Advice to Christian ApologistsWilliam Lane Craig lectures at Calvin College
Time : 01:27:40
William Lane Craig lectures on Advice to Christian Apologists
INTRODUCTION: Good evening, I am Gaylen Byker, president of Calvin College, and it is my pleasure to be co-host of the Stob Lectures each year, so welcome to the Stob Lectures for 2004. For those of you who were not here last night, I’ll let you know that you are in for a treat. We had a wonderful evening in the first lecture from our guest and it promises to be another wonderful lecture tonight again from Dr. William Lane Craig. Please join me in an opening prayer and then I will describe our guest a little further.
Dear God we pause to give you thanks for the many blessing we enjoy from your hand. We thank you for Calvin College and for Calvin Seminary. We thank you for the life of Henry Stob and for the many students and institutions and publications that he influenced. We thank you for your Word and the gift of your Son and for the opportunity we have to discuss and proclaim that Word. We thank you for Dr. Craig and for his work. We thank you for each person gathered here and for their interest. We ask now that you bless our evening together. In all this we ask in Jesus name. Amen.
Dr. William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology at La Mirada, California, although he lives in Atlanta, Georgia and teaches regularly at Wheaton College so I can imagine he spends a lot of time on the internet and on airplanes. He is a graduate of Wheaton College and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and has done graduate work at the University of Birmingham, the University of Munich, and spent a lot of time at the University of Leuven in Belgium doing research there as well. He speaks very widely on the subject of apologetics, and last night he spoke on, “Christian Apologetics, Who Needs It?” Tonight he is going to speak on, “Advice to Christian Apologists.” Please join me in welcoming Dr. William Lane Craig.
DR. CRAIG: Well thank you very much. I want to say how much Jan and I have enjoyed our time here at Calvin College and Theological Seminary. We have been so impressed with the friendliness and the hospitality which you have exhibited to us. Even as we would walk around on campus, looking sometimes lost, student would stop and ask us, can we help you, can we point the way, and we just really do appreciate the friendliness you have exhibited towards us as guests during our visit here. We have had a wonderful time.
In 1983, when Alvin Plantinga delivered his inaugural lecture as the John O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, he chose as his topic, “Advice to Christian Philosophers.” Tonight I have chosen as my subject the related, but somewhat broader topic, “Advice to Christian Apologists.” Plantinga’s advice was, however, directed toward those who were already Christian philosophers, whereas my remarks might be more appropriately entitled, “Advice to Budding Christian Apologists,” that is to say, to those who will, but have not yet, entered into a ministry of Christian apologetics.
We saw last night the tremendous need for and benefits of Christian apologetics, both in shaping culture and in influencing individual lives. We are living in a tremendously exciting time for those doing Christian apologetics. Now to help us do apologetics well I would like to make this evening a few suggestions to those of you who aspire to a ministry in this field.
1. Select some area in which to specialize. Some popular Christian apologists make the mistake of trying to be a jack of all trades, and so they are a master of none. As a result their knowledge of the field may be very broad, but it is not very profound. While they may be able to present an initial argument for Christian truth claims, they soon wilt under the pressure of critique, especially on the part of specialists. Speaking on a university campus they may find themselves ridden with anxiety, lest a non-Christian faculty member should show up in one of their audiences and raise an objection that they cannot answer. If that does happen, they may not only embarrass themselves, but also injure the credibility of the Christian faith. A merely generalized knowledge of Christian apologetics is fine for certain contexts, and certainly better the nothing, but it will limit the horizons of your ministry.
Instead I encourage you to specialize in a certain area of apologetics, even as you continue to be well informed in other areas. For example, given the renaissance in Christian philosophy that has been going on for over the last 40 years in the Anglo-American world, many of our best Christian apologists today are, not surprisingly, philosophers.
Christian philosophy, involved as it is with issue of epistemology – like justification, rationality, and warrant – issues of metaphysics – such as the nature of ultimate reality, truth, and the soul –, and of ethics – such as the existence of moral values and duties, theories of the foundations of value, and the meaning of moral claims –, naturally lends itself to Christian apologetics. Indeed, the Christian philosopher cannot hardly avoid apologetics, since the questions he studies are pertinent to a Christian world and life view. Even if his conclusions should turn out to be largely skeptical – say that we cannot know the nature of ultimate reality –, that conclusion would be vitally important to Christian apologetics, since such a conclusion would scuttle the project of natural theology. So the field of philosophy has a natural affinity to apologetics.
Indeed I should say that the relevance of philosophy to apologetics is so great that, even if you do not specialize in philosophical apologetics but choose to go into some other type of apologetics, you would do well to take a strong dose of analytic philosophy. Analytic philosophy is the kind of philosophy that predominates in the Anglophone world. This style of philosophizing contrasts sharply with that of Continental philosophy. Whereas Continental philosophy tends to be obscure, imprecise, and emotive, analytic philosophy lays great worth and emphasis on clarity of definitions, careful delineation of premises, and logical rigor of argumentation. Unfortunately, theology has for a long time followed the lead of Continental philosophy, which tends to result in darkness being piled upon darkness. The renaissance of Anglo-American philosophy of religion over the last 40 years has shown that important apologetical issues can be brilliantly illuminated through the light of philosophical analysis. Richard Swinburne, the Professor Emeritus of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion at Oxford university, has written,
It is one of the intellectual tragedies of our age that when philosophy in English-speaking countries has developed high standards of argument and clear thinking, the style of theological writing has been largely influenced by the continental philosophy of Existentialism, which, despite its considerable other merits, has been distinguished by a very loose and sloppy style of argument. If argument has a place in theology, large-scale theology needs clear and rigorous argument. That point was very well grasped by Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus, by Berkeley, Butler, and Paley. It is high time for theology to return to their standards.
