Some Personal Questions for Dr. CraigAugust 25, 2010 Time: 00:22:41
William Lane Craig responds to a variety of personal questions submitted.
Some Personal Questions for Dr. Craig
Kevin Harris: Hey, we are glad you are here. Thanks so much for joining us for Reasonable Faith. I'm Kevin Harris in studio with Dr. William Lane Craig. Dr. Craig, we get some very interesting personal questions from time to time. We get these at ReasonableFaith.org. I selected a few. This first one says,
Dear Dr. Craig, it is clear from Scripture that teachers are going to be judged more strictly than those who do not teach. [A reference to James 3:1.] How has this motivated you in your teaching career?
Dr. Craig: I think that the Scripture does teach in the passage cited that teachers will be held to a higher standard than those who do not teach. That does motivate me to try to get it right, to be very careful, and to not speak about things about which I am not sufficiently informed. But what I've tried to do, frankly, to protect myself in this area is to teach a range of options that are available to Christians before I tell which, if any of the options, is the one I prefer. So if you listen, for example, to Defenders podcasts when we deal with, say, the doctrines of the Lord's Supper and baptism, I will talk about a range of alternatives – transubstantiation among Roman Catholics, consubstantiation as it is sometimes called among Lutherans, the Reformed have the view that there is a kind of spiritual feeding upon Christ that takes place, Baptists have a purely symbolic understanding of the elements. So what I have tried to do is to lay out for my class the various alternatives that Christians take on these issues and then, if I do have an opinion, I will share that as my best judgment. But that is a very different approach, as you can see, than getting up and saying, “Here is the truth about these matters. Here is what the Bible teaches” and only giving one point of view.
Kevin Harris: I noticed that you do that. The second part, he says, “What about the Scripture that says that you are worthy of double-honor.”
Dr. Craig: I think that that is probably talking about financial remuneration for local elders in a congregation. So that isn't applicable to my situation. But I do think that in a local church, if someone is willing to serve as an elder and take on all those sorts of responsibilities, if in order to do that he needs some financial help that the church ought to make that available to him. I suspect that that is what Paul is talking about there.
Kevin Harris: This question,
Hello Dr. Craig. I am 17 and I, myself, am seeking God. After watching some of your debates and understanding your arguments, it has given me great confidence in my faith in Christ. What I wanted to know from you is what you think is the meaning of life?
Wow, that is kind of personal, isn't it? It seems like he is trying to formulate his own statement on the meaning of life.
Dr. Craig: I so appreciate these kinds of emails from these teenagers who are struggling with life's deepest questions and have been helped through material on Reasonable Faith to come to Christ and to give their lives to the Lord. I would say that no finer statement of the meaning of life can be found than that in the Westminster Catechism when it asks what is the chief purpose of man and the answer is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. I think that the fulfillment of human existence is to be found in relationship with the personal infinite God of the Bible. That is the overall meaning of life. Of course, given that overall meaning I think God has specific purposes and calling for different individuals in life, but the fundamental, overall, under-girding purpose of life will be this personal knowledge of God.
Kevin Harris: This says,
Dr. Craig, what made you decide to pursue philosophy as a career? I don't know how it was for you back then but now it seems that many Christians are against incorporating philosophical thought into the faith. Did you experience any opposition?
Dr. Craig: Boy, if he thinks Christians are against it today he should have been around a generation ago! Things have just changed dramatically, I think, as a result of the revolution in Christian philosophy that has gone on over the last fifty years. Many, many Christian laymen today, I think, deeply appreciate the value of philosophy for the articulation and defense of Christian truth.
I would say that what got me into philosophy was really apologetics. I came in through the backdoor.  My first course in philosophy that I took was the first semester of my first year in college. I was just out of high school and I took Intro to Philosophy. I have to say, Kevin, unfortunately that my philosophy teacher didn't do very well in helping us to see the relevance or importance of this discipline. It was just a sort of rehearsal of “A said this, and B said that, and C said this, and D said that.” Just a dry run through of the history of important figures in philosophy. We never really found any answers. There were never really any conclusions drawn. It was just a sort of a laundry list of the different views of these people. Especially, there weren't any arguments given as to why these people believed what they did. It was just explaining, “This is their view.” But there really wasn't any engagement with the arguments either pro or con. So I came away from that semester thinking this is a worthless discipline. I never want to study this again.
But what happened to me was as I continued to grow in my interest in apologetics and the defense of the Christian faith, I began to see that philosophy was absolutely central to defending the Christian world and life view. So I kind of came in through the door of apologetics into philosophy. When Norm Geisler spoke at Northern Illinois University where Jan and I were working, he was representing the Master of Arts program in Philosophy of Religion at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School at that time. I saw that that was exactly the kind of program that I wanted to study in in order to improve the defense of the faith that I wanted to offer.
So I went to Trinity, did the M.A. in Philosophy there and found that this was really, really interesting stuff and wanted to pursue PhD work. That also proved to be extremely interesting. So I just grew into this philosophical career as a result of my interest in the defense of the Christian worldview.
