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Topics in Defenders Class

November 23, 2014     Time: 19:19
Topics in Defenders Class


Dr. Craig discusses the hot topics covered in his recent Defenders class.

Transcript Topics in Defenders Class


Kevin Harris: More and more people are discovering Defenders, Dr. Craig, especially because it is now live-streaming and online. So many people from all over the world watch it and set their clocks by it and even hopefully are availing themselves of the opportunity to use it as a kind of a curricula for their own Sunday Schools and Bible study groups.

Dr. Craig: That is our desire. We are live-streaming it so that folks will have a Sunday School class roughly in the same hour. They can have a class where you don’t need to have a teacher. We will be the teacher for you. All you have to do is have the equipment set up with the Internet connection. You can begin your class with time of prayer and sharing or the other things you do in your Sunday School class, but then you connect to the live stream and you will have a twenty to twenty-five minute lesson on Christian doctrine or apologetics. We see this as a way of serving the church by providing good adult Sunday School education for churches. Of course, if you are in a time zone where the live stream doesn’t connect with your local class, you can watch it privately or you can avail yourself of the archive where the video of the lesson is archived at the website – – and then you can watch it anytime.

Kevin Harris: Bill, I want to talk about two of the Defenders series that are so popular. First, the Creation and Evolution series[1] because it really surveys, and is very thorough on, what the differing views are, and in particular how to view Genesis 1. This was kind of an excursus but obviously people are very interested in this.

Dr. Craig: Yes, they are. It was because of that demand, so to speak, that I added this excursus to the section on doctrine of creation which doesn’t appear in Defenders Series 1. This is an additional element in Series 2. What I wanted to do in this section was not to defend any particular interpretation of Genesis 1; indeed I don’t know what is the right interpretation of Genesis 1. I am still uncertain as to how to understand that chapter. But I wanted to help people see the diversity and the range of options that are available to Bible-believing Christians today. Far too many people think that only the literal six consecutive 24-hour day creation view is biblical. I wanted them to see that biblically faithful evangelical theologians have taken a wide range of interpretations of that passage.

Kevin Harris: One of the interpretations is from John Walton. You interacted with his work briefly on this. He is at Wheaton.

Dr. Craig: Yes, a Professor of Old Testament.

Kevin Harris: He is also a member of BioLogos. John Walton’s view, in a nutshell?

Dr. Craig: In a nutshell, he calls it “functional creation.” What he says is that Genesis 1 is not a description of the creation of these entities; that is to say, bringing the entities into being. It is a description of God’s specification of their functions.

Kevin Harris: Kind of like a house can be a structure sitting there but it is not a home if a family doesn’t live there.

Dr. Craig: Right. He uses the analogy of a restaurant. He asks, When was the restaurant founded? When did the restaurant begin to exist? Was it when the building was first built? Or rather is it when it began to function as a restaurant? He would say the restaurant began to exist when its function was specified, not simply when the building was in place.

Kevin Harris: Does he try to bridge a gap here between Young Earth and Old Earth and Theistic Evolutionists?

Dr. Craig: In a way he does because, at least as I understand him – and one always has to add that caveat – as I understand him, it sounds to me like he is saying that this period of seven days in which God specified the functions of things was literal. It literally happened over seven consecutive 24-hour days that God laid out the functions that these things were to play. But he thinks these things all existed prior to that.

Kevin Harris: So the Earth is older than 6,000 years then.[2]

Dr. Craig: Right. As I said in the lesson, he says the sun was shining, the animals were going about, all of these things were there just fine but their functions hadn’t been specified yet. So what you have in Genesis 1 is not the description of the creation of the seas, and the land, and the animals, and the vegetation. Rather it is God’s just saying, This will be for this purpose.

Kevin Harris: Bill, we have a piece of audio here from Dr. Walton that we want to listen to. It is from our friend Nick Peters who called Dr. Walton on his radio blog and ran this critique that you offered past him. The answer was brief but let’s interact a little bit and hear what Dr. Walton has to say in response to your criticism:

He tried to apply Aristotelian categories to what I was talking about. My very point is that we can’t apply Aristotelian or Enlightenment or Modern, Post-Darwinian categories when we are thinking about the ancient world. So he did the very thing that I was saying that I didn’t think we ought to do. So I have a problem with that. Secondly, he didn’t seem to understand what I meant by functions. I am not talking about scientific functions or material functions. I am talking about functioning for people – working for us. Again, you can’t have something functioning as a home if people aren’t living there. And it’s that kind of functions that I am talking about. It is not that the sun wasn’t shining or that the plants weren’t growing. It is not that I am suggesting that those things weren’t happening. It is rather that now they are going to function for people who have been moved into this home so to speak.

