05 / 06
birds birds birds

Update on Writing Systematic Philosophical Theology

July 12, 2021


Dr. Craig relates some new insights on the topics he's writing about in his Systematic Philosophical Theology project.

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, it is kind of like a sporting event. There are people all over the nation and all over the world who are keeping up with your writing of your systematic philosophical theology. They want to know how it is progressing – what the score is. What page you are on. Where you are in the process. I want to begin like this. Lay people – we hear of scholars who write their systematic theology. What does this mean when you write it all out?

DR. CRAIG: Well, it sounds terribly self-important – doesn't it? – and presumptuous to say my systematic philosophical theology, but all that means is that each individual scholar has particular theological persuasions that are probably shared by nobody else given the whole body of systematic theology and so it gives a chance to the individual theologian to lay out his perspectives on these great questions like the nature of faith, the existence and attributes of God, the incarnation and person of Christ, salvation, sin, and other subjects. I'm attempting in this systematic philosophical theology to summarize my life's work on these various topics in one comprehensive treatment.

KEVIN HARRIS: You've added “philosophical” to it, right? You've made that distinction I assume because you're a philosopher.

DR. CRAIG: Yes, and also because I believe that philosophical analysis is indispensable to doing good systematic theology. When you read the great theologians of the past like St. Anselm and Thomas Aquinas, these men were steeped in the philosophical concepts of their day and they brought them to bear in doing theology. I think it's a mistake to try to do good systematic theology without being equipped in philosophical analysis and logical argumentation. It will make one’s systematic theology more complete, more penetrating, more accurate, and more coherent if one has this philosophical angle or component in doing theology. So I want to incorporate biblical theology. Each chapter will always begin with an exegetical study of that topic. Then I'll look at historical figures in the past who have dealt with this topic. I want to do historical theology. But then finally I'll reflect on the issue philosophically myself and try to come to some philosophically plausible and biblically consistent view of the topic that's under discussion. That makes this rather unusual on the contemporary scene. On the contemporary scene there are almost no systematic philosophical theologies. It's such an enormous task that few people have aspired to undertake such a thing.

KEVIN HARRIS: So where are you in the process right now?

DR. CRAIG: I'm right at the beginning of the process. I wrote a prolegomenon to the theology which is basically an introduction in which I lay out what I conceive systematic philosophical theology to be and how it differs from biblical theology, historical theology, dogmatics, fundamental theology, apologetics, and especially philosophy of religion. Then in the first proper chapter of the book I treat the doctrine of Scripture. This involves an articulation of the authority of Scripture, why we take Scripture to be our fundamental guide in doing systematic theology, and a theory of the inspiration of Scripture. And then an argument as to why we should regard Scripture as being divinely inspired and therefore authoritative. And that lays the foundation for everything that will follow because it will all be based upon the foundation of God's inspired Word. And then in the next chapter I turn to the subject of faith. Here I examine two questions: the nature of faith (what is it to have saving faith, in particular?), and then secondly, how is faith justified (what rational justification can be given for Christian faith?). Then in the third chapter I turn to the doctrine of God which lies at the very heart of any systematic theology. I am currently in the process of exploring the attributes of God. I talk about the controls on one's doctrine of God, namely Scripture and perfect being theology – the latter refers to St. Anselm's concept of God as a perfect being or the greatest conceivable being. The idea there is that one will interpret the raw data of Scripture in such a way as to make God the maximally great being. So not just a powerful being, not even the most powerful being, but rather an omnipotent being. Not just a good being, but a being who is morally perfect. Not just a very intelligent being, but an omniscient being. I have dealt so far with God's necessary existence and then God's aseity (which refers to his self-existence) and just today this very afternoon I wrapped up the rough draft of my chapter on divine simplicity. So that's where I am in the process.


