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Can Apologetics Flourish After Scandal?

May 10, 2021


Dr. Craig Comments on a Christianity Today Article on the State of Apologetics After a Recent Scandal.

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, it’s always good to see you. You’ve got a couple of things going on. One is a course at Houston Baptist University that people can actually audit, and it’s on the moral argument. May 17-21.

DR. CRAIG: I’m team-teaching this course with Professor David Baggett, the author of the book Good God and probably the most prolific author on the moral argument for the existence of God today. I’ll be teaching the first week of the class online, and then David will be teaching the second week of the class with students actually in the classroom as well as online. Folks can take this class online. They can audit it and have the benefit of both me and David as we talk about the moral argument for the existence of God. I was just working on my lectures this morning for this, and I’m really looking forward to it because, although I’ve presented the moral argument in debates and in articles, I’ve never actually taught a whole course on this subject. So I am very eager to get into this with the students in more depth.

KEVIN HARRIS: I really recommend that our viewers and our listeners audit this class. It's just going to be terrific. You can go to Houston Baptist University's website and there'll be plenty of information there on how to audit that. Second of all, Bill, how's the writing going? I suppose you're in there every day in your office writing your philosophical theology.

DR. CRAIG: I am! That's very true. With the pandemic, I'm just working from morning until evening on this systematic philosophical theology. The section that I'm on now is the doctrine of God, which is at the very heart of Christian theology. I am going through the attributes of God with a view toward determining the coherence of theism. I've written up a section on God's necessary existence, defending that, and then a section on divine aseity which, as you know, I'm an ardent defender of. Now I'm working on a section on divine simplicity. There is a vast literature on this subject which needs to be mastered so I am still reading in this area, but soon I think I'll begin writing that section as well. I'm more critical of the doctrine of divine simplicity. I think that here mainstream Christian theology, frankly, has been seriously derouted through the influence of ancient Greek Neo-Platonism which thought of the ultimate reality as a kind of undifferentiated One without distinctions, without properties, and so forth. It's painful for me to see how Christian theology has been led astray by this philosophical view.

KEVIN HARRIS: I saw a discussion on Facebook – people were discussing the fact that you're busy writing this. So many of them said, “I CAN’T WAIT!” in all caps. But they may have to wait a while for you to get it all written.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. I think at least five years, if not longer, because I don't want to release the early volumes before the later ones are finished because at the end you'll always want to go back and revise. So it'll be a while.

KEVIN HARRIS: We're going to take a look at this article here from Christianity Today.[1] Sadly, it's about the fall of RZIM (Ravi Zacharias Ministry). One thing just right off the bat is that Christianity Today, the author here, is very sympathetic about the ministry of apologetics, about apologetics. I get the impression that that's not always been the case with Christianity Today, with the editing staff. They've always maybe leaned, well I don't want to say postmodern, but maybe they haven't been that sympathetic to apologetics. I don't know if you've ever gotten that.

DR. CRAIG: Well, this author at any rate, Justin Bailey, is a pastor whom they tapped for this article, and he seems very sympathetic to the importance of apologetics but wants to draw some lessons from the demise of Ravi Zacharias and RZIM.

KEVIN HARRIS: Sure. He talked about how this whole thing has been devastating. We go down to about the third paragraph he says,

As a pastor-professor who cares about the revitalization of apologetics for the sake of the gospel, the RZIM story sobers me a great deal as I look to the future of the broader movement. There is no question that Ravi’s depravity has irreparably damaged his legacy and the ministry that is changing its name and retiring from apologetics.

That was kind of sad to hear.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. And I think that's very true. There's no doubt at all that Ravi’s legacy has been destroyed and the ministry ruined. I picked up on what I thought was a significant expression in his article. He said that Ravi “had been insulated from accountability by an inner circle overwhelmed in part by his charisma and in part by outright intimidation.” I think that the investigation into this situation has really only begun. I think what merits further investigation is the complicity of the board members and the family members. RZIM was shot through with nepotism, and family members were in positions of leadership. I think it bears investigation the degree to which family members and board members may have worked to not only insulate him from accountability but to cover up these incidents when they began to come out.

KEVIN HARRIS: He talks about how he's picked up on detractors of what he calls traditional apologetic practice. I don't know exactly what that would be. I mean, there's the biblical practice of 1 Peter 3:15, Acts 17, giving a reason for the hope that is within you, the defense of the faith. What is he saying? Just the way that we've been doing this? The “sage on the stage” is putting people in a position to be too vulnerable without accountability?