Dr. Craig: Apart from the fact that the use of Aristotelian categories can hardly be called an imposition of modern categories on this ancient text, what I was doing was trying to analyze Walton’s concepts – not the text. It was Dr. Walton’s concepts that I was trying my best to understand. What I was saying is that what he refers to as material creation, I think, is best understood as what Aristotle called efficient causation. This is confusing because when you talk about material creation that sounds like the creation of the material, of the physical stuff.

Kevin Harris: Matter.

Dr. Craig: Yes. And that is not what Walton, I think, really means when he talks about material creation. Yet that confusion is engendered by his terminology. So what I am trying to do is simply conceptually clarify the types of causation that are at issue here. I’m not imposing things on ancient texts but trying to understand the concepts that Walton is using in his analysis. I am suggesting that by not having a clear differentiation between efficient causation and material causation, as Aristotle did, Walton is blending these together and comes up with this thing called material creation which is, I think, very confusing and leads him to be confused.

Kevin Harris: He continues,

Dr. Walton: I felt like he totally misunderstood what I meant by functions and material and his critique, I think, demonstrated that.

Caller: It sounds like even in his teaching [inaudible] he has you as having these animals sitting around not able to do anything but lo-and-behold God gives a function and all of a sudden things start working. Is that the impression you got as well?

Dr. Walton: That is the impression I got, but that is clearly not what I am saying.

Caller: When he talked about the Aristotelian logic, what he said is you are confusing the material cause with the final cause, but the problem is that you are not talking about language at all.

Dr. Walton: Right, I am not talking about cause at all. He assumes if you are talking about creation you are talking about cause. He is bringing modern categories into an ancient conversation.

Dr. Craig: It is always so easy to respond to a criticism by saying that the person didn’t understand me. Here I am tempted to respond in the same way. I don’t think Walton understood me! Did he think that my critique was that on his view the sun wasn’t shining and that the animals were frozen like mannequins not moving about and functioning biologically before God specified the functions? I don’t think if you look at my podcasts I attributed anything so absurd as that to Walton.[3] Rather, what I understood Walton’s view to be, and what I was criticizing, is the view that in Genesis 1 you don’t actually have the creation of these entities related. Rather the sun, the dinosaurs, the vegetation, everything already existed prior to verse 1 and was going on quite well functioning biologically, if you will. But on his view what happens with Genesis 1 is God starts to specify the purposes or the functions that these things will fulfill. So I don’t think I misunderstood his view. That is the way I represented his view. I think that is his view. My argument or criticism is that it is preposterous! I was pretty unsympathetic. It seems to me that is a preposterous interpretation of Genesis 1, that this doesn’t involve the actual creation of the entities and is merely a specification of their functions with regard to people, with regard to human society. I want to interact with folks who are on the other side and with whom I disagree.

Kevin Harris: We will do a podcast and see if we can get the functions straight and the definitions of functions. Another thing that is going on right now in Defenders is the doctrine of the end times or eschatology.[4] Everyone is interested in this but, Bill, as we record here the culture has gone crazy. “Rapture fever” is what the press calls it. It is just a fascination with the rapture. At least four movies – completely secular and, in fact, some of them I wouldn’t recommend seeing at all and that I wouldn’t even watch because they are so mocking – but at least four have dealt with the rapture. Everybody is familiar with the rapture. We have the Left Behind movie that is coming out. It has got some big-name stars in it this time, as opposed to last time. And also there is a series going on on HBO called The Leftovers. It is a drama about life after a rapture-like event has taken place. This is everywhere. You survey the rapture among other end-time views in this series.

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Kevin Harris: Let me just say that we tend in evangelicalism to just kind of assume the rapture.

