If you’ve been a reader of my blog for any amount of time, you are likely aware that I’m convinced the Bible teaches us to use presuppositional apologetics.
That is, to give a defense of the faith while admitting our bias, standing on God’s revealed truth, and demonstrating that Christianity is the only rational worldview that can make sense of our reality.1
The practical outworking of this methodology can manifest itself in a variety of different ways.
For example, some may feel more comfortable arguing from a historical perspective. Some, from a scientific or philosophical perspective.
Others still may be better listeners than “proclaimers,” so to speak, and may get further along in conversation by asking questions and responding along the way.
I believe one can faithfully use apologetics in a variety of practical conversational scenarios, contrary to popular belief.
Here are just three of the useful strategies I have used with some success in the past to help you navigate these spiritual conversations:
#1. The Expository Approach
Perhaps this is approach is best captured by Dr. Voddie Baucham, author of Expository Apologetics: Answering Objections with the Power of the Word.
Baucham essentially argues that, rather than turning to philosophy, science, etc., to defend Christian belief, one needs to look no further than the text of the Bible itself.
After all, it was Spurgeon who quipped, “Defend the Bible? I’d sooner defend a lion! Turn it loose, and it will defend itself.”
In my experience, I have found this to be true. The nature of most objections to the Christian faith are usually based on misunderstandings about the nature of God, alleged Bible contradictions, or the insistence that Biblical faith is irrational by definition.
Interestingly enough, the best place to find an answer to such objections is the Bible itself!
And while it largely depends on the conversation I am having and who I am having it with, I have found this approach to be useful. Baucham packages this up in a neat and tidy way for us–at least to help us get the conversation rolling.
When asked why he believes the Bible is true, this is his default response: “I choose to believe the Bible because it is a reliable collection of historical documents written down by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. They report [of] supernatural events that took place in fulfillment of specific prophecies and claimed that their writings are divine rather than human in origin.”
(This is an argument based on the text of 2 Peter 1:16-21.)
Of course, there will be objections to this response. But this is where the apologetic endeavor excels! For example, if one contests by claiming that the Bible is not a collection of reliable historical documents, one will then to provide proof of such a phenomenon.
As apologists, we know this proof would be quite difficult or even impossible to produce since it would necessitate the changing of 5,000+ manuscripts in nearly full agreement,2 found on multiple continents across the East.
Not having read his entire book, I’m unable to comment much further on this approach. I can say, however, that he often cites the work of both Jesus Himself and Paul as they leaned on the authority of the Scriptures, and used them often to build their defense.
2. The Preconditional Approach
This is the approach I use most often in evangelistic encounters, simply because I believe it is the most powerful evidence for the God of the Bible.
Perhaps no book makes this approach more accessible than Lisle’s The Ultimate Proof of Creation.
If we were to package it up in a sentence, it would echo the famous words of Dr. Greg Bahnsen: “The transcendental proof for God’s existence is that without Him it is impossible to prove anything.”
I don’t think it is lost anyone that we should have good reasons for the things we do. It’s also reasonable to suggest that there should be good reasons for the way things are.
As such, there are some things about the world that are difficult–even impossible–to explain given naturalism. Our ability to be logical, to do science, and to make moral decisions, for example.
These (amongst others) are called the preconditions of intelligibility–things that must be in place in order for our world to operate the way that it does.
The preconditional approach would maintain that God–specifically, the Christian God–is the only reasonable explanation for such things.
I like to work from this premise because there are really only two main objections I encounter–and they are quite easily answered.
Surprisingly often, one rejects this by claiming that they are logical, able to do science, and make moral decisions even though they don’t believe in God, which must mean the argument is false. But this isn’t the argument at all!
In fact, the very point of the argument is that they can do these things! The argument is that there is no reason the world is this way apart from an intelligent Creator–specifically the one revealed in Scripture.3 There is nothing inherently moral about matter, orderly about nature, or rational about protons and neutrons.
