What Are the Differences Between Methodologies?

While in some ways this is an easy question to answer, in other ways it is quite difficult. It is easy insofar as it is understood that a Covenantal apologetic is a Reformed apologetic, while an evidentialist/classicalist apologetic has its roots in Roman Catholicism. There are those who disagree with this assessment, of course – which is what makes the answer quite difficult in some ways. It becomes important, once you reach this level of disagreement, to carefully define the terms which are being disagreed upon. In some sense, this is part of the problem – and in another sense, the consistency with which you carry through on the implications of those definitions is another part. The term “presupposition” has unfortunate postmodernist connotations which has led to Westminster encouraging the use of “Covenantal apologetics” to distinguish the VanTillian methodology, as distinguished from “presuppositionalism”. Within the greater term of “evidentialism” there are schools such as “classicalism”, “cumulative case”, “moral apologetics”, and the like, so we ought to be careful to distinguish between these proponents when it is necessary to do so. 

However, there is a fundamental agreement within the evidential “camps”, and that agreement rests in the assumption of man’s autonomy when it comes to dealing with evidence and argumentation. This is contrasted with the fundamental agreement between even the varied presuppositional “camps” that man cannot be considered to be “autonomous” when it comes to evidence and argumentation. This is a simple assessment, true – and the difficulty lies with the consistency of either group in adherence to their principle. Obviously, we would assert that someone arguing in accord with Van Til’s seminal method would be more consistent than a Clarkian, Schaefferian, or Framean would be, methodologically. It isn’t quite as clear, superficially, which of the evidential schools is “more consistent” with their principles, however. Whether one uses Aquinas’ Five Ways, a cumulative case argument, or other modern versions of classical theistic argumentation, it could be argued that each is consistent with the evidentialist’s principles, in various ways. The point that we’d like to make is that all of these assume the Romanist conception of natural theology, as distinct from the Reformed conception, espoused and exegeted by Reformed theologians. Were these theologians necessarily consistent in their application of their natural theology? No, they were not. This is not to say that their exegesis is therefore invalid. It is indicative of inconsistency, not of exegetical failure.

An evidentialist begins, following Sproul, with an “uninspired Bible”, and argues for miracles. “[F]rom miracles”, they argue “from an inspired Bible”. If, like all Reformed believers, you believe in Sola Scriptura, this seems quite… problematic. Again, it is stated that “Apologetics cannot begin with the inspired Bible or even with a divine Christ”. It is not our intention to argue this point currently, but you see the issue involved, surely. There is the assumption made, in the argument, that the Bible is uninspired, from the outset. There needs to be argumentation provided to “get to” an inspired Bible. Instead of the authority of Scripture being presented as not dependent “upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof;”, it is presented as being, in fact, if not formally, dependent upon that self-same testimony. It seems to be received not “because it is the Word of God”, but because it is acceptable to our reason. Similarly, the evidentialist argues not from “[t]he whole counsel of God”, but from the standpoint of “minimal facts” concerning the Christian faith. Lastly, the evidentialist tends to argue probabilistically – it is “more probable” that their conclusions are true than the denials of their conclusions are true. As Van Til puts it, “How could the eternal I AM be pleased with being presented as being a god, and probably existing, as necessary for the explanation of some things but not of all things, as one who will be glad to recognize the ultimacy of his own creatures? Would the God who had in paradise required of men implicit obedience now be satisfied with a claims and counter-claims arrangement with his creatures?”

These are all serious issues to be found with the evidentialist schools, and cannot be merely dismissed as unimportant by serious believers in Reformed doctrine. The questions must be addressed, and addressed seriously, as our theological commitments demand.

CH INTRO: Evidence that Christianity is true
CH: A Christian Epistemology of Testimony
CH: Answering the Evidentialist Objection
CH: Addressing a Common Evidentialist Retort
CH: Problems with Authority in Evidentialist and Classicalist Apologetics
CH: Are Sunglasses Evidence of God?
CH: Not Overly Surprising
CH: Is it sinful to call evidentialism… sinful?
CH: Can the existence of God be proven?
CH: Some thoughts on the upcoming debate
CH: A Feminist Examines Presup
CH: The Same Tired Assertions
CH: Debate Opener

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