WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: EVANGELIST, PHILOSOPHER, APOLOGIST

INTRODUCTION: AN EVANGELIST AT HEART

These words were spoken by William Lane Craig during one of the more recent sessions of the Sunday school class he teaches at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Marietta, GA: “Now, it may be the case that there is someone listening to my voice who has never come to know God…who has never been born again…So I want to just pause in the lesson now to give you an opportunity to make that sort of commitment.  There is no sort of recipe for doing this, but I think it is entirely appropriate to come to God in prayer and to talk to him about it and to ask him to come into your life, to give you the Holy Spirit, and to regenerate you. So what I’d like us to do is just take a moment to bow our heads, close our eyes, and have such a prayer of invitation for anyone who would like to pray it silently along with me.  Let’s pray: Lord Jesus, I really need you.  I recognize that I’ve made a mess of my life and that I need your forgiveness and cleansing.  I confess my sins and I turn away from them to you. I believe that you died on the cross to forgive my sins and restore me to a right relationship with God and that you rose from the dead to prove who you were.  Right now, in the best way I know how, I want to open the door to my life and to welcome you in.  Come into my life. Forgive my sins.  Cleanse me from all wrongdoing and quicken my spirit, Lord, that I might be born again to new life and to the relationship with God that I was intended to have.  Right now, as an expression of my faith, I thank you for hearing and answering this prayer.  Amen.  If anyone has prayed that prayer, then I can give you assurance that, based on Scripture, God has heard that prayer and he answers that prayer to come into your life.  I would encourage you now to look for signs of that renewed spirit within you – of a renewal and a relationship with God that wasn’t there before.  The Bible says that when we become regenerate Christians, we are like infants and we need to be nourished by the milk of the Word which is the Bible.  So you should begin to pray, to read the Bible on a regular basis, and to be nourished by that.  So like a little baby, you don’t arrive stillborn but you begin to grow and become stronger in your Christian life as you walk with him.”[1]

The name of Craig’s Sunday school class is “Defenders”; it is centered on Christian doctrine and apologetics and offers a complete survey of those topics.  Its weighty subject matter would hardly fit into a Lifeway Booklet; a cycle of the class takes “at least three years to complete.”[2]  During the class, Craig lectures on theological subjects such as the Foundations of Christian Doctrine, the Existence of God, the Doctrine of the Trinity, the Doctrine of Creation, Creation and Evolution, the Doctrine of Man, and the Doctrine of Salvation.[3]  Defenders class material is reasonably considered academic, philosophical, historical, and even dry.  In such a sterile environment, even at a Baptist church, a “walk-the-aisle” type of invitation such as the one Craig gave above seems almost out of place.  After all, Craig is a professional philosopher and New Testament historian who is known best for his publications on the Kalam Cosmological Argument and his formal debates.  Yet, to those who have closely followed Craig’s life and career, the story of such an invitation drips with authenticity.

Craig philosophizes much…very much.  He is a Research Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology as well as the author of numerous philosophically-minded books, including Philosophical Foundations of a Christian Worldview[4].  Given his proclivity to philosophize, it can appear, at times, that Craig bases his faith in the philosophical cogency of Christian theology rather than its revealed scriptural truth.  To Craig’s observers, Christian doctrine may seem like nothing more than the conclusion of a syllogism to him.  On the surface, Craig can come off as a professional philosopher who just happens to affirm the truths of the Christian faith and, therefore, engages in what’s known as “classical apologetics”[5].  His detractors have gone as far as accusing him of being “a wordsmith and a showman – a professional debater.”[6]  However, there is a genuine desire to see lost people come to Christ at the heart of his philosophical endeavors.[7]  He knows Christianity to be true and engages in classical apologetics (i.e. philosophical argumentation) to show the faith to be true. Craig is, at bottom, a disciple of Jesus Christ and an evangelist with the desire to “help equip a new generation of intelligent, articulate Christians who are filled with the Holy Spirit and burdened to see the great Commission fulfilled”[8]  He has been quite successful in so doing.

