Religious Pluralism (part 5)August 17, 2008 Time: 00:49:38
Jan and I just got back from an eleven day trip to China and are still sleeping off the twelve hour time difference between there and here. We had hoped to have a wonderful slide show for you this morning but our technology doesn’t match the church technology so we can’t show it this morning. Hopefully, maybe by next week we will have the necessary connections to be able to show you some of these pictures of where we were and some of the things we saw. I would like to just tell you as I had planned to do in any case a little bit about the trip because we are so appreciative of those of you who did remember us in prayer while we were gone.
The trip took us to two cities in China. The first was Shanghai on the east coast. Jan and I were there as part of a group from the Society of Christian Philosophers here in the United States which was participating in a Sino-American philosophy conference hosted by Fudan University in Shanghai. It was part of the 100th anniversary celebrations at Fudan University. The topic of the conference was “Religion and Morality in Higher Education.” This is a very hot topic in China because as China is emerging from the dark ages of Marxist ideology there it is desperately trying to find some kind of a common civic morality upon which to build a modern China. Marxism has failed and virtually everybody knows it – probably even party members. As a result I am told the system in China is just riddled with corruption from top to bottom. People skimming at every level. So they are looking for some sort of a foundation upon which to build a civic morality.
It was really interesting to hear some of the Chinese philosophers and professors who participated in this conference saying that it was no use trying to turn back the clock and resuscitate traditional Confucian morality as a basis for China. One gentleman said Confucianism as a religion is dead in China and there is no use in trying to resurrect it. Instead they were looking to Christianity to provide the foundation for a civic morality in China. One philosopher named Wong Zhou Chow who is from Shin Jung University in Beijing gave a paper in which he basically said Confucianism is dead whereas Christianity is vivid and alive and growing in China and increasingly attractive to millions of Chinese people. He also said that Christianity can no longer be called a foreign religion in China. He says that it is an indigenous Chinese religion and is a foreign religion only in the sense of its origin (that is to say it came from the Middle East).
I was the assigned respondent to Professor Wong’s paper, and so in the response that I gave I simply tried to reinforce the points that he had made. I pointed out that if he is right about this it puts Christianity on the same plane as Buddhism because Buddhism is also an import to China from India and yet is a quintessential Chinese religion. Christianity, if Professor Wong is right, is exactly on that same plane. It is now an indigenous Chinese religion and is foreign only in the sense of its origin. I also reflected on the fact that is very sobering, I think, that whereas Christianity has been around in the Americas for about 500 years, it has existed in China for three times as long – 1,500 years Christianity has been present in China. So the Chinese should not feel at all like they are embracing some kind of foreign ideology in putting their faith in Christ and in trying to find in Christianity a sound foundation for modern China as they move into the future. That was very exciting to see these Chinese philosophers themselves saying these things rather than us as Christians having to say them.
The presentation that I myself gave at the conference was on the indispensability of God as a foundation for morality in which I argued that apart from God (that is to say if atheism is true) then there is no foundation for objective moral values, duties, or accountability. This prompted a very good discussion with the Chinese. One person in the conference who was assigned to be my commentator asked, Why can’t we adopt some traditional non-theistic foundation for morality from Chinese religions like the Dao in Confucianism? What I pointed out was that the Dao in Confucianism is either, I think, a kind of imperfect apprehension of the moral nature of God and thus not at all really different from what I was saying (it is an apprehension through the kind of inner moral instinct of what we as Christian would say just is God’s moral nature) or if you insist on being atheistic then it simply is an abstract moral order or realm and I had already argued in my paper that merely abstractions cannot provide a sound basis for moral values, duties, and accountability. So really things like the Dao don’t do it unless you think of it as simply a vague apprehension of what we now can more fully and clearly see is, in fact, the moral nature of God himself.
One of the interesting things about this conference compared to similar conferences in past years were all of the graduate students that were at this conference. The Society of Christian Philosophers had realized that the future of China lies more with the graduate students than with the current faculty. So at this conference they sponsored graduate students from universities all across China to come and participate in the conference with a view toward trying to win and influence these young graduate students in philosophy and religious studies. Most of these graduate students as we spoke to them I think could be characterized as lost souls. Just young people who are seeking, who are looking for the truth, looking for meaning and value in life, and just haven’t found it yet. We had some really wonderful talks with these students. Jan in particular just really hit it off with these young Chinese girls and had wonderful opportunities having one-on-one time with them. We brought some Bibles with us that we were able to give to them. They were so touched with that and so appreciative.
