Questions From All Over the World Part 2
Dr. Craig fields questions sent to him from all over the globe, including topics such as the Atonement, a Christian view of work, free will, evolution, and how to deal with doubt.
Questions From All Over the World Part 2
KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, we have some questions from all over the world, including this one from Grant in the UK:
Hello, Dr. Craig, Many thanks for the hard work you put into your podcast and question of the week, both of which I continue to engage with regularly and enjoy. I am pretty sure God exists, but I've never found any very compelling reason to believe that he cares: our fates seem arbitrary, babies die of cancer, rapists live to ripe old ages, nature is cruel and indifferent to its children. What is needed is a trustworthy revelation, and as such things go I think that Christianity offers a good bet.
DR. CRAIG: OK, so he is talking about the problem of evil and the suffering in the world. But he suggests that the Christian revelation in Christ gives a good bet that there really is a God after all who cares and who is going to deal with evil and suffering.
KEVIN HARRIS: He continues:
But it all hinges on the evidence of the post-resurrection appearances, and unfortunately I don't find what we have very convincing.
DR. CRAIG: Let's pause there. I find it odd that he would make this statement. It suggests that he doesn't really know my work on the resurrection of Jesus. I think, as we'll see from what he goes on to say, that he is unfamiliar with it. It seems to me that the evidence for the resurrection consists in three independently established facts. First would be the discovery of the empty tomb by a group of Jesus' women followers on the Sunday after his crucifixion. Secondly would be what he mentions – the postmortem appearances of Jesus alive after his death to various individuals and groups of people on a variety of occasions and under different circumstances. But then the third fact would be the very origin of the disciples' belief that God had raised Jesus from the dead despite having every predisposition to the contrary. I think of the evidence for the resurrection as rather like a three-legged stool, and each of these legs is independently established of the other so they provide a cumulative case for the resurrection that I think is very powerful. Now, he wants to focus on one of those legs alone which is the postmortem appearances.
KEVIN HARRIS: But he says he doesn't find it very convincing because:
Mark doesn't mention them. Matthew I don't trust because of certain things he says that don't ring true like the resurrection of the saints. John's highly poetic and theological testimony was written long after the events. Paul never even met Jesus when alive, and whatever he experienced on the way to Damascus seems very different to the other testimonies. So there is only Luke that seems to provide any credible testimony, and one witness just isn't good enough.
DR. CRAIG: This, I think, shows his naivety with respect to the evidence for the postmortem appearances. This isn't just my opinion. What Grant needs to reckon with is the fact that all scholars recognize that these original disciples had experiences of seeing Jesus alive after his death. This is not a conclusion which is held to by conservative evangelicals alone, but rather this is the universal opinion of historical Jesus scholarship. I can't think of a single New Testament critic who would deny that the disciples did have these postmortem appearances. What they might try to do is explain them away as hallucinatory perhaps, or mere visions, but they would not deny the fact that they occurred. So if the evidence is really as tenuous as Grant thinks, he needs to ask himself the question, Why is it then that it is the universal opinion among historical Jesus scholars that the disciples did experience these postmortem appearances of Jesus? Well, what that ought to make him suspect is that he has under-appreciated the evidence which has proved compelling to historical Jesus scholars. Consider his points one by one.
Mark doesn't mention them. That is simply false. Mark's Gospel ends with the discovery of the empty tomb. In the words of the angel, He is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him as he told you. Mark foreshadows the resurrection appearances. It shows that Mark knows of these postmortem appearances of Jesus to the disciples in Galilee. What is significant is that this is not just Mark's opinion. This belongs to the pre-Markan passion source that Mark used in writing his account of the final week of Jesus' life. So this drives us back to one of the earliest sources of information about Jesus that antedates even the Gospel of Mark which is already our earliest Gospel.
