Apologists can tend to be quite rigid when it come to apologetic methodology. We sometimes argue a lot over which form of apologetics is the most effective model for reaching the world for the Christian faith. The reality is when we glance into the Scriptures, there isn’t one form of apologetic methodology. So what kind of apologetics do we see in the Bible?
Evidentalism: It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the apostles utilized an evidential model by appealing to prophecy and the resurrection as the basis for the evidence of Jesus’ Messiahship (Acts 2:14-32-39; 3:6-16, 4:8-14; 17:1-4; 26:26; 1 Cor. 15:1-8). F.F. Bruce says the primary way that the apostles established the fact that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament Messianic Promises was their appeal to prophecy and miracles (1)
Obviously the Apostles were speaking to Jewish theists (many modern Jewish people are not theists) and we need to understand the hermeneutics of messianic prophecy. But the point is that they did appeal to an evidential model.
Prophecy as a Verification Test
Also, when it comes to the history of Israel, God would continually speak through prophets to correct the problem of His people turning away from him towards false gods/nature deities. There are texts that support the God of Israel from other nature deities: For example:
“I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”-Isaiah 42:8-9
We see the following:
1. God will demonstrate his true omniscience by demonstrating he is the one talking.
2. He will do so by declaring in advance what the course of future history will hold.
3. This provides a verification test as to who the true God is and that such a writing is from him. (2)
God also challenged Israel’s ‘gods’ to do the same:
“Present your case,” says the Lord. “Set forth your arguments,” says Jacob’s King. “Tell us, you idols, what is going to happen. Tell us what the former things were, so that we may consider them and know their final outcome. Or declare to us the things to come, tell us what the future holds, so we may know that you are gods. Do something, whether good or bad, so that we will be dismayed and filled with fear. But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; whoever chooses you is detestable.”- Isaiah 41:21-24
To see more on this, see here:
There seems to be a pattern of how God works in the history of Israel. Every time he is doing something new in their midst, he confirmed what he was doing through a prophet. Signs are used to provide evidence for people to believe the message of God through a prophet of God. We see this is an important feature with Moses and Jesus:
1. God says to Moses, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you” (Exod. 3:12).
2. When Moses asks God, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” the Lord gives Moses two “signs”: his rod turns into a snake (Exod. 4:3) and his hand becomes leprous (Exod. 4:1–7).
3. Moses “performed the signs before the people, and they believed; … they bowed down and worshiped” (Exod. 4:30–31).
“Sign”(sēmeion) is used seventy-seven times (forty-eight times in the Gospels). Remember that the prophet Isaiah spoke of a time where miraculous deeds would be the sign of both the spiritual and physical deliverance of Israel (Isa.26: 19; 29:18-19; 35:5-6; 42:18; 61:1). Also:
1. The word “sign” is reserved for what we would call a miracle.
2. “Sign” is also used of the most significant miracle in the New Testament, the resurrection of Jesus from the grave.
3. Jesus repeated this prediction of his resurrection when he was asked for a sign (Matt. 16:1, 4). Not only was the resurrection a miracle, but it was a miracle that Jesus predicted (Matt. 12:40; 16:21; 20:19; John 2:19).
4. Nicodemus said of Jesus “We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him” (John 3:2).
5.“Jesus the Nazarene was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God.
What about Jesus?
While Jesus appealed to several methods, he most certainly utilized an evidential model. Jesus recounted the distinctive features of His ministry: “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Matt. 11:4-6; see also Luke 7:22).
Jesus’ works of healing and teaching are meant to serve as positive evidence of His messianic identity, because they fulfill the messianic predictions of the Hebrew Scriptures. What Jesus claimed is this:
1. If one does certain kinds of actions (the acts cited above), then one is the Messiah.
2. I am doing those kinds of actions.
3. Therefore, I am the Messiah.
We see in other Scriptures that Jesus continually appeals to His “works” as proof of His Messiahship (John 7:3, 21; 9:3, 4; 10:25, 32, 37, 38, 14:10, 11, 12, 15:24). These Scriptures appeal to the individual works of Jesus. The miracles “bear witness’” that He is the Messiah.
Paul says that God’s existence and attributes can be “clearly seen” (Romans 1:18-20) since they have been “shown” to the unbelieving world through “the things that are made” (nature). Notice that Paul never posits that we can view God as a material object. But he does say that people should be able to look at the effects in the world and infer that there is a Creator. We should be able to look at the natural world and see some evidence for a Creator.
So what has been made (i.e., designed, created)? The laws of nature? The existence and fine tuning of the universe? The Genetic Code? Or, does nature and chance act on their own without any agency?
Does the Bible say people already have some awareness of the knowledge of God?
Even though there are cases for evidentialism throughout the Bible, do we see any case for a presuppositional approach? The answer is yes. But as I just demonstrated, it is not the only model.
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. (Rom.1:18-20).
According to Romans Ch1:18, the word “suppress,” means “to consciously dismiss in the mind,”to “hold down”, or to “hold back by force or to dismiss.”As much as humans try to suppress the truth of God’s existence, the human mind is still aware of their moral accountability to Him. In relation to this passage, Paul says God’s revelation says is not hidden or concealed. The reason this revelation is clear is because God shows it to him. In other words, God makes knowledge of Himself available to man! The creation gives a cognitive knowledge of God’s existence but not saving knowledge. However, according to Romans 1:18-21, man is not left in ignorance about God.
Former atheist J. Budziszewski says the following about the Romans passage:
I am not at present concerned to explore Paul’s general claim that those who deny the Creator are wicked but only his more particular claim that they are intellectually dishonest. Notice that he does not criticize nonbelievers because they do not know about God but ought to. Rather, he criticizes them because they do know about God but pretend to themselves that they don’t. According to his account, we are not ignorant of God’s reality at all. Rather, we “suppress” it; to translate differently, we “hold it down.” With all our strength we try not to know it, even though we can’t help knowing it; with one part of our minds we do know it, while with another we say, “I know no such thing.” From the biblical point of view, then, the reason it is so difficult to argue with an atheist—as I once was—is that he is not being honest with himself. He knows there is a God, but he tells himself that he doesn’t. How can a person explain how he reached new first principles? By what route could he have arrived at them? To what deeper considerations could he have appealed? If the biblical account is true, then it would seem that no one really arrives at new first principles; a person only seems to arrive at them. The atheist does not lack true first principles; they are in his knowledge already, though suppressed. The convert from atheism did not acquire them; rather, things he knew all along were unearthed. (3)
So can we tell people “According to the Bible, you already know God and you are suppressing the truth?” You can try this approach. Or, for that matter you can try the entire presuppositional approach and tell people they can’t make sense of reality without God as a starting point. But expect some challenges to this. I prefer to use abduction and point out that theism is a better explanation for what we observe than naturalism. Paul Copan does something similar to this right here.
I once read Five Views On Apologetics. Most of the authors admitted we should allow a thousand apologetic methods to flourish and not to dogmatic about using one apologetic model. This is the approach I have taken over the years. I hope you will as well.
1. F.F. Bruce, A Defense of the Gospel in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988), 74-75.).
2. Dennis McCallum, Discovering God: Exploring The Possibilities of Faith (Columbus, Ohio: New Paradigm Publishing, 2011), 10-13.
3. N. L. Geisler and Paul K. Hoffman. Why I Am A Christian. Leading Thinkers Explain Why They Believe. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House. 2001, 49