#83

November 17, 2008

Double Doctorates

Dear Dr. Craig,

I am curious as to how you obtained your double Phds. How did you attain the second one? I am curious because such an achievement is among my own goals. Thank you Sir, God Bless.

Yours Respectfully,

Christopher

Then you’re certainly more ambitious than I was, Christopher! We never planned to do such a thing; we were just sort of led into it. Jan and I have found that the Lord never shines His light very far down our path but gives us just enough light to take the next step.

Occasionally I like to take a more personal Question of the Week like yours, so let me share a bit of the story of how God has led us.

My senior year at Wheaton College I was introduced to the subject of Apologetics through reading of E. J. Carnell’s An Introduction to Christian Apologetics. Carnell’s book electrified me. He was addressing all the interesting questions that I wondered about and wanted answers to. I admired Carnell greatly because he had earned doctorates in philosophy and theology from Boston University and Harvard University respectively. I thought how wonderful it would be to have expertise like that in both areas, but I never dreamt that this would be something I might aspire to.

I did, however, aspire to a seminary education following my college graduation, so in 1973 I moved with my young wife to Deerfield, Illinois, to commence studies in Philosophy of Religion under Norman Geisler at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. We spent two great years at Trinity, studying under men such as Paul Feinberg, David Wolfe, John Warwick Montgomery, David Wells, John Woodbridge, J. I. Packer, Clark Pinnock, and Murray Harris. I earned twin Master’s degrees in Philosophy of Religion and in Church History and the History of Christian Thought. It turned out to be a crucial stepping stone in the path God had laid out for us.

As graduation from Trinity neared, Jan and I were sitting one evening at the supper table in our little campus apartment, talking about what to do after graduation. Neither of us had any clear leading or inclination of what we should do next.

So Jan said to me, “Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?”

I replied, “If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to England and do a doctorate under John Hick.”

“Who’s he?” she asked.

“Oh, he’s this famous British philosopher who’s written extensively on arguments for the existence of God,” I explained. “If I could study with him, I could develop a cosmological argument for God’s existence.”

But it hardly seemed a realistic idea.

The next evening at supper Jan handed me a slip of paper with John Hick’s address on it. “I went to the library today and found out that he’s at the University of Birmingham in England,” she said. “Why don’t you write him a letter and ask him if you can do a doctoral thesis under him on the cosmological argument?”

What a woman! So I did, and to our amazement and delight Professor Hick wrote back saying he’d be very pleased to supervise my doctoral work on that subject. So it was an open door!

The only problem was, the University of Birmingham required an official bank statement certifying that we had all of the money for all of the years it would take me to complete the doctoral degree. (They didn’t want foreign students dropping out midway through their doctoral programs because they had run out of cash.)

Well, we didn’t have that kind of money! In fact, we were as poor as church mice. Our efficiency apartment was so small that lying on our mattress on the floor I could reach out and touch the refrigerator. We used to cut paper plates in half just to keep down expenses! (That led to an embarrassing moment once when we had Dr. Woodbridge over for dessert, and Jan, not even thinking about it, served him his pie on a half of a paper plate! Gracious to a fault, he never said a thing.)

But we really sensed that God was calling us to go to England to do this degree. There were no scholarships for foreign students from the financially strapped British universities. We had to come up with the money ourselves. And so every morning and evening we began to pray that somehow the Lord would supply the money.

To make a long story short, we made an appointment with a non-Christian businessman whose family Jan was acquainted with, and we laid out for him what we believed God was calling us to do. And this non-Christian businessman gave us—not loaned us—he gave us all of the money we needed to do the doctoral degree under John Hick at the University of Birmingham! It was one of the most astonishing provisions of the Lord I have ever seen. So Jan and I felt as though God had miraculously plucked us up and transported us to England to do this degree.

I did write on the cosmological argument under Professor Hick’s direction and was awarded the Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Birmingham. Three books flowed out of my doctoral dissertation, including The Kalam Cosmological Argument (1979). Today the kalam argument has become one of the most discussed arguments of natural theology.

As Jan and I neared the completion of my doctoral studies in Birmingham, our future path was again unclear to us. I had sent out a number of applications for teaching positions in philosophy at American universities but had received no bites. We didn’t know what to do.

