Addressing a Common Evidentialist Retort

My brother-in-law went to school with an atheist who excelled in virtually every subject he studied. This particular atheist was a sharp thinker. He was also firm in his atheistic convictions. But he liked to drink. A lot. One night he had a bit too much. By the end of the night he was weeping and crying out about how there has to be a God. Plenty of his friends witnessed the event. They brought it up later. His response was to grumpily tell them not to talk about it.

My old Sunday School teacher had a friend who came to Christ through The Exorcist. The friend watched the film as a young adult. His thoughts turned to the supernatural. He grew terrified of demonic power. When the movie ended, he repented of his sins and trusted Jesus Christ as his Savior.

A former student of mine experienced a great deal of pain in her life. She thought she could no longer bear the memories of the terrible things she had gone through. She took out a pair of scissors. She went into her living room. She intended to end her life. The television was on. Joyce Meyer was “preaching.” Rather than taking her own life, my former student gave it to Christ.

An old acquaintance of mine did illegal drugs. He got high. He rode with a friend. The night ended. The two returned to his apartment. They were almost hit by a conversion van. Their headlights shone on the front of the van. The license plate said “Jesus” on it. He panicked. He felt guilty. He went to church that Sunday. He repented of his sinful lifestyle and came to Christ.

People claim to believe in God and even come to faith in Jesus Christ for some exceedingly strange reasons. Not always. But sometimes. This phenomenon is no different when it comes to philosophical proofs, evidences, and other argumentation unbelievers find persuasive. As anyone who has studied logic should know, unsound arguments can still have true conclusions. A person can find the truth without having explicitly arrived there by way of sound argument. Likewise, a person can come to faith in Christ without having arrived there by the most biblical and God-honoring of evangelistic and apologetic methodologies.

It is probably not a good idea to get atheists drunk off hard liquor in hopes of getting them to affirm the existence of God. It not likely a good idea to replace Gospel tracts with copies of The Exorcist either. Joyce Meyer is not really going to be the best choice when it comes to solid preaching. And whether they ever become legal in all of the states or not, dealing drugs to unbelievers in hopes of waking them up to their sin and Christ’s forgiveness is not recognized as an approved form of evangelism in the vast majority of churches.

I always thought it would be cool to offer an unbeliever a ride. When he gets in, I lock the doors and take off. I explain that I will continue to increase my speed until a conversion takes place. Imagine cruising along at 120mph on a windy road. I look over and shout the classic question, “If you were to die tonight, where would you go?!”

What do these stories have to do with covenantal apologetics? Simply put, those who reject covenantal apologetics often do so upon the basis of their alleged evidentialist experience in coming to faith in Christ. Or, they do so upon the basis of how many others have come to faith in Christ through supposedly non-covenantal apologetic methodology. The questions of whether or not a method is biblical, ethicalGod-honoring and philosophically sound are cast by the wayside to make room for a discussion about “practical applications” and the “effectiveness” of a particular apologetic methodology.

Evidentialists – the term being used here in its broadest sense – frequently attempt to support their apologetic through the alleged effectiveness of the method in bringing either them or others they know of to the Christian faith. So for example, I was struck by the following:

I am a Christian today, because I took an evidential approach to my faith. I’m not a Mormon today, because I took an evidential approach to my faith. I’m grateful for my evidential detective inclinations because they guided me to the truth. God moved first, I responded with the evidence God provided. I’m at home with evidentialism because the evidence brought me home.

Of course, alcohol, drugs, Joyce Meyer, and The Exorcist brought others home (imagine the effectiveness of all four of them at the same time!), but these means are not thereby vindicated as methods or examples of appropriate evangelism and apologetics. Certainly our apologetic must be persuasive. We must strive to appeal to the unbeliever as the dying man he is. But persuasion differs from proof. We can have one without the other. Some people are persuaded by some really bad arguments. Others hear sound philosophical reasoning and remain unmoved.

God can use some strange – problematic, even – means to bring people to Him. Evidentialism may be one of them. We would need to evaluate evidentialism biblically, ethically, and philosophically in order to see. Most do not want to put forth the work required to make such a determination. They are content with taking the occasional potshot at presuppositionalists, citing the alleged effectiveness of the evidentialist method, and retreating with the excuse that debating apologetic methodology is unimportant and impractical.

Mere effectiveness couched solely in terms of personal experience and conversions is not enough to vindicate a particular methodology, and sheer pragmatism is not a Christian-like response to any disagreement at the level of methodological theory.


13 Comments

Mr. Reader

and sheer pragmatism is not a Christian-like response to any disagreement at the level of methodological theory.

Unfortunately, your statement above cannot be supported Biblically. The Apostle Paul argued for pragmatism at the level of methodology.

