Apologetics Panel Part 2July 29, 2019
Dr. Craig joined a recent panel at an apologetics conference and took questions from the audience.
KEVIN HARRIS: Welcome back to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. It is Kevin Harris. People at apologetics conferences really ask some tough questions. Get an auditorium full of apologists and, man, they can ask some doozies! This is part two of a panel discussion that Dr. Craig was on with Mike Licona and Mark Mittelberg. Leighton Flowers was the moderator. We are going to pick it up where we left off last time.
As we go to that question, I want to remind you that if you’d like to support us financially, you can do that quickly and easily when you go to ReasonableFaith.org. It’s a blessing; thank you very much. Just hit that donate button and look around at some of the resources available from Reasonable Faith as well.
QUESTION: Thank you for the opportunity to ask questions. This is probably to Dr. Mittleberg – some of the issues that you brought up were kind of what I was going to ask about. I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. My dad is a Southern Baptist pastor there so I grew up really needing to have a good grasp on the fullness of what I believed. But I've noticed a shift in how we evangelize which is why we're here talking about apologetics. Certainly it used to be that you could appeal more to the ethos and people understood their need for God. Now it's more of an idea that, There is no God and I hate him. Like what Ravi Zacharias talks about – that philosophical pre-commitment to: There just can't be a God because I need my life to be like this. I was wondering what you would attribute that shift to. Certainly I know that the Gospel is an offense to people who are lost but what would you attribute that shift to, and how do you overcome that idea when people are so lied to that the truth is offensive and so much so that they're more willing to believe that extraterrestrials are the higher power? That's one thing I've encountered several times - I just can't accept that it's God, but it could be aliens.
MARK MITTELBERG: I like what John Lennox says. When people ask me if I believe there could be extraterrestrial life. He goes, Yeah, I believe in one big one. I'm actually, tomorrow morning in my main session, going to talk about the drift of the whole culture towards secularism. I don't know that I give a lot of reasons. I don't break down a lot of how it happened as much as what's happening and how we need to respond to it as apologists and evangelists. But certainly the culture has drifted further and further away from a Christian worldview. I think a lot of that has to do with going way beyond what the founders of the country intended with separation of church and state to the point where it's separation of the citizen from the whole idea of God, and having many people who run our schools and our universities being committed secularists that what you get taught often in school situations and secular universities is an anti-theistic view. So I think that's all had its effect. But I would quickly add that we don't usually – at least in our individual efforts to reach friends or family members for Christ – evangelize a culture. We evangelize individuals. It was interesting when you said you grew up in Salt Lake City, you said your dad – I thought you were going to say he led a Mormon Church there.
QUESTION: With all of his wives. [laughter]
MARK MITTELBERG: Yeah, with all of his wives. And you have a very large family I suppose!
QUESTION: We are from a Mormon background.
MARK MITTELBERG: The reason I bring that up is to say – because I’ve shared my faith with many Mormons – when you talk to most Mormons, they do have a higher view of Scripture. They of course have a broader canon of what they consider to be Scripture, but you can appeal to Scripture. So a lot of the apologetics you would do there would be more of a traditional biblical apologetics thing – That's not what John was saying here, or Luke, or Jesus. So I think it's a person-relative approach. If you're talking to someone that already believes the Bible and they believe in God, you don't need to give them philosophical proofs for the existence of God. You're just covering territory you already agree with. So the nature of apologetics (and really persuasion in general) is to figure out where a person is now and where they need to be and then take them from point A to point B. If point A includes a high view of Scripture then start with Scripture, but if point A doesn't even believe in God then you're going to have to do some other things to point to the existence of God. So I think on a practical level that would be my main advice: try to relate. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9, I’ve become all things to all people – to the Jew, I'm like a Jew; to those outside the law I'm like one outside the law. Whatever it is, wherever they're coming from, I do my best to establish common ground with them so that I can bring them to the point of trusting in Christ.
