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Defenders!

January 12, 2010     Time: 00:18:04
Defenders!

Summary

Conversation with William Lane Craig.

Transcript Defenders!

 

Kevin Harris: How would you like to get a good education in theology, philosophy, and apologetics for free? Well, you can do it on our website ReasonableFaith.org. The topics are so interesting, even talking about them is interesting. Welcome to Reasonable Faith with Dr. William Lane Craig. I’m Kevin Harris. We are talking about Defenders, Dr. Craig’s class that the lucky members of his church get to attend each Sunday. But so can you at your convenience online. The Defenders class, along with this podcast, is offered at ReasonableFaith.org. [1]  We think every church should have a class like this. It attracts believers and non-believers and encourages people to go deeper into the things of God.

Dr. Craig, did this class come out of your concern that we need good theology and apologetics in our Sunday School classes?

Dr. Craig: Absolutely, Kevin. I feel that as a member of the local body of Christ I need to be exercising my spiritual gift in the context of that body. I feel that God has gifted me in the area of being a teacher. So I want to use that spiritual gift to build up the local body of Christ. It seems to me that very often the local church doesn’t have a sufficient emphasis on Christian doctrine and apologetics. We are good at Bible study – doing a book study, say of 1 Peter or the book of Romans or something of that sort. But there are just not enough classes on Christian doctrine and apologetics.

Kevin Harris: Talk about this class – the things you discuss and your methodology.

Dr. Craig: My feeling was that it would not be spiritually upbuilding to have a class that focused completely on apologetics. That would be too lopsided, I think, to be spiritually healthy. But what I did think would be good to have would be a class that surveyed the body of Christian doctrine. In Ephesians 4, Paul says that God has given to the church teachers for the purpose of building up the body of Christ until we all attain Christian maturity so that, he says, we won’t be buffeted and tossed about by every wind of doctrine. So part of Christian maturity is doctrinal maturity. Understanding what we as Christians believe. So I felt that what I could do would be to offer a sort of layman’s survey of the great doctrines of the Christian faith. Then along the way do excursuses on Christian apologetics. So, for example, when you are talking about the doctrine of God, do an excursus on natural theology and arguments for the existence of God. Then come back to the biblical and theological material after you have done that. Or when you are talking about the doctrine of Christ, you do an excursus on, say, the radical claims of the historical Jesus. Having done that, then you circle back into the doctrinal portion of the class again. That is the way it is constructed: to survey Christian doctrine but with a strong emphasis along the way periodically on why we believe these doctrines to be true.

Kevin Harris: It seems to me, Bill, that if one were an unbeliever or a non-Christian and decided to check out church, that this would be the kind of class one would find attractive. One that would answer some questions or challenge why one doesn’t believe.

Dr. Craig: I think so, too. We do try to make the class friendly for folks from the outside to come in or for folks in the class to bring a non-Christian friend to a venue where they won’t be embarrassed. They won’t feel awkward at what is being discussed. So we will talk about things that are of broad interest, like modern cosmology or scientific evidence for the fine-tuning of the universe, and things of that sort, along with the Christian doctrine that we survey. So it is very seeker friendly, I think, in that sense.

Kevin Harris: What has been the reaction to the class?

Dr. Craig: We started off with just a handful of people. This is not a church that had a strong apologetics or doctrinal emphasis before. But as the word has gotten out, the class has grown in size. We now have over a hundred members of the class. They are not all there on Sunday. Many of them travel. So probably around eighty people or so would be there on any given Sunday morning of the total class membership.

Kevin Harris: If people are looking for a model, perhaps to pattern their own Sunday School class, this would be a good idea. Go to ReasonableFaith.org and listen to a couple of classes just to hear the interaction.

Dr. Craig: I would very much hope that people would find this material transferable. It is very nicely organized and follows an outline. If people take notes as they listen I think then they can use this same material to teach a class themselves. [2] I have met folks when I was visiting Berlin, for example, in Germany who listen to the podcast and then construct their own Sunday School lesson from this and teach this material in their church. So I definitely think this material is transferable and can be the basis for teaching this material one’s self.

