Classical Apologetics

When the people of Israel left Egypt, they took treasure from the Egyptians and enriched themselves at the outset of their journey to the Promised Land. Thomas Aquinas likened the practice of taking ideas from non-Christians and pressing them into service for the true faith to the Israelite plunder of the Egyptians' gold and silver. Classical apologists have been "plundering the Egyptians" ever since, using secular reason and arguments to support the Christian faith.

The most famous Classical apologist alive today is William Lane Craig, who's made a name for himself primarily by debating atheists and using logical arguments to convince others of the reasonableness and veracity of Christianity. He exemplifies the practice of plundering the Egyptians: in 1979, he published a book called The Kalam Cosmological Argument, in which he presented the chief Islamic argument for the existence of God.

Kalam goes by many names: the cosmological argument, the prime mover, the first cause, etc. Essentially, it's the idea that there cannot be an infinite regression of causes, and at the end of all the causes in the universe is the First Cause, God Himself. While this argument might be clever, and even logically plausible, it really has nothing to do with Christian apologetics. Proving that "a god" exists is not what Christians are called to do: we are to proclaim the God who has revealed Himself to all creation.

Classical apologists disagree on the grounds that the Christian faith is reasonable, and therefore can be defended and commended to others on the basis of that reasonableness. Aquinas (the grandfather of all Classical apologists) taught that man had indeed become thoroughly sinful through Adam's fall, but that his intellect had remained unbroken. This is the basis of their method; they use reason and logic to demonstrate the legitimacy of Christian faith, moving from general principles to specifics.

Evidential proofs have a place in this framework. Because most people accept facts as indisputable (though this is increasingly less the case), it's thought that physical proof of the veracity of Scripture will convince them of the truth of the claims it makes. They go to great lengths to show that Jesus really rose from the dead, that He is historically attested, that the apostles weren't lying or involved in a vast conspiracy, and more.

As a kind of academic exercise, there's nothing wrong with any of this. Christianity is reasonable, it is historically verifiable, and it does conform to the laws of logic. But it's reasonable because God made it so, historically verifiable because God is Lord of history, and logical because the God who became flesh is the same God who made logic. And where do we have incontrovertible proof of all this? In the Bible, God's written self-revelation.

We do carry some books in the Classical vein, but we don't emphasize them. That's not to say we dismiss them scornfully; we simply don't find the Classical apologetic method a valid form of Gospel defense. At the same time, it is helpful for Christians to understand the irrationality of unbelief and paganism, and to grasp ways in which the reasonableness of their own faith might be approached. Classical apologetics are best used, not to prove the faith, but to dispel doubt among the faithful.

One of the most compelling titles in our Classical apologetics section is The Rage Against God, by Peter Hitchens. Mr. Hitchens' late brother was the notorious Christopher Hitchens, one of the most outspoken of the "New Atheists," and an outspoken enemy of Christian faith. Peter, on the other hand, is a believing Christian, and he writes about his own journey of faith, while also sharing insights into his own brother's unbelief. Peter Hitchens' book is readable and smart, and offers a profound look into the psychology of unbelief, and that is one of the ways we truly can plunder the Egyptians' wealth and use it to fight our own good fight of faith.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.


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