QUESTION: How can we help people understand that the fact that we all have free will and also the fact that God knows all of our choices beforehand?
DR. CRAIG: Do you think that there's an incompatibility between God’s foreknowing everything and there being free will?
QUESTION: I don't think so, but how can we make other people understand that?
DR. CRAIG: One thing you can do is to show how it's logically fallacious to think that because God foreknows the future therefore everything happens necessarily. What you would do is show them an argument that would go like this:
1. Necessarily, if God foreknows X then X will happen.
2. God foreknows X
Then ask: What follows from those two premises? If they think that what follows from that is that necessarily X will happen then they have committed a logical fallacy. That, in fact, does not follow from those two premises. All that follows from those two premises is that X will happen. But X will not happen necessarily. X could fail to happen, but if it were to fail to happen then God would have foreknown differently. See, there's those subjunctive conditionals again that are so important. From God's foreknowledge of the future you can know what will happen, but it doesn't mean that it will happen necessarily. It could fail to happen, but if it were to fail to happen then God's foreknowledge would have been different. Therefore his knowledge of the future is entirely compatible with contingency and freedom and possibility and so forth. It's a huge error on the part of certain theologians called Open Theists who think that in order to preserve the contingency and openness of the future you have to deny God's foreknowledge of the future. That's a logical mistake.
MARK MITTELBERG: I try to sum it up by saying God fully foreknows what I will freely do.
MIKE LICONA: Hey, Bill, I had an idea I'd like to run past you and see what you think. Of course there's no perfect illustration, but let's suppose that I video-recorded the Super Bowl, and I know the end result. Now, when I go back and I watch the Super Bowl, each of the players had complete free will in what they were doing, and the coach – All right, let's punt it rather than going for the field goal for the Falcons at the end. Bill and I both live in the Atlanta area so he knows what I'm talking about. So I know what they're going to do but they had total free will in the process to make that . . . but I knew before I watched it on the DVR; I knew what they were going to do. So just having foreknowledge of what they're going to do doesn't impact the fact that they had free will.
DR. CRAIG: I think that's right, Mike. Knowledge isn't a causal factor in this – is it? Whether you knew what the end of the video was or you didn't know what the end of the video was doesn't affect what the people on the video do. They do whatever they want freely, and your just knowing about it doesn't change anything really.
QUESTION: I’d like to address my question to the three of you. You touched on a little bit what Dr. Licona mentioned earlier about the . . . . With the knowledge that you guys have and the scientific community that is against you, is there anything in particular that provokes you? For instance, Ravi Zacharias, I believe, wrote a book as a response to Sam Harris's A Letter to a Christian Nation: The End of Faith. I think I believe he wrote a book called The End of Reason as a response to that book. Is there anything in particular nowadays that provokes you or . . . not provokes you, but stumps you in a way where you believe requires a response? Because I think you guys have covered a lot of ground from the work that I've seen. First of all, I admire a lot of what you do because I think sometimes people think that the Christian community check our brains at the door. When we listen to you guys defend our faith I think that's something that helps my faith as well. Is there anything that nowadays stumps you, and how do you react to it? What is the thought process or what does that look like in your world when people of your intellect get stumped?
MODERATOR: I don't think Dr. Craig's ever been stumped so Mark why don't you take that one?
MARK MITTELBERG: It happens to me all the time. I just call Dr. Craig and get the answer! I don't know about stumped but I will acknowledge readily that for me and probably for most apologists the hardest thing is when it has to do with personal suffering, when someone's going through something that just doesn't seem right, it's not fair, it's “where is God in this?” The answer is we live in an unfair world where bad things happen to good people, where things are not right, where the books have not been balanced in terms of justice and so on. For me that's the hardest thing. It's usually a Q&A like this where we're almost out of time and we go, We'll take one more question, and that's always a mistake because it's always some heart-rending story about some horrific thing that happened in someone's life and we're going, OK, we got 90 seconds. There's just no way. There's nothing I can say that's going to fix that or make anyone feel good about it or make it right. I think we have a lot of good things and we've all written and talked about the problem of evil and pain and suffering. I think the Christian worldview gives the best answers, but ultimately there's not an answer that solves it or makes it go away and certainly that makes the pain go away. For me that's what feels the most like being stumped – wishing I could say more to make it better or make it go away.
