Bob's blog – A skeptical lawyer

Types of apologetics. Evidentialists and experientialists and presuppositionalists! Oh my!

Posted on February 18, 2018





A recent book, Mapping Apologetics by Brian K. Morley, spent 377 pages discussing at least ten categories of apologetics. I tried to read the entire book, but it defeated my best efforts. I will not attempt any thorough discussion of apologetic theories. My only concern is how they relate to legal apologetics.



Legal apologetics

Conservapedia states, “Christian legal apologetics is a branch of Christian apologetics that affirms that the available evidence to defend Christianity and argues for the veracity of the historical and central claims of Christianity when Western legal standards of weighing evidence are applied.” Although ungrammatical, this definition is reasonably accurate. Legal apologetics applies legal rules and principles to apologetic claims that evidence supports the truth of the Christian religion.

Four evidence-based apologetic categories

Classical apologetics

Classical Apologetics is that style of Christian defense that stresses rational arguments for the existence of God and uses evidence to substantiate biblical claims and miracles. The primary difference between classical and evidential apologetics is that classical apologists believe they must first establish God’s existence before discussing Jesus’ resurrection. “The basic argument of the classical apologists is that it makes no sense to speak about the resurrection as an act of God unless, as a logical prerequisite, it is established that there is a God who can act.”[1]

In theory, a classical apologist could use legal standards of evidence, and legal apologetics could be considered a type of classical apologetics. However, I have not found that to be true in practice. Although legal apologists often argue God exists, I have found none that specifically argue the classical apologetic position that God’s existence is a logical prerequisite to historical evidence of the resurrection.

Evidential apologetics

Evidential apologetics or evidentialism is an approach to Christian apologetics emphasizing the use of evidence to demonstrate that God exists. “Evidential apologetics stresses the need for evidence in support of the Christian truth claims.”[2] Unlike classical apologists, evidential apologists believe they can prove Jesus’ resurrection without first proving God’s existence. Instead, Evidentialists believe the resurrection proves God’s existence.[3] In my opinion, legal apologetics is a subcategory of evidential apologetics.

Historical apologetics

Geisler argues “Historical apologetics is distinct from Evidentialists and in its narrow focus, using only one kind of evidence rather than many.”[4] This distinction seems meaningless to me because apologists who focus on historical evidence do not necessarily reject other forms of evidence. For example, Geisler claims that legal apologist John Warwick Montgomery is a “contemporary historical apologist.” While it is true that Dr. Montgomery focuses on historical evidence, he does not reject other evidence. In fact, he edited the book Faith Founded on Fact, Essays in Evidential Apologetics.

Experiential apologetics

Experiential apologetics uses personal or religious experiences as evidence for the truth of Christianity. Geisler notes that its appeal to internal, as opposed external, evidence contrasts sharply with other evidence-based apologetics.[5] When spreading the good word, most Christians rely primarily or exclusively on witnessing their Christian experiences. Although some Evidentialists consider religious experience to be a valid form of Christian evidence, others note that Moslems, Mormons, and other people of faith also have powerful religious feelings. John Warwick Montgomery argues that “miracles of the heart” are “indistinguishable from heartburn.”[6] Montgomery and I agree on some things.

Non-evidentiary apologetics


 Fideism is the doctrine that knowledge depends on faith or revelation. It is an exclusive reliance in religious matters upon faith, with consequent rejection of appeals to science or philosophy. The word derives from fides, the Latin word for faith, and can be rendered literally as faith-ism. Geisler argues, “Fideism is self-defeating, using reason to say we should not use reason in matters of religion.”[7] Some scholars consider fideism to be a form of apologetics.[8] Other apologists argue fideism rejects the whole idea of apologetics. Few people call themselves fideist, and the term is most often used as a pejorative label.

Presuppositional apologetics

Presuppositional apologists believe Christian faith is the only basis for rational thought. Cornelius Van Til, a leading presuppositionalist, argues that rational argument cannot bridge the gap between Christian and non-Christian assumptions.[9] Evidential apologists such as John Warwick Montgomery argue presuppositional apologetics “is a retreat from the apologetic task laid upon all Christians.”[10] A common complaint made against presuppositional apologetics is that it finally reduces to fideism.

Reformed epistemology

Reformed epistemologists argue that religious belief can be rational without any appeal to evidence or argument. “On the surface, reformed epistemology bears some similarity to fideism.” I see nothing else beneath the surface.


“Rationalism as a philosophy stresses reason as the means of determining truth. Mind is given authority over senses.”[11] René Descartes was the first modern rationalist. He famously began with “I think, therefore I am.” On this foundation, Descartes built his ontological argument for the existence of God – ontology being the branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence or being as such. However, ontological arguments are not very popular in most Christian circles these days.


 Pragmatic apologists believe workability may reveal truth. To me, this idea resembles experiential apologetics, but applied to people in general rather than individuals.


This seems to be a one-person school of thought. Mark Hanna developed veridicalism as an alternative presuppositionalism.   Hanna postulates that knowledge is grounded in “givens” which are known intuitively and with certainty, and are not inferred from other things we know.[12]


 Combinationalist apologists believe all types of apologetics can contribute to a better understanding of God. Combinationalists attempts to combine elements from other – sometimes contradictory – apologetic schools of thought.

[1] Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics 42 (Baker Academic 2007).

[2] Id. at 42.

[3] Id. at 42-43.

[4] Id. at 43.

[5] Id. at 235.

[6] John Warwick Montgomery, Faith Founded on Fact 45-56 (Canadian Institute for Law, Theology & Public Policy 1978).

[7] Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics at 246.

[8] Brian K. Morley, Mapping Apologetics 14 (Green Press 2015).

[9] William P Broughton, The Historical Development of Legal Apologetics 90-92 (Xulon Press 2009).

[10] John Warwick Montgomery, Faith Founded on Fact xi (Canadian Institute For Law, Theology and Public Policy 2001); 1 Peter 3:15.

[11] Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics at 633; see also

[12] Mapping Apologetics at 20.