Kevin Harris: He asked if you experienced any opposition. I don't know where you would get this opposition.
Dr. Craig: No, not seriously. I think there were people who were skeptical along the way of what Jan and I felt called to do, particularly when we decided to go to England and do my PhD in philosophy with John Hick. People said, “You don't have any money to do this, Bill. You better make some second plans; some fallback plans.” We said, “No, we believe God wants us to do this.” We believed somehow he is going to provide. God did miraculously provide for us to go to England and do that study. But there their skepticism was based on our financial destitution rather than on any opposition to philosophy as such.
I have been fortunate in being – I don' t know – members of churches that have been very supportive of the kind of program of study that we've sought to be involved in.
Kevin Harris: Listen to this,
Dear Dr. Craig, as an unmotivated undergraduate, unsure of the direction I wanted to take in my studies, I discovered your work as a Christian philosopher. Prior to coming across you and J. P. Moreland's Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview I had no idea what philosophy really was, much less that one could utilize the tools of philosophy to answer many of the questions that I had wondered about on my own. Through your work, I discovered other Christian thinkers and began to read some of the things they were working on as well. Shortly thereafter I decided to switch my major to philosophy. I am now about half way through my philosophy curriculum at the school I am attending and since switching my major my GPA has been nearly perfect.
Dr. Craig: Isn't that fantastic?
I am more motivated in my studies than I have ever been after nearly five years of college. I have gone from someone who was placed on academic probation to one of the top students in my class. Since becoming a philosophy major, my goal has been to obtain a PhD and teach at the university level. However, recently I ran across several articles discouraging students to pursue a PhD in the humanities. Thomas Benton's article in The Chronicle of Higher Education is perhaps the most discouraging. I also saw a statistic that over a thousand people applied for the four hundred jobs posted in the APA's “Jobs for Philosophers” last year. Only around half of those jobs were tenure track positions. Additionally, the professor who has praised my work most in the classroom suggested I consider grad school only if there is absolutely nothing else that I think I would be happy doing.  What this discourages me is that I feel I am supposed to go into this area but now I am discouraged as to following this track.
Dr. Craig: What I would say to this fellow is if this is where you feel you are supposed to be, if this is what God is calling you to do, then step out on faith and do it. Don't listen to these naysayers and doomsayers that would tell you there are no jobs in philosophy, that this is surely going to fail. Those people don't understand the providence of God or his plan for your life. If this is what God wants you to do then he can be counted upon to provide for you and to provide the opening in the ministry that he wants you to have. So I would say just don't listen to people like that. They have been saying that ever since I began to study philosophy back in the 1970s. They were already saying in the 70s that the job market is glutted, there are no positions in philosophy, don't go into it. The situation has always been like this. This is the same old refrain that you always hear. I would just ignore it on the basis of your calling as a Christian to this field. You can go into it knowing with confidence that God isn't going to abandon you and that he will supply the means to get there and he will bring you into the kind of ministry that he wants you to have as a result of this training.
Kevin Harris: This question says,
Dear Dr. Craig, I was wondering what books you are reading; more broadly, if you could take a moment and pontificate a bit on your reading habits. For example, not only what you are currently reading, but what you have just finished and what you are about to read. Obviously, you read for research but do you ever read for pleasure?
Dr. Craig: I wish I could read for pleasure more, but I rarely do I have to say. So most of what I read is directly related to my research. Now most recently, the last couple of weeks, I have been doing an exegesis of John 1:3 which says that all things came into being through him – through the Logos, the Word – and without him nothing came into being. So I have been pouring through commentaries and articles as well as just getting into the Greek background of these terms in order to understand this text and its metaphysical implications.
One of the important resources for understanding the prologue to John's Gospel is the background in the school of philosophy known as Middle Platonism. This was a kind of Platonism that evolved in the first century before Christ and wasn't exactly Plato's own view but it was a developed form of Platonism that came to very poignant expression in the work of Philo, a Jewish philosopher from Alexandria in Egypt who lived during the New Testament error. Philo has this very elaborate doctrine of God's creation of the world through his Logos which is the sort of mind of God, the realm of divine ideas. He took Plato's forms or ideas and he put them into the mind of God. Philo has this Logos doctrine that is very similar to what you have then in the prologue to John's Gospel about how in the beginning there was the Logos, and the Logos was with God, and was God, and all things came into being through him. It is really very, very close to Philo.
So that is what I have been reading lately. I've really enjoyed getting into biblical exegesis again [inaudible] background in Middle Platonic philosophy.
Kevin Harris: By the way, is it OK to take a Greek thought, a Greek philosophy, a Greek term, and view it with Christian meaning to how it would apply to the Christian worldview?