DR. CRAIG: I understood the question to be: Is there something that provokes us into a response? When you first asked that I thought no because my work tends to be proactive rather than reactive. I work on subjects that are of interest to me, that I'm passionate about whether anybody else is or not. I've just spent over 12 years working on the relationship between God and abstract objects like numbers which is not a vital burning concern to very many people! But! As I thought about your question it occurred to me actually that my current work is in a sense the result of provocation. What it is is this: I have been for many years now very disgruntled with my fellow Christian philosophers because of their weak, thin doctrines and defenses of the atonement. I have been wondering: Where is a robust defense of the coherence and truth of the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement? And instead all I get are these watery watered-down thin atonement theories by other Christian philosophers. New Testament scholars (some of them, too, like NT Wright) have been just as bad. So I have been really provoked in my spirit I think to work on this subject, and so for the last year I've been devoting myself full time to a study of the doctrine of the atonement. I have to say that this has been unexpectedly rich and rewarding. I thought I understood the doctrine of the atonement until I began to do this study. New vistas and insights and depths have opened up to me that I never suspected were there. I am so excited about the current work that I'm doing on the atonement and anxious to begin publishing on this.
MIKE LICONA: I have a lot of unanswered questions. There are things that bother me. They worry me. I think one thing I've learned, and I learned this from Gary Habermas (a mentor of mine). I would come to him and I'd say, What about this and what about this? And he'd say, Did Jesus rise from the dead? Yeah. OK, well, why is that bothering you? Yeah, but, there's debate today amongst scholars, “Who wrote Matthew?” Did Matthew actually write the Gospel of Matthew? Well, Mike, did Jesus rise from the dead? Yeah. Well, if Matthew didn't write Matthew, would Christianity still be true if Jesus rose from the dead? Yeah. Well, then, why is it bothering you so much? Bart Ehrman. We've had five debates, he and I. He would point out all these different contradictions and errors in the Bible, and I'd say, Well, I don't grant those to you Bart but look, if Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true even if it were to be the case that some things in the Bible aren't. And he agreed. Well, what's the big deal then? That's the response that has provoked for me. So yes I have a lot of unanswered questions. Yes, there are some things in the Bible that trouble me, honestly. I don't like to read the Old Testament. But I've learned to put things into perspective. If Jesus rose from the dead, Christianity is true. Period. That helps me keep the main thing the main thing. So I don't worry about a lot of those things anymore. They don't really bother me nearly as much because it's all in perspective. Now, I've studied the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, and I'm thoroughly convinced that it happened. So these other things just don't bother me.
QUESTION: I have a few questions but I'm going to narrow it down. The old law – who decided that was no more?
MODERATOR: The Old Testament law – who decided that it is no more? Has the old law – has it been abolished? We just don't follow it anymore. Obviously we're not sacrificing goats and these kinds of things. How do you answer that? What's happened to the Old Testament law?
DR. CRAIG: In the book of Acts, the Jerusalem Council that was held by the mother church in Jerusalem decided that they would not impose the yoke of the law upon the Gentile converts to Christianity. They said just abstain from things strangled and from blood and sexual immorality and you don't need to obey the rest of the law in order to be a Christian. So the question would be: is this a decision that the Jerusalem church just invented out of thin air or did this reflect the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth himself? In the Gospels there's some indications that Jesus himself thought that he was the fulfillment of the law when he said it's what comes out of a man that defiles the man, not what goes into his mouth. Mark comments, Thus he declared all foods clean. That is to say, Mark interprets this as abolishing the distinction between clean and unclean foods.
