Cowan, Steven B., general editor. Five Views On Apologetics. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.
Dr. Steven B. Cowan was born in Hattiesburg, MS, in 1962. He became a Christian while attending Calvary Baptist Church. He and his wife, pastor Immanuel Baptist Church.
He majored in Sociology while attending the University of Southern Mississippi. It was during his studies at USM that he became keening interested in apologetics. He earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Arkansas. His dissertation was titled Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: A Compatibilist Reconciliation. Dr. Cowan also earned his Master of Divinity from the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Dr. Cowan is an adjunct professor at several institutions. These institutions include Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ouachita Baptist University, and the University of Arkansas. His teaching focus is on Philosophy, Philosophy of Religion, Ethics, Theology, Apologetics, and World Religions. He is affiliated with several organizations that include: Evangelical Theological Society, Evangelical Philosophical Society, Society of Christian Philosophers, and American Philosophical Association.
He has publically debated the defense of the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus. Dr. Cowan’s focus is on teaching and developing Apologetics Resource Center’s Apologetics Journal (Areopagus Journal) and the Apologetics Institute. He served as managing editor of the Journal from 2001 to 2012.
The book identifies countering views on apologetic methodology. It does not attempt to present apologetics or “do” apologetics rather it presents “how one ought to do apologetics” (9). Published by Zondervan, it is part of the Counterpoint series of books. Its goal is to compare and contrast the views of five contributors, allowing each one of the authors to present their view. The presented view is followed by a critique from the other four views. There is then a response to the critiques.
Cowan, the general editor, starts the book out with a much-needed introduction. The introduction gives a Biblical defense of apologetics. A defense of the defense of Christianity per se. He also presents the taxonomy of the five methodologies of Christian apologetics: classical method (William Lane Craig), evidential method (Gary Habermas), cumulative case method (Paul Feinberg), presuppositional method (John Frame), and reformed epistemology method (Kelly James Clark).
William Lane Craig discussed the classical method as a two-stage process. First, the apologist uses natural theology, which establishes the existence of theism. The second stage is to provide evidence for the Bible and Christ’s resurrection. Craig does admit that one can help someone transition from unbelief to faith simply by communicating the historical evidence for the resurrection as Christianity’s most persuasive argument.
Gary Habermas advocates the evidential method, which emphasizes historical/Christian evidence without natural theology. This directly refers to Christianity instead of generic theism. Habermas uses “minimal fact,” thought to Christian evidence arguing for the major points of Jesus’ life, most importantly His resurrection as opposed to defending the entire New Testament.
Paul Feinberg presents the cumulative case method, which involves using a wide variety of evidence to establish Christianity as the most reasonable answer for a broad range of human issues. This method is described as a “case more like the brief that a lawyer makes in a court of law or that a literary critic makes for a particular interpretation of a book. 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” (19).
John Frame argues for the presuppositional method. This method starts from the presupposition that Christianity is true. This argument is transcendental, meaning that “every fact – logically presupposes the God of the Scriptures (19). We “should present the biblical God, not merely as the conclusion to an argument, but as the one who makes argument possible” (220).
Kelly James Clark ardently presents the reformed epistemology method. Clark lowers the threshold as to what apologetics can accomplish but uses natural theology as a potentially potent argument. He does not believe that historical evidence can establish belief due to the weakness of the arguments. His key idea is that belief in the Christian God need not depend on evidence or argument to be rational. One may find oneself believing in God and be within one’s epistemological rights to do so, just as we believe in the reality of the past without being able to prove it intellectually.
Steven B. Cowan writes the book’s conclusion. The conclusion presents six areas of agreement between the methodologies: 1. The need for both positive and negative apologetics, 2. The value of theistic arguments and Christian evidence, 3. The noetic effects of sin, 4. The importance of the Holy Spirit in apologetics, 5. The existence of common ground with unbelievers, and 6. A rejection of postmodern relativism. There is also a listing of the six areas of disagreement between the methodologies: 1. Role of the Bible in apologetic methodology, 2. Classifications of apologetic methods, 3. May one invoke the concept of a miracle to explain a historical event without first establishing that God exists, 4. How good are positive arguments in demonstrating the truth of Christianity, 5. Are all worldviews defended circularly, and 6. Is the resurrection of Christ antecedently improbable?
This volume succeeds in presenting the differing views on methodologies of apologetics. As the title intimates, there are several, five in this volume, ways to present the Gospel to the world. The book allows the reader to glimpse into the systems of thought outside of just the “this is the only way that works” mindset.
The presentation, refute, and rebuttal structure of the book is beneficial. As stated before each of the five views is presented. Then the other four opposing views refute the view presented. After which, the original writer provides a rebuttal to the refute. As strange as it may seem, the refute often brought a greater understanding of the methodology. More clearly, the opposing view brought a great understanding of the view than the proponent.
From this reader’s point of view, there was some fun in the book, that is, if one likes a verbal wrestling match. The rebuttals sometimes bordered on being petty. Passion in any argument makes it interesting. Defensiveness is less appealing.
Cowan’s opening thoughts and closing thoughts seem to breathe life into the book. The word malaise could be a description of what it felt like when reading the book. Without Cowan’s explanations and peacekeeping attitude, the book would not be nearly as effective.
The greatest strength of the book is exposing readers to apologetics in general. Few, and that is being generous, Christians actually even think about evangelism. This book challenges a Christian to think about sharing the Gospel to the world that desperately needs it. It also gives the would-be evangelist encouragement that simply because the nonbeliever remained unconvinced, their message is part of a process. “Successful evangelism involves not only harvesting but sowing and watering, too” (289).
A great weakness is in defending apologetics. While a defense of apologetics is presented, there are great arguments against it. Consider Jesus’s words here, “Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand on what you will answer” (Lk. 21:14 NKJV). This was in the context of answering persecution or providing a defense of your faith. This is further complicated because it is also mentioned in Matthew 10:19, Mark 13:11, and twice in Luke (the verse listed above and Luke 12:11). It seems an explanation of these verses is needed in light of this verse in I Peter 3:15, “being ready always to answer every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you” (ASV).
Cowan exercises great restraint of his bias. To withhold one’s bias is very difficult. Yet, Dr. Cowan does a masterful job of hiding the view he would hold. He played the role of theological diplomat very well.
This book is excellent for graduate-level apologetics. Yet, this book should be a beginning in the exploration of apologetics. It not the end of a discussion, as it provides no conclusive argument for which view is most effective. After all, there are different views on Christian apologetics or at least five of them.