There were two young men in particular from Shen Wei University that were very memorable to me. On the first night of the conference they had a time devoted to student presentations where the students could give a brief synopsis of what they were working on. One of these two young men was working on the German philosopher Gottlob Frege. I’ve been recently reading Frege myself in my own study. That was an immediate point of contact with this student that we were able to hit it off and discuss things. The second student gave a presentation that just amazed me. He got up and began to talk using the whiteboard about how there cannot be an infinite regress of past events, that this is absurd to think you can have an infinite past, that you must come to a first beginning of the universe. He then quoted Stephen Hawking to the effect that time and the universe had to have a beginning. I thought this is incredible. It was like listening to myself! I thought, I wonder if he’s been reading any of my work? Afterward, I gave to these two fellows a boxed set of the booklets in Chinese which had been translated last year when Jan and I were in Hong Kong as some of you may recall. One of these booklets in Chinese is on the ultimate question of origins in which I lay out the cosmological argument that we’ve talked about in class and the scientific evidence for the beginning of the universe. The next day these two young boys came to us and the one fellow said, I read your booklet last night. When I read it I just couldn’t believe it. These are the same conclusions that I’ve been coming to independently. I just couldn’t believe that there was some other philosopher that was saying these very same things. When I read this booklet I was just ecstatic. In fact, he said he cried when he read this. So we gave him a Bible and encouraged him to read it and to find the full meaning and truth to life in Christ who enables us to know the God that is revealed in the universe. It was those kind of memorable conversations with these graduate students that made it so meaningful.
Jan and I brought a lot of books along with us which we would hand out to key people in the conference as we sensed that they were open or seeking, including some of the professors. We also placed some of my books in the Fudan University library, like J. P. Moreland and my book Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview so that these would be available to graduate students at Fudan University in their religious studies department.
The last night of the conference we had a time that was just the Americans with the students alone. So no Chinese faculty were present. When the faculty are not present, the students really let down their guard and began to open up. We had a panel at the close of the evening in which they could ask anybody on the panel any question they wanted to. The last question that one of the students put to me publicly was “How do you become a Christian?” Now, I know that in this class, David has said over and over again, each one of us needs to be able to give a kind of three-minute testimony of how we came to Christ. I just have to tell you, it is true. It is so true that this is the most powerful witnessing tool that you can have. I’ve been in Christian ministry for thirty years and it is still my simple testimony when I share it that seems to have the most impact. I shared with them about how as a young teenager I came to Christ, I was seeking for meaning and purpose in life and could find none until a girl in my German class shared with me the good news of God’s love. I told about how that had changed my life and now how I was excited to be a Christian philosopher and to be able to come to China and share this good news with them. Immediately at the end the students just all broke out into applause because they were just so thrilled to hear the story. I think they were rather shocked, really, at someone’s being so open and vulnerable to talk about personal, spiritual beliefs and experiences. This is something they are not used to in China. That was the most overtly evangelistic moment of the conference. It was just a tremendous privilege to be there and to be able to share that with these students.
Jan and I then flew from Shanghai after the conference west into central China to a city called Chung Do which is in Sichuan province. There I was to speak at Sichuan University as a guest of the religious studies department there. They were in the midst of holding a conference on the history of Christianity and China. It fit right into the context of that conference. The first night I spoke on five reasons God exists and three reasons it makes a difference. There was just tremendous interest in the students. It was a standing room only crowd; they were standing around the back. Many students were taking notes and just sitting on the edge of their seats. Afterward just a great time of Q&A with these students. We found out later that there were Christian students in the audience who would notice who asked questions and who seemed open. Then they would go privately and follow them up. I learned later, for example, that one of the students that I had been talking to afterward was led to Christ later that evening by a Christian student who took him aside and shared with him more fully about receiving Christ. So that was really exciting.
The next day I spent about 90 minutes with the religious studies department faculty at the university talking about my work and what I am involved in as a Christian philosopher. That evening we had a second public lecture for anyone at the university to attend. This time I gave my paper from the Fudan University conference on why we need God as a foundation for morality. But in order to allow more time for questions I gave a very short version of the talk. That permitted us to have over an hour for Q&A with these students. A really extraordinary time of interaction followed as these students, just one after another, began to pepper me with questions. When Chinese students ask questions they don’t just come at it from a secularist perspective that they got from Marxism, they also come at it from perhaps a Confucian perspective, or a Daoist perspective, or a Buddhist perspective. You really got to be on your toes because these are not the kind of questions you get on an American university campus if you can imagine.