DR. CRAIG: What I found is that as I plunged into these topics there's just an enormous amount of literature on these subjects to be read. For example, divine simplicity is a topic that I've written on and had some familiarity with but there have been so many books and so many professional articles published on this that it's almost overwhelming. You feel like you have to do a doctoral dissertation on this in order to do an adequate job. And in addition to the contemporary literature, there's all of the literature historically dealing with divine simplicity that needs to be interacted with, not only in the Christian realm but also in the  Muslim and Jewish realms of theology which deeply impacted medieval Christian theologians. So I've gotten back into these Muslim medieval theologians like al-Ghazali and Ibn Sina once again who are my old friends from the kalam cosmological argument days. It really has been yeoman's work. It's been rough going trying to master all this. The material is so new that the material I'm currently reading and interacting with and writing on in this chapter on simplicity hasn't even been published yet. It's all of these articles that are forthcoming in professional journals that haven't even appeared, and in order to be on the cutting edge of the discussion I have to be reading and interacting with this forthcoming material.

KEVIN HARRIS: I'm sure that it would be a lot easier if you just have everything that you've learned and all your education, what you know, and then write it all out. But I'm sure that in the process of this, maybe you've run into some things and gained some new insight. Anything off the top of your head?

DR. CRAIG: Yes, it's very true. I have found over and over again in my scholarly career that I think that I understand something until I come to the point of having to write it up in a book or an article and explain it. That task of writing it up just forces you to have a much more accurate and more profound understanding of the subject you're working on. That has certainly been the case in each of these areas that I've looked at. With respect to new insights, I think that the chapter on faith was really eye-opening for me. I have just always taken it for granted that if you have faith in someone or something then you believe in that thing. But what I have found on the contemporary scene among a good number of Christian philosophers is that they deny that faith implies belief. They think that in order to have faith in Christ – even saving faith – you don't have to believe that God exists even! You don't have to believe that he raised Jesus from the dead or that Christ died for your sins. Now, that just seems extraordinary, I think, to the average Christian layman to think that faith wouldn't imply belief. But what these philosophers say is that faith can be compatible with a weaker attitude toward these truths in question, namely an attitude, say, of acceptance or assuming them to be true rather than actually believing them. You don't really believe them but you just sort of take them on board as assumptions to guide your life by. And they claim that that's sufficient for saving faith. I subject this to a scriptural analysis, and I think I can show that in fact that that is not the biblical concept of faith, that the biblical view of saving faith is that saving faith does imply belief on the part of the person who has faith. So this is a really, really important conclusion because it strikes right at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian.

KEVIN HARRIS: Someone on Facebook said, “Man, I can't wait to read this – Dr. Craig's systematic philosophical theology.” And I typed him back and said, “You might be waiting a while.

DR. CRAIG: You know, that was my intention and I'm glad to share something new with our audience today, and that is just in the last couple of days in talking with Jan about this, I've told her I think that rather than wait until the entire thing is finished and then publishing it that I am going to publish it volume by volume. The reason for that is, as I say, I am so overwhelmed just by the topic of divine simplicity, trying to read these articles that haven't even been published yet, that if I wait another five to eight years to finish the entire multi-volume work and then have to go back and revise everything all over again it would take another five or eight years just to do such a revision. It seems to me to be much more practical to just publish the systematic philosophical theology one volume at a time, one after another consecutively. In that sense I'm very close probably to finishing up the first volume and can try to submit it to a publisher.

KEVIN HARRIS: Any late breaking news or an update on the release of the historical Adam book?

DR. CRAIG: No, only that it is in press. Everything is finalized and they are actually printing the book right now. They also sent me a copy of the front and back cover of the book. It is stunning. I think it is the most striking cover of any book that I’ve published. On the front it has this magnificent artist's rendering or portrait of Heidelberg Man and the image of his face wraps around the spine of the book onto the back of the book so that if you hold the entire thing out you can see the full image of the man. And then it has beautiful brown tones for the print on the back. It's just a beautiful design, really a stunning cover.

KEVIN HARRIS: Wonderful. Anything coming up that you want to talk about as far as maybe some podcast interview or speaking?

DR. CRAIG: This is going to be a very busy month for me in social media. I'll be on Justin Brierly's Unbelievable program later in the month, and then also I think on the 23rd I have a podcast interview with Ryan Mullins who is one of the leading philosophers today writing on divine simplicity. I’ve been in correspondence with him as I write this section of the book, and it will be very, very interesting, I think, to have a conversation with him on these sorts of questions.

KEVIN HARRIS: Very good. Dr. Craig, keep the writing up, and we’ll check back and get an update on how it’s going.[1]


[1] Total Running Time: 15:51 (Copyright © 2021 William Lane Craig)