Review: Five Views on Apologetics

by Jun 12, 2013Books6 comments

Five Views on ApologeticsFive Views on Apologetics by Steven B. Cowan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Once upon a time, a fellow Christian young man, age 20 or so, like me, invited me to go witnessing in the downtown area where I live. We ran into a young lady who was reading Neale Donald Walsch’s then-popular Conversations with God, some of the worst claptrap ever to proceed from a printing press. I won’t give specifics, but as I began to speak my partner began to feel uncomfortable with my approach. Deeper than that, he disagreed with the doctrine behind it. And he felt the necessity to say so. In front of the girl we were witnessing to. I remember the incredulity on her face: “You guys don’t even agree on this?”

It’s a little disconcerting to see how apparently equally committed and intelligent Christians tear apart each other’s justifications of the Christian faith. So a book like this one is a bit sad, in a way. I’ll put my cards on the table right here by noting that this disagreement by itself disposes me toward presuppositionalism: if even Christian apologists can’t agree on the best strategy for defending and promoting Christian truth, then something deeper must be going on than what the eyes can see. All of these Christians have access to the same divine words and the same divine world. What causes them to come to different conclusions about how to persuade non-Christians to repent and believe the gospel? Presuppositions, I’d think.

Nonetheless, Habermas, Craig, and Feinberg (particularly the first two, for what it’s worth) did impress me with their acumen, and I’m glad I have their work at my disposal should I ever need it in apologetic conversations. This, I felt, was another reason to go with Frame: his view does a better job accounting for the value of the other views. A presuppositionalist should be happy to point to data in the world and show how they in turn point to God. Evidentialists, on the other hand, seem to dismiss—at least functionally—the importance of presuppositions in human thinking.

Finally, what conservative Protestant could not stir to hear Frame say in his concluding essay that “the most fundamental point of presuppositionalism is the application of sola scriptura to apologetics”? I’m with Frame in wishing the debate would go away; I don’t like disagreeing over evangelistic methodology. But I do feel I have to defend the authority of Scripture.

This book (and I’m sorry I didn’t mention Clark: I felt like his essay meandered too much) is an unfortunate necessity. May God use all of our faltering efforts, no matter what our apologetic perspectives, to bring His sheep into the fold.

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  1. cecil

    Mark, I agree with your assessment. It does, however, seem that Craig (and maybe a couple of the other non-presuppositionalists) still support the notion that “belief in God” is warranted even if there is a lack of evidence supporting that belief (i.e. this kind of presuppositional argument was popularized by Alvin Plantinga in his book Warranted Christian Belief). I have heard Craig use this argument in several debates suggesting that our personal knowledge of God may be a properly basic belief (i.e. a belief that doesn’t rely on argument or evidence for support). Craig explains it here

    It may be helpful to be familiar with a variety of approaches to adapt to different contexts and questions.

  2. Mark L Ward Jr

    Yes. As I understand it, TAG is near the essence of presuppositionalism (

    Without God, no reasoning is possible. Or as Doug Wilson put it to Christopher Hitchens when the latter attempted to make moral judgments and use laws of logic: “You’re stealing my car in order to crash it into a tree.”

    Ya just gotta read the Doctrine of the Knowledge of God at some point. Excellent stuff. And here’s Frame writing directly on TAG.

  3. Jeremy Patterson

    The reason I asked was because I had read somewhere (don’t remember where now) that Frame and Greg Bahnsen differed a bit about the importance of TAG in the whole scheme of presuppositionalism, Bahnsen depending on it almost exclusively in his apologetic approach and Frame wanting a little more room for other elements. But maybe the information was wrong.

  4. Jeremy Patterson

    By the way, I do own the Doctrine of the Knowledge of God now, and I do plan to read it soon (as in within the next 10 months or so)!

  5. Mark L. Ward, Jr.

    I can’t speak with authority on that particular question (can someone else?), but I can say that Frame expresses willingness to use evidential arguments—or at least evidence—as long as it presented within an overall presuppositional framework (or even “mood”).


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