Re-defining 'Apologetics' (1997)

Jeffery Jay Lowder

 

In his latest (and allegedly, his last) salvo in the lively debate over the stated purpose of Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict, James Patrick Holding declares that ETDAV is not an apologetic because Mr. Ron Lutjens, a member of the ETDAV research team, says so.[1] Moreover, Holding states that I have failed to refute his claims concerning the Preface and "User's Guide" of ETDAV. In this essay I shall evaluate both of these claims, as well as Holding's response to my previous essay.[2]

Watch Your Attitude

Holding frequently reminds his readers that while he has removed the ad hominem attacks from his essays, Jury writers continue to rely on such attacks. Yet his caricature, "The Jury Is In-Sane!", is the epitome of an ad hominem attack;[3] Holding's colleague Glenn Miller has told me that he "cannot condone" it. Even in his latest essay, Holding continues to make ad hominem arguments. I shall briefly identify these personal attacks and then not mention them again:

  • "I removed such language from my own material long ago; must the hypocrisy now take its respective place on the other side?"
  • "Mr. Lowder's ill feelings towards McDowell continue to be at the forefront of Jury, then there is nothing more to be said. Lowder can either accept the testimony of ETDAV, and that of one who took part in its compiliation, and make the minor alterations needed - or, he can in some fashion refuse to believe or accept what has been presented here, and proceed on his merry way. And if that happens, believe this: I will be here to point out every single misconstrual, because I'm not going anywhere."

These statements will not be addressed in my rebuttal.

Does ETDAV Contain No Arguments?

"Straight From the Horse's Mouth"

Now at face value, Holding's rebuttal is mistitled because Ron Lutjens is not Josh McDowell. We have yet to see an account of some interaction between Holding and McDowell, in which Holding asks if ETDAV is an apologetic, and McDowell states that it is not. And that type of interaction is exactly what we need but don't have, for as I will show below the User's Guide actually supports my contention that ETDAV is an apologetic.

But what about Mr. Lutjens? I have requested his phone number from Mr. Holding so that I or a colleague may speak to him ourselves, and (as of this writing) Holding has refused to release his phone number. That alone is sufficient grounds to dismiss Holding's testimony as hearsay, but let's see if ETDAV sheds any light on the matter.

McDowell only lists Lutjens as researching the "Historic Reliability of the Old Testament"; moreover, the only indication McDowell gives us as to the extent of Mr. Lutjen's involvement in the ETDAV project is that he "received credit" at his university.[4] But what does that mean? Perhaps Mr. Lutjen ghostscripted the chapter for McDowell. Or maybe Mr. Lutjen supplied McDowell with some quotations that appear in ETDAV, and then Mr. Lutjen wrote an essay for a class on that. We don't know because ETDAV doesn't tell us. And in the absence of such background information, the relevance of Holding's interview of Lutjens is marginal at best.

But let's suppose that Lutjens not only "wrote" an entire chapter of ETDAV, but that he was intimately involved in ETDAV and in fact was McDowell's right-hand man. The information in ETDAV is still the same information that Christians have been presenting to skeptics, and I shall have more to say about this later on.

"Do What With It?"

Despite his admonition to James Still that a preface "is a place for personal comments, not for arguments or their support,"[5] Holding maintains that skeptics should turn to the Preface of ETDAV when proselytized by an ETDAV-bearing Evangelical:

 

It [ETDAV] is NOT [sic] an evangelistic tool to be rammed down someone's throat; it IS [sic] a support for Christians to do research, and McDowell gives three examples of students who tell how they used it: to prepare speeches (noted twice), and to use as documentation - [sic] and these are undoubtedly examples of how McDowell sees ETDAV being used! He gives NO [sic] example of his work used as a direct evangelistic tool or as a serious apologetic![6]

Of course, if any skeptic used an argument from silence as blatant as this one, they would promptly "be fed to the lions." Just because McDowell doesn't give any examples of his work being used "as a direct evangelistic tool or as a serious apologetic" doesn't mean he disapproved of such uses or even that he did not receive letters from students stating that is how they used his work. Holding should remember the reproach Miller gave to skeptics concerning arguments from silence: that perhaps the reason a certain detail is not related by a given writer is because it was "so widely known as to not need repeating."[7] Vast multitudes of Evangelical Christians have been using ETDAV as an apologetic tool, so there would be no reason for McDowell to report that.