But I boned up a little bit on my Chinese philosophy before I went. I read Stuart Hackett’s book again, Oriental Philosophy, which is a very nice guide to eastern thought. It helped me a great deal to be able to interact with the students and show why I thought the fullness of God’s truth was revealed in Jesus Christ and we could come to know him through Christ.
Near the end of the Q&A time there was a very touching moment when one student got up in the back and just said very sincerely My desire is to see the face of God. That’s what I want. I shared with him that that was my desire as well, and that we could see God’s face through Jesus Christ. It was just such a beautiful moment to see this seeking student in China so far removed from the Gospel and all that we have here just seeking out for God.
It was a wonderful time. Also an exhausting time. As we will show you on the slides next week, China is just a bundle of contradictions. On the one hand it is a shopper’s paradise with bargains on pearls and silk and jade and tea and ceramics and all sorts of wonderful things. On the other hand, the air is so polluted there it just burns your eyes sometimes so that you can hardly see. The water you can’t drink because it is contaminated. It is dirty; grease and grime cover most things. It is such a contradiction as China emerges into a modern state. It gravely increased my admiration for missionaries, some of whom we met on this trip, who have committed their lives to living in China and breathing that air and working with that contaminated water and living under those conditions. It is easy to go knowing that you are going to come back to a clean, comfortable bed and the convenience of Western society, but my hat goes off to those missionaries that have gone there to stay out of their love for the Chinese people.
Thanks for your prayers. It was, I think, a very meaningful and fruitful time sharing the Gospel.
Dr. Craig: Yes, there was. It wasn’t oppressive the way it used to be when we visited the Soviet Union where you just felt that heavy presence there. You don’t sense that heavy communist hand in China – at least we didn’t. But we would notice in all the rooms that we were holding the meetings that there were cameras in the ceilings trained on us. We were told by the religious studies professors, “Of course everything is monitored. There is probably somebody watching you right now watching this conference.” There was even one person who was attending the conference whom others suspected was an informant, because she just didn’t fit in. The way she dressed and acted made them suspect that she probably was a party member and was there to just kind of keep tabs. But people were very careful not to criticize the government in anyway apart from, as I say, a very sharp critique of Marxism as an ideology and a sharp rejection of traditional Confucian beliefs in favor of saying We need to go to Christianity. But I don’t think there was anything that the state would probably be alarmed with that was said apart from the fact that there is tremendous persecution of Christians in China today and some of these professors were being very pro-Christian. That took courage. But yes, the short answer is yes.
Dr. Craig: All of these university students that we were with are learning English. Some of them speak very broken English. It is a labor to have a conversation with them because you are not always sure they are getting what you are saying. The conference itself – all the papers were translated into Chinese and English so that people could follow along. There was an interpreter who would translate the Q&A time. When I spoke publicly at Sichuan University, all of that was through an interpreter of course. But you could tell from when the students would laugh after I would say something that many of them did understand the English, and then more would laugh after it was translated into Chinese. So yeah, they are learning English and they can make their way with a great deal of effort and labor in a conversation.
Dr. Craig: Very little. This was one of the things that was kind of shocking to us. At Sichuan University, they took us into their religious studies department where they are studying things like the history of Christianity in China and they showed us their library. Honestly, it was kind of like a large closet. There was some books in there and that was it. That was all they had. One sensed very clearly that they don’t have a lot of resources. One of the goals of The Society of Christian Philosophers is to place books in these libraries. The Society has arranged a donor who wants to give books to China to give ten thousand books in theology and so forth to each of these universities like Fudan University, Peking University, Sichuan University, and so forth. They are working to try to stock these departmental libraries with resources on Christian theology and philosophy. We were all encouraged to bring our own books and donate them to the library so they would be available.
Dr. Craig: It is very confusing, but these religious studies departments are not overtly Christian themselves. Rather, they are studying Christianity as a religious phenomenon – the history of Christianity in China for example or the history of Christian missions in China. Much as they might also study Buddhism in China or Daoism in China. It is theoretically a neutral history of religions or sociology of religions approach.
Dr. Craig: That is fine. They want these Western faculty to come. It is an open door for academics. It is a different story for missionaries. But this is the great thing about having the academic credentials. You get to come as an invited, respected dignitary welcomed by the state and the university. So you can say anything freely. They said the only thing we don’t want you to do is don’t have people raise their hands to make a commitment because that would obviously single them out! I said, “Of course not, I understand that.” But they said other than that they said you can say anything you want.
