Ordering Your Apologetics

I recently picked up Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli's Pocket Handbook of Christian Apologetics on an impulse buy at the bookstore. I thumb through it in my spare time and ran across an interesting section entitled, "The Role of Scripture in Apologetics." The gist of the section is that Christians should not expect nonChristians to accept arguments from scripture as authoritative without first establishing the trustworthiness of scripture. They also point out that proving infallibility may be setting our burden of proof too high from the beginning. Kreeft and Tacelli also make the interesting point that "for many years early Christian apologists and Church fathers argued quite effectively for Christianity without even having the New Testament Scriptures as authoritatively defined." Page 80.

It seems a basic point, but for Christians who have grown up in Christian areas with mostly Christian family and friends, it can be overlooked. Though we take the scriptures as authoritative, others will not. Kreeft and Tacelli write that the wrong order to approach apologetics is this:

1. Scripture is infallible;
2. therefore Christ is infallible;
3. thereofore Christ is divine.

This could just as easily take other forms, such as:

1. Scripture is infallible;
2. scripture says that Jesus was resurrected;
3. therefore Jesus was the Messiah.

Kreeft and Tacelli argue that the more convicing order of argument is:

1. Scripture is reliable as historical record, as data;
2. Christ's claims to divinity are found in Scripture;
3. then comes the argument for the truth of these claims [chapter 8 in their book].

Proving that the Gospels are reliable historically is a more easily attained goal than proving it is infallible. And proving that it is infallible is not necessary for most people, so long as you can make a strong case for reliability. As a practical matter, arguments about infallibility and inerrancy tend to get mired in long list of supposed contradictions and even lengthier responses solving the purported contradictions. While proving reliability may also have to cope with some perceived contradictions, the standard for "reliability" is obviously much lower than "perfect." The first goal is to establish faith in Christ. If that can be done without proving inerrancy first, we should not set up an unnecessary stumbling block to faith.

On reflection, this seems to be the tact taken by Gary Habermas and Mike Licona in their book, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. They focus on the "minimal facts" established by the historical evidence and determine that the resurrection is the best explanation for those facts. So, although I do not diminish the efforts of those who argue for the authority and infallibility of authority, it is important to keep the eye on the ball when faced with a particular apologetics question.


Sleep-Deprived said…
I appreciate your post, it's a very interesting point. I think my non-Christian friends might feel less threatened by a conversation about reliability (historical record) than about inerrancy.
Steven Carr said…
Well, clearly you should tell your friends what you believe - whether it is errancy or inerrancy.

That is the only honest thing to do.
Layman said…
No one said otherwise Steven.

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