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An Exciting Update

January 18, 2021
An Exciting Update


Dr Craig begins writing his Systematic Theology with a discussion on the relationship of faith and reason.

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, there has been so much going on at Reasonable Faith. It is kind of hard to know where to start. Let’s start here. You have been doing a lot of interviews lately. Just being quarantined – the pandemic and other things – have allowed you to book some of these online interviews with YouTube channels all over the world. I just wonder, Bill, if there are any that kind of stick out in your mind. You've seen a lot of young people in action, young apologists really study your work and who are very anxious to interview you. Is there anything on the top of your head that just stands out as a good interview or a good channel?

DR. CRAIG: Well, just the fact that so many international opportunities have come (from Indonesia, from Sri Lanka, from India, from Angola, and other places) that I would never be visiting. And so it's just wonderful to hear from people there of how Reasonable Faith has impacted their lives and the ministries that they're having. It really thrills me to hear from these folks, and so it's been a pleasure doing these online interviews with people.

KEVIN HARRIS: So many of these hosts are in their 20s and 30s. Do you find them to be well-versed and well-read? Are they up on the topics?

DR. CRAIG: Yes, surprisingly so. For many of them English is a second language, and yet they're talking about the work of Alvin Plantinga or the theology of Molinism or other sorts of issues. It's really quite remarkable how intellectually engaged these folks are.

KEVIN HARRIS: Do you have any more that are coming up? Have you been booking these lately?

DR. CRAIG: Yes. I kind of took off a little bit of a breather in December for the holidays, but now we are starting to book more of these interviews here in the new year and so I'll be doing more of those going forward.

KEVIN HARRIS: I guess the big news is that you're a little bit ahead of the game right now in writing your systematic theology. Can you talk a little bit about that process? From what we understand from your newsletter you've already begun the writing, and you didn't expect to be along this far.

DR. CRAIG: I sure didn't. In all of my other projects I've usually spent years before I began to actually write, and with this one I have been writing now for months and making tremendous progress. I use what Jan and I call “the turtle method” after the story of the tortoise and the hare where you remember the tortoise won the race by just slowly but relentlessly plodding forward. Each day if I can just write a couple of paragraphs and just keep moving forward like that it is amazing how over the weeks it accumulates. I am now just finishing up the section in my chapter on faith and reason. That has been (like so many other topics) just a fresh revelation to me. I had no idea that once you got below the surface there was so much controversy and so many interesting issues that arise when you ask about the nature of faith. That's what I'm writing on right now.

KEVIN HARRIS: Good! All of us need to be straightened out on that. That topic just continues to come up. What is involved in the process here? Because it sounds to me like as a scholar what you're going to do is do a certain amount of reading and then you begin the writing. Then you combine your own education and so on, but what's involved in that process there?

DR. CRAIG: Because it's a systematic theology I want this to be an integrative work that will integrate biblical teaching with good Christian philosophy and also theology. So it involves reading in each of those disciplines. I simply continue to read until I reach a kind of tipping point where I sense, “OK, now I'm ready to start writing.” And it just begins to flow out once I've hit that tipping point. One of my concerns about contemporary Christian philosophy that I've suspected in the past but has really come to the forefront now in writing this chapter on faith is how ill-informed contemporary Christian philosophers are of the biblical material. I ran into this in my work on divine foreknowledge and human freedom where I just couldn't understand how many Christian philosophers would deny that God has foreknowledge of the future when the New Testament actually includes terminology for foreknowledge that it ascribes to God – prognosis (“foreknowledge”), proginosko (“foreknow”). I remember talking with the philosopher Tim O’Connor about this and I said, “How can they deny that God has divine foreknowledge when the Bible explicitly teaches this?” And he laughed and said, “Oh,  Bill, you know Christian philosophers don't care what the Bible teaches!” I had a good laugh, but I didn't take it too seriously until my work on the atonement. As you may know, I was very concerned to discover that Christian philosophers in crafting their doctrine of the atonement typically ignore scriptural teaching about the atonement. Instead they construct their doctrine of the atonement on the model of how reconciliation is achieved in human relationships. For example, when you have a falling out with a friend – how do you reconcile with that friend? And they take that human model and then apply that to Christian doctrine. It seems to me that that's a terribly flawed methodology because however congenial such a model of the atonement might be, it might be completely unscriptural. I think that is in fact the case. And now when we come to the doctrine of faith, again what I've discovered is that in order to craft their doctrine of Christian faith what most Christian philosophers do is look at secular examples of faith. For example, you have faith that your son will come home from war, or you have faith in your pastor, or you have faith that your automobile is going to not break down on the highway. On the basis of ordinary language analysis and these kind of secular anecdotes about faith they then make the leap to say this is the way Christian faith is and this is the way saving faith is. My analysis of scriptural teaching suggests to me that that is completely wrong. Many of these philosophers have gone off on a tangent that is theologically erroneous because they haven't done a serious study of what Scripture has to say about the nature of faith.