By employing the high standards of reasoning characteristic of analytic philosophy we can powerfully formulate apologetic arguments for both commending and defending the Christian worldview. In recent decades analytic philosophers of religion have shed new light on the rationality and warrant of religious belief, on arguments for the existence of God, on divine attributes such as necessity, eternity, omnipotence, omniscience, and goodness, on the problem of suffering and evil, on the nature of the soul and immortality, on the problem of miracles, and even on peculiarly Christian doctrines like the Trinity, incarnation, atonement, original sin, revelation, hell, and prayer. The wealth of material which is available to the Christian apologist through the labor of analytic philosophers is simply breathtaking.
If you want to do apologetics effectively, you need to be trained in analytic philosophy. And I say this even if your area of specialization is not philosophical apologetics. Whatever your area of specialization, you will be better equipped as an apologist if you have had training in analytic philosophy. Suppose you choose to specialize in scientific or historical apologetics. The fact is that some of the most important issues you will confront will be questions arising from the philosophy of science or epistemology. Over and over again I see scientists and New Testament scholars making faulty inferences or proceeding from unexamined presuppositions because of their philosophical naivete.
Take the field of historical apologetics, for example, specifically the historical study of the life of Jesus. Is it remarkable how obtrusive philosophical issues are in this field. The New Testament scholar R. T. France has observed,
At the level of their literary and historical character we have good reason to treat the Gospels seriously as a source of information on the life and teaching of Jesus.... Indeed many ancient historians would count themselves fortunate to have four such responsible accounts [as the Gospels], written within a generation or two of the events, and preserved in such a wealth of early manuscript evidence. Beyond that point, the decision to accept the record they offer is likely to be influenced more by openness to a supernaturalist world view than by strictly historical considerations.
The accuracy of France’s analysis is born out by the self-confession of the radical Jesus Seminar of the presuppositions that guide its work. The presupposition which the seminar acknowledge as of first important is anti-supernaturalism or more simply, naturalism. Now in this context, naturalism is the view that every event in the world has a natural cause. In other words, miracles cannot happen.
Now this presupposition constitutes an absolute watershed for the study of the Gospels. If you presuppose naturalism, then things like the incarnation, the Virgin Birth, Jesus’ miracles, and his resurrection go out the window before you even sit down at the table to look at the evidence. As supernatural events, they cannot be historical. But if you are at least open to supernaturalism, then these events cannot be ruled out in advance. You have to be open to looking honestly at the evidence that they occurred.
The Jesus Seminar is remarkably candid about its presupposition of naturalism. In the Introduction to their edition of The Five Gospels they state:
The contemporary religious controversy turns on whether the world view reflected in the Bible can be carried forward into this scientific age and retained as an article of faith . . . . the Christ of creed and dogma . . . can no longer command the assent of those who have seen the heavens through Galileo's telescope.
But why, we might ask, is it impossible in a scientific age to believe in a supernatural Christ? After all, a good many physicists are Christian believers and contemporary physics shows itself quite open to the possibility of realities which lie outside the domain of physics. What justification is there for this anti-supernaturalism?
Well, here things really get interesting. According to the Jesus Seminar, the historical Jesus by definition must be a non-supernatural figure. Here they appeal to D. F. Strauss, the 19th century German biblical critic. Strauss’s book The Life of Jesus, Critically Examined was based clearly in a philosophy of naturalism. According to Strauss, God does not act directly in the world; he only acts indirectly through natural causes. With regard to the resurrection, Strauss states that God’s raising Jesus from the dead “is irreconcilable with enlightened ideas of the relation of God to the world.”
Now listen carefully to what the Jesus Seminar has to say about Strauss; they write:
Strauss distinguished what he called the 'mythical' (defined by him as anything legendary or supernatural) in the Gospels from the historical . . . . The choice Strauss posed in his assessment of the Gospels was between the supernatural Jesus--the Christ of faith--and the historical Jesus.
Now notice: anything that is supernatural is by definition not historical. There is no argument given, it is just defined that way. And thus we have this radical divorce between the Christ of faith, or the supernatural Jesus, and the real, historical Jesus. Now the Jesus Seminar gives a ringing endorsement of Strauss’s distinction: they say that the distinction between the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith is “the first pillar of scholarly wisdom.”
But now the whole quest of the historical Jesus becomes a charade. If you begin by presupposing naturalism, then of course what you wind up with is a purely natural Jesus! This reconstructed, naturalistic Jesus is not based on historical evidence, but on definition. What is amazing is that the Jesus Seminar makes no attempt to justify this naturalism, it is just presupposed.
But this presupposition is wholly unjustified. As long as the existence of God is even possible, then we have to be open to the possibility that he has acted miraculously in the universe. Only if you have a proof for atheism can you be justified in thinking miracles are impossible.
Now sometime skeptical critics will adopt a somewhat softer line, presupposing a methodological naturalism as a pre-condition of the historical study of the life of Jesus. For example, Gerd Lüdemann, the German New Testament critic, rejects Jesus’ resurrection as the best explanation of the historical evidence because the resurrection is a miracle, and Professor Lüdemann has a methodological presupposition against miracles. He states, “Historical criticism . . . does not reckon with an intervention of God in history.” Thus, the resurrection cannot count as an historical explanation. So what justification does Lüdemann give for this crucial presupposition of the inadmissibility of miracles? All he offers is a couple of one-sentence allusions to Hume and Kant. He says, “Hume . . . demonstrated that a miracle is defined in such a way that ‘no testimony is sufficient to establish it.’” The miraculous conception of the resurrection presupposes “a philosophical realism that has been untenable since Kant.”