Besides, if there is anything in the Preface relevant to our discussion, it is the fact that McDowell defines 'apologetics' as "the presentation of evidence." He writes:

 

These notes, used with a proper attitude, will help to motivate a person to consider Jesus Christ honestly and to get him back to the central and primary issue - the gospel (such as contained in the Four Spiritual Laws at the end of the book).

 

My philosophy has always been that after I share Christ with someone who has some honest doubts, I give him enough apologetics to answer his question or satisfy his curiosity and then turn the conversation back to his relationship with Christ. The presentation of evidence (apologetics) should never be a suibstitute for using the Word of God."[8]

Thus, McDowell thinks that his Evidences are good enough for witnessing. McDowell intends for these Evidences to be used to answer questions from skeptics to win them to Christ. This is in accordance with his own definition of apologetics as the "presentation of evidence."

Scaling El Capitan

Holding has been very put out that I have ignored his exegesis of that "bothersome User's Guide." And I must admit that, after re-reading the User's Guide, I too wish I had commented upon it sooner. Not only does the User's Guide utterly fail to provide any support whatosever for Holding's creative interpretation of McDowell's purpose, but it provides additional evidence for my position.

First, there is what the User's Guide says "to all readers":

 

Anyone who shares his faith regularly soon learns that certain questions about Christianity surface over and over again. With a little basic preparation on these questions, any regularly witnessing Christian can answer 90 percent of them.[9]

What should Christians use to prepare for these questions? ETDAV. How effective is it? They will be able to answer "90 percent" of the questions they encounter. Thus, ETDAV is clearly intended to be a powerful apologetic and not a mere "starting point."

Second, there is what the User's Guide says about getting "more details on subjects mentioned in Evidence":

 

"At times you may desire more details on subjects mentioned in Evidence. For example, if you would like to read more about Josh's own story, you could consult A Skeptic's Quest, a biography of his life by Joe Musser. For answers to scores of commonly asked questions about Christianity, Josh and co-author Don Stewart have writtene the volumes Answers to Tough Questions and Reasons Skeptics Should Consider Christianity. For a comparison of Christianity to other religions, cults, and the occult, consult Josh and Don's comprehensive Handbook of Today's Religions. For an expanded treatment on the resurrection of Jesus, see Josh's The Resurrection Factor.

 

For a greatly expanded treatement of the historical Jesus, see He Walked Among Us by Josh and co-author Bill Wilson. Another work co-authored by Josh and Bart Larson, Jesus: A Biblical Defense of His Deity, details the biblical evidence for the deity of Christ."[10]

The passage reproduced above indicates that the evidences presented in ETDAV are more than sufficient for most of the situations that Christians will encounter. There is nothing urging the Christian to go out and seek more information; the rather mild phraseology we see ("At times you may desire more details on subjects mentioned in Evidence") indicates that the User's Guide considers ETDAV to be quite self-sufficient. Thus, it would clearly be a misrepresentation to suggest that McDowell designed ETDAV as merely a starting point, with the end goal of having the reader do further research and develop their own arguments. In fact, supplying the Christian apologist's need for extensive research was one of the reasons for creating ETDAV. As it says in the User's Guide:

 

One of Josh's greatest motivations for writing Evidence was to save students time in doing the research necessary to prepare a credible paper or message on the historical evidences for the Christian faith.[11]

McDowell is not suggesting that ETDAV is a starting point to help a student to organize his thoughts and point him towards the right resources. Rather, he is stating that he has already done the research for students, and that now all they need to do is go out there and get busy winning the world for Christ. McDowell has done the hard part, thus liberating students from the need to actually do any first-hand research.

The User's Guide also states:

 

In order to more thoroughly digest the historical evidence presented in these volumes, study the Table of Contents pages carefully before proceeding. Notice that Volume 1 primarily deals with three broad areas: (1) the trustworthiness of the Bible; (2) the person of Jesus; and (3) how God has changed history and human lives. In response to the material in Volume 1, some scholars persisted in attacking the reliability of the Scriptures by using various forms of higher criticism. That is why Josh wrote Volume 2. Notice that it primarily deals with two subjects: (1) the documentary hypothesis (used by many scholars in the past to deny the accuracy and Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Old Testament); and (2) form criticism (used by many scholars in the past to deny the accuracy of the Gospel accounts of Jesus, the first four books of the New Testament).[12]

The User's Guide specifically says that McDowell wrote Volume 2 because of scholars who "attacked the reliability of Scripture". Even if McDowell did not intend Volume 2 to be a response directed to those scholars, he nonetheless intended for Volume 2 to address their specific arguments. That is by definition what a negative apologetic does.[13]

