William Edgar’s 4 Step Apologetic Method
Westminster Professor of Apologetics William Edgar has written a book on apologetics called “Reasons of the Heart: Recovering Christian Persuasion” (2003). In one of the more helpful chapters he gives a four-step approach to apologetics which relies on “four apologetic realities.” He argues that, when these 4 realities are used together, this approach offer a persuasive and powerful apologetic, as we seek to give an answer for hope within us (1 Peter 3:15). (Of course, he rightly concedes that ultimately, only God the Holy Spirit can bring a person to faith in Christ (60)).
Here are the four apologetic realities (steps):
Step #1: Using THIS Point of Contact (Common Ground) We Already have with the Unbeliever (Common Ground)—EVERYONE Already KNOWS God Exists
Romans 1:19-21 affirms that every human ALREADY knows that God exists. The problem is, in our sin we SUPPRESS this truth in unrighteousness. This is the biblical perspective. Calvin called this knowledge the ‘sensus divinitas’ (sense of the divine). Just as God has endowed us with the sense of hearing and seeing, so he has given us a spiritual sense which recognizes that He exists and we own our allegiance to Him. This means that everyone (from the atheist to the agnostic to the Christian) has a built-in faculty or sense that God exists, even if they deny it. Edgar says that “every person is aware of God just by virtue of being human” (52).
Remembering this in apologetics works out this way: “when we attempt to argue for the Christian faith with unbelievers we are not talking to those for whom God’s existence is strange or exotic. When we come to people with the claims of the truth, we are appealing to what they know but deny. WE are asking them to be like the prodigal son and come to themselves….The reason we may hold people accountable to God is that although they deny him, they know he is there (Roman 1:21)…We have an assured point of contact with all human beings” (54).
Step #2: DISCLOSURE—Assuming the Unbeliever’s Worldview for the Sake of an Argument to Demonstrate Its Unlivable Nature and Deconstruct It
The second step involved taking on or assuming the unbeliever’s worldview (how they perceive reality) for the sake of an argument, to show it is unlivable. We are disclosing this reality for them. Edgar states it this way: “we will call it disclosure. In essence this means moving onto the ground of an unbelieving person in order to uncover the inner dynamics of his or her worldview. The purpose is to help the person see how that position cannot provide the crucial answers for the human predicament. Strategies that seek to unmasks the inner dynamics of someone’s belief system may range from direct confrontation to gentle appeal…” (55).
The idea is that because we live in God’s world—a world truthfully explained to us in the Bible—any unbelieving worldview cannot be consistently lived out. Edgars states it this way: “If the Christian faith is true, then however consistently an unbeliever may appear to be living out his or her position, it cannot hold together. Somewhere there is a flaw, because we do in fact live in God’s world. It may be a flaw of logic, emotion, or simply the irony of unsuccessful pride. The work of the apologist is to uncover the tension between unbelief and the knowledge of God that everyone has.” (56). Schaeffer describes this as pushing the unbeliever to the end of his/her worldview, to show that it is ultimately unlivable.
An unbeliever may say we are just evolved pond scum, but no one lives this way. An unbeliever may say morals are relative, but none can live it. An unbeliever may say life is meaningless, but this is unlivable as well. Disclosure is helping an unbeliever see this.
Step #3: COMING HOME—Sharing the Gospel
It is not enough to deconstruct the unbelieving worldview, we have to also proclaim the hope of the gospel. We want the unbeliever to come home back to God. So, we give an explanation of how God has made a way for us to be saved from our sins through Jesus Christ. We share about the love and grace of God who made a way for us to be delivered from hell and made spiritually alive and children of God. We urge unbeliever to repent of sin and accept the gospel.
Step #4: PLAUSIBILITY—Showing How the Christian Faith is “Confirmed or Made Evident and Concrete” (59).
Edgar argues that this fourth piece is just as important as the previous three. Here we are showing that Christianity is beautiful, good, true, and livable. Edgar notes: “Plausibility…has many forms. It may be psychological, social, or cultural in nature” (61). We are showing that Christianity is logical and rationally persuasive as we look at the facts. We show that it allows us to understand all of the areas of life that science cannot prove but we know are true (things like beauty, morality, goodness, truth, justice, etc.).
As we show that Christianity helps us make sense of reality, Edgar rightly notes that requires us to genuinely hear the unbeliever’s heart and why they believe what they believe. He states it this way: “in doing apologetics we should strive to understand someone’s position from within. Our friends should sense that we know why they have come to their conclusions and what they are struggling with, for then our disclosure of the problems will be plausible” (63).