Now Professor Lüdemann is not a philosopher, he’s is a New Testament theologian. And his procedure here of merely dropping names of famous philosophers is sadly all to typical of theologians. Thomas Morris, a Christian philosopher, comments in his book Philosophy and the Christian Faith,
What is particularly interesting about the references theologians make to Kant or Hume is that most often we find the philosopher merely mentioned . . ., but we rarely, if ever, see an account of precisely which arguments of his are supposed to have accomplished the alleged demolition. . . . In fact, I must confess to never having seen in the writings of any contemporary theologian the exposition of a single argument from either Hume or Kant, or any other historical figure for that matter, which comes anywhere near to demolishing . . . historical Christian doctrine, or . . . theological realism. . . .
Hume’s argument against miracles was already refuted in the 18th century by Paley, Less, and Campbell, and most contemporary philosophers also reject it as fallacious, including such prominent philosophers of science as Richard Swinburne and John Earman and analytical philosophers such as George Mavrodes and William Alston. Even the atheist philosopher Antony Flew, himself an Hume scholar, admits that Hume’s argument is defective as it stands. And as for philosophical realism, this is the dominant view among philosophers today, at least in the analytic tradition. So if Lüdemann, as he avers, rejects the admissibility of miracles on the basis of Hume and Kant, then he has a lot of explaining to do. Otherwise his rejection of the resurrection hypothesis is based on a groundless presupposition. Reject that presupposition, and it is pretty hard to deny that the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of the facts.
Skeptical critics usually do not have the courage, as Lüdemann does, to simply deny the fact of Jesus‘ resurrection. Instead they seek to salvage some vestige of Christian faith by distinguishing, as we have seen, between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. Even if the former should turn out to have been a purely human figure who met his final demise in first century Judea, the latter may still be regarded as risen triumphantly from the dead. For example Marcus Borg, one of the most celebrated of the Jesus Seminar fellows, makes a sharp bifurcation between the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter Jesus. The pre-Easter Jesus, he says, was merely a human being who is now “dead and gone.” The post-Easter Jesus, he says, is “what he became after his death.” The post-Easter Jesus lives on in the experience and the tradition of the church.
But this sort of theological salvage operation entangles itself in a web of philosophical difficulties. What Jesus became literally after his death, on Borg’s view, was a rotting mass of flesh. What Borg means by the post-Eastern Jesus is what Jesus became in the thinking and the imagination of the Christian Church. It is crucial to understand that, on Borg’s view, there really isn’t anyone out there called the post-Easter Jesus who objectively exists, independently of our experience and imagination.
The best analogy for this that I can think of is the relationship between Santa Claus and the original forth century bishop St. Nicholas. Nicholas was the real person who lived and died. Santa Claus is an imaginary figure who, although very real in the experience of young children, does not actually exist. Now, while rational adults might believe in some of the things this imaginary figure symbolizes, like the spirit of giving, we wouldn’t believe in him.
In the same way, if Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead, we might believe in what the post-Easter Jesus symbolizes, say new beginnings, but we wouldn’t believe in him. We wouldn’t worship him or pray to him or think he loves us, because that would be letting ourselves be deluded by our own imaginations.
Now despite his very misleading Christian language, I think that on Borg’s view the post-Easter Jesus really is just a symbolic figure. When Borg affirms that, “Jesus is Lord” or “Jesus lives” or “God has vindicated Jesus,” he doesn’t regard these statements as literally true. Rather these statements are metaphorical, and Borg says, “I affirm these metaphors to be true.”
But now we come to real difficulties. What is required for a metaphor to be true? If I come in out of the rain and say, “It is raining cats and dogs out there!,” what does it mean to say that this metaphor is true? Well, it means that there is a literal truth which this metaphor figuratively expresses, namely, that it is raining hard outside. Without such a literal truth, a metaphor is just a meaningless combination of words. If I come in and say, “It is raining zebras and armadillos outside!,” then unless I can give some literal truth which these words express, then they are not a metaphor at all, but just nonsense. Thus metaphorical truth presupposes literal truth. If there is no literal truth then there is no metaphorical truth either.
So the crucial question is, what literal truth is expressed by statements about he post-Easter Jesus, like, “Jesus is risen,” or “Jesus loves me?” Here Borg faces an insuperable problem. For he says that there are no literal truths about God. He thinks that God is ineffable, meaning “beyond all rational thought.” He writes, “God is ineffable . . . God is beyond all images, physical and mental. . . . All our thinking about God . . . are attempts to express the ineffable. The ineffable is beyond all our concepts, even this one.” But that entails that there is no literal truth expressed by his affirmations about the post-Easter Jesus. Therefore, they are not metaphors; they are just nonsense.
But it gets even worse. For it is incoherent to say that God is “beyond all our concepts.” For if none of our concepts applies to God, then even the concept of ineffability doesn’t apply to God. But then God is not ineffable, after all! Thus Borg’s view is self-refuting: if it is true, then it is false. Borg seems to realize this when he says, God is “beyond all our concepts, even this one.” But if the concept of ineffability does not apply to God then it is not the case that God is ineffable, as Borg affirms. Thus Borg’s view is self-referentially incoherent, and thus cannot be rationally affirmed.
These are just a few illustrative examples of philosophical issues intruding in the work of New Testament scholars. Thus philosophical issues can sometimes be decisive in dealing with historical issues important to the Christian apologist.
Similarly, in the flourishing contemporary dialogue between science and theology, which is vitally relevant to the field of scientific apologetics, I find again and again that the central issues turn out to be philosophical rather than scientific. It would be easy to illustrate this point with respect to relativity theory and quantum theory, the twin pillars of contemporary physics, which overtly involved epistemological and metaphysical issues. But even in a comparatively theoretically low-level science like biology philosophical issues obtrude.