Kevin Harris: I have had some experience, Bill, in this because I started at my own church the Faith and Reason class. For three years, it was largely successful. It started out with just a handful, and then it grew. We invited some of the local atheists at the local atheist church to come to the class and interact with us. And they did. A lot of them started coming back week after week after week. We had three and four who continued to come to the class. So, there is so much you can do with a class like this. But I am torn. I noticed that the church just kind of considered it a niche class, kind of over here on the side just in case you wanted to get some of this. In case you are interested in it. Kind of like a financial class or a business class or something like that. I am not opposed to offerings like that. What I am concerned about is it seems to me that every Sunday School class needs sound doctrine and at least some apologetics.

Dr. Craig: That is certainly true. You can’t teach virtually anything without having sound doctrine at its basis. But I am not inclined to think that every class needs to be focusing – well, not even focusing, even emphasizing this. For example, suppose you have a book study class. Say somebody is doing a study of the book of Colossians. I wouldn’t see any reason to think that somebody who is doing a good study of the book of Colossians would need to be introducing apologetics and the sorts of things that we discuss in our class. I would like to see the church offer a wide variety of courses, a curriculum as it were, where people can do through one class, get that material and then go to another class and be trained in that. So I think that there is room for a great variety. But certainly there needs to be a good sound doctrinal basis that underlies all that we teach.

Kevin Harris: Even in the class that I taught where emphasis was doctrine and apologetics, defending the faith, we would try to have good fellowship. We had get-togethers, we would go bowling, we’d go on picnics. We would do all those things. At the beginning of the class, we started doing what we called the prayer chair. And that is somebody who just really needed some prayer. We would bring them up to the front of the class and put them right there in the chair and we would pray for their various needs – health issues, family issues, things like that. And then launch into the defense of the faith and the various topics that we would go to. So you can kind of do both.

Dr. Craig: Absolutely. This was something I didn’t understand at first, Kevin, frankly. I thought I could come and just teach the class and it wouldn’t matter if some Sundays I wasn’t there because I was traveling. We’d just pick up again when I came back. I had no understanding that there is also a pastoral role here that the teacher finds himself thrust into, whether he wants it or not. This group, this Sunday School class, becomes a kind of church within the church, especially if you are in a large church. This class is where people really get to know one another and begin to form those bonds of friendship and those networks of mutual encouragement and support. So I began to see that I did need to begin to exercise a sort of pastoral function that would involve, as you say, having a prayer committee or something of that sort that would disseminate prayer needs, and these fellowship times like dinners or picnics together, social functions. It does help to build real community among the people that are in the class. So this has been something that I had to learn but you are absolutely right. That really is part of it.

Kevin Harris: I noticed something else that you do that I think is very intriguing and compelling. And that is you will often start the class commenting on something in the news. So something very relevant, something very fresh, and something very contemporary. When Antony Flew moved away from atheism and announced that he was no longer an atheist, you were on that and took about five or ten minutes at the beginning of the class just to comment on that.

Dr. Craig: Yes, I very much like to do that. I like to keep folks informed about new archaeological discoveries that have been made, or if there has been an interesting editorial in the Wall Street Journal that impinges on religious or ethical issues or there is something else in the news that has religious significance. [3] Especially things around the world. I want our folks to have a world Christian consciousness; to be concerned about what is happening in Europe, for example, or in Africa. So I do try to begin the class with some commentary on an issue that has arisen that week that isn’t purely political but is something that has ethical or religious ramifications which we as Christians need to be aware of or address. That is then spun off as a separate audio blog on the website so that it is current, whereas the classes that people hear on the Defenders podcast may not be just last week’s class because I am traveling frequently so we can’t do it week to week. We’ve built up a sort of backlog. So that material isn’t always exactly current. But that audio blog is able to be current week to week.

Kevin Harris: It takes a lot of discipline on the teacher’s part because people love to talk about some latest thing that is in the news. And if you are not careful, you will spend the entire class talking about it. [laughter]

Dr. Craig: This has surprised me – the reaction of folks. Some have said to me one of the things they like best about the class is this initial commentary on issues of the day from a Christian point of view. People feel deeply about things they hear in the news, and they are disturbed about trends. So they want to see these addressed from a Christian worldview perspective.