The inherent properties of matter simply do not include such phenomena as rationality, order, or morality.
This is actually the answer to the second objection as well, namely that the world just is this way. But, the argument then assumes what it is trying to prove, which is the logical fallacy of begging the question. We all agree that the world is like this–the question is why.
As it turns out, the three objections to Christianity I see the most–rationality, science, and morality–are the very three things that could not possibly be true unless God existed.
#3. The Tactical Approach
Apologist Greg Koukl, in his book Tactics, gives “a game plan for discussing your Christian convictions.”
This is probably the single most useful volume I’ve read when it comes to giving a defense of the Christian faith.
The irony is that the core idea of this approach is one of listening–in other words, you let “the other guy” do all the talking!
If we were to summarize the reason for this approach, we might say that folks often (1) don’t know what they believe, (2) don’t know why they believe it, and (3) have never thoughtfully considered other options.
Greg teases out this notion by offering three helpful Columbo questions–yes, as in the famed TV detective played by none other than Peter Falk:
Question #1. “What do you mean by that?” In his book, Greg gives the example of a waitress he found himself in conversation with. She claimed to believe that moral truth was relative. When Greg asked the question (i.e., “What do you mean by relative“), he found that she didn’t even know what relativism was!
She simply parroted an answer she’d heard time and again. This is often the case in these kinds of discussions. By getting to the bottom of what one believes, we are better equipped to respond to their challenges.
Question #2: “How did you come to that conclusion?” Even if a person knows what they believe, the chances of them actually knowing why they believe it are usually quite slim.
This is a good question to ask someone who claims Jesus didn’t exist. It’s likely that, again, they are just repeating something they’ve heard. This is a perfect example because even the most atheist of scholars agree that Jesus was a real person!
This means the person has (1) not researched this in the slightest or (2) has gotten some very, very bad information from somewhere.
Question #3: “Have you ever considered…?” While the other questions assume a more defensive posture, this one moves you to the offense.
For example, “Have you ever considered that gospel writers were eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus Christ, and weren’t just making up stories?” This opens up a line of communication with your challenger.
While you may not end up at the gospel in your conversation (though this is never a bad thing), the very least you could do is make every effort to point this person one step closer to Jesus.
The Bible says that there are both seed planters and harvesters. Greg is a self-proclaimed planter, and I tend to claim that distinction myself. I’ve used these “tactics” in many, many conversations and have found them to work just as described, so to speak.
If you want to have more productive conversations, consider adopting one or all of these conversation strategies.
You may find one approach fits you best, or you may find (as I have) that they are each well suited to different kinds of conversations and are beneficial in their own way.
But more importantly than anything, just get in the game! There is nothing more exciting than telling the greatest Story of all time to those who will listen.
The best thing about these strategies (and particularly the tactical approach) is how well they work for an introvert like me! I find one-on-one discussions hard, but they are ten times harder with no game plan.
So get in the game for the glory of God, and He will use you mightily to accomplish His purposes.
Questions? Feel free to comment below and start the discussion, or click the blue button on the right (desktop only) to ask a question with a voicemail. We will do our best to answer in an upcoming post. Thanks!
- As opposed to “evidential” or “classical” apologetics, which would encourage us to assume a “neutral position,” if there were such a thing, and use mere evidence to demonstrate the truthfulness of Christianity.
- Most of the variations in manuscript copies are merely spelling and punctuation. With respect to doctrinal teaching, all known canonical manuscripts are in full agreement.
- Sometimes I’m asked why these things could not be true of other monotheistic gods such as Allah, or other religious systems such as Mormonism. And the reason is that they each violate these preconditions. In both of the above examples, the adherents claim to believe in the God of the Bible and His teachings at face value, but then teach things contrary to the Bible in their own Scriptures. This violates the Law of Non-Contradiction which is required in order to be logical, which in turn violates the preconditions of intelligibility.