It has been the enduring contribution by Philip Johnson to the debate over biological origins to draw attention to the crucial role played by methodological assumptions in theory assessment. As I understand him, Johnson's main point can best be expressed in terms of the model of scientific explanation known as inference to the best explanation.
According to this model, the theorist, confronted with a set of data to be explained, selects from a pool of live options that explanation which, if true, would best explain the data, where the worth of such an explanation will be judged on the basis of such criteria as explanatory scope, explanatory power, and so forth. Now Johnson’s fundamental point is that the neo-Darwinian paradigm can be said to be the best explanation only if the pool of live options is restricted to purely naturalistic explanations. But if one allows into the pool of live options supernatural explanations, that is, explanations involving an extra-mundane intelligent agent, then it is by no means obvious that the neo-Darwinian explanation is the best.
Now, whether one so restricts the pool of live options is a philosophical, not a scientific question. Remarkably I have seen statements from prominent naturalistic evolutionary biologists, such a David Hill, more or less admitting that Johnson is right. They insist that of course science excludes from the pool of live options supernaturalistic explanations; the very nature of science is to determine which is the best naturalistic explanation of the data. But that, as I say, is no longer a question of science, but rather of the philosophy of science, and one which scientists who are typically invincibly naïve when it comes to philosophy, are not well equipped to address.
In this and many other ways philosophy intrudes into discussions of science and theology.
So all of us who go into apologetics, whatever our area of specialization, would be well advised to get a good serving of analytic philosophy under our belts.
In the end, you may choose to specialize in some area other than philosophical apologetics. I have already mentioned historical apologetics which explores the readability of the New Testament witness to Jesus. Here evangelical are well represented by scholars like Craig Evans, Ben Witherington, Darrell Bock, N. T. Wright, and other in the Anglo-American realm, not to mention our Continental brethren. I have also mentioned scientific apologetics, where more evangelicals are needed, although folks like Robin Collins, George Ellis, Christopher Isham, William Dembski, and on a popular level, Hugh Ross, stand out as making important contributions. Another area of apologetics that has newly emerged as a vital field of specialization is Islamic apologetics. Actually this is a very old field of apologetics dating back to Raymond Lull and Thomas Aquinas’ Summa contra gentiles and perhaps even earlier. But it has assumed a critical importance since 9/11 with our heightened awareness of Islam and the challenge it presents to Western civilization. The website answeringislam.org furnishes excellent resources in this field, and an increasing number of popular works in the field are becoming available. Still other areas of specialization present themselves –psychology, for example, where Paul Vitz has done some interesting work. But whatever fields there are, I encourage you to select one in which you can become expert so as to speak with confidence and authority on the issue.
2. Earn a doctorate in your area of specialization. This may not come as welcome advice to some of you. But popular apologetics alone will not do the job. Popular apologetics may sway the masses for a time, but it will not change the prevailing thought structures of society.
In order to change the thought structures of society, so as to foster a cultural milieu that allows a place for the Christian worldview as an intellectually viable option, we must influence the university. I say this because the single most important institution shaping Western culture is the university. It is at the university that our future political leaders, our journalists, our lawyers, our teachers, our business executives, our artists, will be trained. It is at the university that they will formulate, or more likely, simply absorb the worldview that will shape their lives. And since these are the opinion-makers and leaders who shape our culture, the worldview that they imbibe at the university will be the one that shapes our culture. If we change the university then we change the culture through those who shape culture. If the Christian worldview can be restored to a place of prominence and respect at the university, it will have a leavening effect throughout all society.
But that implies that popular-level apologetics aimed at the masses will not do the job. Only scholarly level apologetics aimed at the specialists in the various academic disciplines will be capable of changing the university and so ensuring lasting cultural change. J. Gresham Machen observed that many people in his day “would have the seminaries combat error as it is taught by its popular exponents” instead of confusing students “with a lot of German names unknown outside the walls of the university.” But, Machen insisted, the scholarly method of procedure
. . . is based simply upon a profound belief in the pervasiveness of ideas. What is to-day matter of academic speculation begins to-morrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combated; the time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassionate debate. So as Christians we should try to mould the thought of the world in such a way as to make the acceptance of Christianity something more than a logical absurdity.
Thus, paradoxically, the most effective books in Christian apologetics will not be books on apologetics at all. Rather they will be scholarly monographs in specialized areas of study. I have brought along with me tonight some of the best books that I know of in Christian apologetics. Some of them might surprise you. For example, Alvin Plantinga’s The Nature of Necessity, Robert Gundry’s commentary on the Gospel of Mark, Colin Hemer’s book The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, William Dembski’s The Design Inference, in the Cambridge Studies in Probability, Induction, and Decision Theory series, Thomas Morris’ The Logic of God Incarnate. These are the sort of books that will be studied and discussed for years to come in scholarly circles and classrooms and will shape the thinking of future generations. They will provide the basis of popularizations like Lee Strobel’s excellent apologetic books for laymen, and thus indirectly influence even the masses.
In order to change the culture, we must change the university. In order to change the university we must do scholarly apologetics. In order to do scholarly apologetics, we must earn doctorates. It is that simple.
Moreover – to speak now on a personal level – you will be amazed at the doors of opportunity that will open to you if you have a doctorate. I noticed this right away after completing my degrees. We were doing a speaking tour of British universities and at the University of Nottingham I had the opportunity to speak in a classroom. The professor introduced me by saying, “Dr. Craig studied under Professor John Hick at the University of Birmingham, and under Wolfhart Pannenberg at the University of Munich.” He paused and then said, “These are great names, and we are privileged to have Dr. Craig address our class.” I smiled inside and said, “Thank you, Lord!” I was only too happy to ride my mentors’ coattails to give a defense of Christian theism in his classroom.
