A Basic Introduction to the Types of Apologetics
Having understood the definition of Christian apologetics, and having seen the biblical support for it along with all of the benefits it provides, we are now in a position to outline the various types of apologetics that one may study. If you are new to the discipline, you may use this outline to direct your study moving forward.
Apologetics has two major divisions: positive and negative. These two major divisions each have two further subdivisions: natural theology and Christian evidences.
- Positive apologetics provides a positive case for Christian truth claims.
- Negative apologetics answers objections to Christian truth claims.
- Natural theology concerns arguments for an against the existence of God without reference to special revelation or particular religious scriptures.
- Christian evidences concern arguments based on evidence for or against a particularly Christian theism.
This creates a four-way division in the types of apologetics:
What follows are prominent examples of each category.
Examples of Arguments in Positive Natural Theology
- The ontological argument infers from the idea of God as the greatest possible being that he must also exist in reality. This argument is purely conceptual and not taken seriously by many, but some prominent scholars think that it is a good argument.
- Cosmological arguments infer from the existence of the universe that a first cause or creator must exist. One may either say that God is needed as the ultimate explanation of the contingent universe, or that, given that the universe came into being out of nothing a finite time ago, as modern science has shown, a transcendent non-physical being like God is needed to create it. In the first case the debate tends to focus on a conceptual premise about the nature of explanation, whereas in the second case the debate primarily focuses on whether science has demonstrated that the universe has a finite past.
- Teleological or design arguments infer from the order and complexity in nature that there must be a divine designer of the universe. One may either focus on biological complexity or the complexity of the laws, constants, and initial conditions of the universe. Either way, the argument is that it is very unlikely that life would exist if there were no designer to set things up for that end.
- Moral arguments infer from the existence of objective moral values or duties that there must be a transcendent source of such values or duties that grounds them.
Examples of Positive Christian Evidences
- Fulfilled prophecy. For example, one might find specific traits of the Messiah in the Book of Isaiah and showing how Jesus uniquely possesses those traits.
- Historicity of the resurrection of Jesus. This is the primary Christian evidence available for the apologist. Here one would attempt to demonstrate certain widely accepted historical facts about Jesus, such as his death by crucifixion, his burial by Joseph of Arimathea, the discovery of his empty tomb 3 days later, the appearances of Jesus alive after his death, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in the resurrection – and argue that the most likely explanation of these facts is that Jesus rose bodily from the dead.
- Historicity of the claims of Jesus. Here one would attempt to show from the biblical documents that Jesus really did claim to be God incarnate. Such evidence get its significance especially in conjunction with the historicity of the resurrection.
- Reliability of the Bible. Here one would argue that the gospel accounts were early, written by eyewitnesses, etc., and so we should regarded them as reliable. Often this evidence is made as part of the case for the historicity of the resurrection.
Examples of Arguments in Negative Natural Theology
- Alleged incoherence of theism. Here the Christian theist would answer objections about certain properties of God being inconsistent with each other by showing that they are consistent after all.
- The problem of evil. This is the most prominent objection to theism. The Christian theist responding to this problem would answering the argument that the evil or suffering in the world demonstrates that God does not exist. Such a response involves either providing a possible scenario where God and evil may coexist, or by providing a true account of why God allows evil in a way that is consistent with his own nature.
Examples of Negative Christian Evidences
- Objections by modern biblical criticism and contemporary science to the biblical record. For example, someone engaging in this area of apologetics would seek to answer arguments that evolution and Genesis are inconsistent, or that paganism had a distorting influence on Christianity.
A final area of apologetics that is not easily included in the above four divisions concerns the clarification and analysis of general worldviews. This involves clarifying the specific claims of Christian doctrine – to make sure that our version of the Christian worldview is the correct one – as well as refuting non-Christian belief systems such as relativism, scientism, and skepticism.
Which area of apologetics interests you the most? Which do you think is the most important for Christians today to study? Let me know in the comments section below!