Mark McNeil

mcneiltheology.com

Apologetic Articles

Apologetics, understood here as the formal defense of Christian faith, is an important part of what I do on a regular basis.  My students are regularly filled with questions about faith that are more than a request for "data."  Students of all ages want a meaningful explanation of the claims of faith.  They want to know why they should believe the claims of Christianity.  As I am able to build this website, you will find articles on a wide range of topics that have the goal of encouraging reflection on matters of faith while using reason.  The goal is show the reasonableness and coherence of the Christian position.  Please scroll down to see available articles and manuscripts.

My Approach to Apologetics

There is a rich variety of apologetic methods and approaches.  Since human life is comprised of many layers of experience, we should not be surprised to find that there is also a variety of approaches to defending or introducing others to the truth-claims of Christianity.  In many respects, one's sympathies respecting apologetic methodology are an autobiographical testimony to his own experiences, temperament, and influences. 

My own experience, as far as I can recall, began with an awareness of the reality of God as the ground or source of all the changing, dependent things around me (and of myself).  I first learned the message of Jesus Christ during my elementary school days; it had a profound and mysterious appeal to me.  It made sense to admit my own sinfulness and it also appealed very deeply to me to think of God's love expressing itself in the historical life, death and resurrection of Christ.  Some of my earliest reading and conversations about religious matters were centered in apologetic concerns.  Looking back on those years, I see my experience as an expression of my own deep desire to question and seek for an integrated and all-encompassing vision of life and reality.  I was and am convinced that Jesus Christ is the key to developing such a vision. 

For a number of years I would have identified myself with "Evidentialist" apologetics.  Evidentialism claims that sufficient evidence can be provided for the Christian faith that, if correctly understood, will convince any honest person that Christianity is true.  Typically the reasoning goes something like this:

1.  God's existence can be proved through reason (based on sense experience).  The cosmological and teleological arguments are the primary ones used to establish this claim.

2.  The God that we know must exist fits nicely with the description of God we find in the Bible (e.g., eternal, infinite, spiritual, omnipresent).

3.  The message of Jesus is vindicated by the miracle of his resurrection from the dead.  The resurrection can be "proven" by legitimate standards of historical investigation.  The most reasonable explanation is that Jesus was who he claimed to be and that God proved this fact by his resurrection. 

4.  From the prior points we may then infer all the other essential truths of Christian faith based on the biblical texts that, in various ways, are shown to be trustworthy because of their relationship to Christ.  In other words, the Old Testament is trustworthy because Jesus used it an endorsed it and the New Testament is trustworthy because it is a collection of documents from the Apostles of Jesus (and those close to them) and Jesus promised them the guidance of the Holy Spirit into "all truth" (John 16:13). 

I read numerous books defending this perspective, books I continue to value and refer to on occasion.  Important influences on me included Norman Geisler, R. C. Sproul, John Gerstner, William Lane Craig, William Paley, J. P. Moreland, E. Y. Mullins, and a host of others.  I owe much to their hard work and insighful writings and lectures.

During the same years, I slowly learned about an alternative school of thought, "Presuppositionalism."  Within evangelical Protestantism this approach was usually associated with either Gordon Clark or Cornelius Van Til, both Presbyterians.  I studied their writings, and those of their students (e.g., E. J. Carnell, John Frame, Ronald Nash), sometimes to criticize them but also to learn from them.  I did learn a good amount from them and saw they did have some important criticisms of the Evidentialist approach.  When I became a Catholic, I found some interesting similarities between some current trends in Catholicism and some of the emphases of the Presuppositionalists.  My exposure to Neoorthodoxy (e.g., Karl Barth, Emil Brunner) generated a certain attraction to the idea that Christianity is a faith that results from God "breaking in" to the world of our experience, a world marred by sin that could never, through mere human reason, embrace divinely-given truth in Christ. 

On the other hand, my exposure to important 20th century Catholic thinkers, especially Karl Rahner and Henri de Lubac, led to an attraction to the hypothesis that the Christian faith corresponds to or answers deeply human questions that arise from our very constitution as human beings.  In other words, Christian faith is the God-given answer to the universal questions of being human.  To put it yet another way, human experience is called to "grace" inasmuch as we are consituted as a "question" to ourselves.  The answer to these questions is summed up and provided in Christ.

My current understanding is a mixture of these various approaches.  I have not rejected the Evidentialism of my youth, at least not entirely.  I still believe there are compelling reasons to believe in God and Christ.  I believe God has provided miracles that confirm the soundness of Christian commitment.  On the other hand, I find the emphasis on "faith" as embracing a framework for understanding that verifies and justifies itself subsequent to the choice to believe an approach that is closer to real human experience than "arguing" people into faith through evidence. Evidence can confirm faith but cannot force faith.  Arguments and defenses have a place but the complexity of being human makes it the case that more than intellectual arguments are necessary to bring a person to a life of commitment to Christian faith.

The articles that follow fall broadly in the category of "apologetics."  They all share in common either a direct discussion of apologetic arguments and methods or they are actual examples of engaging criticisms of Christian faith with the purpose of showing the credibility and superiority of the Christian position to that of its critics. 

Articles

East or West? Reflections on Choosing Christianity over Eastern Mysticism. (Essay "inspired" by a conversation with a friend who left Christianity to embrace Buddhism.)

 

My story of conversion to Catholicism.  (A brief presentation of my own religious/spiritual/intellectual journey.)

 


A full-length refutation of Oneness Pentecostal theology and defense of the Trinity.
  A book-length manuscript on Oneness Pentecostalism.  Thorough discussions of the baptismal "formula," the Trinity vs. a modalistic understanding of the nature of God, the value of the Trinity for Christian life, speaking in tongues, and a defense of Catholic Christianity.  Those not interested directly in Oneness Pentecostal theology may benefit from the defense and explanation of the Trinity, Christology, spiritual gifts, apostolic succession, and various other topics.  The defense of the Trinity and divinity of Christ may also aid in dealing with Jehovah's Witnesses and other non-Trinitarian forms of Christianity.
The Apologetics of St. Thomas Aquinas.  A book-length manuscript dealing with Aquinas natural philosophy (reasons to believe in God, the nature of the human person, ethics), as well as his understanding of faith and supernatural revelation (including his treatment of the problem of evil, miracles, the Trinity, the Papacy, Catholic Church, etc.).  Please forgive some formatting problems.  I am in the process of revising the manuscript but, given my current time-constraints, wanted to make the material available for those who may be interested in this subject.
Reply to Richard Dawkins Critique of Aquinas' Arguments for God.  This article was written to aid my students in responding to Dawkins' critique of St. Thomas' argument for God's existence. 
A Defense of the "New" Apologetics.  A reply to an article written by Catholic theologian, Richard Gaillardetz.  Includes a reply to his specific criticisms of the methods and goals of the so-called "new" apologists.
Master's Thesis on Aquinas' Apologetic Method  Full-length Master's thesis discussing Thomas Aquinas' method of apologetics in contrast to so-called "Presuppositional" Apologetics.  Includes discussions of Aquinas' "ways" to God and the attributes of God.
Why Does God Allow Suffering?  Some reflections on the Christian approach to making sense of the experience of suffering. 
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