DR. CRAIG: Well, I think it's odd to me that he thinks that the Christian apologist is “the sage on the stage.” That suggests that apologetics is mainly about public speaking and rhetorical matters, whereas I'm more concerned with what we call “the schnook in the book,” not the sage on the stage. It's those who are involved in a serious life of Christian scholarship and defense and articulation of a Christian world and lifeview. These popular apologists, these fellows on the stage, then will use this work in bringing it down to the level of the man in the pew or the man in the street. But I do not think that Christian apologetics is primarily about the sage on the stage.

KEVIN HARRIS: The final paragraph on page one, he says,

Some want to turn away from an over-reliance on rationality toward more revelational, relational, or imaginative resources. Others have advocated for approaches characterized by cruciform virtue: humility, gentleness, patience, and love.

Again, we've always said that on this podcast. You give with gentleness and respect. That's how you give your answer. And also this revelational, relational, imaginative resources. There's some of that post-modernism maybe coming in, or that flavor coming in, and saying you don't need the hardcore factual type stuff – you need to be more relational.

DR. CRAIG: And that is certainly not the result of Ravi Zacharias's demise. That movement within contemporary Christianity preceded his demise by years and years and years. So-called progressives in Christianity have long been dissing traditional rational apologetics in favor of just sharing your narrative and having a more relational approach. I think that he exaggerates the degree to which that kind of more relational emphasis has anything to do with Ravi's demise.

KEVIN HARRIS: First paragraph on page two here, and this is rather anecdotal, but he says,

But there are growing misgivings about the discipline, especially among younger evangelicals. Not long ago, I taught a class on apologetics at an evangelical seminary and was surprised by the number of students who sought an apology for the class. My students had some sharp questions: Isn’t it impossible to argue someone into faith? Isn’t apologetics only effective for the already convinced? Isn’t apologetics a poor substitute for relational evangelism and discipleship?

DR. CRAIG: I think that he really misanalyzes the situation if he thinks that that emphasis or skepticism about apologetics is the result of RZIM’s demise. There has long been an anti-intellectual current within evangelicalism that sees no need for apologetics, and we've been struggling against that for years. I think that the degree to which the demise of RZIM has inhibited traditional apologetics is really exaggerated. The only evidence he gets for this is this anecdote about a class that he taught some time ago at an evangelical seminary. There's no evidence at all to suggest that those students’ skepticism about apologetics had anything to do with Ravi's demise or the demise of any other Christian leaders.

KEVIN HARRIS: You and I have talked about how impressed we are that so many really young people are electrified by apologetics and digging into all the areas that apologetics touches. If you look around – YouTube and Reddit and some things like that – you see some really young people who really love apologetics.

DR. CRAIG: Yes. And the spiritual benefits of that renaissance in apologetics has been remarkable. As you put it, for many of these younger folks it's not simply a reformation of their minds but it has been an electrifying experience spiritually that has drawn them closer to God and made their worship of God more profound and more meaningful, and they're more excited about evangelism than they were before they had this training in apologetics. One of the biggest surprises to me in starting this ministry Reasonable Faith has been the degree to which it impacts people not just intellectually but spiritually as well.

KEVIN HARRIS: He offers four things that he thinks will aid the future of apologetics. Number one, he says, “Demonstrate a commitment to truth even when the consequences hurt.” He's talking about, boy, I tell you this, the real state of the country right now, the mood of the country right now is all this apologizing – we're sorry. At the same time, he's saying we need to be – what? – I guess he's saying we need to be very transparent and when somebody falls you don't protect them. You say, OK, you admit it, and repent.

DR. CRAIG: Right. That's the way I understood him. You don't try to cover up your mistakes, but you own up to them, and if necessary you confess and make restitution and try to go on. But you do not make excuses or cover up.

KEVIN HARRIS: Number two, he says, “Distinguish (but don’t divide) the message from the messenger.” Because we've heard, “Despite the flaws of Ravi Zacharias or anyone else, it's the message that counts.” And he says, yeah, but – what? – there are some interrelations between the two.

DR. CRAIG: Right. I think it's clear that we cannot reject the message simply because of the fallibility of the messenger. That's obviously true. That would be an ad hominem sort of fallacy, wouldn't it? But nevertheless, as public spokesmen for Christ, we need to strive to live lives of integrity where the truth of our message is lived out in our personal lives. And that's certainly an important emphasis.

KEVIN HARRIS: The young people say “represent.” You have to represent well. That's still a clarion call, I'm sure.