While we were gone, it seemed like a lot of things were transpiring here in the States. The biggest of course is the withdrawal of Harriet Myers’ nomination to the Supreme Court. This is really quite an incredible move. Again, I think it means we need to go back to our knees in prayer for President Bush that he won’t say, “Well, they wouldn’t give me my nominee this time, now I am going to give them a moderate.” Let’s pray that he will nominate someone who will be a good credentialed conservative and who will be pro-life. My main distress about her withdrawal is that I hope this wasn’t in some cases motivated by a kind of anti-evangelical bias. I heard one person say that he was relieved because we don’t need a religious fanatic on the Supreme Court. That, I think, is just religious prejudice. On that definition, we have a religious fanatic who is the President of the United States already. I think it is just wrong to call people who have a sincere faith in Christ religious fanatics. So we need to be praying for President Bush that he would appoint a strict constructionist.
Dr. Craig: The conservatives are certainly itching for a fight. They say we worked for this for thirty years. Now this is our chance to make a difference.
Dr. Craig: That is true. That is important. I wondered, too, in the same connection – did anyone see Tom Brokaw’s program, In God They Trust? A very interesting program on evangelicals in American and in particular out in Colorado Springs. I must say, it was a very nice program. The people interviewed – ordinary Christian lay people – were very articulate and very good spokesmen for the Christian faith. It was very encouraging, I thought. But Brokaw himself – he restrained himself until the final line of the show. The people that he had interviewed said that the biggest misimpression about evangelicals is that they want to establish some kind of theocracy in America where they will take over and there will be a theocratic government. They said that is just nonsense. All we want is a democratic, pluralistic society where everybody has a voice and we can all give our arguments and then we can vote. Brokaw at the very last line of the program says, The evangelicals are growing in influence in the United States, and if they take the Presidency, the Senate, and the House of Representative, they won’t need a theocracy. And that was the end of the show. [laughter] These folks are nervous. It is very obvious they are nervous. It is testimony, I think, to the growing influence of evangelicals in American culture and quite encouraging.
I just want to draw your attention to a couple of things. First of all, remember November 17-19 is the conference in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania – Reason for the Hope Within. I’d invite anybody who can to join us for that conference. Secondly, I have good news – the conference on Debating Intelligent Design has been approved by JFBC to be held here February 3-4. Mark that on your calendars. The New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary will be holding their annual Greer-Herd Lecture here at JFBC featuring Bill Dembski and Michael Ruse, Christian and agnostic, debating the question of intelligent design with responses by people like J. P. Moreland, Frank Beckwith, and others. This will be an important conference. This is an academic conference, but I think it will be one of tremendous interest to anybody who cares about the issue of intelligent design.
Finally, I wanted to just say a word about the holiday that we are celebrating now; namely, Halloween. Halloween’s origins actually come from All Saints Day which is on November 1. Halloween was All Hallows Eve – it was the eve of All Saints Day when one would remember the departed saints, the departed Christians. I was struck by the line in the hymn that we sang this morning. I wonder if you noticed it where in the hymn Pressing On Toward Higher Ground, the line says, “For faith has caught the joyful sound; the song of saints on higher ground.” What does that refer to? What is that talking about? Traditionally, theologians have distinguished two parts of the church. We tend to think of the church as our local body here at JFBC. Or if we think more largely, we think of the universal body of Christ all across the United States or even throughout the world. We are all members of the body of Christ – the church. But did you realize that that is only part of the church? The church, according to traditional Christian theology – the Ecclesia – is composed of the Ecclesia Triumphans and the Ecclesia Militans. That is to say, the Triumphant Church – the Church Triumphant – and the Militant Church. We are members of the Militant Church as we are still here engaged in this earthly struggle of the Kingdom of God and advancing the Gospel. But there is another segment of the church that exists that has already gone on to glory, namely, the Triumphant Church – our brothers and sisters who are already with Christ. That is what the hymn refers to when it says the song of saints on higher ground. There are already brothers and sisters – parts of the body of Christ – that have gone on to glory. We remember them on All Saints Day, as we think about those who have fought the good fight and are now with the Lord.
One of my favorite hymns, one that I don’t think we have ever sung during our years here at JFBC unfortunately, is a hymn by William How called For All the Saints which talks about the Church Triumphans. I just want to read this hymn to you for your encouragement.
For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
O may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave, again, and arms are strong.