As for Matthew, he says he doesn't trust Matthew because of things that he says like the resurrection of the saints. What he needs to understand here is that no historian throws out a source entirely just because they find unhistorical elements in it. In fact, Matthew's story of the resurrection of the saints is not attached to a resurrection narrative; it is attached to the crucifixion narrative of Jesus. And the crucifixion of Jesus is universally recognized as historical among historians. So the fact of the resurrection of the saints being an unhistorical or apocalyptic image used by Matthew doesn't lead scholars to think that Matthew is unreliable in reporting that Jesus was crucified. What we have in Matthew is a testimony as well to these postmortem appearances of Jesus some of which are mentioned in other places.
Thirdly, we come to John. Again, while John's Gospel may have been written some decades after the event, it is still within the first century in the lifetime of the eyewitnesses and moreover (and more importantly) John is dependent upon earlier sources that go further back. In John you have independent testimony to some of the other appearances, like the appearance to the women mentioned by Matthew is independently attested in John. If this is something that Matthew made up, how is it that it is also in John? Moreover, the appearance to the Twelve in Jerusalem is attested not only in Luke but also in John independently of Luke. This is one of the most powerful criteria that historians use in establishing the historicity of events. When you have an event that is independently attested by witnesses especially when they are early, then this increases the probability that you are dealing here with an actual historical event.
Of course, finally, Luke is a historian of the first rank. The book of Acts has been verified to be historical through secular sources down to the most minute details. There is no reason to doubt the historicity of what Luke reports concerning the postmortem appearances, especially since they are independently confirmed in the other Gospels.
Similarly, when you come to Paul, it is irrelevant whether or not Paul ever met the historical Jesus. What counts is that in 1 Corinthians 15 he passes on a very ancient tradition of resurrection appearances which include appearances to Peter, to the Twelve disciples, and then he adds into this an appearance to five hundred Christians at one time, an appearance to James, and an appearance to all the apostles, as well as a first-hand account of the appearance to him on the Damascus Road. So we have in Paul as well extremely early evidence for these postmortem appearances that scholar say probably goes back to the first five years after Jesus' crucifixion. You remember Paul spoke with both Peter and James who are mentioned in the list just three years after his conversion probably in around AD 36 when he visited Jerusalem. This information is extremely early. It goes back to within the first five years within Jesus' death and can't be written off as just a later legendary accretion.
So I think that Grant has simply failed to understand the incredibly powerful historical evidence for the fact that the disciples did experience these postmortem appearances. It is universally attested to in all of the traditions that we have about what happened after Jesus' death and is ratified by extremely early sources as well as Paul's personal contact with eyewitnesses like Peter and James.
KEVIN HARRIS: You answered the remainder of his question. He just concludes his letter by saying:
I don't want to believe in noble fairy tales for pragmatic reasons. Like you, Dr. Craig, I want good reasons for believing the post-resurrection appearances.
DR. CRAIG: Right. We are not asking him to believe for pragmatic reasons but rather to follow the evidence where it leads, and that evidence has led all historical Jesus scholars to conclude that after his crucifixion his disciples did experience these postmortem appearances.
KEVIN HARRIS: Mark from the USA:
Dear Dr. Craig, I read your God, Time and Eternity paper which states, God exists changelessly and timelessly prior to creation and in time after creation. If God was changeless prior to the creation, how did he decide to will the universe into existence? He had to go from not-willing the universe into existence to willing the universe into existence. That is a change. If God did not change before the creation then he had to have always willed the universe into existence. There would be no change in that. So if God always willed the universe into existence, why is the universe a finite number of years old? Scientists say around 14 billion years old. Why isn't the universe 1 day old? Or a trillion years old? Or 140 billion years old? After all, the universe has been willed into existence during God's entire existence.
DR. CRAIG: What I would say in response to this question is that God existing alone without the universe has a timeless and eternal free determination of his will to create a universe with a beginning. In order for a universe with a beginning to come into existence, this requires in addition to his will an exercise of his causal power to create the universe. I would say that with that exercise of causal power, God does change and comes into time. That is why I believe that God is not timeless with the universe. Rather, in virtue of his exercise of causal power as well as his knowledge of tensed facts like “I am now creating the universe” God creates time and exists at the first moment of time and every moment thereafter.