KEVIN HARRIS: Isn't the New Testament word pistis?

DR. CRAIG: Pistis. Yes, that’s right.

KEVIN HARRIS: I'm trying to be accurate in the way I pronounce it. When you look at the definition there, that's in keeping with everything that you've been teaching, is it not?

DR. CRAIG: The word has a very, very broad range of meanings in Greek. Greek was not as differentiated as English, interestingly enough. So in Greek they can't make some of the fine distinctions that we have in the English language. So whenever it says in the Scripture that someone “has faith that” or “has faith in” something, that requires careful analysis of the context in order to discern the meaning. So, for example, many Christian philosophers will say on the basis of their examples of secular faith that faith doesn't really involve belief. You can “have faith that” something without really believing that something. How do you show whether or not that's true of scriptural faith? Well, you need to examine certain key passages, I think. For example, James 2:19 is one of the most interesting passages in this regard. James says, “Do you believe that God is one? You do well. The demons also believe and shudder.” Now there it uses this Greek word pisteuō meaning “to have faith” but clearly the demons don't have faith that God exists. They don't have the positive favorable attitude toward God that faith involves. But they do believe that God exists. Indeed, I would say they know that God exists. So this would be a very clear example of where pisteuō does entail belief – the demons really do believe (and I would say know) that God exists. Now the very same word is used of James’ correspondents (the Christians) to whom he writes. He says, “You believe that God exists. You do well.” Certainly the belief of James’ Christian brethren is no less than the demons’ belief in God. So when he ascribes this to both of them I think this is a clear indication that faith really does involve the belief that (in this case) God is one.

KEVIN HARRIS: There's some really interesting debates on YouTube. Some friends of mine have conducted these debates on YouTube that I looked up on the definition of faith, and it involves Christian philosophers and apologists trying to straighten out skeptics and atheists on the definition of faith because they just insist that it's blind faith. They just insist that it is. But here's what's interesting. One atheist finally said this: Look, I've been talking to Christians for decades, and they don't define faith like you're doing it. They're very unsophisticated in the way that they define faith. So what I'm doing is keying off on what the common man [says] and the common Christian interpretation and definition of faith. In other words, he's exploiting a weakness. He's exploiting a misdefinition that is being held. I'm going – wow – you don't need the facts, just “Most people believe faith is this, and I can hammer them and dissuade them based on that.

DR. CRAIG: The second part of my chapter on faith and reason is going to deal with this question. What I didn't understand is that there's a strong debate about the nature of faith itself. If you have faith “that something,” do you really believe it? And I think even the atheists that you're speaking of as well as most Christians would say of course to have faith is to believe it. But that's highly controversial today, and many Christian philosophers would deny it. They say that it is consistent with Christian faith to be an unbeliever. You don't have to believe that God exists. You don't have to believe that Jesus was his Son. You don't have to believe that Jesus died for your sins. You don't have to believe that Jesus rose from the dead. All you have to do is just accept or assume those things, but you don't have to actually believe them and you can be a Christian. I think that this is a very unbiblical concept of faith as I just explained from James 2:19. I think that it's very clear scripturally that faith involves more than just acceptance or assumption. It involves belief. That's the first question that I've been dealing with and I'm concluding now. The next question will be: Is faith rational? What is the justification rationally for faith? And that's where the question arises that your atheist friends have raised. If faith is just believing without evidence then is that really a rational thing to do? And they would claim, of course, that it's not. I think what you want to say is that that's a misdefinition of faith. Faith is not believing without evidence. Again, biblically how does the Bible use the word “faith?” When Thomas says that he won't believe that Jesus has risen from the dead unless he touches him and sees him himself, you remember Jesus then appears to Thomas in the upper room and says, “Handle me and see. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas says, “My Lord and my God!” And Jesus responds, “Do you now believe because you have seen? Blessed are those who believe who have not seen.” Now, clearly Thomas had very strong evidential grounds – didn't he? – for what he came to believe (that Jesus was risen from the dead), and yet the word that is used there is the same word for those who have never seen Jesus, who have never witnessed him, and yet who believe in him. So clearly having no evidence is not a necessary condition of having faith. The word there is the same – pisteuō – and in both cases the people are said to have faith. Thomas's faith or belief is clearly very strongly grounded on physical evidence, and therefore faith is not believing without evidence.

