The Wagon Wheel Apologetics Method

If you spend any time at all proposing apologetics to potential churches or trying to convince Christian leaders to initiate apologetics into their church, you have already been asked the question.

“What kind of apologetics?”

When someone asks that question, put on your thinking cap. It’s about to get deep.

That’s alright though. Although I have a particular view about what is the best way to do apologetics, I am not so predisposed to that particular method that I would dismiss the others out of hand.

Most of the time someone asks that question, they are Presuppositionalists. That particular brand of doing apologetics stems from more Reformed circles. I am Reformed, so I run into it quite often. Presuppositionalists have a particular view of how to do apologetics that usually leaves them in opposition to any other method. Some are more pugnacious than others though, but I don’t sweat it. The few that are confrontational in a mean sense are just that, only a few.

Few of the other views of how to do apologetics leave people in any confrontational posture when it comes to method.

A good resource on the different methods or views of apologetics is the book Five Views on Apologetics by Steve Cowan.

That being said, my motto is whatever brand of apologetics you or your church favors, do it. Don’t let the debate over what apologetics method is proper keep you from obeying the command to be ready to give a defense.

I have a view though. It might be called Classical Apologetics. It’s a methodical approach to apologetics that I’ve learned from people like RC Sproul and William Lane Craig. Sproul’s method in particular is the closest to my own.

Apologetics methods can be a little monotonous to describe and even more so to debate or study. A person usually has a particular bent, their epistemology, and they will gravitate on their own towards one method or another.

Instead of giving a long explanation of my own particular view, I would rather produce a visual so that if you are inclined as I am, you may easily adopt this approach.

I call it the wagon wheel apologetics method.

Wagon wheels are made a certain way. There are three basic parts to them.

There is the rim, the spokes, and the hub.

All three of the parts are important to the whole and they each work independently towards a purpose.

The first part of the wheel, the part we contact first, is the rim.

The rim is the part of the wheel that makes contact with the ground. It is the part that “rolls”.

In apologetics, the rim would be analogous to knowledge, truth, and reason. These are the first parts of apologetics to make contact with people. People seek to know truth and they come to that knowledge often times through reason.

Now, I know that presupps would differ on this. I actually believe that people really come to truth through the testimony and effectual work of the Holy Spirit. I believe though that he uses our minds (reason, knowledge) as a means to accomplish this.

Therefore it remains for us to assert with Lactantius that no religion is genuine unless it be joined with truth.-Calvin¹

Never the less, my method places these things on the rim of the apologetics wagon wheel. They are first things, but not the only or most important things.

The next parts of the analogy are the spokes.

While the rim makes contact with the road, the spokes connect the rim with the hub. Their purpose is two fold.

First, the spokes connect the rim to the hub. They are the way that the rim causes the hub to turn, making the axle turn under the wagon, moving the wagon.

Secondly though, the spokes secure the outer rim from the hub. As the hub travels, the rim is secured to it by the spokes, insuring the strength of the hub transfers to the rim.

Being dual in purpose, the spokes have two facets in my analogy.

One is Specific Revelation. The other is General or Natural Revelation.

Specific Revelation has four basic parts, or spokes.

Hence, we must strive onward by this straight path if we seriously aspire to the pure contemplation of God. We must come, I say, to the Word, where God is truly and vividly described to us from his works, while these very works are appraised not by our depraved judgment but by the rule of eternal truth.-Calvin³

There is direct revelation. Direct revelation rarely occurs but has historical significance. There is some evidence that God may speak to some people, especially those who are Islamic, through dreams, etc.

There is also prophecy. Prophecy is another rare occurrence in our contemporary context. But just like direct revelation, there may be some instances of prophecy in isolated areas of the world that the Word of God is not prevalent.

I listed those first because they are most rare and most controversial. I am not charismatic in any theological sense, but I wouldn’t personally say that God can’t or is unable to use these means today.

Another of the Specific Revelatory spokes is of course the Word of God. By this I mean the Bible. It is the primary means of God’s testimony and revelation of his son, Jesus. The Scriptures are invaluable to the apologist and there is no substitute for their effectiveness. All of our arguments are found within it in some sense, and we should use this means liberally.