PATH TO MINISTRY

William Lane Craig was born in Peoria, Illinois in 1949.[9]   Throughout his life, the Sensus Divinitatis has never been lost on him.  In a 2011 interview with Christianity Magazine he stated, “I’ve always had a God-consciousness.  When I looked out at the universe and the stars at night as a young boy, I sensed that there had to be some sort of a creator that brought all of this into existence, but God was a distant blur to me.”[10]  One of the reasons that God was such a distant blur to Craig is that the home in which he was raised was neither churchgoing nor Christian; though it was, by his own account, a “good and loving home.”[11]  Yet, despite the loving state of the young Craig’s home, he began to experience feelings of “inner anger and despair”[12] during his teenage years.  Craig, in his own words, “couldn’t see any purpose to life; nothing really mattered.”[13]  “As someone who spent many of his teenage years as an unbeliever,”[14] Craig can identify with the Apostle Paul’s description of the unregenerate as expressed it in Paul’s epistle to Titus: “For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient , deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.”[15]  Craig, while still a teenager, would eventually come to better understand that “distant blur” that was God.  On a clear summer night, Craig prayed to receive Christ as his savior. Upon doing so, he ran outside and looked up at those same stars that had always stirred his Sensus Divinitatis and thought to himself, “God!  I’ve come to know God!”[16]  His was life changed in a moment; he decided that he “could do nothing less than spend (his) entire life spreading (the gospel) message among mankind.”[17]

A Classmate Named Sandy

Craig’s salvation experience was the result of a six-month journey of exploration of the Christian faith.  Though the journey to Christ would end well for Craig, it began inauspiciously.  After Craig began to experience the meaningless of life without God, he began attending a local church in search of answers.  Answers he did not find.  Instead, Craig found, “a social country club where the dues were a dollar a week in the offering plate.  The other high school students who were involved in the youth group and claimed to be Christians on Sunday lived for their real god the rest of the week, which was popularity.”[18]  Craig was soured on Christianity and generally embittered until, one day, in his German class he tapped an annoyingly cheerful classmate on the shoulder and asked her, “Sandy, what are you always so happy about anyway?”[19]  The young girl’s answer was simple.  It was the gospel.  Sandy was happy because she was saved.  She was happy because Jesus lived in her Heart.  She was happy because God loved her.  Sandy told the young Craig that God loved him, too.  The idea that God could love him hit William Lane Craig like a “ton of bricks.”[20]  Craig began to voraciously study scripture and Christian books.  Sandy introduced him to other Christian students who, instead of seeking after the god of popularity, exhibited a genuine and joyous faith.  The “anger and bitterness that had built up”[21] inside of Craig was eventually replaced with the joy that comes from coming to know the Lord Jesus as savior.  “Once I became a Christian”, Craig has written “I was eager to share the truth of my newfound faith with my family and high school friends, and thus I soon became engaged in presenting arguments for becoming a Christian.”[22]

 Early Influences

Upon his graduation from high school and at the suggestion of Sandy, Craig enrolled in Wheaton College (a venerable Christian college in Illinois which boasts Billy Graham and John Piper as notable alumni).  Before he arrived at Wheaton in 1967, Craig had never been a part of the Christian subculture.  He was quite happy to study in an atmosphere where professors prayed before class and chapel took place every day.  Even more delighting to Craig was the integration of faith and learning.  Craig “saw that as a Christian (he) didn’t have to stick (his) brains in one pocket and (his) faith in the other pocket and never let them see the light of day at the same time.”[23] At Wheaton, Craig decided that he could present an intellectual case for the gospel when sharing his faith, essentially appealing to the heart and the mind.  Unfortunately, for Craig, “during the sixties Wheaton had become a seeded of skepticism and cynicism.”[24]  He was taught in his theology classes that the classical arguments for the existence of God were not sound.  A dismayed Craig observed students whose intellectual abilities he admired renounce their faith “in the name of Reason.”[25]

His Introduction to Philosophy professor Stuart Hackett, as Craig would come to learn, took a different view.  Hackett would become a major influence on Craig’s ministry.  This influence can not only be detected in Craig’s writings and apologetic method, but seen in the way he dresses.  Hackett, “wore a necktie (to class) only because his wife made him; but as a gesture of independence…he wore the goofiest ties you could imagine, including homemade monstrosities sewn by his daughter.”  Craig, too, is known for wearing goofy neckties, which are often animal-themed.[26]  The influence of Hackett over Craig’s neckwear is subtle.  The influence of Hackett over Craig’s apologetic method and publications, however, is more obvious.