Third, there is what McDowell wrote to high school students:

 

Evidence will equip you for answering intellectual objections. The most common of these raised by high school students against Christianity are on the reliability of Scripture and the person of Jesus. Students ask, "How can you trust a 2,000-year-old book to be accurate in what it reports? Why should I believe what it says?" Others say, "I can accept Jesus as a great teacher or even a prophet, but nothing more. He was just a man." To answer these objections, we recommend you focus on and absorb chapter 4, "The Reliability of the Bible," and chapter 7, "The Trilemma - Lord, Liar, or Lunatic?" in Volume 1.[14]

As the User's Guide states, ETDAV was intended to "answer" "the most common" of the "intellectual objections" "raised by high school students," which is precisely what a negative apologetic does. ETDAV is positioned as a fully-functional, stand-alone apologetic that is more than sufficient to meet the needs of the majority of Christians wanting to defend their faith.

Fourth, there is what McDowell wrote to college students:

 

Many questions about the Bible can be answered by studying the issues addressed in Volume 2 of Evidence. For an understanding of central critical questions of the reliability of the Old Testament Scriptures, focus on Section II. To counter objections to New Testament reliability, master Section III. (For a condensation of Section III, see chapter 7 in He Walked Among Us. An understanding of chapter 1 of Volume 2, "The Presupposition of Anti-Supernaturalism," will help you counter the belief held by many critics that references to the supernatural are automatically to be disqualified from being trustworthy.[15]

Thus, the User's Guide is stating that certain skeptical arguments can be answered using ETDAV. The User's Guide doesn't say that the ETDAV can help answer certain skeptical arguments; it says that they can be answered using ETDAV.

Finally, there is the User's Guide's "idea" for pastors and seminary students:

 

Another idea: One Florida pastor annually advertises a "Skeptics Night," when he tackles every question thrown at him from the floor. His preparation for the event was a major undertaking, but any pastor using Evidence 1 and 2 could dramatically cut the preparation time -- and it definitely gets people out for an evangelistic impact.[16]

Thus, we have a clear example of the User's Guide giving examples of how to use ETDAV as a fully-functional apologetic. The Florida pastor had been hosting his "Skeptics Night" without using ETDAV. That's why we read that it was a "major undertaking." But with ETDAV at his fingertips, he can do the same thing but "dramatically cut the preparation time." If there is anything which "settles this once and for all," at least "for the reasonable people in this reading audience," this is it.

This "idea" also refutes two of Holding's other contentions. First, it refutes Holding's claim that "It [ETDAV] is NOT [sic] an evangelistic tool to be rammed down someone's throat." By preparing with ETDAV, the pastor is creating that "evangelistic impact." And second, it refutes Holding's claim that McDowell "gives NO [sic] example of his work used as a direct evangelistic tool or as a serious apologetic!" The above anecdote about the Florida pastor is an example of ETDAV being used as both a "direct evangelistic tool" and "as a serious apologetic."

Assessment

I therefore conclude that Holding has misunderstood both the User's Guide and the stated purpose of ETDAV.[17] Perhaps the User's Guide is yet another unauthorized addition to ETDAV over which McDowell had no control,[18] but in that case it would fail to support Holding's interpretation of the purpose of ETDAV, for the User's Guide would no longer represent McDowell's intentions.

ETDAV As a Strong Apologetic

Level of Indirection

In my essay, "Is ETDAV an Apologetic?", I argued that the difference between:

 

(1) a book with a direct apologetic goal, aimed at the non-believing reader,

and

 

(2) a reference manual that outlines and lists apologetic resources for Christians to use in soulwinning nonbelievers

is fictitious. This is because

 

It is totally irrelevant whether the same "defenses of Christianity" get presented to the non-Christian in book format, or if they get told to the non-Christian by word of mouth. In both cases, it's the same information. Adding a level of indirection in scenario (2) doesn't excuse shortcomings in the data presented.[19]

In response, Holding writes

 

This is misguided, in the same sense as it has been from the beginning: ETDAV is not in the business of making arguments! It is, again, merely an outline - as Lutjens put it, a "catalog" - of information.[20]

Holding goes on to quote Lutjens as stating that the Evangelical must include these "evidences" within "a larger presentation based on his own convictions." That is to say, a one-on-one consultation in a witnessing situation is necessary to help the "evidence."[21] Thus, the "evidences" in ETDAV cannot stand on their own.