I remember it like yesterday. We were sitting at the supper table in our little house outside Birmingham, and Jan suddenly said to me, “Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?”

I laughed because I remembered how the Lord had used her question to guide us in the past. I had no trouble answering the question. “If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to Germany and study under Wolfhart Pannenberg.”

“Who’s he?”

“Oh, he’s this famous German theologian who’s defended the resurrection of Christ historically,” I explained. “If I could study with him, I could develop a historical apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus.”

Our conversation drifted to other subjects, but Jan later told me that my remark had just lit a fire under her. The next day while I was at the university, she slipped away to the library and began to research grants-in-aid for study at German universities. Most of the leads proved to be defunct or otherwise inapplicable to our situation. But there were two grants she found that were possibilities. You can imagine how surprised I was when she sprung them on me!

One was from a government agency called the Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst (DAAD), which offered scholarships to study at German universities. Unfortunately, the grant amounts were small and not intended to cover all one’s expenses. The other was from a foundation called the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung. This foundation was evidently an effort at Kulturpolitik (cultural politics), aimed at refurbishing Germany’s image in the post-War era. It provided very generous fellowships to bring foreign scientists and other scholars to do research for a year or two at German laboratories and universities.

Reading the literature from the Humboldt Stiftung just made my mouth water. They would pay for four months of a German refresher course at the Goethe Institute for the scholar and his spouse prior to beginning research, they would help find housing, they would pay for visits to another university if your research required it, they would pay for conferences, they would send pocket money from time to time—it was unbelievable! They even permitted recipients to submit the results of their research as a doctoral dissertation toward a degree from the university at which they were working.

The literature sent by the Humboldt Stiftung made it evident that the vast majority of their fellows were natural scientists—physicists, chemists, biologists, and so on. But it did say that applicants in any field were welcome. So we decided to apply in the field of theology and propose as my research topic an examination of the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus! And we decided to go for the doctoral degree in theology at the same time.

We then began to pray morning and night that God would give us this fellowship. Sometimes I could believe God for such a thing; but then I would think of this panel of 80 German scientists in Bonn evaluating the applications and coming to this proposal on the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, and my heart would just sink!

It would take about nine months for the Humboldt Stiftung to evaluate the applications, and in the meantime our lease was expiring, so we needed to move out of our house in Birmingham. So I said to Jan, “Honey, you’ve sacrificed a lot for me during my studies. Let’s do something that you’d like to do. What would you really like to do?”

She said, “I’ve always wanted to learn French. I had to drop my French class in college because I got sick, and I’ve always felt bad I didn’t get to learn French.”

“O.K.,” I said, “Let’s go to France and enroll in a French language school!”

So we began to look into the possibilities. The obvious one was the Alliance Française, which is the official language school in France. But the far more interesting option was the Centre Missionnaire in Albertville, a Christian language school nestled in the French Alps for training foreign missionaries to French-speaking countries. They emphasized learning to really speak French with as little foreign accent as possible, as well as to read and write it, along with all the biblical and theological vocabulary only a Christian school would provide.

So we wrote to the Centre Missionnaire, asking if we could study there. To our dismay, they wrote back informing us that applicants have to be missionaries officially with a mission board and, moreover, the course would cost several thousand dollars. Well, we didn’t have that kind of money. We had spent just about all of the money given to us by the businessman to do our doctoral studies in Birmingham.

So I wrote back to the Centre Missionnaire explaining our financial situation. I also explained that while we weren’t officially missionaries, we did want to serve the Lord, and I included a letter of commendation from one of the elders at the Brethren church we were attending in Birmingham. Then I basically forgot about it.

Time passed, and none of my other efforts to find a job had materialized. We had shipped all of our belongings back to my parents’ home in Illinois. In one week we had to move out of our house in Birmingham, and we had nowhere to go.

I remember walking out to the mail box that day to collect the mail. I found there a letter from the Centre Missionnaire. I opened it half-heartedly and began to read. And then—my eyes suddenly grew wide as I read the words: “It doesn’t really matter to us whether you are missionaries as long as you want to serve the Lord. And as for the money, you just pay what you can, and we’ll trust God for the rest.” Unbelievable!