MARK MITTELBERG: And then in Acts 10 you have the vision of Peter before he goes to Cornelius' home where that's confirmed through visions from God showing that the dietary laws were no longer . . .
QUESTION: But does that also eliminate all the other ones as far as tattoos, piercings, clothing and all of those others like you find in Leviticus?
DR. CRAIG: Well, certainly the decision of the Jerusalem Council shows that because they imposed very minimum requirements on the Gentiles.
QUESTION: Were they the ones that imposed those laws to begin with?
DR. CRAIG: No. These were the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem like James.
QUESTION: They're the ones that set those Old Testament laws?
DR. CRAIG: No, they lived by them. These laws were inherited from their fathers.
QUESTION: What gave them the authority to say no longer do you have to live by those laws? If they did not put those laws in place – if it was God-breathed – then what gave the Jewish leaders the right to say no longer do you have to live under those laws?
DR. CRAIG: Well, that's exactly what I was saying. Did they come up with this out of thin air or was it due to the teachings of Jesus, the Son of Man who said that he had authority to do this sort of thing? I suspect, and I'm sure you'd agree, that the action of the early church is reflecting the historical Jesus on this because he is the only one who had the authority to revise the Old Testament law.
MARK MITTELBERG: I think it's clear that many of the Old Testament laws for the Israelites were to keep them as a distinct nation until the coming of the Messiah.
QUESTION: Just because it doesn’t say it plainly in the New Testament that Jesus told the leaders, You don't have to do that, here's another way to do it, I guess people assume that man got rid of that.
MARK MITTELBERG: I would say the biggest way is you have the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, and when Jesus came it was announced, Here's the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. He is the ultimate sacrifice, as the book of Hebrews makes very clear. So I'd say the biggest way the whole sacrificial system became obsolete when the Son of God, the Lamb of God, died once and for all to pay for all sins. Then I think God providentially allowed that whole sacrificial system to end with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD. But I think there's a variety of answers of how God communicated this.
QUESTION: These are things that are asked of me and I would like to be able to give a plainer answer – the way you've explained it makes sense. My other question is: Are there any other writings on Jesus' life before his ministry but after he was 12 or 13 years old? Are there any records of his life other than what's in the Bible? When he was a teenager and in his twenties? Because he didn’t become a minister until he was like 30.
MIKE LICONA: That's a good question. Nothing that would be reliable. You've got the Infancy Gospel of Thomas that has some really weird stories about Jesus. One is he was working with his dad as a carpenter and his dad cut a plank too short – Oh, I’m not going to make any money off of this, and Jesus said, No problem, pop, and he goes over and he stretches the plank to the right thing. There's nothing reliable. But it really shouldn't surprise us. The reason being is because all four Gospels are either ancient biographies or they share a lot in common with the genre of ancient biography. An ancient biography – the purpose of biography according to Plutarch (not the guy in The Hunger Games but the real Plutarch who lived in the first century and the early second century) said the reason – the purpose – behind biography is to illuminate who the main character is. What kind of a person are they morally and their ancestry? Who is this person? They want to reveal the character of that person. So typically what would happen in an ancient biography (most of them that have survived we can see) it talks a little about the person's ancestry and then it launches right into the inauguration of the person's public life, be that politics or the military or as a philosopher and teacher. So there's very little in most biographies about a person's childhood. So it shouldn't surprise us at all that there's very little about Jesus’ childhood. It has his ancestry. You've got the genealogies in Matthew and Luke. Mark starts off by pretty much saying Jesus is the fulfillment of prophecy and he's divine. Then you've got John that comes out and says he's God amongst us, God incarnate. You’ve got that, and then – boom – all four Gospels just launch right into Jesus’ public ministry.
MODERATOR: So you measure twice and cut once – unless you’re Jesus, and then you’re OK.