By: Thomas Linton, DRS

Antony Flew and Gary Habermas, “My pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: A Discussion between Antony Flew and Gary Habermas,” Philosophia Christi, 6, no. 2 (2004).

Introduction

In this article the focus will be on the method of Classical Apologetics and the consequences of the method. This is seen in the article published in Philosophia Christi in 2004 that is an interview between Antony Flew and Gary Habermas. The Classical method of apologetics focuses on two steps: General Theism in the first step and the historical account of the resurrection in the second step.

The big issue that Presuppostionalism has with the Classical approach is that of autonomy of sinful man. The Classical approach does not challenge the sinfulness of autonomy and the need to repent and place faith in Jesus along for salvation. This issue is seen in the article that explains the success of Classical Apologetics in helping to bring Antony Flew from an atheist to a theist. The failure is that this is seen as a success

Anthony Flew from Atheism to Deism

An article in the journal Philosophia Christi from 2004, a published interview between Antony Flew and Gary Habermas titled, “My pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: A Discussion between Antony Flew and Gary Habermas.” This interview actually proves that Flew converted to deism or general theism and not Christian theism. The article mentions how Habermas and Flew developed a 20 year friendship that goes back to a series of debates in 1985.

The highlight of the interview is when Flew stated:

“Well, I don’t believe in the God of any revelatory system, though I am open to that. But it seems to me that the case for an Aristotelian God who has the characteristics of power and also intelligence, is now much stronger than it was before.”

Antony Flew and Gary Habermas, “My pilgrimage from Atheism to Theism: A Discussion between Antony Flew and Gary Habermas,” Philosophia Christi 6, no. 2 (2004): 199.

This makes clear that Flew was not a Christian and this is the fruit of a Classical approach towards apologetics. The fact is that Flew did not become a Christian. To be fair the article never intends to imply that he had become a a Christian. In fact, in Flew’s 2007 book titled There is a God: How the World’s most infamous Atheist Changed His Mind, there is specific mention of Flew being a self-professing deist and not even a theist.

While the Classical Apologist may see this as a success because an atheist now believes in the god of Aristotle there should be no celebration among Christians. This is because if Flew did not repent of his sins and trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness of his sins then when he died in 2010 he did not enter the presence of God but rather entered into judgement. This is based upon an idea that somehow conversion to deism or general theism is somehow beneficial but the Presuppositionalist sees a need for apologetics to aide evangelism and not a way to get atheists to convert to deism or generic theism.

The Presuppositionalist seeks to present the gospel and the need for repentance and faith. I have no doubt that Habermas shared the gospel with Flew over the years and I am sure that Habermas did not consider Flew a Christian. The issue is that this conversion is not some apologetics success story but is proof that no matter what evidence is laid down some will still reject the truth in unrighteousness. Thus, from the standpoint of Presuppositionalism, this is a warning  not to lose sight of the fact that the apologetic endeavor is a part of the evangelism and that the ultimate issue is sin in the hearts of the people we witness too. This witness will either result in repentance and faith or the righteous judgement of God.

Conclusion

Presuppositionalism holds to a commitment to the biblical faith and the biblical God and seeks to confront sinners with the truth of this God and the sinners need to repent and place their faith in Jesus alone. Classicalists state that one must first argue someone to the god of Aristotle first and then to the historical account of the resurrection of Jesus. This is done from an allegeged position of neutrality and common assumption of human autonomy.

The interview between Flew and Habermas is presented as a success of the Classical and Evidential approach towards apologetics but it also exposes the failure in the apologetic method. Flew converting to deism does nothing for his eternal state with God. When Presuppositionalists are critical of the Classical approach it is because the god of Aristotle cannot save and it is only through the true gospel that offers true hope to sinners.