Although I did not use the word "argument" anywhere in the paragraph quoted by Holding, it is quite clear (from the data presented) what kind of argument McDowell expects the Christian to make. Indeed, McDowell's expectations of what kind of argument the believer will present can be seen in the kind of data he chose to include in this "catalog." Choosing one's chess pieces very carefully will tell an observer what kind of attack one is planning. There is no misconstrual here.

Describing the method that the same data gets conveyed does not change the nature of the data itself. If I air mail a box of oranges to Holding, or if I ship them to him in the back of a taxi, the oranges stay the same. The method of conveyance does not affect the quality of the oranges (or the data).

Moving Foreword

I stated that Bright wrote that "the material contained in this book" (and not some other book) is "overwhelmingly conclusive." Holding's response:

 

Then, perhaps, it is the Web Page Fairy sitting on Lowder's shoulder who is reading intentions? The fact is, though Lowder has here juxtaposed the "material" and "overwhelmingly" quotes in such a way as to make it seem like Bright is saying that the material in ETDAV is what is overwhelmingly conclusive, this assertion does not stand under literary scrutiny. The passages are several sentences apart, in entirely different paragraphs, part of entirely different lines of thought - and, they are in the REVERSE order from the way Lowder has presented them![22]

Holding has exaggerated the distance between the two passages. The "overwhelmingly conclusive" quotation appears in the seventh paragraph while the "material" passage appears in the eighth paragraph. By stating that the two passages appear in "entirely different paragraphs," Holding makes it appear as if they are several paragraphs apart. More importantly, though, is the fact that the two sentences refer to the same "overwhelmingly conclusive" evidence. Holding's objection that the passages appear in reverse order is therefore besides the point.

Courtroom Analogy

In my previous essay I made an observation concerning McDowell's usage of the courtroom analogy, and I wish to expand upon it here. The fact that McDowell has styled ETDAV after the manner of a courtroom and yet only presents one side of an issue is a clear indicator that ETDAV is an apologetic. In a private e-mail message to James Still, however, Holding argued that:

 

The last I heard, in a courtroom the prosecution is not obliged to present the defense's case, nor vice versa.[23]

Well, the last I heard, Holding's position was that ETDAV does not contain any arguments. Yet it is difficult to think of McDowell as a (competent) prosecuting attorney if he is not presenting any arguments.

Holding also wrote:

 

At any rate, it is not as though McD & Co. have locked up all the books and [sic] the opposite end and thrown away the key, and the bookstores and public libraries are still operational.[24]

This is totally besides the point. If McDowell has omitted the "opposite end" from his book, then McDowell intended to support a particualr verdict: the Christian faith.

Holding's comment is also completely hypocritical, in light of Holding's accusations that I was unethical for presenting tentative conclusions as fact.[25] If Holding were being consistent in his evaluation of ETDAV and Jury, then he would apply the same standards to both works. The other Jury writers and I have also not "locked up" all of the information that contradicts our position, but Holding doesn't even mention that when rushing to convict the Jury. So why would Holding present that as a mitigating factor in McDowell's defense? I guess the "Web Page Fairy" modified the web pages of this "research professional" without his consent.

What Other Christians Have to Say

An additional indicator that ETDAV is an apologetic can be found in what other Christian apologists and scholars have to say:

  • Evangelical New Testament scholar Craig Blomberg refers to McDowell's presentation of the Trilemma in ETDAV as a "very popular conservative apologetic."[26]
  • Creation scientist Henry Morris includes ETDAV in a list of books on "Christian evidences," a term which he says is "often used more or less interchangably" with apologetics.[27]
  • Similarly, Steven Collins, a Christian apologist himself, also includes ETDAV in a list of "recommended books" on apologetics.[28]
  • Joseph B. Whitchurch and Eric Pement list ETDAV in their very concise overview of Christian apologetic sources.[29]
  • Evangelical philosopher J.P. Moreland includes ETDAV in a list of books on "historical apologetics" and specifically designates ETDAV as "highly recommended."[30]

Although the above list by no means represents an exhaustive search of the literature, the above authors are not lay Christians who can be accused of simply misunderstanding the User's Guide. Blomberg, Morris, Moreland, et al flatly reject Holding's interpretation and state that ETDAV is an apologetic.

Indeed, the above authors seem to represent a consensus concerning the purpose of ETDAV, and that creates a further problem for Holding's position. Either Holding was not aware of the consensus, in which case this "research professional" is not what he claims to be, or he is aware of the consensus but has chosen to ignore their "'warning' sign" without argument.[31] In either case, the consensus is inconsistent with Holding's position.

