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Christian Thinkers Society Interview

William Lane Craig is interviewed by Jeremiah J. Johnston

Time : 00:19:01

Dr. William Lane Craig is interviewed by Jeremiah J. Johnston of the Christian Thinkers Society.


Dr. Johnston: Today I’m speaking with Professor William Lane Craig, who is Research Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology. And I want to give you, Professor Craig, an appropriate introduction for our viewing audience. I know many know you and have read your works and have seen you lecture and debate, but for those who don’t know you, I want to give you an appropriate introduction. It’s an honor to have you here tonight with us at Christian Thinkers Night, as well as on the broadcast in all the countries of those who are watching.

Professor William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology. He earned degrees from Wheaton College, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and, of course, his PhD from the University of Birmingham, right up the road from Oxford, where I’ve been studying, and his Doctorate of Theology at the University of Munich. So, two doctorates for Professor Craig.

He’s also an internationally renowned lecturer, a sought-after speaker, a phenomenal author, and I must say, a true hero of mine. Out of all the Christian Thinkers Society guests, I’ve been so excited and even a little nervous to interview you, Professor Craig, so it’s a pleasure to have you.


Dr. Craig: Well, thank you.

Dr. Johnston: You’ve published articles in philosophical and theological journals, such as the Journal of Philosophy, American Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophical Studies, Philosophy, British Journal of Philosophy, Science, Modern Theology, and Religious Studies. You’ve authored and co-authored over 20 books, of which I’ve just brought out my favorites here. At different questions, I want to show the audience some of them.

You also have a prominent internet presence that’s touching lives by the multiplied thousands. You’re founder of Reasonable Faith, a web-based apologetics ministry. That’s So, I encourage everyone to subscribe to his blog. I listen to it when I work out every day, and I just appreciate so much your thoughts.

Professor Craig, I think you’re one of the most influential, if not the most influential defender of Christianity in our day. You and your wife, Jan, have two grown children. Are you a granddaddy yet? Are you an Opa yet?

Dr. Craig: (Laughs) No.

Dr. Johnston: Okay, well, I want to start with this, Professor Craig. Here at Christian Thinkers Society, our ethos is encouraging Christians to become thinkers and thinkers to become Christians. And as I said, it’s just an honor to welcome you. Many are well acquainted with your scholarship and your ministry in the academy and in the popular world with your writings, both scholarly and in your popular writings. But for those who are not familiar with your background, can you talk a little bit about your spiritual formation? How did you get started into apologetics? And tell us about your upbringing; did you come from a Christian family?

Dr. Craig: No, I didn’t. I was raised in a Midwestern home, but not a Christian home, and not even a churchgoing family. But when I became a teenager, I began to ask the big questions in life. In the search for answers, I began to attend a local church in our community. The only problem is, instead of answers, all I found was a sort of social country club where the dues were a dollar in the offering bag and the other high school students who claimed to be such good Christians on Sunday lived for their real God the rest of the week, which was popularity.

This really bothered me, because I thought, “They’re all just a pack of hypocrites.” And so, I began to become very angry with the hypocrisy and phoniness I saw. And soon this attitude spread toward people in general. Everybody, I thought, is a fake. And so, I began to grow very alienated toward other people. I said, “I don’t want anything to do with people. I don’t need them.” And I just threw myself into my studies and isolated myself.

And yet, at the same time, in moments of quietness and introspection, when I looked into my own heart, I knew I really did want to love and to be loved by others. And I realized at that moment that I was just as much a phony as they were, because here I was putting on this false front. So, that anger turned in on myself for my own hypocrisy. And this kind of inner anger just eats away at your insides day after day, making every day miserable. And I didn’t know how to get through.

I walked into my high school German class one day and sat down behind a girl who was one of these types that is always so happy it just makes you sick. (laughter) And I tapped her on the shoulder and she turned around and I said, ”Sandy, what are you always so happy about, anyway?” And she said, “Bill, it’s because I’m saved.” And I said, “You’re what?” And she said, “I know Jesus Christ as my personal savior.” And I said, “Well, I know who he is.” And she said, “That’s not enough, Bill. You’ve got to have him really living in your heart.” [1] And I said, “Well, what would he want to do a thing like that for?” And she said, “Because he loves you.”

And that just hit me like a ton of bricks. The idea that the God of the universe could love me, Bill Craig, that worm down there on that speck of dust called planet earth, I just couldn’t take it in. Well, I went home that night and found a New Testament and began to read it for the first time, and I was absolutely captivated by the person of Jesus of Nazareth. There was a wisdom about his teaching that I had never encountered before. There was an authenticity about his life that wasn’t characteristic of these people who claimed to be his followers.