But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
What a great hymn about the Triumphant Church and the encouragement that this is to us as we struggle as his Church Militant to win the battle here below.
We’ve been talking the last few weeks about the question of the exclusivity of salvation through Christ. You will remember I said that I thought the problem was a fundamental perceived contradiction that the religious pluralist has with Christian particularism. Namely, he thinks that there is some sort of a logical contradiction between the statements:
God is all-loving and God is all-powerful.
Some people never hear the Gospel and are lost.
We saw that this isn’t overtly contradictory and therefore the pluralist must be assuming some hidden assumptions in order to bring out the contradiction. Those assumptions seem to be, first, if God is all-powerful he can create any world that he wants to. Secondly, if God is all-loving then he would prefer a world in which everybody is freely saved rather than a world in which some are freely lost. I then argued that those propositions are not necessarily true. In fact, it is not necessarily true that in virtue of his being omnipotent that God could create a world in which everyone freely believes in Christ and is saved. Secondly, even if there were worlds like that, they might have other overriding deficiencies that make them less preferable than a world in which many people come to freely know Christ and his salvation even though some freely reject God’s grace and every effort to save them and so separate themselves from God irrevocably.
But I also tried to argue that not only has the pluralist failed to show a contradiction between those propositions, we can actually prove that those propositions are consistent with each other simply by adding a third proposition that is consistent with God’s being all-powerful and all-loving and entails that some people do not hear the Gospel and are lost. I suggested a possible proposition for that; namely, God has created a world that has an optimal balance between saved and lost, and those who never hear the Gospel and are lost would not have believed the Gospel and been saved even if they had heard it. So long as that is even possibly true it shows that there is no contradiction between God’s being all-powerful and all-loving and some people never hearing the Gospel and being lost.
Let me head off a possible misunderstanding of this solution. Somebody might say at this point, “Then why should we engage in missionary work at all?” If all of the people who have never heard the Gospel wouldn’t have believed it even if they had heard it then why go share the Gospel with them? They wouldn’t believe in it. What that objection misunderstands is that I’m only talking about people who never hear the Gospel during their lifetimes, so they never have a chance to hear it. But what I am suggesting is that as the Gospel spreads out from first century Palestine and begins to geographically fill the world, God places in its path people who he knew would respond to it if they heard it. Therefore he ensures that anybody who would not respond to the Gospel if they heard it – the people who never get to hear it – are that type of person. The persons who never are reached with the Gospel during their lifetime are only people who are such that if they had heard it they wouldn’t have believed in it. But when the Gospel reaches a people group then God will place in that people group people who he knew would respond to it if they heard it. So far from being a negative incentive to missionary work, what I’ve suggested is a positive tremendous incentive to missionary work. Because as we go out sharing the Gospel God places in our path people who he knew would respond to the message of the Gospel if we were to share it with them. So there are literally divine appointments out there waiting for you because God knowing that you would share the Gospel with that person has created a person and placed him in your path so that when you arrive and share the Gospel he is ready and waiting to receive it. But in his love and mercy God ensures that those who never hear the Gospel are only people who wouldn’t have believed in it anyway even if they had heard it.
On this basis, I think we are prepared to address these three difficult questions that I gave that prompted this discussion. Let me take them in reverse order.
The third question you will remember was: why didn’t God create a world in which everybody would freely receive Christ and be saved? The answer is it may not be feasible for God to create such a world. If such a world were feasible then God would have created it, all things being equal. But given God’s will to create free creatures, he cannot guarantee that in any world of free creatures all of the people would come to freely receive the Gospel and be saved. It may well be the case that given freedom of the will that in all worlds feasible for God in which there are free persons some of them would freely reject him and be lost.
The second question was: why did God create the world if he knew that so many people would not receive Christ and be lost? Answer: God wanted to share his love and grace with created people. He knew that this meant that many people would freely reject his love and grace and would separate themselves from him forever. But he also knew that millions and millions of other people would freely receive his grace and be saved. The happiness and the blessedness of those who would freely receive Christ and be saved should not be prevented because of people who would freely spurn God and reject has grace in their life. In other words, the damned ought not to be given a sort of veto power over which worlds God is free to create. But God in his mercy has so providentially ordered the world that he has achieved an optimal balance between saved and lost. He has created no more of the lost than was necessary to achieve the optimal balance of the saved. Those who are lost are only persons who freely reject God’s every effort to save them and damn themselves despite God’s will and efforts to the contrary.