Just this last month, during October, Jan and I were in China where I spoke as a guest of the Philosophy Department at a major university. I presented a moral argument for theism, and, in response to students questions, I was even able to share my personal testimony of how I came to faith in Christ. When I came to the part where I described how I finally yielded my life to Christ after six months of intense soul searching, the student audience actually broke spontaneously into applause. It was sobering afterward to reflect that such an extraordinary opportunity is not open to traditional missionaries in China, but is wide open to Christians who have the requisite academic credentials.
Having a doctorate will open doors of ministry for you that would otherwise remain closed. I have good friends who are Christian apologists who early on chose not to pursue doctoral study and whose ministries are inhibited as a result. The sorts of venues that I just described are closed to them, both at home and abroad. Earning a doctorate will expand the horizons of your ministry.
It will not be easy. The power structures in certain fields are often deeply anti-Christian. Students who are evangelical Christians may be weeded out by denying them degrees or professorships. There will be, and already have been, victims of anti-Christian discrimination in the process. But over time, more and more of us will successfully get through. Today graduate programs in philosophy, for example, are awash with Christian students gradually working their way up through the system. Talbot School of Theology now has the largest Master of Arts program in philosophy at any English speaking institution in the world. I and my colleagues at Talbot are sometimes approached by philosophers at secular universities actually inviting us to send some of our graduates to do doctoral work with them. And I believe this can happen in other fields as well. As the old guard dies off and young Christian scholars are hired in their places, the face of the university will change. What Thomas Kuhn said of scientific revolutions is also true of Christian revolutions: they proceed one funeral at a time.
Now I realize that for some of you, you may have a different calling. In your case, especially for those of you tonight who are pastors, I’d encourage you to be on the lookout for students whom you can direct into doctoral programs. On the other hand, if you are under 35 years of age, then I would encourage you to think about doctoral studies as a realistic option to explore. The keys for success will be, first of all, choosing a dissertation topic which you are passionate about, and secondly, finding a mentor at a secular university who is at least sympathetic with your dissertation topic. You may have to write on a more neutral topic than you would like to in order not to arose opposition to your candidacy. For example, my doctoral thesis on the resurrection of Jesus was primarily a history of historical apologetics for the resurrection, but once I had the degree safely in hand, then I published as a second volume the hundreds of pages that I had written on my own historical apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus.
If you feel called to become a Christian apologist then, while I cannot presume to know God’s will for you, I would urge you to consider seriously completing doctoral studies. It will deepen and enrich your life, open doors of ministry to you, and greatly increase your impact for the Kingdom of God.
3. Be mindful of your personal, spiritual formation. In the end the most important thing is not what you do, but who you are. I am not always enthusiastic when I meet a student who tells me that he wants to become a Christian apologist. One sometime detects that what the student really wants is the limelight and the glory. Or there may be a spirit of argumentativeness or arrogance about him. Or perhaps a craving for the affirmation of others to offset a personal sense of inferiority. Of course, we are all broken people and none of us has motives which are wholly pure. But it is vitally important that, as a public representative of Christ, the Christian apologist be a person who is filled with the Holy Spirit and who walks humbly with God.
Apologetics is inherently an agonistic discipline. That is to say, it is combative, involving a struggle of ideas. It tends to promote selfish ambition, arrogance, and competitiveness. But this is not the kind of wisdom which God treasures. On the contrary, he calls it demonic. Listen to James 3:13-15,
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish.
Notice the downward progression: “earthly, unspiritual, devilish.” This sort of worldly, demonic wisdom is personally destructive, both to you and others around you.
I think that pride is perhaps the most dangerous and insidious enemy that that Christian apologist will face. We may do good scholarly work, but if we are filled with vainglory, we shall ultimately undermine what we say by the way we are. Pride screams at people and pushes them away. It will undercut the message that we bring.
What, then, can we do to combat this attitude? First, I think we need to understand the primacy of love over knowledge in God’s economy. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8:1-3, “Knowledge puffs up; but love builds up. If anyone thinks that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know.” The simplest child of God who lives in love is wiser in God’s sight than all the Bertrand Russells the world has ever seen. If we lack love, than all our knowledge just makes us big, inflated, intellectual airbags who are actually ignorant of what matter, most.
Second, we need to realize the feebleness of our own intellectual attainments. Socrates said that he was the wisest man in Athens because he knew that he knew nothing. And similarly, here, Paul says that “If anyone thinks that he knows something, he does not know as he ought to know.” We need to reflect on the feebleness and finitude of our knowledge. When we do, we realize how stupid it is to be proud. The more we learn the more we realize how desperately little we know. We should be like Isaac Newton who, when reflecting on the success of his great Principia Mathematica, wrote,
I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy, playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself, in now and then finding a smoother pebble or prettier shell than ordinary whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
Finally, third, we should do well to heed the words of the great medieval theologian, Hugh of St. Victor, when we wrote,
Now the beginning of [study] is humility. Although the lessons of humility are many, the three which follow are of especial importance for the student: first, that he hold no knowledge and no writing in contempt; second, that he blush to learn from no man; and third, that when he has attained learning himself, he not look down upon everyone else.
As Christian apologists, we are called to be servants of the church and should comport ourselves as such.
