Interpreting Creation, Part 1: Apologetics Methods

Interpreting Creation, Part 1: Apologetics Methods

Even though there are over a dozen new faith-building scientific discoveries…

I’m eager to share with you for Today’s New Reasons to Believe, I feel compelled to take a brief hiatus and address the many questions and concerns both friends and adversaries raise about Reasons To Believe’s (RTB) apologetics methods and hermeneutical principles. Lately, the audiences I speak to have wanted to know what apologetics method I use and what interpretive tools I bring to bear on science-faith, creation-evolution, and Bible-theology issues. Much of this, I am sure, arises from recent critiques and misrepresentations of our apologetics and hermeneutics by young-earth creationist, theistic evolutionist, and evolutionary creationist organizations.

Apologetics, based on the Greek word apologia, is the discipline of defending a particular position or worldview through the accumulation of evidence, observations, and/or testimony and the systematic use of reason and logic. Hermeneutics is the study of the theory and practice of interpretation. Biblical hermeneutics is the study of the principles of interpretation concerning the books of the Bible. Christian leaders and Bible scholars are identified typically by one of a few apologetics methods and one of several different interpretive principles or approaches.

In this four-part series I will address, first, my own and Reasons To Believe’s apologetics methods. Second, I will explain the various science-faith models used by different organizations and leaders committed to address the creation-evolution debates and why we at RTB adopt the model that we do. Third, I will describe the biblical testing method and explain how we at RTB use that method to build and develop our testable biblical creation model. Lastly, I will outline the hermeneutical principles I, and the rest of the RTB scholar team, use to interpret the Bible and the record of nature.

Even a four-part series is not adequate to describe and explain all the apologetics methods and hermeneutical principles RTB’s scholar team uses in its research. Therefore, in these four articles I will focus on the most pertinent methods and principles.

When people ask me which apologetics “camp” I fall into, I tell them not one but many. For example, I refuse to be identified as either an evidentialist (someone who believes the degree to which a belief is justified is proportional to the amount of evidence marshaled for that position as well as the quantity of evidence against competing beliefs) or a presuppositionalist (those who believe it is possible to see the world as free of contradictions, rational, logical, and order only in the context of faith in God and the Bible’s reliability). I am both. When Jesus said the Word of God is a two-edged sword, I believe that, in part, He was exhorting us to apply both evidentialism and presuppositionalism in our apologetics and evangelism.

Many people, though, refuse to accept my claim that I am both an evidentialist and a presuppositionalist. Some are even angered by it. I believe these reactions are rooted in the common belief that evidentialism and presuppositionalism are mutually exclusive. Most presuppositionalists today, especially in the young-earth creationist camp, are convinced that humans are unable to reason rationally or logically or to objectively evaluate evidence apart from their submission to God’s authority over their lives. Consequently, presuppositionalists are committed to present the gospel first and, only after conversion, provide new converts with evidences for their faith.

Most evidentialists see presuppositionalist strategy as an appalling appeal for people to “check their brains at the front door of the church.” Consequently, evidentialists blame presuppositionalism for Christianity’s reputation in secular circles as anti-intellectual and anti-scientific. Some go so far as to label presuppositionalism as the greatest barrier to evangelism and missions.

In Romans 7:7–8:4 Paul pulls together these two warring camps, pointing out that the law of the mind agrees with the law of God but is powerless to overcome the law of sin and flesh. Only the law of the spirit can rescue a person from the power of sin and flesh. In other words, humanity’s problem is not that we are incapable of discerning what is true and what is false. No, the problem is that apart from the work of God’s Holy Spirit, we are incapable of doing or acting upon what our mind says is true.

Psalm 2 supports Paul’s analysis of the human mind. There the psalmist explains how people come into a relationship with God’s Son (verses 2–7). We are exhorted, first, to come with our mind to receive instruction (verse 10); second, to submit our will to serve God (verse 11); and, third, to enter into a joyful and emotionally satisfying relationship with our Creator (verse 12).

Of all the modern-day apologists who tended to eschew evidentialism and focus on presuppositionalism, Francis Schaeffer is my favorite. Schaeffer would brilliantly guide nonbelievers step-by-step through all the different worldview systems that compete with Christianity. He would then show how each perspective was fraught with logical inconsistencies and sorely lacking in encouraging the development and productivity of the arts, sciences, health, education, human rights, and works of charity. By knocking out the competition, Schaeffer left skeptics with the only remaining option.

Presuppositionalism, properly presented, shows what is wrong with non-Christian religions and worldviews. Evidentialism, properly presented, shows what is right about the Christian faith. Combining both presuppositionalism and evidentialism equips apologists and evangelists with the most comprehensive tools for persuading nonbelievers to respond to the Holy Spirit’s call upon their lives. Since the work of salvation is an ongoing process involving both justification and sanctification, there is the need to present nonbelievers and believers with both types of apologetics.

Though evidentialism and presuppositionalism may be the two predominant apologetics methods in use today, there are others. In Five Views on Apologetics, five well-known apologists each defend a particular apologetics method used throughout the history of the Christian church.1 The five methods are:

  1. classical (defended by William Lane Craig);
  2. evidential (defended by Gary Habermas);
  3. cumulative case (defended by Paul Feinberg);
  4. presuppositional (defended by John Frame); and
  5. reformed epistemological (defended by Kelly James Clark).

Christians also use three more methods: moral, doctrinal, and experiential apologetics. In the nineteen books published by Reasons To Believe scholars, readers will find all eight methods used. As RTB president I encourage each of our staff scholars and volunteer apologists to combine these eight methods in their ministry.

Every person we encounter is different. Each will be impressed to a greater degree by one apologetics method over the others. Thus, we must be ready at all times to launch out with the best method for whomever we may encounter. One can never have too many arguments or too much evidence for the Christian faith, the trustworthiness of the Bible, and the reliability of the record of nature.

In part 2 of this series I will describe four different classes of models for dealing with science-faith issues, name the leading proponents today for each model, and explain why we at RTB adhere to and vigorously promote what is known as the constructive integrationist model.

  1. 1. Steven B. Cowen ed., Five Views on Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000).