Finally, the first question was: why didn’t God bring the Gospel to people who he knew would accept it even though they reject the light that they do have? Why didn’t God bring the Gospel to people who reject the light of general revelation but who would have accepted the Gospel if they had heard it? Answer: there are no such people! Rather, God in his providence has so arranged the world that anyone who would respond to the Gospel if he heard it is born at a time and place in history where he does hear it. Those who do not respond to God’s general revelation in nature and conscience in a saving way wouldn’t have responded to the Gospel either if they had heard it. Thus no one is lost because of historical or geographical accidents. Rather every person – anyone – who wants or even would want to be saved will be saved.
As I say, these constitute merely possible answers to these questions. But I think that they are also plausible answers. I think they are biblical answers as well. Listen to what Paul says in his sermon on Mars Hill in Act 17:24-27. Paul says,
The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for in him we live and move and have our being.
This is exactly the same kind of solution that I reached independently through philosophical reflection on the problem. A provident God who has placed people at times and places in history with a view toward maximizing the salvation of men.
In conclusion, it seems to me that the presence of other persons in other world religions does not undermine the Christian Gospel of salvation through Christ alone. On the contrary, as I said, I think what I’ve said helps to put a proper positive perspective on Christian missions. Namely, it is our privilege to carry the Gospel to every creature in the world knowing that God has so providentially ordered the world that as we go out sharing the Gospel he places in our path persons who he knew would freely respond to it and be saved if we were to share it with them. Thus, as Christians our compassion toward those in other religions is expressed not by pretending that they are not lost and dying without Christ, but rather by our supporting and making ever effort ourselves to share with them the good news of the Gospel of Christ.
Dr. Craig:I certainly want to disassociate myself from any impression that I might give that God is thinking of souls in terms of commodities. Rather, I’ve tried to emphasize that God loves every individual that he creates, so he gives to every individual person sufficient grace to be saved. As I said, I think the teaching of Scripture is that those who never get to hear the Gospel are given general revelation and that if they would respond to it in an appropriate way God would apply to them the benefits of Christ’s atoning death.
But God is so loving and so caring about each individual person that he won’t allow a person to be lost because of the accidents of geography and history. He will say, I am going to relocate that person so that he gets to hear the Gospel and gets to be saved. Don’t be distracted by my language of optimal balance into thinking that God is thinking of just commodities. He is thinking of individuals. But I just think that in line with what Scripture says God wants as many to be saved as possible. Remember it says in 2 Timothy 2:4 I believe it is that God desires all persons to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. To my mind, God’s desire is to see as many saved as possible and as few lost as possible. But we shouldn’t think of him as therefore being unconcerned about people on the individual level.
Dr. Craig:It could be. I don’t know. But for example we all know cases where say Joe, Jr. came to Christ only because Joe, Sr. was a terrible father who did not come to Christ, was an alcoholic, and an abuser, and so forth. It may well be the case that certain persons come to Christ because others are lost. But that will just be the sort of general mix of things. What I am suggesting is there may be no feasible world for God in which everybody freely makes a decision to come to Christ and be saved.
Dr. Craig:I think that probably what you are sensing is that this view does have a very strong view of divine sovereignty. I want to affirm that with the Reformed theologian. But this view also preserves genuine human free will. It preserves libertarian free will, because the circumstances in which God places people are freedom-permitting circumstances. I would refer you back to our discussion that we had some months ago on divine omniscience. These are freedom-permitting circumstances, not coercive circumstances. This does affirm a strong view of sovereignty but not at the expense of libertarian freedom.
Dr. Craig:What I would prefer to say is that God would simply relocate those people and have them be born later – say, place them in the 20th century rather than in the 1st century. Your view that you suggest is another view. It is different from mine, but it is a view that deserves respect and to be talked about. His view was that God would judge a person based upon what a person would have done had he heard the Gospel. My difficulty with that is that it seems to me that God can only judge a person based upon what he does do rather than what he would have done under other circumstances. Under certain circumstances I would have been a murderer or a Nazi war criminal or some other heinous thing. But God judges me on the basis of what I have done. It seems to me that that is a difficulty with the view that you are laying out where God would judge a person not on the basis by what he has done but what he would have done. My view doesn’t involve that. But nevertheless this is another view that deserves to be in the mix.
Next week is a Q&A time. Keep your question. Write it down.
 The actual verse is 1 Timothy 2:4
 Total Running Time: 49:38 (Copyright © 2008 William Lane Craig)