In general, we as Christian apologists are called to the same holiness of life that all disciples of Christ are called to. It is vitally important that, as servants of Christ, each of us be a person who goes often to his knees to spend time with God, who depends daily on the filling of the Holy Spirit to lead a life pleasing and acceptable to God. We must seek Christ’s glory, not our own. We must be open to criticism and willing to see our own shortcomings, to learn from our critics. We must not place our career or our studies ahead of our families, but rather be prepared to give up our studies, and even our career if necessary, for the sake of those we love. We must guard again sin, including sexual sin, in thought as well as in deed, so as not to dishonor Christ. We must learn what it means, not merely to do things for God, but to be the person God wants us to be.
Unless we learn to be who God wants us to be all our vaunted achievements will be as wood, hay, and stubble. Our spiritual formation is therefore as vitally important as our intellectual formation as Christian apologists.
In conclusion, then, if God is calling you to a ministry of Christian apologetics, then I rejoice with you in that calling. And my advice to you is to select some area in which to specialize, earn a doctorate in your area of specialization, and to mind your personal, spiritual formation. May God raise up, even from Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary in this group this evening, men and women committed to his truth, to excellence in their work, and to living out the life of Christ as a Christian apologist, so that the lives of millions may be touched and transformed as a result.
QUESTION: Good evening. I am an instructor of sociology at Baker College. All through your discussion there is an underlying theme that I sense which is the whole concept of philosophy of language and what words mean. I teach a discipline that has been constructed, deconstructed, and socially reconstructed, and it is very difficult in sociology to be at all in an apologetic fashion because of that social construction of reality component that is prevalent in the disciple. Can you talk about that a little bit?
DR. CRAIG: Right. I did talk a little bit about that last night. We discussed questions about whether we live in a postmodern culture, and I would say that for folks like yourself who are in these kinds of disciplines, like sociology, anthropology, religious studies, literary criticism, you face, I think, the very difficult task of swimming against the current. And I think that you need to rethink your whole disciple from the ground up, from Christian presuppositions, rather than accepting the presuppositions on which your colleagues operate, and then have the courage and integrity to march to the beat of a different drummer. I referred to Alvin Plantinga’s “Advice to Christian Philosophers” at the beginning of my lecture and I would really encourage you to read that essay, because he talks in very clear terms about the need for Christian integrity in hostile disciplines, to have the courage to take positions which are contrary to the prevailing wisdom in our fields and to the common presupposition which guide those disciplines. So I think you are simply in one of those disciples where much more foundational work needs to be done philosophically and I think that what I have said about the necessity of analytic philosophy of religion will be absolutely vital to what you need to do in rethinking through the presuppositions which guide sociology and your colleagues in your discipline. I think that you will find that a good dose of analytic philosophy will help to straighten out some of the misconceived presuppositions that dominate that field.
QUESTION: Hi, I am in the philosophy department. I do have a PhD in analytic history of philosophy, so apparently I am OK, but, I have a question, which is, I am hoping that perhaps you could modify your second point a little bit. I mean you have a lot of students here tonight, and a lot of people that have careers that don’t involve PhD’s. And I am wondering if what you really mean is for the people who go on to get maybe the highest degree possible in their field, it seems to me, like say journalism, government, a lot of key positions in those sorts of fields would not require a PhD, and in fact if you got your doctorate in those fields then the kinds of things that you would be doing wouldn’t be as vital for the kind of project that you are advocating.
DR. CRAIG: Yes, that just reflects my ignorance of those other fields. For instance, if you are in the field of Law would the highest degree be a JD or something of that sort? I am not exactly sure. So, yes, what I meant was to seek the terminal degree in your area of specialization and I called it a doctorate, but I suppose in some areas it might not be referred to as a doctorate, I just don’t know. But for most disciplines I think it would be some sort of a PhD. But, yes, I meant to say, the terminal degree of your area of specialization, so that you can speak as an authority in your field.
FOLLOWUP: Right, so it really an emphasis on the quality of training that you have in your career, right?
DR. CRAIG: Certainly that’s is true. I don’t mean just get initials after your name, I am calling for excellence here in your respective field.
QUESTION: Hello, Dr. Craig. I just had a question. I guess I agree with most of what you said about the need for analytic philosophy and how helpful that can be for the apologist. But I guess I just don’t see why something in Continental philosophy cannot be important and useful for apologetics and for the life of the believer, and maybe even as important as analytic philosophy.
DR. CRAIG: I certainly don’t want to disparage the study of Continental philosophy. I think we do need people who are doing it. But when it comes to the fundamentals it seems to me that there is just no replacing things like logical rigor, careful definition, delineation of the premises of your argument. Those are simply indispensable to any sort of field of study, so that when you read these Continental figures I would encourage you to use these kinds of tools of analysis to study them, to try to understand them. But certainly these thinkers can be very helpful in helping to understand, for example, the human predicament, as many of them are trying to work out the conclusions of what a godless universe would be like. There I think we can learn a great deal from them. But I do think that right at the very foundations of how you would even study them you would want to do so with the tools of analytic philosophy: understanding modal logic, or the rules of inference and argumentation. That would just be essential I think.
FOLLOWUP: Yeah, I guess maybe for me it doesn’t seem as clear that there are such clear lines that distinguish Continental from analytic philosophy. And that it may not be essential for Continental philosophy, even though maybe a lot of it is this way, that it is, you know, really poor logic or at least very unclear, and maybe someone can do Continental philosophy in a very rigorous way, a way that respects logic, I guess. So maybe I am asking or wondering why you can’t see that?
