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Biblical Apologetic Methodology by Dr. Myron Houghton (part 1)

We have the privilege of having a paper on apologetic methodology by Dr. Myron Houghton at Faith Baptist Theological Seminary that I’m dividing up into several parts.


Before we can discuss a truly Biblical apologetic methodology, a definition of apologetics must be given. Someone once wrote, “apologetics usually consists of proving what you have never doubted by arguments that you don’t understand.” [from Snappy Squibs for the Church Calendar edited by Paul E. Holdcraft (Nashville: Abingdon, 1931), page 106, as quoted by Frederic R. Howe, Challenge and Response: A Handbook of Christian Apologetics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982) page 131.] While humorous, this definition of apologetics will prove to be relevant to our discussion.

A Definition/Explanation of Apologetics

Thomas’ View

A concise explanation of apologetics is given by Thomas A. Thomas. He states, “The word Apologetics comes from the Greek, meaning a defense, or in the verbal form, to give a defense. And so, in Christian apologetics, we are concerned with the defense of our Christian faith against the philosophies of the world.” [1. “An Introduction to Christian Apologetics,” by Thomas A. Thomas in Theology In Perspective, vol. 1, number 1 (Spring 1978), published by the Empire State Baptist Seminary, Liverpool, N.Y.), p. 11.]

Killen’s View

A longer explanation has been given by R. Allan Killen in his article, “Apologetics,” in Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia (Chicago: Moody Press, 1975), volume one, page 113: “In its narrowest sense it means the defense of the faith of the individual Christian. In a broader sense it is the answer of the Christian to attacks upon himself, his doctrine and faith, and all the revelation given in the Scriptures. In its fullest sense apologetics is the defense and justification of the Christian faith and of the revelation given in the Holy Scriptures against the attack of doubters and unbelievers, plus the development of a positive evangelical presentation of the facts given in the Bible, the reasonableness of God’s revelation to man in Scripture, and its ample sufficiency alone to meet the complete spiritual needs of man. Apologetics is then not only a negative and defensive but also a positive and offensive exercise. It is not only to be used in defense of the gospel but also in its propagation.”

Frame’s View

A radically different explanation is given by John Frame. He states, “Apologetics may be defined as the application of Scripture to unbelief and as such may be seen as a subdivision of theology. . . . Too often writers on such matters have assumed that the work of the apologist is to reason with the unbeliever, using criteria and presuppositions that are acceptable both to belief and unbelief. On the basis of such reasoning, it is supposed, the apologist establishes the existence of God, the substantial truth of the gospel, and the authority of Scripture. Once these points are established, the rest of the Christian body of doctrine can be based on the exegesis of Scripture. . . . This common view, however, must be rejected as unsound. ‘Neutral’ reasoning, reasoning not subject to scriptural authority, is forbidden to us, even at the ‘preliminary’ stage. (One should say, rather, especially at the ‘preliminary’ stage, for it is at that stage that the framework is established to which all subsequent conclusions must conform.) Reasoning, even with unbelievers, must be obedient and godly, as foolish as that may seem to the unbelieving mind. Only such reasoning is capable of maintaining and defending the truth. For the unbeliever’s own good, we must not—at this point especially—compromise the only message that is capable of saving him. And in the final analysis, ‘neutrality’ is not only forbidden; it is impossible. One is either for God or against Him; to abandon the authority of God’s Word is to adopt the authority of the would-be autonomous man and the Devil’s lie.” [2. John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1987), p. 87.]

Houghton’s View

One’s methodology of apologetics is determined by what one believes the purpose of apologetics to be. If the purpose of apologetics is to provide reasons from information found in history, science, and other factual data why belief in God and the divine origin of the Bible is compelling and thus to win a neutral person to Christ by logical reasoning, then the evidential approach to apologetics will be adopted. If, however, the purpose is to create saving faith in a rebellious sinner, then the presuppositional approach to apologetics will be adopted. I believe this second approach is correct because “faith comes . . . by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). [3. All Scripture quotations will be from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.] In this paper we will see that people are not seeking God and that God’s word alone is able to transform them. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal [literally, “of the flesh”] but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5).

At the same time, without abandoning the presuppositional approach to apologetics, one may use information from science to show that the Christian belief in creation is consistent with scientific facts. Thus, John C. McCampbell, professor and head of the geology department at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (and a theistic evolutionist), can write in a foreword to The Genesis Flood that he rejects the authors’ basic ideas of an earth created in six literal days and a universal flood: “From the writer’s viewpoint, as a professional geologist, these explanations and contentions are difficult to accept. For the present at least, although quite ready to recognize the inadequacies of Lyellian uniformitarianism, I would prefer to hope that some other means of harmonization of religion and geology, which retains the essential structure of modern historical geology, could be found.

“Nevertheless, the authors have made a strong case and this volume offers a serious challenge to the uniformitarian position. They have in no way distorted this position, but have opposed it in a courteous, fair and scholarly manner. I would suggest that the skeptical reader, in like fashion, before he dismisses the Biblical-literal viewpoint of this book as unworthy of notice, should at least give it a careful reading and evaluation. He will find that the essential differences between Biblical catastrophism and evolutionary uniformitarianism are not over the factual data of geology but over the interpretations of those data. The interpretation preferred will depend largely upon the background and presuppositions of the individual student” (emphasis mine). [4. John C. Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1961), p. xvii.] It should be noted that although the theistic evolutionist was willing to admit the facts themselves were consistent with the Biblical view, this did not convince him to change his position!

Likewise, it is permissible to use information from history to support the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. For example, after looking at the various theories and evaluating them in the light of history, theologian Pinchas Lapide concludes, “Thus, according to my opinion, the resurrection belongs to the category of the truly real and effective occurrences, for without a fact of history there is no act of true faith. A fact which indeed is withheld from objective science, photography, and a conceptual proof, but not from the believing scrutiny of history which more frequently leads to deeper insights.” [5. Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1983), p. 92.]

Evidential apologists think that demonstrating the historicity of Christ’s resurrection will convince one to become a Christian. They are wrong. Lapide, while affirming the resurrection of Jesus, rejects the idea that He is the Messiah or the Son of God [6. Ibid., p. 153.] because Pinchas Lapide is a Jewish theologian! Since the Hebrew Scriptures teach resurrection (e.g. Isaiah 26:19) and since Lapide can accept Jesus as a rabbi, he states, “If God’s power which was active in Elisha is great enough to resuscitate even a dead person who was thrown into the tomb of the prophet (2 Kings 13:20ff.), then the bodily resurrection of a crucified Jew also would not be inconceivable. ‘Or have I no power to deliver?’ (Isaiah 50:2), asks the Lord of those who are hard of believing” (p. 131).

The value of books like those compiled by Josh McDowell [7. Evidence That Demands a Verdict (1972) and More Evidence That Demands a Verdict (1975) San Bernardino, CA: Campus Crusade for Christ International.] is that they give information that supports the consistency of Christian beliefs with ordinary facts. Access to these books gives Christian workers ammunition with which to “stop the mouths” of deceivers and scoffers (cf. Titus 1:10, 11 ). Presuppositional apologists reject the idea that such information will convince a person to become a Christian. This information cannot create or strengthen a believer’s faith. However, it may produce an intelligent framework into which a believer’s faith can be integrated.

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