“For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

Mr. Reader

C.L. Bolt

I think you misunderstand my statement. You also commit the fallacy of assumed exegesis. You may want to re-examine your understanding of the passage you quoted, especially in light of the following reductio. If I am to accept your use of the text you quoted, then I would have to conclude that you think the Apostle Paul, and God, of course, approve of becoming a drunk to the drunkards, and a stoner to the potheads, etc. Is that a correct understanding of what you are attempting to argue?

Mr. Reader

If I misunderstood your statement, please clarify. I agreed with the first half just not the second. The second half is clearly fallacious as Paul’s words demonstrated.

Becoming as a Jew, becoming as one under the law, becoming as one outside the law, in the context of which Paul is using them are not sinful behaviors/methodologies. Paul does not condone sin so we know he is discussing a level of pragmatism that is not sinful. Using an evidentialist approach is akin to “becoming as a Jew to win Jews” “becoming as one outside the law to those outside the law” both are non-sinful methodologies. What you described, “becoming drunk” or “becoming a stoner”, are sinful behaviors which would result in sinful methodologies. Paul is discussing non-sinful pragmatism. Because of this, your reductio fails due to your likely misunderstanding of my point and Paul’s words. Paul is arguing for non-sinful pragmatism for sake of the gospel under which evidentialism would fall.

C.L. Bolt

Notice that you are qualifying the pragmatism you have in mind as “non-sinful.” My quote refers to sheer pragmatism, not “non-sinful” pragmatism. You had to qualify your claim because it was problematic as initially stated.

Your complaint still suffers from the fallacy of assumed exegesis. My reductio doesn’t fail. It was in response to your initial comment. Your initial comment said absolutely nothing about “non-sinful” pragmatism. Neither does the text you quoted from (without context or exegesis). You had to go outside of your proof-text for that. It’s hardly fair to accuse me of fallacy and failure because you lacked completeness and clarity!

You are also assuming, without argument, that evidentialism as a method of apologetics is “non-sinful.” Whether it is or not, you have not made the case one way or another, and neither have I. The post very simply addresses one common – but flawed – attempt to paint evidentialism in a good light. So you are off topic.

Finally, I offered other examples of means by which people came to Christ that are not inherently sinful. Watching Joyce Meyers or The Exorcist are not inherently sinful activities. Do you think the Apostle Paul was saying we could hand out copies of that material under the banner of pragmatic evangelism?

Mr. Reader

Notice that you are qualifying the pragmatism you have in mind as “non-sinful.” My quote refers to sheer pragmatism, not “non-sinful” pragmatism. You had to qualify your claim because it was problematic as initially stated.
Not quite. There was zero problem with my initial statement. I presupposed that when you read the quote from Paul, you had a proper contextual understanding that Paul wasn’t talking about sinful pragmatism. While this is normally crystal clear to anyone that understands Paul, I unfortunately had to clarify the obvious for your benefit, it is your misunderstanding that resulted in your attempted – but failed – reductio. Instead of accusing me of miscommunication and incorrectly hurling fallacy accusations, it would have been more appropriate simply to admit, “I misunderstood what you and Paul were saying.” The bottom line is, my initial statement carried the exact same meaning and contextual clues as my clarification. You needed a bit more help, and that’s fine. What’s not fine is your assumption that simply because you didn’t understand means that my statement wasn’t clear. Now that’s fallacious.

“You are also assuming, without argument, that evidentialism as a method of apologetics is “non-sinful.” “
I provided an argument. My argument is a quote from Scripture, the very words of Paul, who is discussing the topic of methodology. Paul favors pragmatism (you know what kind). My argument is the evidence of Scripture, and it continues to stand unless you are willing to attempt to refute Paul.

Watching Joyce Meyers or The Exorcist are not inherently sinful activities. Do you think the Apostle Paul was saying we could hand out copies of that material under the banner of pragmatic evangelism?
Ultimately, it would depend on the context (as do many things). Again, read what Paul says. If he’s in a Jewish context, he becomes like a Jew, in the context of those outside the law, he becomes like one outside the law. This can be done without sinning, but to address your specific question, envision a lost person that attends or watches Joyce Meyer’s ministries. They are approached by an apologist who used a method of handing out copies of Joyce’s material or a sits down and watches Joyce’s program with the lost person to help illustrate and contrast the distinguishing features of her false gospel from the real Gospel of Scripture. Do you think the Apostle Paul would have a problem with that form of pragmatic evangelism? What say you? I say no. I assert that we can hand out copies of that material (and many do) if used properly.

The fact remains that evidentialism, assuming it is properly understood, intended, and applied, is an apologetic methodology that clearly qualifies under Paul’s description of different methods of getting to the Gospel. This can be easily ascertained using a reasonable application of the logic and line of thinking provided by Paul.

