Van Tillian Presuppositionalism and Evidence Continued

Welcome back to part two. This post will examine and critique the evidentialist school of Christian apologetics. I first came upon evidentialism my first year at Liberty. At the time, it was refreshing to me, as the apologetics teacher I had at WOLBI was a presuppositionalist of some stripe, but either he didn’t teach the course very well, or he was horribly inconsistent himself; maybe both. In any case, it left me with a bad taste in my mouth for presuppositionalism, and I was ready to find an apologetic branch that valued evidence. As LU has been the home base of Gary Habermas for decades now, his brand of apologetic methodology appealed to me. I never had a class with Dr. Habermas, as he had moved to research professor before I got to Lynchburg, but he certainly influenced the apologetic faculty that I encountered at LU. I took several apologetics classes as an undergraduate, and I’ll mention right off the bat that the professors always said that as evidentialists, if the evidence started to point away from the God of Scripture they would have to be intellectually honest philosophers and abandon their faith. This troubled me at the time, despite my appreciation for most everything else they said in class. If you read this entire post you will see that I ask questions about this very point, but while I know what my professors said in class, I’ve also never seen it in print. That said, let’s get started.

While less philosophical than the classical apologists, the evidential school of apologetics still must employ an unbiblical epistemology. That is to say that they believe that the natural man can indeed correctly interpret evidence as it is laid out for him. Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, and Lee Strobel are popular figures in the evidential school, with Habermas as the foremost thinker.

As previously noted, the evidential apologist uses a one-step approach in apologetics, arguing directly for the God of Scripture, unlike the two-step approach of the classical apologist.[1] The focus of the evidential method is to use the “Minimal Facts” approach, which focuses on the historicity of certain historical facts about Christianity, including (but not limited to) the crucifixion and death of Christ, and that the disciples believed they encountered a physically raised Christ. In order for something to be considered a minimal fact Habermas lists two prerequisites:

“Each event had to be established by more than adequate scholarly evidence, and usually by several critically-ascertained, independent lines of argumentation. Additionally, the vast majority of contemporary scholars in relevant fields had to acknowledge the historicity of the occurrence.”[2]

Despite the strength of the one-step approach, the limitations of the evidential method should be fairly obvious; facts will only be argued for if they are agreed upon by a significant number of scholars in the historical field. Habermas went on to note work done by Licona concerning the nature of the scholars represented:

“These scholars span a very wide range of theological and philosophical convictions and include atheists, agnostics, Jews and Christians who make their abode at both ends of the theological spectrum and everywhere in between. We therefore have the heterogeneity we desire in a consensus, and this gives us confidence that our horizons will not lead us completely astray (p. 280).”[3]

Of course, there is no mention of what should happen if the scholarly consensus changes and will no longer concede these evidences. At such a point would the Christian then be obligated to relinquish his faith in the face of the overwhelming doubt of the scholarly academic community? In such a case would all evidence be null and void, and religion based exclusively on faith apart from evidence? In the present the answer to these questions remains unclear. Certainly, if the evidential approach were consistently practiced, then it would seem to follow that if the scholarly consensus changes, the faith of the evidential apologist would change along with it.

Further, while the vast majority of evidential apologists will likely hold to the inerrancy of Scripture, they quickly abandon it while doing apologetic work. As Licona has noted, “Rather, we simply must approach the New Testament as we would any other book in antiquity.”[4] So the footing of the evidential approach is on shaky ground, as the word of God is not foundational for the apologetic. If Scripture can so easily be laid aside, then one must wonder what importance the crucifixion and apparent resurrection of Christ has at all. Without the testimony of Scripture we cannot know for sure that Jesus was God incarnate, and so the whole ordeal could just be a random historical event with no meaning.

Lastly, the idea of a “Minimal Facts” approach is impossible. The Christian faith cannot be dissected into minimal truths, because if we concede one point of Scriptural truth, what reason do we have to not concede the rest? Apparently for the evidentialist, the reason not to concede all Christian truth is scholarly consensus; but as noted above, this is not a valid reason. Christianity is not a minimal religion; it must be taken as a whole, or abandoned as a whole.

Join me next time for part three, and possibly the conclusion.

[1] Gary Habermas, Steven B. Cowen, General ed. Five Views on Apologetics, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 92.

[2] Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus: The Role of Methodology as a Crucial Component in Establishing Historicity,” Southeastern Theological Review 3/1 (Summer 2012): 16.

[3] Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus…” 21.

[4] Gary Habermas, Michael R. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004), 45.

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1 Response to Van Tillian Presuppositionalism and Evidence Continued

  1. Good post. I liked this except the best, “While less philosophical than the classical apologists, the evidential school of apologetics still must employ an unbiblical epistemology. That is to say that they believe that the natural man can indeed correctly interpret evidence as it is laid out for him.” Personally I like the idea that arguments can be helpful as long as they aren’t the basis of one’s faith.

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