KEVIN HARRIS: Number three, he says, “Reclaim faith as a community project rather than an individual achievement.” Long story short on this is that it's easy for a speaker like Ravi Zacharias who travels constantly speaking to just be out with no accountability. Perhaps isolated. That's one aspect of this. Also that there's no substitute, there's no virtual or YouTube apologist substitute, for someone in your community who you can go to. I guess we're talking about the church there.

DR. CRAIG: Exactly. He's talking about the local church. One of the things that he noticed about Ravi was that he was not a member of a local church because he traveled. I'm so grateful that Jan and I have chosen to be involved in Johnson Ferry Baptist Church as our local church, and that both of us are trying to exercise our spiritual gifts in the context of the local church. I believe strongly in the local church and the importance of participating in it. My Defenders class and podcast originated as my Sunday School class that I teach every Sunday at JFBC. I'm committed, despite the traveling that I do, to being in church every Sunday as much as I can rather than being away on a Sunday morning. I want to be there worshiping with brothers and sisters in the local body and to be teaching in my Sunday School class.

KEVIN HARRIS: I certainly don't want people to hear that one should not aspire to travel and speak and have a lot of speaking engagements. Just beware of the pitfalls. I guess it's just common sense.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, it is. You need to have the support and the accountability that's provided by a local body of believers who know you personally and whom you know on a personal level. So I would encourage any Christian apologist to be deeply involved in his local church – in its ministries and exercising his spiritual gift in that context.

KEVIN HARRIS: I like this highlighted in blue here. From A. J. Swoboda, he says,

Order your pizzas and books online, but don’t take your deepest doubts and questions there. Bring them to us, God’s people on the ground. Please don’t replace us [with some YouTuber]. Question the assumption that a PhD is the same as being wise, or the assumption that ‘most viewed’ or ‘viral’ has anything to do with veracity.

DR. CRAIG: I have to tell you, I have been really taken aback sometimes at people who send me Facebook messages asking deeply personal questions about their lives that they're struggling with. Typically I say to them, “I'm a philosopher, not a pastoral counselor. You need to go to your local pastor or someone in your local church and get counseling about this.” Because just talking to someone online isn't going to help you to overcome these really deep personal problems that many people struggle with.

KEVIN HARRIS: Sure. I've learned a lot on YouTube. I mean, I love to go there. But I agree that it's only supplemental. It doesn't need to be your entire discipleship because that just kind of bypasses the community and the people who are right there next to you and available in the local church. The fourth and final thing he says, and he mentions you here, he distinguishes between uppercase and lowercase apologists, and I think I know what he's talking about.

Uppercase apologists come equipped with answers, philosophical proofs, and compelling insights into difficult questions. Though sometimes despised, they play an important role in the wider world and often clear the road of intellectual barriers so that a person can move further along in faith or faith exploration. For example, I am thankful for the ministry of people like William Lane Craig, who has served the church in this space for years.

Bill, you're one of the uppercase apologists here.

DR. CRAIG: And I take it by that he means someone who is better known and widely influential as opposed to folks who are working hard in the local church teaching a Bible study or a Sunday School class or a youth group. Certainly I think we need to support both sorts of outreach.

KEVIN HARRIS: Sure. He says that there are lowercase apologists, and that is the people who are right there in your community. God hasn't given them a big platform, but I tell you God has given you this big platform and I know that's got to perhaps keep you up at times sometimes.

DR. CRAIG: Well, I liked what Justin had to say near the end of his article. He said, “Uppercase practitioners need prayer and accountability. They need friends and colleagues who know them well enough not to be impressed by them.” I like that. He says, “Individual apologists must be rooted in and under the authority of local congregations precisely because apologetics and faith are essentially communal endeavors.” And I certainly second those sentiments.

KEVIN HARRIS: OK. Final thoughts on this article as we wrap up today?

DR. CRAIG: Well, he says we should also “seek to be lowercase apologists who are engaged in everyday conversations. We seek to bring the questions, hopes, and griefs of our neighbors—together with our own—before the Savior who calls us to follow him.” I want to echo again what Justin says there. Ultimately, it is going to be the everyday lay local lowercase apologist who is sharing his faith and winning people to Christ that is going to bring people to a knowledge of Christ. He is absolutely right in saying it is not enough just to have the “sage on the stage” or the uppercase apologist or the “schnook in the book.” You’ve got to have these everyday people who are trained and ready to give an answer for the faith that is in them.[2]


[2] Total Running Time: 22:04 (Copyright © 2021 William Lane Craig)