The Uses and Conditional Necessity of Apologetics

by William Lane Craig

To begin with, I think we ought to distinguish between apologetics’ necessity and utility.  The distinction is important.  For even if apologetics should turn out not to be absolutely necessary, it doesn’t follow that it is therefore useless.  For example, it’s not necessary to know how to type in order to use a computer—you can hunt and peck, as I do—, but nevertheless typing skills are very useful in using a computer.  Or again, it’s not necessary to maintain your bicycle in order to go cycling, but it can be a real benefit to maintain a well-oiled machine.  In the same way Christian apologetics can be of great utility even if it’s not necessary for some end.  Thus we need to ask concerning Christian apologetics not only, “Who needs it?” but also “What is it good for?”

Christian apologetics may be defined as that branch of Christian theology which seeks to provide rational warrant for Christianity’s truth claims.  Those who treat apologetics dismissively tend to measure apologetics’ worth by focusing upon its alleged necessity in warranting Christian belief.  Some thinkers, particularly in the Dutch Reformed tradition, see this role as unnecessary and sometimes even misguided.

Now I agree wholeheartedly with contemporary, so-called Reformed epistemologists like Alvin Plantinga that apologetic arguments and evidence are not necessary in order for Christian belief to be warranted for any person.  The contention of theological rationalists (or evidentialists, as they are misleadingly called today) that Christian faith is irrational in the absence of positive evidence is difficult to square with Scripture, which seems to teach that faith in Christ can be immediately grounded by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8.14-16; 1 Jn. 2.27; 5.6-10), so that argument and evidence become unnecessary. 

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I have elsewhere characterized the witness of the Holy Spirit as self‑authenticating, and by that notion I mean (1) that the experience of the Holy Spirit is veridical and unmistakable (though not necessarily irresistible or indubitable) for the one who has it and attends to it; (2) that such a person does not need supplementary arguments or evidence in order to know and to know with confidence that he is in fact experiencing the Spirit of God; (3) that such experience does not function in this case as a premise in any argument from religious experience to God, but rather is the immediate experiencing of God himself; (4) that in certain contexts the experience of the Holy Spirit will imply the apprehension of certain truths of the Christian religion, such as “God exists,” “I am reconciled to God,” “Christ lives in me,” and so forth; (5) that such an experience provides one not only with a subjective assurance of Christianity’s truth, but with objective knowledge of that truth; and (6) that arguments and evidence incompatible with that truth are overwhelmed by the experience of the Holy Spirit for the one who attends fully to it.

Christian evidentialists might insist that even if Christian belief can be warranted in the absence of positive apologetic arguments, still one must have at least the defensive apologetic resources to defeat the various objections with which one is confronted.  But even that more modest claim is hasty…


The Uses and Conditional Necessity of Apologetics | William Lane Craig