The final spoke of this type is the testimony of the Holy Spirit. There is a distinction between him and the others because of the specific means he uses to testify to the truth. The preaching of the Word and the existence of the Church testify of Jesus and these are his normal means.

The other type of spoke, the one that secures the hub to the rim is called General Revelation.

Lest anyone, then, be excluded from access to happiness, he not only sowed in men’s minds that seed of religion of which we have spoken but revealed himself and daily discloses himself in the whole workmanship of the universe. As a consequence, men cannot open their eyes without being compelled to see him. Indeed, his essence is incomprehensible; hence, his divineness far escapes all human perception. But upon his individual works he has engraved unmistakable marks of his glory, so clear and so prominent that even unlettered and stupid folk cannot plead the excuse of ignorance.-Calvin²

Just as God has revealed himself specifically in his Word, he nonetheless did reveal himself in nature.

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20, ESV)

Often times we can find some security in this revelation and we may use arguments for this type of revelation to get to the hub. These are different than the Word (Specific Revelation) though in that they are not efficacious to people’s ultimate salvation. They say lots about God’s existence but very little about his nature and nothing about Jesus.

They are best argued by the classical apologetics arguments.

They are usually as follows:

Cosmological; Teleological; Ontological; and Moral.

These point to theism but they are not to be considered the end, only a means on the way to the end, and sometimes a secure fix from the end to our experience.

Finally, there is the hub.

The hub is the strength of the entire wheel. In it the rest of the wheel relies. If it turns properly, the wheel is balanced and force is delivered to the rim. If it is strong, the spokes may find their ultimate strength in it. The rim is merely a weak vessel doomed for breakage without the hub. It is the hub that actually carries the load of the wheel.

What is the hub?

The hub is Jesus of Nazareth.

All of the rim should travel around him and find its strength in him.

All of the spokes should point to him and all should secure the rim to him.

The purpose of the rest of the wheel is placed on him and he drives the centrifugal force of it.

Jesus is the ultimate goal of apologetics. We should always intend to work our way from the rim to the hub. The spokes are the means by which we do that. We should never intend to only show the spokes and they are not our ultimate focus.

The rim is often times flattened or broken just as people’s understanding of truth and knowledge may be. If we start there, we may re-round the rim, proceed to the spokes, but always point to the hub.

Do you get the picture?

Apologetics is a whole. It may not always be an immediate evangelism success, but the goal should never merely be theism. We are Christians, followers of Christ. He should be our goal. Theism does not save. Jesus does.

None of this is to say that each time you are called to defend your faith that you must lead a person to Christ. Life does not always lend itself to those holistic presentations. Sometimes we take what we can get. Don’t get caught up in the idea that you must be Billy Graham every time you’re on a plane or a bus, etc.

We should have a holistic approach to our apologetic method though. Whether we end up as Presuppositionalists or Evidentualsists, or somewhere in between like Classical apologists, our end goal should be Christ and we should have a way to get to him in mind.

I hope that this wagon wheel apologetics method visual might help you put your own picture of apologetics together.

[1] Calvin, J. (2011). Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. (F. L. Battles, Trans., J. T. McNeill, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 49–50). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

[2] Calvin, J. (2011). Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. (F. L. Battles, Trans., J. T. McNeill, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 49–50). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

[3] Calvin, J. (2011). Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2. (F. L. Battles, Trans., J. T. McNeill, Ed.) (Vol. 1, pp. 49–50). Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

2 thoughts on “The Wagon Wheel Apologetics Method

  1. I really appreciate your clear and practical posts! Well stated that “the goal should never be merely theism.” The wagon wheel analogy is a great tool – when’s the book coming out? (Not kidding.)

    1. Thanks for the nice comments Heather. Often it seems that theism can become a final objective for ‘apologists’, even when I know it’s not their motive. That’s why a method such as this one gives a ‘big picture’ perspective for both the teacher and the student. I’m not a stickler on evidential vs presup vs classical etc although I favor the classical method, as long as there is a biblical perspective on how we come to faith and our end goal as evangelists/apologists.
      No book per se although I did something like that (unpublished) to help our class along these lines.

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