1. Paul said that the evidence for God is “plain … ever since the creation of the world.”[8] Just as Classical Apologetics dealt with the propagation of philosophical ideas in its day, Evidential Apologetics engaged “modernity … as an appeal to rational argument as the basis”[9] for reasonable faith.

Diverse Historical-Cultural Settings

            As the 1700s dawned, the world embraced the ideas of the enlightenment. Alister McGrath explains the “impact of rationalism on Christian apologetics was the downplaying of any aspects of Christian thought that were seen as “irrational” or “illogical.””[10] In ancient Christian history the physical world and the value of it was in question, however, in the age of modernity it was the metaphysical that was challenged as ideas like Darwinism gave rise to a wholly materialistic worldview.  William, Edgar, and Scott explain that this era is summed up in “René Descartes … dictum Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am)”[11]

Primary Themes and Emphases

            The core of apologetic approach is locating the place of reason within how the human knows God.  A major theme is demonstrating that faith in God is not only reasonable but necessary for relational choices. Perhaps this might be summed up by saying, that if “The heavens declare the glory of God”[12] then it is reasonable that they can be the foundation for proof of his existence.

Influence of the Historical-Cultural Setting

William, Edgar, and Scott explain that the core of the issue was faced by a ““relocation” of reason, from its status as a servant to God’s revelation to its supremacy.” The worldviews like Darwinism that lead to a fully materialistic worldview meant that if an apologist was to find common ground, then they would have to show the inadequacy of a fully materialistic worldview to provide meaningful answers to life’s questions.

           Conclusion: Importance of the Christian Apologetic Task

             It was Frances Schaffer that said, “our responsibility is so to communicate that those who hear the gospel will understand it.”[13] That is the work of an apologist. The gospel is what needs to be communicated. The Christian Apologetic Task is to clear the air of false ideas by showing them to be false. Once all other worldviews are shown to be false, the question will arise, what then is truth? That is a gospel moment. McGrath, explains, “[t]he Great Commission gives every Christian the privilege and responsibility of preaching the Good News.”[14] This is the scriptural mandate to share the hope that resides within.

 

References

[1]. Alister McGrath. 2012. Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. 30.

[2]. “understand the faith, understand the audience, communicate with clarity, find points of contact, present the whole gospel, and practice.” Ibid, 35-38.

[3]. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ac 17:23.

[4]. William, Edgar, and Scott Oliphint, eds. 2009. Christian Apologetics, Past and Present: A Primary Source Reader (Volume 1, to 1500). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 205.

[5]. Augustine of Hippo, “The City of God,” in St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. Marcus Dods, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887), 217.

[6]. Saint Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica, ed. Mortimer J. Adler, Philip W. Goetz, and Daniel J. Sullivan, trans. Laurence Shapcote, Second Edition., vol. 17, Great Books of the Western World (Chicago; Auckland; Geneva; London; Madrid; Manila; Paris; Rome; Seoul; Sydney; Tokyo; Toronto: Robert P. Gwinn; Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1990), 3.

[7]. Ibid.

[8]. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 1:19–20.

[9]. Alister McGrath. 2012. Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. 18.

[10]. Ibid, 28.

[11]. William, Edgar, and Scott Oliphint. 2011. Christian Apologetics Past and Present: A Primary Source Reader (Volume 2, From 1500). 2nd ed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books. 169

[12]. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 19:1.

[13]. Francis A. Schaeffer, Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy (IVP, 1990)). 125.

[14]. Alister McGrath. 2012. Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. 13.

 

Bibliography

McGrath, Alister. 2012. Mere Apologetics: How to Help Seekers and Skeptics Find Faith. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Saint Thomas Aquinas. The Summa Theologica. Edited by Mortimer J. Adler, Philip W. Goetz, and Daniel J. Sullivan. Translated by Laurence Shapcote. Second Edition. Vol. 17. Great Books of the Western World. Chicago; Auckland; Geneva; London; Madrid; Manila; Paris; Rome; Seoul; Sydney; Tokyo; Toronto: Robert P. Gwinn; Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1990.

Schaeffer, Francis A. Francis A. Schaeffer Trilogy. IVP, 1990.

Schaff, Philip, ed. St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine. Vol. 2. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887.

William, Edgar, and Scott Oliphint, eds. 2009. Christian Apologetics, Past and Present: A Primary Source Reader (Volume 1, to 1500). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books

William, Edgar, and Scott Oliphint. 2011. Christian Apologetics Past and Present: A Primary Source Reader (Volume 2, From 1500). 2nd ed. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

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