Reasonable Apologetics (II)
In the first post I talked about recognizing the weaknesses and maximizing the strengths of Christian apologetics. Apologetics best serves as a guide and not an instruction manual. Even when dealing with non-believers, apologetics helps many sceptics take a more careful look at Christian faith. Now one of the weaknesses I identified was the multidisciplinary nature of apologetics. It invariable means the apologist will not have mastery of most the fields he uses to make an argument. In this post I want to look at how this drawback can equally be an advantage all depending on, as I emphasized in the initial post, how you approach apologetics.
Now the person who made me first think seriously about the weaknesses of apologetics and what to make of them was an atheist. I watched a debate between Abdu Murray of RZIM and an atheist called John Loftus on the resurrection. Now in my mind Murray, a trained lawyer clearly won the debate, but what was most memorable for me was the approach of Loftus. In his opening delivery instead of going straight to issues regarding the resurrection he attacked the whole enterprise of apologetics. He had a background as an evangelical apologist before he became an atheist. This meant he knew his way round the material and started reading criticisms of apologetic methodologies by noted Christian philosophers and apologists. His debate tactic was the equivalent of trying to get the case dismissed before it even saw the light of day. As someone who enjoys debating I admired the gutsiness of the move he made. It would have even been more impressive if that argumentative sleight of hand had actually worked.
Firstly, the problem with his strategy is that every single discipline has problems and differences between schools of thought. It’s not enough of a basis to dismiss the whole endeavour because of these challenges. Secondly, whether apologetics is legitimate or not was not what was up for debate that day. However, he did make me think more closely about the challenges of apologetics. At that point in time I had moved away from more mainstream apologists to listening to experts in particular fields of interest. You could say I was oversaturated with apologetics and that fatigue helped lead me to areas with a not-so-obvious apologetic angle. On deeper reflection, the first flaw I noticed about his critique of apologetic methodology is that there are actually different methodologies. There is more than one way to defend the Christian faith and each approach has its advantages over others. He failed to distinguish which brand or particular argument he was attacking. The main forms are philosophical, evidential and presuppositional apologetics. Failure to make the distinction is because most mainstream apologists use a hybrid approach incorporating these different forms into their defence of the faith. They do not put all their eggs into one basket so pointing out one bad egg does not jeopardise their case. Apologist Jim Warner Wallace helped me understand not only the safety of a variegated approach but also the power of making the case for the Christian faith that way.
A varied approach is sometimes distinguished as a fourth form of apologetics know as cumulative apologetics. In that approach you present something like a legal case. Lee Strobel is well known for that approach with many of his most popular works titled “The Case for ….” (There’s even a movie adaptation of his life named after and loosely based on his best seller “The Case for Christ.”) This is not surprising given his background as an investigative journalist.
I earlier mentioned Jim Warner Wallace because he helped me understand the power of a cumulative case through his background as a former cold-case homicide detective. He explained that he worked on cold-cases, unsolved murders that are years old where there are probably no material witnesses. Therefore, he usually built his case using indirect evidence. Indirect evidence is also known as circumstantial evidence. Circumstantial evidence is much maligned in procedural crime dramas but funnily enough most cases in the American criminal justice system are made that way. In building a case he collects scores of indirect evidence that together point to one conclusion. You might be able to explain away one piece of indirect evidence but when you have 150 pieces all suggesting one thing, it’s much harder to dismiss. In some cases he argued that they prefer circumstantial evidence since direct evidence, that is, the testimony of a witness, may sometimes be unreliable or deliberately misleading. Everybody lies as Dr House would say but indirect evidence literally cannot. Wallace prefers the term “Christian case making” over apologetics since he feels it best represents the modern defence of the faith.
Jim Wallace uses this explanation to present the reliability of the Gospels, a methodology he pursued himself leading to his conversion from atheism. He has also applied his detecting skills to the philosophical arguments for God’s existence. I would like to apply this approach to the entire apologetic enterprise. Going down that avenue I see there is a very robust and comprehensive case for Christian faith. What makes apologetics powerful is not the individual arguments but the cumulative case. It erects a might bulwark for Christian conviction equipped with a veritable arsenal to go on the offensive. Sceptics are usually very good at nit picking individual arguments but they are not able to entirely dismiss them, let alone make a harmonised case against Christianity.
Apologetics deals with the intellect and as far as reason goes, it gives me so much confidence when I see the vast army of arguments that can be martialled and coordinated in support of the faith. On that note the analogy of warfare is very appropriate since apologetics not only engages in intellectual battles but spiritual ones as well. In an army there are various divisions with people trained to do different things. This way they avoid the tactical disadvantage of having only a limited military strategy. It is the same with apologetics. Different arguments and indeed apologists, have different abilities but together they contribute to making in my estimation an extraordinarily good case. Even though you do not need to know all these things to be a believer knowing some of them will certainly not hurt. Being the sort of person I am, I sleep much easier knowing that there is a very serious intellectual case for believing in Jesus. I leave you with the wise words of C.S. Lewis in the hope that you too will take advantage of Christian apologetics,
Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.