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C.L. Bolt

Even granting that you quoted Paul regarding non-sinful pragmatism, I was not writing about non-sinful pragmatism. I was writing about sheer pragmatism. But it did not help that you assumed your own exegesis of the passage, rather than actually posting it. That is the fallacy of assumed exegesis.

Even granting that Paul is justifying non-sinful pragmatism, Paul is not also justifying evidentialism as non-sinful. You have assumed the thing to be proven, and yes, that is begging the question.

Hope this helps.

Mike

Thanks for the article. Thank God He can use anything even though it doesn’t make it right.

I can’t remember who said it (one of the Puritans I think) but my response to such things is to say, all that proves is that ‘God can draw a straight line with a crooked stick’. We are all unprofitable servants.

littleg00se

Hello Mr. Bolt,

I’m a fan and more importantly a Christian. I noticed that your quote comes from J. Warner Wallace. I can understand your frustration with many Christians’ complete dependence on evidences, but don’t you think that it’s unfair to put a cold case detective who applied his discipline of examining testimonies when the witnesses are dead to the Bible on the same level of someone coming to Jesus because of drugs and alcohol? I can understand using extreme examples to get your point across, but the post makes it sound like the cold case detective skills of J. Warner Wallace applied to the Bible gave him as much reason to believe in God as alcohol could have given him. Was that in fact your intention? I’m not be disingenuous, I really am trying to learn.

Overall though, I understand your main point that just because a method works does not mean it is correct. Thank you for the post and your ministry!

C.L. Bolt

Thank you for reading and for the comment.

You ask, “don’t you think that it’s unfair to put a cold case detective who applied his discipline of examining testimonies when the witnesses are dead to the Bible on the same level of someone coming to Jesus because of drugs and alcohol?”

The point of the post was not about whether or not this or that means of someone coming to Christ is “on the same level” as others. You note, “just because a method works does not mean it is correct.” That was my point. Obviously there are disanalogous elements in the stories/methods/means mentioned above. I have other negative opinions about evidentialism as a method (not about evidences, mind you), but they were not the focus of the post. Remember:

God can use some strange – problematic, even – means to bring people to Him. Evidentialism may be one of them. We would need to evaluate evidentialism biblically, ethically, and philosophically in order to see. Most do not want to put forth the work required to make such a determination. They are content with taking the occasional potshot at presuppositionalists, citing the alleged effectiveness of the evidentialist method, and retreating with the excuse that debating apologetic methodology is unimportant and impractical.

littleG00se

Hello again Mr. Bolt,

Thanks for your time responding to my comment! I did understand your main point of the post and so I am a little hesitant to continue in fear of beating a dead horse. But with that caution I’ll go ahead.

Maybe this is where I am confused. The way I think of apologetics is kind of like this: the evidence is there, the evidence leads to Christ, if everyone was to be honest and follow where the evidence leads then everyone would become a Christian. The problem is that though God has given us the evidence (so that we are without excuse) we are so enamored and immersed in sin that the only way that we would come to Christ is that God draws us to Himself. In this case the evidence itself is not the problem. Again, while I understood your point, your point seemed to also be making other suggestions such as J. Warner Wallace really did not have a good reason to become a Christian. For instance in the paragraph following his quote you distinguish between proof and persuasion. (This is the part that I hope does not sound disingenuous) whether or not you meant to communicate it in your post, do you think that Wallace was persuaded by persuasion alone and not proof? Then you said, “Some people are persuaded by some really bad arguments.” Again, whether or not you meant to communicate it in your post, do you think that J. Warner Wallace was persuaded by bad arguments? I don’t think you do since you said, “I have other negative opinions about evidentialism as a method (not about evidences, mind you)” so it seems you are not against the evidences themselves. Just wondering how this plays out in covenental apologetics.

I’m hoping to learn, thanks again for your time!

C.L. Bolt

You are not beating a dead horse, though you are asking for answers that go beyond the point of the post. From what you have written above, you appear to be on the same page that I am on in terms of questions of apologetic methodology and evidences. Because I am tired and feel like being a jerk, I have quoted myself below and put some words in bold print for you to think about. I’m fairly confident that you are going to see right away what I am getting at, but if not, that’s okay too. Let me know either way.

“Simply put, those who reject covenantal apologetics often do so upon the basis of their alleged evidentialist experience in coming to faith in Christ.”

“Evidentialists – the term being used here in its broadest sense – frequently attempt to support their apologetic through the alleged effectiveness of the method in bringing either them or others they know of to the Christian faith.”

littleG00se

cool, thanks for the response!

Slimjim

Wow, you really had a good hook to make your point with all those crazy stories. I say a hearty amen.


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