DR. CRAIG: Well, even if there is not a clear boundary line, that they are blurry, I think we all recognize that there are vast, what should we say, differences of texture between these different ways of doing philosophy. It is just like night and day, even if they may blur together. Certainly we are seeing, I think, increasingly in Europe, even on the continents, some folks who are interested in doing analytic philosophy and doing analytic philosophy of religion, in particular, which is very encouraging. Jan and I, last year, were at a conference in Mulan at the university there entitled “Analytic Philosophy Without Naturalism.” This was a European conference of philosophers wanting to do analytic philosophizing but without the presupposition of naturalism, and in order to do this they had invited over a number of Christian philosophers from the United States to sort of model this for them. So that was tremendously encouraging to me to see this interest on the Continent. So my point is valid without having to say that one is trying to draw a sharp boundary line of some sort.
QUESTION: You have spoken a lot about the academic approach to apologetics, maybe that was the focus of your address, I may have been mistaken, but, keeping in mind the worldwide church, not every Christian in the world has ready access to the kind of education that we do have in the USA and other places. So I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit about the Scriptural mandate for all Christians to be able to defend their faith from Scripture, seeing apologetics as that ability to give an answer for the hope within us, spoken about in 1 Peter.
DR. CRAIG: Well it does say in 1 Peter 3:15 that we are all to be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is within us. But you are absolutely correct in pointing out that certain people lack the training or the opportunity or the expertise to be able to do this in some sort of a sophisticated way. So I guess I would think that the command is the same for everyone, everywhere, but our ability to discharge that command will differ based upon our historical circumstances in which God has placed us, and to whom much is given much is required. So all Christians are under obligation to try to do that as best as they can, but obviously some will be able to do little more than perhaps give their testimony, or at least they could give an argument from, say, fulfilled prophecy, to some degree. But obviously many folks in parts of the world won’t be able to do this as effectively as others. But don’t think that therefore this sort of academic apologetic isn’t relevant to those portions of the world. I was recently teaching in Amsterdam at a seminary there and was teaching apologetics and there were students in the classroom from Africa, from various nations, and I commented to them that I hoped that this material didn’t seem irrelevant to them, that they hadn’t confronted these same challenges. And they assured me, quite to the contrary, they said that it is vitally important for them as Africans to be trained in this because, he said, the intelligentsia of Africa goes to Europe to get their education, and then they come back and become the ministers of education, or the heads of state in these various countries, or the university professors in these countries, and he said that as a result they bring back European enlightenment skepticism and secularism. He said that the African church is being ravaged by this and people are incapable of responding to it because they do not have the training. And so he assured me that it was absolutely vital for him and for his colleagues to get this kind of training because the movers and shakers, the cultural influencers in their societies, were getting in Europe this kind of enlightenment secularism and it needed to be answered.
QUESTION: I am retired from the Religion Department at Calvin College. For the past 5 years I have been teaching religion and theology and cultural studies, mainly in China, so I appreciate your reference to that very much. My question or comment comes out of that context, and I would like to ask it on behalf of a sort of challenge which I have experienced in China repeatedly. And maybe I can get most directly to the point if I could say that in the Chinese context at least it would have more appeal if your apologetics began with point three, and then moved on to point one. Because I think that they are very dubious of a highly rational logistic way of proceeding, whereas you really have won a good deal of your apologetics already if you have established relationship. And I am suspecting that that is not only a Chinese phenomenon, but may be increasingly the situation also in Western society as we move further into the 21st century. So as you are speaking, I was wondering whether your approach does not in itself suggest what they would consider a kind of a Western worldview and what they would consider your set presuppositions or the spectacles through which you are doing apologetics. And their response to me has been repeatedly that in the West you need a new method of apologetics. You have to seek to establish relationship in love, respect, honoring the dignity of others, and then you can proceed in a spirit of grace and recognizing dignity to discuss your points. But then the whole case of apologetics is less confrontational, competitive, argumentative, and what they consider Western arrogance. And I have come to have major concern with traditional ways of doing apologetics, first of all when we confront other cultures, and secondly, as we move further, for better or worse, into a postmodern 21st century in which sheer logic does not have the clout that perhaps it once had.
DR. CRAIG: OK, you have raised a host of questions there, and let me make it very clear that what I was describing tonight was not an apologetic strategy or a strategy for evangelism. These three points were not in any way intended to be “This is how you should approach someone,” or “This is a strategy for doing apologetics.” This was advice to Christian apologists. It was on, “How can you, as young students, equip yourselves to become effective Christian apologists.” And obviously, as I said, the last point emphasized exactly this point that your life will often be more important than what you say. That if you come with arrogance and pride that this will scream at people so that they won’t hear what you say. So certainly I think that that is vitally important. But as I explained last night I do not think it is correct to say that we are in a postmodern culture or that we are moving toward a postmodern culture. I think that that is a cultural misanalysis, and that we live in a culture that is and remains deeply modernist at its heart. And what people are relativistic and pluralistic about are religion and ethics. But they are not pluralistic or relativistic about science, technology, and engineering. And you see that is not postmodernism, that is modernism, that is old-line verificationism which says that science gives us the truth about reality and religion and ethics are merely expressions of personal taste or emotive feelings – that is modernism. And so I think that it is vitally important that we retain a rational apologetic that appeals to logic and evidence that is presented in a loving and humble way to unbelievers to consider as the objective truth. And my experience in doing this in China has been that this tremendously resonates with the students at the universities there, especially at universities where these Chinese students are highly trained in science and technology. Speaking at, for example, Polytechnic University or at the University of Science and Technology, these students are on their way toward becoming research scientists and professors and people who work in industry and science and technology, and I think it is very important to help them see that the same kinds of objective rational grounds there are for certain scientific truths are also available for the Christian world and life view. And even more than that I would say, a speaker like Ravi Zaccharias, who is himself Indian and who, even more than I have, has spoken across Asia and in the subcontinent, emphasizes the importance of presenting a rational apologetic for the Christian faith in the context of sharing your life. I mean this isn’t mutually exclusive. At the end of my book Reasonable Faith, the final chapter of that book is, “The Ultimate Apologetic,” and what I say is that the ultimate apologetic is your life. So there needs to be the combination here of a life that is honoring and exemplifying Christ and his love, but sharing arguments and evidence that are objectively true, with humility and in an invitational way. And my experience and Ravi’s experience has been that folks do respond to that.