Dr. Craig: I think a lot of us do. In fact, Kevin, I was rather amused in looking through my notes for this section of the Defenders class I found my old notes from when I first began to teach this years ago. In it it includes a diagram with the rapture in it, in my own hand! This was my own view, that Christ would come back and rapture the church out of the world prior to the final and decisive return of Christ. It was only as I began to study this issue further for myself, rather than accept what I had just always been taught, that I was really quite astonished to see not merely that there is slim biblical evidence for this view, but that rather there is no biblical evidence for this view. The rapture is never referred to in the New Testament. There is no passage that talks about the rapture. That may surprise some of our listeners but what I would invite them to do is to look at what Paul says in 1 and 2 Thessalonians and compare it to what Jesus says in the Olivet Discourse in Mark 13. I think what you will find is that Paul is talking there about the same thing that Jesus was talking about; namely, the second coming of Christ at which time the dead would be raised, the elect would be gathered, and Christ would come to establish his Kingdom. It is not about a rescue operation to snatch the church out of the world prior to the second coming if Christ.

Kevin Harris: When you say the rapture is not found in Scripture, you are not talking about the word “rapture” because that is just a convenient [inaudible]. You are talking about the doctrine.

Dr. Craig: Sure, that is irrelevant whether the word is. I mean the doctrine or the concept is not found. In fact, there is the word that says that the saints will be taken up. That word is there and that is usually thought of as the rapture. But what I am saying is that doesn’t refer to this return of Jesus prior to his second coming to evacuate the church.[5] That is talking about what Jesus speaks of in Mark 13 – in the Olivet Discourse – when he says when the Son of Man returns visibly and decisively that he will send the angels out to the four corners of the Earth and gather the elect. They will rise from the dead and then the elect that are there will be gathered to meet Christ and welcome him when he returns.

Kevin Harris: A lot of people in the class – and you will hear – do believe the pre-tribulational rapture. They ask a lot of questions. There is a lot of interaction – intelligent interaction – in Defenders.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that is one of the strengths of this class. We’ve got Baptists, we’ve got Catholics, we’ve got all sorts of folks in the class with a diversity of opinions. They are all welcome to share their views, and we discuss these issues.

Kevin Harris: From a practical standpoint, Dr. Craig, with all this what we call rapture fever and an obsession with it in movies and culture, what is a good reaction? How do we handle that as far as sharing our faith? How can we parlay that into opportunities?

Dr. Craig: I guess if you meet a non-believer who, say, has been to one of these movies and is troubled by it, you could use that perhaps as an opportunity to talk to him about whether or not he is ready to meet Christ if Christ were to return. Is he ready to meet God? Does he have confidence that his sins are forgiven? You can certainly use the notion that Christ is coming again as a means of emphasizing the urgency of the Gospel.

Kevin Harris: Perhaps one can say that the pre-tribulational rapture is one view among a handful of views on how everything is going to happen in the end?

Dr. Craig: Yeah, it is worse than that though. I really think that, as I say, the rapture is a view which has no Scriptural support whatsoever. It is unknown virtually in the history of the Christian church until about 1827 when it was invented by John Darby. So this type of theology is often called Darbyism, which makes it sound like a cult almost. I prefer not to refer to it as Darbyism lest it sound cultic. But honestly this is a strange strain of Christianity that has become real popular in certain circles in the United States.

Kevin Harris: The Left Behind series is one of the most popular series in publication history. It is titanic. It is huge. It really is a juggernaut. It is a view that is just kind of held very uncritically. At any rate, I would offer that you don’t want the non-Christian to be bogged down in things like eschatology when you really need to get them to Jesus and who he is and that he is coming back. That is what you were trying to say.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that is the central truth – that Christ is coming again.

Kevin Harris: But, boy, is this ever going to keep the debate hot among the Christian church. This is an in-house debate.

Dr. Craig: Yes, it is.

Kevin Harris: With this movie, it might be a good time to go through Defenders and get the various surveys that are going on. Wouldn’t you like to just be raptured and yanked out of here before the tribulation?

Dr. Craig: That is what one of the ladies in the class said to me in Defenders! She says, “Well, when the rapture occurs . . .”

Kevin Harris: “. . . I’ll be telling you ‘I told you so!’”

Dr. Craig: “. . . I’d be telling you that I told you so except I’ll be sanctified and so I wouldn’t do it.” [laughter][6]