Once again we felt as though God had just miraculously plucked us up and transported us to another country to do His will. We later learned that the Centre had actually turned down paying missionaries and accepted us instead. We went to France with a deep sense of divine commissioning and so threw ourselves into our language studies. It was unbelievably rigorous, but by the end of our eight months there I was preaching in French at our small church, and Jan led our French neighbors to Christ.

Our French language training was going to be over in August, and as of July we still hadn’t heard anything from the Humboldt Stiftung. Then one day we received a letter from the Humboldt Stiftung. The only problem was, it was in German, and with my rusty high school German I wasn’t sure what it said!

So we grabbed the letter and rushed into the village to a small bookstore, where we found a French-German dictionary. As we stood there slowly translating the letter into French, hoping against hope, we could scarcely contain our excitement. “We are pleased to inform you that you have been granted a fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to study the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus under the direction of Professor Dr. Wolfhart Pannenberg at the University of Munich.” So for the next two years the German government paid me to study the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus! Incredible! Absolutely incredible!

Jan and I arrived in Germany on a cold January day to begin four months of language studies at the Goethe Institute in Göttingen, a small university town near the East German border. We had chosen Göttingen because “high German” is spoken by the ordinary people in that region, as opposed to a local dialect. It’s amazing how much you can learn in four months when you’re immersed in the language. We hired a university student named Heidi to help us with our pronunciation. With my post-doctoral studies in Munich looming, we were super-motivated to learn German. After a couple of months we determined only to speak German with each other until 8:00 p.m., when we’d revert to English. (It’s funny, but even when you know the meaning of the words, “Ich liebe dich” just doesn’t convey the same feeling as “I love you” to a native English speaker!)

By the end of our four months I had finished the advanced class with the highest grade of “1,” and Jan, whose knowledge of German when we started didn’t extend beyond “eins, zwei, drei,” was able to converse freely with the shopkeepers and people in our town. One evening during dinner at the Goethe Institute she astonished me. There’s a German proverb, “Ohne Fleiss, kein Preis!” (Without effort, no reward!). So during the meal Jan asked the Turkish fellow next to her (in German) to pass the meat. But he showed her the empty serving dish and offered her the bowl of rice instead. To which she instantly retorted, “Danke, nein! Ohne Fleisch, kein Reis!” (No thanks! Without meat, no rice!) I about split! Here she was already punning in German!

I have to admit that it seemed a little nutty to spend nine months learning French just before going off to do post-doctoral studies in Germany. But the Lord’s providence is amazing. The first day I showed up at the theology department at the University of Munich to confer with Professor Dr. Pannenberg, he took me into the departmental library and pulled three books off the shelf and said, “Why don’t you get started with these?” To my amazement, two of the three were in French! I thought to myself, “Praise you, Lord!” I could never have said to Pannenberg that I didn’t read French. That would have been equivalent to saying that I wasn’t qualified to do the research! God knew what He was doing.

Doing my doctorate in theology under Pannenberg was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. I even had to pass a Latin qualifying exam to get the degree, which necessitated my taking Latin in German! But by the end of our time in Munich I’d learned so much about the resurrection of Jesus that I was worlds away from where I’d been when we first came. As a Christian, I of course believed in Jesus’ resurrection, and I was familiar with popular apologetics for it; but I was quite surprised to discover as a result of my research how solid a historical case can be made for the resurrection. Again, three books came out of that research, one of which served as the dissertation for my second doctorate, this time in theology from the University of Munich.

Since that time I’ve had the opportunity to debate some of the world’s leading sceptical New Testament scholars like John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg, Gerd Lüdemann, and Bart Ehrman, as well as best-selling popularizers like John Shelby Spong, on the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection. In all objectivity, I have to say I’ve been shocked at how impotent these eminent scholars are when it comes to refuting the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection.

Very often, and I mean, very often, it turns out to be philosophical considerations, not historical considerations, that lie at the root of their scepticism. But, of course, these men aren’t trained in philosophy and so make amateurish blunders, which a trained philosopher can easily spot. I’m so thankful that the Lord in His providence led us first to do doctoral work on philosophy before turning to a study of Jesus’ resurrection, for it is really philosophy and not history which under girds the scepticism of radical critics.

So we’re very grateful for the way the Lord has marvelously led us, as we stepped out in faith, and equipped us beyond what we could ever have imagined to do His work.