QUESTION: Dr. Craig, I am a retired pastor after 41 years, which means that for 41 years I have been a storyteller, because I believe that the Gospel is a story about what God has done to save us in Israel and in Jesus. For 10 years I was at a large major university campus telling the story to students, and every time when I got to the incarnation they said that makes no sense. And I said, you are right, it is not logical, thank God it is not logical. We got the resurrection, same thing – that makes no sense. I said no, thank God it does not, but it happened. The crucifixion, they understood, that makes sense. If God is going to act that way in this kind of a world, they are going to kill him. But incarnation, resurrection, those are the surprises of the Gospel, do you agree?
DR. CRAIG: Well, I certainly agree that they are the surprises of the Gospel and the way that God has acted dramatically in history and reversed things like the suffering and death on the cross. But I would be very cautious in saying to students, and especially to philosophy students, that this makes no sense. Because if they think you literally mean, yes this is incoherent, this is nonsense what I believe, then you are going to lose, I think, a lot of bright young minds that could otherwise be won for Christ. And I showed one of the books tonight that I referred to which was The Logic of God Incarnate by Tom Morris, where I think that he refutes people like John Hick and others who have written against the incarnation of Jesus by saying that this is a logical incoherence which Christians believe, and that therefore this doctrine must be abandoned in favor of treating the incarnation as a myth, and as a myth it isn’t be objectively true, and it leads into Hick’s universalism and anti-realism about God. We need to take a strong stand against this kind of mythologizing of the Christian faith and anti-realism about theology. So while I can understand in a sense, yes, to my finite human intellect, yes, this doesn’t make sense; in a philosophical sense it does make sense because God is the Logos. I mean John 1:1 says that the Logos was God, so it makes beautiful sense and I think that as philosophers who are Christians we try to think God’s thoughts after him and show that there isn’t any kind of logical incoherence in the incarnation.
FOLLOWUP: I want you to know that I believe in the incarnation and the resurrection, but I think we ought not too tame those astonishing events with logic, that is what I am saying.
DR. CRAIG: Well, yeah, does it have to tame them to say that they are not logical contradictions? I mean I don’t think it glorifies God to say that God’s truth is logical nonsense, that it is like a married bachelor or a round square. I don’t think that glorifies God. God, as I say, in John 1:1 is the Logos, he is the supreme logic and rationality of the world and I think that it glorifies and magnifies God when someone like Tom Morris can lay out the beauty of the truth of the incarnation through logic and philosophy. So I understand the importance of what you are saying; we do not want to tame or domesticate God. God breaks out of our expectations, and after all these events are miracles, aren't they? They are things that the natural world in and of itself has no resources to produce, so I think that is a wild God, that is a God that is wild, one that can break into this universe in ways that transcend the laws of nature but that doesn’t mean that he is illogical, I don’t think.
QUESTION: In the beginning of your lecture tonight you talked about how Christian theology or apologetics has veered into Continental philosophy, how it is kind of sloppy, and not very clear as what, say, other philosophy would be. And my question is, in a time when other fields are garnering more information and getting more information and developing this intense argument, why is supposedly the best, or the most important, thing to us degenerating?
DR. CRAIG: Theology you mean? Well I think historically the reason is really sociological, it is because of the predominance of Germany in theology. Germany leads and has led the world in the field of theological study, and unfortunately, as I say, German thought has been largely influenced by various philosophers like Schelling, Fichte, and Hegel, and then now on into this century by existentialism, by Heidegger and other thinkers of that sort who, as I say, are characterized by a kind of very loose and emotive and ill-defined method of philosophizing. And it is just the intellectual gravitas I think of the nation of Germany that has tended to steer theology in that direction. And so some of us – well, I mean I went and did my doctorate in Germany in theology because of that – but some of us want to try to bring back into theology the kind of clear thinking that it once had in figures such as, as Swinburne said, Aquinas, and the medievals, and Butler and Paley and others. And this is going to be a very slow and laborious process that may take generations. But I would say that that is predominately the reasons for it, it is just because of the leadership that Germany as exercised in this field.
FOLLOWUP: Would you say that there is one event or something in particular that has made this shift in thinking?
DR. CRAIG: Well, in general, of course it has been the Enlightenment, but probably more specifically Kant. The critical philosophy of Immanuel Kant which said that we cannot know reality as it is in itself, all we know are the appearances of things, and we cannot know anything beyond what is empirically given to us via the five sense. In particular, for Kant, there can be no knowledge of God, no knowledge of the soul, that the only access we have to those would be through practical or moral reasoning, but there is no theoretical knowledge of the world as it is in itself or of non-empirical entities like God and the soul. And even though Kant has been endlessly refuted by philosophers since that time it is amazing the sort of lip service that contemporary German theologians give to Kant, and it results in this sort of skepticism about really knowing the nature of God, what God is really like, and instead doing a theology in which you have a God that remains really sort of unknown. Just one evidence or indication of this is that if you look at one of the standard German encyclopedias, or theological dictionary, the standard German theological dictionary, it has no articles in it at all on the attributes of God. If you look up omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence, nothing in there. Or if you look up the article on God there will be no discussion there on the attributes of God. It is astonishing. And yet in Anglo-American philosophy of religion, the discussion of the attributes of God over the last 40 years has been a cottage