What is Experiential Apologetics?

Summary of the Method

Experiential apologetics is often considered one of, if not the weakest of all apologetic methods with the lack of scientific basis. Experiential apologetics uses the personal experiences of one person in order to testify and convince people of the truth of Christianity. As the name implies, Experiential apologetics uses ones own experience to claim the superiority of their viewpoint over any other method. This will allow many different ways to approach any person with some sort of viewpoint of Christianity. This method has little in the way for people to defeat the claims that one person makes without calling them a liar about their own experience. Ultimately, this method relies on the Holy Spirit to convict the heart of the listener that what they are hearing is the truth and thereby convince the hearer to abandon their old way of thinking and accept what the speaker is telling them. The main benefits of this method are that every Christian can do this approach, every person can relate to another’s personal experience, and it can be very moving and effective if the listener trusts the speaker.[1]

Critique of the Method

The downside to experiential apologetics is actually fairly simple. While there is little that can be done to destroy the claims made by someone using experiential apologetics, the experience of one person holds little value so far as a skeptic would be concerned. Due to the fact that there are any number of religions where experiences play a role in the foundation of ones belief system, it makes it so that no one experience holds more value than any other experience. The experience a Christian may offer can only be validated by the individual. This makes it so the experience of a Christian has no more (or less) value than the experience offered by other religions. “Buddhists offer a moment of enlightenment as a proof. Mormons speak of the burning in their hearts. That is not to say that these experiences are equally valid; however, to test the validity of these claims is impossible.”[2] Taken to the end result of Christianity being based upon experiences, we would see that fideism would be the result of experiential apologetics whereby reason cannot justify belief in a God unless one uses faith alone. The end value of experiential apologetics can be seen in that it can be a great addition to other methods of apologetics, especially evidential apologetics and can be incredibly useful in a complementary role but lacks power on its own because of the ability to reproduce experiences in other religions while being scientifically unprovable.

Align to the Approach

The majority of theologians in particular who have used the experiential approach to apologetics tend to have been popular in the past with the likes of Tertullian, Karl Barth and Soren Kierkegaard, and Rudolf Bultmann. Some have argued that Ludwig Wittgenstein was a fideist[3] and would fall under this category of apologists as well. Another main grouping of experiential apologists would be many evangelists who although while not necessarily attempting apologetics do so through their evangelistic ministry by using their experience as a truth claim.

[1] Ergun Caner, “The Need for Apologetics: A Summary of the Essentials of Christianity” (Lecture 4, Liberty University APOL 500, Lynchburg, VA, March 21, 2011)

[2] Hindson, Ed & Ergubn Caner. The Popular Encycolpedia of Apologetics: Surveying the Evidence for the Truth of Christianity. Eugene: Harvest House Publishers. 2008. 66.

[3] Mcgovern, Ken and Bé Szabados. “Was Wittgenstein a Fideist? Two Views.” Sophia 41, no. 2 (2002): 41-54, http://search.proquest.com/docview/821693620?accountid=12085.43.

3 thoughts on “What is Experiential Apologetics?

  1. What do you think of the presuppositional method? I have always been interested in this even though I am not reformed.

    1. Regardless of believing in reformed theology the idea of presuppositional apologetics really comes down to how you approach apologetics. Aside from experiential as already discussed, you can also choose an evidential approach or the presuppositional approach. In the presuppositional approach you are coming from the perspective where the Bible is true and we can see how everything else fits into apologetics from that point forward. It is what can be considered a God-centric philosophy where your coming from God to discover the world instead of from experience or from the world to discover God (evidential).

      While I will eventually go into these other methods of apologetics including presuppositional I’ll give you a short perspective on it. Ultimately presuppositional apologetics rests on your view of God. Do you believe in a God who is all powerful (omnipotent)? If you do, that would necessitate God can do whatever He so chooses. If you do believe this, then do you believe that God could defend the revelation about Himself (the Bible) to keep it true and free from error? If you don’t believe that, then you don’t believe He is really omnipotent. Next, if God is omnipotent, do you believe He would lie about Himself? The Bible claims that God cannot lie, and if God is truly good a lie would be contrary to His very nature and would take away from the concept of God being true and Holy. If you don’t believe these things then it makes no difference what you believe in the Bible because then it could all be lies and useful for nothing.

      So if you are debating with a person who has those beliefs, presuppositional apologetics really don’t make a difference because. However it is important to note that everyone brings their own presuppositions into a debate whether they are for the Bible or against it. Once that is realized, we can realize that every single person we discuss God with will bring their own background to the discussion and so there really isn’t a difference in how people approach discussing God, the only difference is what you believe when you go into the discussion.

      Ultimately presuppositional apologetics is a great method that should be combined with other methods but is an excellent foundation from which to start. From the foundation of the Bible we can then see how the other methods of apologetics (experiential, evidential, moral, historical, etc.) will fit into the Bible.

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