Dr. Craig: I think that is right, and that is what Philo did. Philo was an exegete of the Hebrew Scriptures, of the Old Testament. He actually used the Septuagint which is in Greek. But he would use Greek categories from Greek philosophy to express his very Jewish ideas like the Logos. This pattern of using Greek philosophical categories to enunciate theological ideas was also followed by the Christian church fathers. That is where we get the doctrines of the Trinity and the two natures of Christ. These are paramount examples of taking Greek philosophical categories (like substance and essence and properties) and using them to articulate scriptural theological ideas. 
Kevin Harris: He asks one more question, “How do you decide what to read? What author? What book would be paramount for you to read?”
Dr. Craig: There is so much stuff out there, Kevin, that one has no choice but to read selectively. Therefore, I have to be very, very careful in what I read so as to be a good steward of my time. So what I tend to do is focus on a narrow research project and then read thoroughly in that area. Typically, one can be guided in one's reading in that area by the footnotes that are cited in other articles. The best work will typically be cited over and over again by other thinkers. That will help you to know what the essential literature is on that topic. Then there are certain experts in the field that you would want to read whom you can trust to be giving you really good, cutting edge material in the area that you are working on. So that way you can bring your work right up to the cutting edge of current scholarship.
Kevin Harris: It says,
Dr. Craig, in preparation for your debates, I know that you study your opponents works and belief systems. Do you have someone play devil's advocate before you go into the debate? Also, how do you prepare spiritually?
Dr. Craig: I don't have anybody that plays devil's advocate. My friend Michael Licona does that. He has a friend named Amy who is a very good debater and she will often assume the role of, say, Bart Ehrman or Shabir Ally or someone like that and then will argue with Mike over the telephone in a kind of mock debate to prepare for the other side. I don't do that. Instead, what I do is simply watch the DVDs or recordings or read the books and articles of my prospective opponent, and then anticipate how he would respond to my arguments and then prepare responses to what I perceive to be his major points of view. I find that that is adequate for preparation as opposed to having a live debate with a mock devil's advocate.
Kevin Harris: By the way, the term devil's advocate brings up a slightly unrelated topic that I do want you to talk about because you've talked about a teacher at a Christian college who actually was playing devil's advocate with his students, and also he was challenging their faith.
Dr. Craig: Right.
Kevin Harris: You were very opposed to that.
Dr. Craig: That's right, Kevin. When I was a student at Wheaton, I had gone to Wheaton as only a young Christian – two years old in the Lord. And it really troubled me deeply to see some of my classmates at Wheaton lose their faith and to all appearances commit apostasy. And I thought this is horrible that they would come to a Christian college and walk away from Christ. I determined at that time that I would do everything in my power – if I ever taught and had students – to help them to be strengthened in their faith rather than to walk away from it and apostatize.
So when my colleague at Westmount College, when I was teaching there, got into trouble with the administration and the students because the students were complaining that he was teaching heresy or non-Christian views in the class, and he responded that “I was just playing the devil's advocate to challenge the student's faith” the literal sense of that term just hit me in the face. Playing the devil's advocate. And I thought this was something I would never want to be in the classroom – an advocate for Satan. I want to be a advocate for Christ. I thought there is something wrong with challenging their faith. I don't want to challenge their faith; I want to challenge their thinking. But I want to build up their faith.
So my approach is to present the arguments against Christianity but not as though I myself believe them. I don't play devil's advocate. I say “Here are the arguments that David Hume gives. Here's the arguments from Graham Oppy. Here are the arguments from J. Howard Sobel or Bart Ehrman or John Dominic Crossan. Here is his argument.” I try to expound them in a sympathetic way so as to put a good face on them and then I say, “Here is my critique of the argument. Here is why I think the argument fails.” I think that that is the proper methodology for a Christian teacher.  Not to falsely assume the guise of actually believing in these arguments that you don't really believe in and posturing as though you did – playing devil's advocate – and then not giving any answers just to make people question their faith. What a pointless exercise that seems to me to be.
On the contrary, what I want to do, as the questioner earlier in this podcast said, I am going to be judged for how I teach by the Lord with greater strictness. So what I want to try to do is to responsibly share Christian truth, share what are the challenges to it, and then explain how I think these challenges can be met.
Kevin Harris: Finally today, the second part of his question, how do you prepare spiritually when you go into a big speaking engagement or debate?
Dr. Craig: Of course, we pray about the debate. Both Jan and I pray for the debate and we ask our friends and defenders to pray for the debate. I think that is sort of a secret weapon. I think my wife's prayers for these debates . . .
Kevin Harris: That's not fair! [laughter]
Dr. Craig: I know, it's not. My opponents have no idea what's coming at them because they don't know I have a praying wife. [laughter] So I think that really helps; it makes a difference. I try to watch my walk, too, to keep myself from sin and keep my life pure because I don't want to go into a debate situation walking in the power of the flesh rather than the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
Kevin Harris: That would seem to indicate that the only time you do your spiritual disciplines is right before a debate. What you do is everyday you try to exercise those things and our walk with the Lord and the debate is just part of that. Throw some extra prayer at that. So, good job.
Dr. Craig: Thank you.