Well, to make a long story short, after about six months of the most intense soul searching I’ve ever been through, I just came to the end of my rope and cried out to God; and he took away all of the anger and the bitterness that had been building up inside of me, and I felt this tremendous infusion of joy, like a balloon being blown up and blown up until it was ready to burst. And I rushed out to the forest. It was a warm, Midwestern September evening, and I looked up at the sky and could see the Milky Way from horizon to horizon. As I looked up at the stars, I thought, “God! I’ve come to know God!” And that moment changed my whole life, because I had thought enough about this during those six months to realize that if I ever became a Christian, I could do nothing less than spend my entire life spreading this good news about God. So, for me, my call to vocational Christian ministry was simultaneous with my conversion experience.

Dr. Johnston: Wow, thank you for sharing that. Now, let me ask you this: For those who are listening to this interview and perhaps seeking faith in God, can you discuss this term you’ve used a lot in your lectures? We have a lot of people, and I’m so appreciative of this, who have not yet made a decision for God or for Christianity who attend Christian Thinkers Society. They’re just checking on God. Can you define some of the distinctives of the Christian world- and life-view?

Dr. Craig: Well, what this basically means is a Christian view of ultimate reality, of the nature of God and faith, and fundamental to that would be that we do not live in an impersonal universe. Rather, ultimately, behind the universe lies an intelligent being who is the source of all goodness, and who has created a world and made us to know him. Unfortunately, because we have violated his moral standards and moral law, we find ourselves spiritually alienated from God. But the Christian view says that God, knowing our plight, has entered into human history personally, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth; and through him, he had to reveal himself through the Jewish nation, through the history of Israel.

Jesus gave his life as the ultimate sacrificial offering to God to atone for our sins and our wrongdoing, just as in the Old Testament the sacrifices of the lambs in the temple were a sort of temporary symbolic atonement.

Dr. Johnston: Awesome. And finally, before I get into some more detailed questions, can you just tell us a little bit about your Reasonable Faith website for those who aren’t familiar with it? When did you start it, and what are some of the tools there?

Dr. Craig: Thank you for that question. I’ve been speaking and writing on these issues for over 25 years. About three years ago, we started ReasonableFaith.Org, this web-based ministry. On the website, we have scholarly articles that I’ve written and published, we have popular-level articles, we have transcripts of debates that I’ve been in. There’s a question of the week that I answer from our readers every week, there’s an open forum, we’ve got a web store. There’s just a ton of free material that is available on this website. It’s all free of charge to anyone who wants to avail themselves of it.

Dr. Johnston: Wow, and that’s ReasonableFaith.Org. I want to ask you a couple deeper questions now, and really get your expertise on some hotter issues. Last week, Pastor Rob Bell released his book Love Wins, and if you’ve heard about it, it has really grieved my heart.

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Dr. Johnston: On Good Morning America, he called into question the existence of hell, and it’s these kinds of things that confuse Christians and unbelievers. How do you respond to a book like this, and can you unpack, just for a few minutes, did God create hell? How could God create hell? What do you say to someone who says, you know, why should I think God sends someone to hell?

Dr. Craig: Let me say by way of background, I was just in Boston, where I was speaking before a church that has left the Episco church in the United States and placed itself under the authority of a Rwandan Anglican church bishop. [2] Why had they done this? Because they perceive the American church is drifting—that it is listening to our culture and tailoring Christianity to fit our culture rather than staying true to the orthodox faith.

And I think that Rob Bell’s universalism is just one more manifestation of this drift in modern evangelical Christianity. It is a view that I think is clearly motivated by the sort of inclusivistic, pluralistic view of religion that has become conventional wisdom in American society today, and it is clearly unbiblical. The Bible clearly teaches that those who reject God separate themselves from God forever, whereas Bell thinks that eventually everyone will be saved, everyone will be reconciled to God. I don’t know whether he thinks that includes Satan and the demons or not. To be consistent, it should, but I don’t know if he thinks that will happen eventually or not. But that is just a compromise on biblical teaching.

Now, what would I say about the doctrine of hell? Well, my view is that hell is a manifestation of God’s justice. What’s bad is that anybody goes there. That’s what’s bad. The Bible says that God’s desire is that all persons should be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth, and he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. It breaks the heart of God to see people who rejected him. He makes every effort to save them, and in their stubborn intransigence separate themselves from him forever.

But the fact that that is tragic and horrible shouldn’t lead us to deny the fact that people freely do that, and to compromise biblical teaching on this regard.

Dr. Johnston: Well, thank you for that answer. Next question: Professor Craig, you’ve lectured and you’ve debated on a number of campuses across the country and around the world. I shared a few weeks back in one of my lectures here at Christian Thinkers Society that a 2007 report of Tobin published by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research reveals that American faculty “overwhelmingly asserted their desire to see Christian influence lessened while being far less critical and even supportive of increasing Muslim religious influence.” What has happened to American faculty? Why is there this hostility toward evangelical Christianity on the American university campus?

