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:

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.

Many of the insights of this article were gained from the following resources:
Love Your God with All Your Mind – J. P. Moreland
On Guard – William Lane Craig

Ready to begin learning apologetics? Check out our recommended books for beginners. Or take a look at some articles from Christian Apologetics Training in the Arguments menu.

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!

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6 Commentsto A Basic Introduction to the Types of Apologetics

  1. Clark says:

    This is a fascinating article. I certainly learnt something new today. I can see that you have very strong faith.

  2. adam says:

    Hi there,
    Some good advice and explanation of the types of apologteics. Most religions who believe in god will use the natural theological arguments, however with Christianity i think the Christian evidences are quite weak. Mainly the authenticity of the bible, i don’t think anybody can deny that the bible has been altered and tampered with, a lot of Christians even agree that that’s the case. They might still trust it and see it as a reliable source, even though they admit its been tampered with , but for many others its a huge turn off from accepting what Christianity has to say. Also could you tell me where Jesus claimed that he was god incarnate? Thanks

    • Kiefer says:

      Hey Adam, thanks for sharing your thoughts. Of the Christian evidences, the most crucial is actually the case for the resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus rose from the dead, then Christianity has powerful support; if he did not rise, then Christianity cannot be literally true.

      What’s important to note about a case for the resurrection is that it actually does not depend on the authenticity or even the general reliability of the Bible. When making such a case, individual claims and events will be assessed for authenticity irrespective of the authenticity of the source in general. For an example of such a case, I’d recommend The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona.

      All that to say, I actually did just put together a post about the reliability of the Bible. I’d be interested to see what you think about it. You can find the article here.

      Regarding you question about where Jesus claimed to be God incarnate, I think there are many different places, but one of the most powerful and clear occurs in Mark 14:60-64. Here Jesus is on trial for blasphemy, and is asked by the high priest, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” To this Jesus responds, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” After this the high priest tears his clothes and accuses Jesus of blasphemy.

      Do you find this passage to be satisfactory?

  3. James says:

    Religion, of all of them which one is true? If there are thousands of Gods from hundreds of cultures spanning thousands of years and they all claim domination over the rest of the world, how can we continue? There are different versions of Christianity, Buddhism, Islam…they all have variations and they all say theirs is the only true ones…the rest? they are infidels, non believers or apostates. I think it is madness really. We are all on this planet together and we are all fighting over whose imaginary friend is the most real. People are getting their heads cut off for going against any one particular religion. Women are subjugated, repressed and abused by religious “zealots” and it is accepted in their culture because nobody wants to go against the system. In my opinion, religion should not be taught to any child, they should be left to make up their own minds when they are old enough.

    My wife is a Catholic and I am an atheist. I have a thousand questions to ask for every single belief that a religious person holds. I can debunk anything they throw at me. here’s one…

    If God has a plan for us all and knows what’s going to happen…why bother praying? huh? It’s asking God to change his mind when he already has his plan… another…

    Why do people need to go to churches to worship God? Is God not omnipotent and would it not be simpler to worship wherever you are standing? Why in the Church? Why not at home? Why not while out walking the dog? He can hear us, can’t he? another…

    Who was God’s creator (dad?)? another… If God created the universe…where did he come from before he created it? it does not make sense…

    I stopped believing in santa when I was about 6 or seven….God? I stopped that when I was in a church choir and heard all the BS stories being spouted by the priest…I questioned all of it.

    Thanks for an interesting read.


    • Kiefer says:

      Hi James, thanks for all of your questions. There are so many issues you raise that I cannot hope to address them all in a single comment. However, I will do my best to offer brief answers to your questions at the end.

      But first, a general point. What do these questions have to do with the truth of Christianity? If they don’t have satisfactory answers, would that imply that Jesus did not rise from the dead, or that God does not exist? If you think about it I think you’ll find that the answer is “no”. In this case, then, I’d encourage you to consider whether these are the questions on which we should be focusing.

      Why bother praying when God already has a plan and knows what is going to happen? Isn’t this purporting to change God’s mind? Presumably the problem is that we either change God’s mind when we pray, which seems impossible if God is perfect and all-knowing, or our prayers don’t do anything, which defeats the purpose of a key component of many religions.

      Response: There are a few different answers one could give here, but I prefer the following: When God is said to be all-knowing, part of what that entails is that God knows what free creatures would choose to do in any set of circumstances in which he might place them. So, for example, think about God creating the world and recognizing that if he were to create Jones and put him in a certain set of circumstance, he would pray for something (e.g., physical or spiritual healing). God could then, in light of that, plan that he would grant Jones physical or spiritual healing after he prays.

      Notice on this account that God chooses to grant Jones healing because of Jones’ prayer, such that if Jones did not pray, God would not have given him healing. So Jones’ prayer does really do something. But God’s mind is not changed; he still set up the course of history from the beginning of creation and does not deviate from that when Jones prays. This is a very rough account, but hopefully you get an idea for how an account like this might go.

      Why do people need to go to churches to worship God? I don’t believe that they do. God can indeed be worshiped anywhere, and he is worshiped in all sorts of places and circumstances in the Bible. The Bible simply encourages believers to meet together for their own spiritual well-being, and because it helps them to follow God and love the world more effectively.

      Who created God? I plan to write a whole post on this objection in the future, but the short answer is this: nobody. It is part of the definition of God that he is uncreated; if something created God, then that would be God. Presumably you find this problematic, but think for a bit about why that is. Why must God have a creator? If it is because everything must have a creator, then atheism is in trouble since then the universe would have to have a creator. I don’t know of any other plausible premises that would imply that God must have a creator, but if you know of any, I’d be happy to hear them.

      Again, thanks for the questions. I really welcome criticism such as this. Please feel free to follow up and I’ll be happy to engage with you further.

      – Kiefer

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