Saturday, September 18, 2010

Book Review: Five Views on Apologetics

Five Views on ApologeticsFive Views on Apologetics edited by Steven B. Cowan is one of Zondervan’s Counterpoint series of books. This book is designed to compare and contrast the views of the various contributors, allowing each one of the authors to present their view, critique other views, and respond to the critiques. This volume edited by Cowan brings together five views on apologetic methodology. The purpose of this review is to briefly outline the contents for the potential reader while assessing the usefulness of the book as a resource for the Christian apologist.

Cowan has the task of categorizing the various methods found among apologists and finding a good representative of each view. He admits that this is not an easy task, as categories, methods, and apologists all overlap on certain points. However, he divides the categories into the classical method, the evidential method, the cumulative case method, the presuppositional method, and the reformed epistemology method. (15-19) 

Cowan briefly outlines each method. The classical method starts with natural theology to show that God exists, and then moves on to historical evidences to establish such things as the deity of Christ and the reliability of the scriptures. William Lane Craig represents the defender of the classical method in this book. The evidential method is similar to the classical method, but it starts with historical evidences. Whereas the classical method would be a “two-step” approach, the evidential method would be a “one-step” approach. This method emphasizes historical evidences and miracles. The defender of this view is Gary Habermas.

Paul D. Feinberg represents the cumulative case method. This method, as defined here, does not look at the arguments for Christianity as formal proofs. Instead, “the case is more like the brief that a lawyer makes in a court of law,”(18) as “it is an informal argument that pieces together several lines or types of data into a sort of hypothesis or theory that comprehensively explains that data and does so better than any alternative hypothesis.”(18) Next, the presuppositional method emphasizes presupposing the truth of Christianity as, “the proper starting point in apologetics. Here the Christian revelation in the Scriptures is the framework through which all experience is interpreted and all truth is known.” (18-19) Presuppositionalists attempt to argue transcendentally, seeking to show that all facts presuppose the Christian God. Here John Frame represents the presuppositional approach. Finally, the reformed epistemology method holds that “it is perfectly reasonable for a person to believe many things without evidence.” (19) Belief in God does not require arguments or evidence for it to be rational. Kelly James Clark defends this view here. Cowan provides much more detail in his introduction to each view, and then allows each advocate to present their approach more fully.

As each contributor presents their approach, the overlapping of the categories becomes evident immediately. Each author’s response to his fellow contributor agrees on a large portion of the material. Much of the disagreement and discussion takes place on the finer points and differences rather than on the larger elements. Frame’s presuppositionalist position diverges the most from the other views and thus takes on a great deal of criticism. Other views, such as the classical and evidential methods, disagree on very little.

As for advice for the potential reader, it may be helpful to start at the end of the book. Steven Cowan’s conclusion offers a nice summary of what is found in the overall discussion. This is advisable because it will more clearly delineate where the key points of the discussion take place. For instance, six areas of agreement are presented: 1) the need for both positive and negative apologetics; 2) the value of theistic arguments and evidences; 3) the noetic effects of sin; 4) the importance of the Holy Spirit in apologetics; 5) the existence of common ground with unbelievers; 6) a rejection of postmodern relativism. (375-376) Cowan also presents the six areas of disagreement. (see pages 376-380) Once the reader grasps the areas of agreement and disagreement, the reading of the fuller presentations by each contributor will become clearer in the larger context.

Five Views on Apologetics is certainly of good use for those studying apologetic methodology. However, for beginners the language may be overly technical and philosophical. In addition, there are some who would surely differ on how to categorize methodologies, as well as who best represents each view. For the student, Five Views on Apologetics will be most useful when read alongside other books on methodology.

Steven B. Cowan, Five Views on Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000).


  1. The Apologetic Front September 18, 2010

    I've wanted this book for a while. Do you have an opinion on who's view made the strongest case?

  2. Brian September 18, 2010

    That's hard to say, as there was strong agreement on many fronts. Frame seemed to get the biggest criticisms, whereas Habermas and Craig and the fewest criticisms. But again, the problem with the book is that it could leave the impression that each contributor is the representative of that view. In addition, one could get the wrong idea that there to be a hard line drawn between methods and one must choose one over another.

    Although this book is helpful and interesting, I still prefer Faith Has Its Reasons as a better book on methodology as it is more comprehensive and, I think, better categorizes the approaches. Boa and Bowman also allow for and describe an integrated approach.

    So I say, read them together!

  3. Stephen September 18, 2010

    Good review. I also have wanted to read this book. Good job.

  4. Fran Szarejko September 19, 2010

    I've recently read this book and was less than enthusiastic about it. For a much better introduction to apologetics and its various flavors I would go with Boa and Bowman's "Faith Has Its Reasons." This book is not an introduction and is, in my opinion, not that well done.

  5. Matt September 20, 2010

    I've read the book as well, but I was not terribly thrilled by it. I was hoping to get an in-depth picture of each of the views, but walked away with more questions than answers.