Dr. Craig: I would agree with that observation. I think that’s true. I think it’s a manifestation of this sort of enlightenment naturalism that dominates our society. We live in a modern society—that is to say, a society which is dominated by enlightenment naturalism or secularism—and these faculty are just deeply offended. And so, they are deeply opposed to it and want to see its influenced lessened.

Fortunately, that’s not happening, and that’s the good news, is that over the last 40 to 50 years there has been a renaissance of Christian thinking in the academy, particularly in my field, in the field of philosophy. And this is spilling over, I think, also into the sciences and into biblical studies, particularly New Testament studies as well. So, I am very optimistic in terms of the direction of the tide in academia, and I think these secular faculty feel defensive and that’s one reason they’re lashing out. A wounded animal. So all of this is because he is backed into a corner.

Dr. Johnston: Wow. Just two more questions. Professor Craig, let’s say you’re at a train station over in Europe. You have a few seconds or a few minutes to share the strongest arguments that you have for the existence of God for someone who’s just simply asking. You’ve got five minutes to catch the next train. What’s makes you so sure that God exists at all when we can’t see him, hear him, or touch him? What do you say in just a few seconds? What are the strongest, power-packed messages we can say?

Dr. Craig: What I find is best at refuting atheism is not to go into any one argument in depth, but to simply rattle off a list of arguments. So, what I’ll typically do is say, “Well, I can think of at least five good reasons to think that God exists. Number one is how do you explain why anything at all exists rather than nothing. Number two: God is the best explanation for the beginning of the universe at a point in the finite past. [3] Number three: God is the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life. Number four: God is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and duties in the world. And the very possibility that God exists is the proof that God exists.” Now, that litany of arguments I can defend in detail, but I find very often, just being able to list the arguments is almost overwhelming for the unbeliever because he’s been taught that there’s no good reason to believe in God. And even giving him a list is something that rather puts him back on his heels.

Dr. Johnston: Wow. (laughs) That was like a machine gun. That was great. I want to just ask you one final, more personal question, because you’ve really inspired me. You know, living in Oxford the past few years, I’ve met some of the most learned men, especially in New Testament studies. I’m studying the Gospel of Peter, the resurrection narrative, the apologetics—

Dr. Craig: Oh, very good.

Dr. Johnston: You know, I’ve heard men that can tell me everything about the Greek New Testament, the apostle Paul, the historical Jesus, but it stops right here (gestures to neck). And I’m sure as you’ve seen in the academy, it’s like it stops somewhere along the way and it became academic to them, their studies, and it didn’t hit their heart. Can you talk about how you’ve maintained your Christian character in the midst of all your learning in the academy?

And finally, you teach a Sunday school class, you attend church. Dr. Craig, you’re probably smarter than every pastor in America, and there are probably some sermons that bore you, I have to think. But yet, you go. How have you kept your faith, and how important is a daily walk with the Lord for you and for other young apologists and young Christians?

Dr. Craig: I think it’s absolutely vital. I think it’s so important not to become too cerebral or left-brain with regard to one’s Christian faith. The religious affections help us to be whole people and need to be cultivated. That’s why it’s so vital to maintain a personal devotional life that includes time of daily prayer, devotional Bible reading, meaningful corporate worship, Christian music, sharing your faith with others. All of this helps to develop the religious affections so that you not only believe in God rationally, but you love him. And that’s ultimately what we’re called to do, and so that’s what I want to do.

Now, when I go to church, I don’t go there to get information. That’s not why I go to church, to learn information. I go there to join in corporate worship of God. And in the sermon I don’t learn a lot of new information, so don’t think of the sermon as a lecture that you’re going to to learn something new. You’re going there for your spiritual formation and betterment, and you can usually always find something there for that.

Dr. Johnston: Wow, well Professor Craig, I know you’re so busy. My final question is how can we pray for you this year? Do you have any upcoming debates that—

Dr. Craig: Oh boy, do I! Pray for my debate March 30th at NC State with the physicist Lawrence Krauss on “Is there evidence for God?” [4] Then, on April 7th, the University of Notre Dame has invited Sam Harris and me to debate, and we will be focusing on his new book, The Moral Landscape[5] So, these are critical debates. They’ll be streamed live on the internet, if any of your viewers want to log in and watch them, but I would sure appreciate prayer for these events….very important.

Dr. Johnston: We certainly will, and I just want to thank you again for joining us here tonight at Christian Thinkers Society. It’s an honor. You’re a hero of mine, and of so many others, so thank you for your time. [6]