Conclusion

There is overwhelming evidence that ETDAV is an apologetic. Holding's denial of this obvious, simple fact is much like the announcement of the radical Biblical scholar who "discovers" the one, "true" interpretation of the Bible that no one in the past 2,000 years has ever before known about. It flies in the face of what every other Christian has ever understood. Perhaps Holding's interpretation, like that of the radical Biblical scholar, is right. But that would entail that ETDAV was so utterly inffective in communicating its purpose that the vast majority of Christians -- including Christian scholars like Craig Blomberg and J.P. Moreland -- simply didn't get it. Thus, ironically, Holding's AJINOD is just another criticism of McDowell's ETDAV.

Acknowledgment

I am grateful to Bob Sarver, James Still , and Mark Vuletic for suggestions concerning this essay.

Notes

[1] James Patrick Holding, "Straight From the Horse's Mouth" <http://www.integrityonline15.com/jpholding/tekton/JPH_SFHM.html>

[2] Jeffery Jay Lowder, "Is ETDAV an Apologetic?" <http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/jury/apologetic.html>

[3] James Patrick Holding, "The Jury Is In-Sane!" June 30, 1997 <http://www.integrityonline15.com/jpholding/tekton/ajinod_02.html>

[4] Josh McDowell, EvidenceThat Demands a Verdict (San Benardino, CA: Here's Life, 1979), p. vii.

[5] Holding, "And When We Got There the Cupboard was Bare" <http://www.integrityonline15.com/jpholding/tekton/JPH_WWGTCBB.html>

[6] Holding, "Counterstrike Prime" <http://www.integrityonline15.com/jpholding/tekton/JPH_CP.html>

[7] Glenn Miller, "Most Common Errors Skeptics Make in Apologetics" August 30, 1995 <http://www.webcom.com/ctt/errskeps.html>.

[8] McDowell, p. vi.

[9] Ibid., p. 2.

[10] McDowell, "User's Guide", p. 3 in EvidenceThat Demands a Verdict (San Benardino, CA: Here's Life, 1979).

[11] Ibid., p. 5.

[12] Ibid., p. 2. Italics are mine.

[13] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith (Revised edition, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1994), pp. xv-xvi.

[14] McDowell, "User's Guide", p. 5.

[15] Ibid., p. 6.

[16] Ibid., p. 7.

[17] I should add that the fact that the User's Guide also tells Christians to find their own way to introduce the material (start a club, write letters in defense of Christianity, write a report for a college course, give a speech to your local Rotary about Christianity, etc.) doesn't change the basic fact that the material enclosed in ETDAV is intended to form the core of an apologetic response against modern scholarship and skeptical inquiry.

[18] In response to my argument that the very title of ETDAV "entails that ETDAV is an apologetic," Holding responded by suggesting that "what McDowell believes, then, is almost certainly NOT [sic] reflected on the cover." See Holding, "Straight From the Horse's Mouth".

[19] Lowder, "Is ETDAV an Apologetic?".

[20] Holding, "Straight From the Horse's Mouth".

[21] If I were so inclined, I could play this game, too. Holding complains that the Jury writers refute McDowell instead of Craig, but in my Introduction to Jury I clearly state that Jury is a rebuttal to ETDAV and not to some other book. Jury was never intended to be a rebuttal to Craig.

[22] Holding, "Straight From the Horse's Mouth".

[23] James Patrick Holding, Private E-mail To James Still, September 15, 1997.

[24] Ibid.

[25] James Patrick Holding, "Introduction, Take Two" September 10, 1997 <http://www.integrityonline15.com/jpholding/tekton/ajinod_03.html>

[26] Craig Blomberg, The Historical Reliability of the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1987), p. xx.

[27] Henry M. Morris, Many Infallible Proofs (El Cajon, CA: Creation Life Publisher, 1974), pp. 1, 8.

[28] Steven Collins, Championing the Faith (Tulsa, OK: Virgil W. Hensley, 1991), p. 21.

[29] Joseph B. Whitchurch and Eric Pement, Contend for the Faith (Chicago: Evangelical Ministries to New Religions, 1992), pp. 70-78.

[30] J.P. Moreland, Scaling the Secular City: A Defense of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1987), p. 259.

[31] James Patrick Holding, "Playing My Heart Bleeds For You On The Worlds Smallest Violin" July 10, 1997 <http://www.integrityonline15.com/jpholding/tekton/ajinod_03.html>

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