I think probably the error that Mark commits is thinking that because God is changeless without creation that he is unchangeable without creation. That doesn't follow. There is a difference between mere changelessness and immutability. I would say that God is mutable but changeless without creation.
Dear Dr. Craig, I've been a believer for about five years. By grace my heart was changed and I see the work that God has done as evidence of the truth of the Bible. Yet there is a thought that has been occupying my mind that challenges my faith. Let me explain. After I became a Christian, I became aware and convicted of the sinfulness of my own heart. One of the manifestations of this is my addiction. I turned to the Bible and Christian counselors. They taught me that only God's grace can free me from my sin. They taught me that in times of temptation I ought to confess my sin, remember Scripture, and ask the grace for repentance. They taught me of my need to spend time with God, take every opportunity to humble myself before men, and to be thankful. All these are of course drawn straight from the Bible, and they worked. I am thankful that I am not where I was before, and I take this as evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Yet the secular world seems to me to have found something that works with them, too. They call it mindfulness. From what I understand, it is also effective in dealing with addictions. Instead of prayer, they have meditation. Instead of Bible verses, they have correct thoughts to insert whenever temptation comes. They have thanksgiving; helping others emphasized as well. Nowhere was Jesus nor graced emphasized in articles of mindfulness from what I see. It has helped people free themselves from addictions, gain peace of mind, and be happier, just to name a few. The harrowing thought that came was: what if practical Christianity is nothing more than a version of mindfulness? I rationalize that God gives his common grace to all, and maybe mindfulness is part of that common grace. But still, looking at all of this, my faith (which holds that only the aid of the Spirit can set us free) is challenged. I feel less confident in saying that the freeing work of the Spirit in my heart is evidence of the power of the living God in me. I hope you can give some guidance. Phillip
DR. CRAIG: This is an odd and interesting question.
KEVIN HARRIS: I hear about mindfulness everywhere.
DR. CRAIG: Really? I don't know anything about it. I never looked into it.
KEVIN HARRIS: It's the catchphrase of the moment.
DR. CRAIG: What I would say is that his point about common grace is perfectly plausible. Given that God has constructed us with certain sort of psyches, it is not at all surprising that there would be secular techniques that would be effective in psychological healing and freeing people from addiction. I would see these as common graces – gifts from God – as well. So I am not at all surprised that there would be things that a secular person might do that would help to free him from psychological addictions. I don't see this as in any way challenging the idea that God has helped this questioner to be freed from his addiction.
But that doesn't seem to be his problem. Rather, his problem is that he has taken this, as he says, as evidence of the power of God in him, or at the very beginning of his question he says, I take it as evidence of the truth of the Bible. There is where I would be concerned. He is substituting this for a traditional apologetic for the truth of Christianity, and so he is shaken by the discovery that there may be common psychological techniques that could also provide healing from addiction. But for me the evidence for the truth of Christianity are the arguments of natural theology, the evidence for the reliability of the Gospels, the resurrection of Jesus, fulfilled prophecy, and so forth. It is not these sort of psychological transformations that can take place through the help of Christian counselors.
KEVIN HARRIS: I just want to add that he answered his own question here. It is common grace of God. I think we ought to emphasize that because he buys into something that just says, Only the Holy Spirit can do this. Only God can do this. We tend to compartmentalize things that God hasn't necessarily compartmentalized. One illustration is that in my hometown there was a painter who did beautiful oils. He was an atheist, notoriously. He was kind of the town atheist. But I always admired his paintings. He reflected the glory of God even if he didn't realize it or didn't intend to. I could enjoy his painting even though I didn't agree with his stance on God. I would hope he would come to know Christ, but his paintings were not devoid of good work because the Holy Spirit didn't somehow do something.
DR. CRAIG: Right. The problem is this fellow here, to use your analogy, sees this painting on the wall and he takes this as evidence of the existence of God – that God has produced this painting, and then discovering, no, wait, this was executed by a human being using ordinary principles of paint and artistry. This shakes his faith in the evidence that the painting is of God. That is just a wrong way of looking at the painting.
 Total Running Time: 19:51 (Copyright © 2017 William Lane Craig)