The Two-Step Method of Apologetics

[Note: this is an “open post” in the sense that I may be adding to it and revising it later]

Thesis: 

The best method of apologetics is a two-step method: (1) first persuade someone that God exists then (2) persuade them that Christian theism is true.

The argument for the thesis:

Christian theism has many beliefs that bare theism lacks. These “extra” beliefs strike atheists as more implausible than bare theism. It is easier to persuade someone of a more plausible position than a less plausible position. Therefore, it should be easier to persuade an atheist of bare theism than Christian theism. Second, It is easier to persuade a bare theist about the truths of Christianity than it is to persuade an atheist about the truths of Christianity. Therefore, it should be easier to first persuade an atheist to become a theist and then a theist to become a Christian.

Something to consider:

The atheist knows where the apologist is going with this. They are looking at your arguments for theism with an eye toward Christian theism. A clear example of this can be seen in the debate between William Lane Craig and Stephen Law. Dr. Craig presented several arguments for theism and two arguments for Christian theism. Dr. Law wanted to dismiss the arguments for bare theism and focus on arguments against Christian theism. Thus most of the debate in the cross-exam focused on attacking Dr. Craig’s Moral Argument with Dr. Law’s Evil God Argument.

So while it may be true from a strictly logical standpoint that claims unique to Christianity may have a better plausibility structure in a theistic worldview and that bare theism has a better plausibility structure than Christianity in an atheistic worldview, we are not logic-producing machines. The psychological, emotional or existential objections an atheist has to Christian theism may not be disentangled from bare theism. I think this is what we often see debates and what I’ve often encountered in my own apologetics.

Questions:

What do you think? Are there other reasons to favor a two-step method or objections to it (I’m going to examine the basic presuppositional response in a future post)? Other things to keep in mind?

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3 Comments

  1. Jake Wiebe - May 22, 2013, 9:49 pm

    Things to keep in mind–it will make a dif –the relationship u have with this person. Best if they can see christ in u. If you are just blogging then the 2 step method may be good. I agree that God’s existence est’d first is certainly a good step. My own son is right there, in a semi commited way. As his dad, I am finding it hard to go past this. He is in his late 20’s, was atheist, now theist, but that is all.

  2. Profile photo of John Bowling

    John Bowling - May 22, 2013, 10:09 pm

    Hi Jake,

    One issue that needs to be addressed and that I plan to raise when I discuss presuppositionalism is that our “apologetic problem”–people’s rejection of the Christian worldview–is ultimately not an intellectual one but a moral one. As I’ve presented the case for this classical method I’ve framed the issue in terms of plausibility structures and, logically, how we would expect someone to rationally respond to arguments. But that misses the point that presuppers think is valid (and which I accept myself) that people reject the gospel not because they lack sufficient information or simply have some cognitive misstep in their interpretation of the data. Rather, they are in rebellion against the God who is there. In light of that, moving someone from atheism to bare theism isn’t necessarily moving he person any closer to the gospel. If one pictures the gospel as the center of a sphere and atheism as a point on the surface–an outlier on the surface–it may be that deism, Hinduism, Islam, and bare-bones theism are just different points along the circumference rather than points penetrating the sphere and moving toward the center.

    Not sure when I’ll be able to get to future posts on this topic, but I’ll try to get to it sooner than later. 🙂

  3. Profile photo of Kurt Jaros

    Kurt Jaros - May 24, 2013, 6:34 am

    John, I like some of the stuff you’ve written here.

    I would add a caveat, however. The two-step method would only apply to atheists. Step one would not apply to someone if they already believed God existed.

    And furthermore, you might have to work to defeat a person’s beliefs before convincing them Christianity is true. Though, perhaps you included this in your idea of #2.

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