Kevin Harris: Side issue for just a little bit – Bill, do you try to keep up with politics? If somebody in your class asks you to comment on healthcare and the state of healthcare and what we ought to do, do you keep up with things like that so you can comment on it in class?

Dr. Craig: No, not for that reason. I do try to keep up on them simply because I am interested vitally in these issues. I want to be a good citizen. But I try to stay away from politics in what I comment on, Kevin, because as a Christian spokesperson I don’t want to make Christianity associated with any particular segment of the political spectrum. What I will comment on would be issues that have a definite ethical or religious dimension to them. For example, would the current healthcare proposals going through Congress legalize federal funding for abortion? You know, there was an amendment that was proposed by 19 Democratic congressmen that would explicitly forbid any of these funds to be used for abortion purposes. That was defeated by the other committee member. Well, that is very disturbing, I think, for the Christian who doesn’t want to see his tax money utilized to fund abortions. So that is an issue, I think, of legitimate comment that is neither right nor left but is an ethical concern that we all ought to have. Or similarly, the American Psychological Association issued a couple of months back a statement concerning the prospects for success of counseling homosexual persons who want to change their orientation. Again, that had very interesting religious and ethical implications that we as Christians need to address. So I try not to be political but I do try to address these issues when they have religious or ethical implications.

Kevin Harris: These issues go beyond Democrat, Republican, Independent, and to the heart of morality and ethics and spiritual considerations.

Dr. Craig: That’s absolutely right.

Kevin Harris: The class, Bill, is very thorough. You have six classes on the cosmological argument. You have five on the moral argument. You have three on the argument from contingency. So you are very thorough. What can people get when they attend this class, either in person or online?

Dr. Craig: We try not to feel obliged to get through a certain amount of material on any given Sunday. I feel we want to take our time. So if it takes six lessons to get through the cosmological argument, that’s just great. We’ve got all the time in the world, we are in no hurry. I want to provide ample time for discussion in the class so that people can ask questions and really digest this material so that they can use it. I have no desire to just get up and pontificate on issues and people go away and say, “Wasn’t that brilliant” but they wouldn’t know how to share it themselves. So my goal is to teach folks to understand these arguments and understand Christian doctrine in such a way that they can explain it in turn to somebody else.

Kevin Harris: Is your approach different than perhaps if you were to teach a college class who don’t have the training? [4]

Dr. Craig: Actually, it really isn’t different. I taught Christian doctrine for example at Westmont College before we left for Europe. Apart from not giving footnotes or interacting with scholars by name, it is very, very similar to a class that you might have in college on basic Christian doctrine – intro to Christian doctrine, something of that sort. I think it is time that we stop treating laypeople like they were stupid. I am just amazed, Kevin, at how people who are professional businessmen and know about things like the 200-moving-day-average and all of these other technical things in the stock market and the economy are treated as though they were infantile when it comes to Christian theology and that you dare not use a four-syllable word with these people. That is a terribly condescending and insulting attitude toward Christian laypeople. I think that we can raise the bar here by treating them as though this were, say, an intro college class in Christian doctrine. You explain it thoroughly and simply so people can understand it, but you don’t skirt the important issues. You interact with them and deal with the arguments pro and con.

Kevin Harris: Again, I think the Defenders class is a terrific model for churches large and small across America and across the world. Go to ReasonableFaith.org and listen to a couple of those Defenders podcast and you will get the gist.

Dr. Craig: Now as we begin series 2, it is going to be the complete survey. It will be recorded with higher quality microphones and instrumentation, so the audio quality is going to be better. We are also going to be making available the outlines for the class so that you can not only listen to the podcast but you can download and print out the outline that I distribute in the class, and then take notes yourself. I hope that people will then compile these outlines into a sort of notebook that will provide them, when they are done, a survey of basic Christian doctrine – from doctrine of revelation, through the doctrine of God, doctrine of Christ, doctrine of salvation, doctrine of the church, all the way to the doctrine of the last things with these apologetic excursuses along the way. [5]