KEVIN HARRIS: I want to go back to the foreknowledge real quick just for a second. Do you have any idea where that came from? That befuddles me that there would be Christian philosophers who would say that God does not have foreknowledge. Is that some kind of hangover from Open Theism?

DR. CRAIG: That is Open Theism. That is exactly what Open Theism holds. But that itself has deep, deep roots back into the past. It's ultimately rooted in Greek fatalism where fatalists argued that if somebody foreknows what will happen then it will necessarily happen and that therefore there is no freedom of the will. So they were led to deny that there are any truths about the future or to deny that God could foreknow the future. This actually was adopted, oddly enough, by certain Christian theologians like Martin Luther and Jonathan Edwards, except they didn't conclude that God lacks foreknowledge. They concluded that we lack free will! They said it's impossible to have free will if God foreknows the future; therefore we don't have free will. This perceived incompatibility goes very far back in church history.

KEVIN HARRIS: In writing this systematic theology – writing your systematic theology – you start off with an introduction. What's included in that?

DR. CRAIG: This was very interesting to me, too. In my introduction to theology, I try to survey all of the different disciplines that the systematic theologian draws upon in doing theology and try to differentiate them from each other. So, for example, I talk about what are the earmarks of a systematic theology compared to, say, biblical theology or historical theology. Roman Catholics have a form of theology called fundamental theology which is very similar to Christian apologetics. Then many theologians today are adopting what's called analytic theology which is a way of doing theology by employing the tools of analytic philosophy. So analytic theology is philosophical theology. And then finally there is what I have been practicing – philosophy of religion. The question is: How does philosophy of religion differ from systematic theology, philosophical theology, fundamental theology, and so forth? What I try to do in the introduction is to lay out exactly what all of these different disciplines do and then how they are integrated in the task of the systematic theologian.

KEVIN HARRIS: How long do you think the whole project is going to take you? How long do you think?

DR. CRAIG: Well, at least five years, I think, if I don't hit a snag. I just pray that I don't hit a snag where it makes me kind of move at a molasses pace. But so far I haven't. So far it's been moving along rather smartly. So I'm hoping five years would be the minimum; ten years I hope would be the maximum. And all this depends on God's will. I've got to avoid falling ill with the coronavirus and staying in good health and so forth. I'm minding my P's and Q's.

KEVIN HARRIS: As we conclude today, say a word about progress in the making of the William Lane Craig Center.

DR. CRAIG: Well, this has just been marvelous. As you know this is a tremendous venture of faith on our part. It's considerably expensive, and yet people in the matching grant campaign this fall responded generously and we met our goal of raising the three hundred thousand dollars to help fund the development of this center. We just feel so confirmed by the way in which people have captured this vision and wanted to support it. We have laid out now a full curriculum of courses on the Masters, the Bachelors, and then just certificate-level courses for lay people. And we have secured what are called subject matter experts to develop the online courses for each one of these courses in the curriculum. These are typically young, upcoming, very bright Christian philosophers and theologians. Young faculty who are specializing in these different fields, and we are tapping them to be our subject matter experts for these online courses. Honestly, we have assembled a faculty that is unparalleled by any degree-granting institution in existence because we draw upon faculty from all of these different universities, [seminaries], and colleges and have them developing our curriculum. So we're going to have just a tremendous, tremendous faculty that nobody else will be able to match developing the courses in this center. The next step is to put all this together into a sharp sort of brochure that's called “a treatment” and this treatment then will enable us to present this proposal to various existing educational institutions to see if any of them would be interested in being affiliated with such a center. So that's the next step.

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, it is exciting. It is always exciting! There’s alot going on. We’re looking forward to the next podcast. We’ll see you next week.

DR. CRAIG: Thank you, Kevin. Bye.[1]


[1]Total Running Time: 23:18 (Copyright © 2021 William Lane Craig)