“One of the most vigorous twentieth-century defenses of…theistic proofs is The Resurrection of Theism, by…Stuart Hackett.  In this book Hackett defends the cosmological and teleological arguments…He concludes that the traditional arguments for God lead ‘to the firm conclusion that theism alone actually poses a solution to the metaphysical problem.”[27]  Hackett would have done well to assign The Resurrection of Theism to the philosophy class at Wheaton in which Craig was enrolled as a freshman.  Instead, Hackett taught the class as a survey of western philosophy.  The young Craig viewed the philosophers his class studied as spouters of “weird, contradictory, and equally unsubstantiated opinions on things.”[28]  Craig “came away (from Hackett’s Introduction to Philosophy Course) thinking that philosophy was just irrelevant.[29]  This opinion would change after Craig purchased a copy of The Resurrection of Theism from a clearance table at the Wheaton bookstore in 1971.  Craig was “absolutely stunned by what (he) read.  In contrast to what (he) had been taught at Wheaton, Hackett, with devastating logic, was defending arguments for God’s existence and providing refutations of every conceivable objection to them.”[30]  “The centerpiece of (Hackett’s) case was a largely ignored vision of the cosmological argument: it is rationally inconceivable that the series of past events be infinite; there must have been a beginning of the universe and therefore a transcendent cause which brought it into being.”[31]

Craig has made much hay in studying, publishing about, and defending this argument, which he titled “The Kalam Cosmological Argument.” (This argument has its roots in medieval Islamic theology and “kalam” is the Arabic word for medieval theology).  Craig wrote his doctoral dissertation at the University of Birmingham on the kalam cosmological argument and has published three books on it.  “Today this argument, largely forgotten since the time of Kant, is once again back at center state. The Cambridge Companion to Atheism (2007) reports, ‘A count of the articles in the philosophy journals shows that more articles have been published about Craig’s defense of the Kalam argument than have been published about any other philosopher’s contemporary formulation of an argument for God’s existence. . . . theists and atheists alike ‘cannot leave Craig’s Kalam argument alone’”[32]  Craig directly credits Hackett for the revival of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  Speaking effusively of Hackett, Craig states, “I am convinced that if The Resurrection of Theism had been published by Cornell University Press rather than Moody Press, then the revolution in Christian philosophy that began with the publication of Alvin Plantinga’s God and Other Minds in 1967 might well have begun ten years earlier. I thank God for the impact of Stuart Hackett upon my life.”[33]

Jan Craig, a Helpmate Suitable for Him

Craig had plants to go directly to seminary after finishing his B.A. in communications from Wheaton.  However, a chapel speaker came during his senior year and challenged the students to spend their first couple of years after graduation sharing their faith with university students full-time.  Craig answered the challenge.  Before setting out to earn a master’s degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Craig set out to evangelize the lost on the campus of Northern Illinois University (NIU) as a staff member of Campus Crusade for Christ.  Jan Coleman, a recent graduate of the University of North Dakota, joined Campus Crusade’s NIU staff as well.  Craig and Coleman fell in love, and by the end of the school year, Jan Coleman had become Jan Craig.  Since that time, her contributions to Craig’s ministry have been invaluable.

When Craig began his studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Jan analyzed the school’s course requirements and found a way in which her husband could obtain two degrees without incurring substantially more time at school.  Craig ended up earning M.A. degrees in Philosophy of Religion and Church History.  When Craig neared graduation from Trinity, Jan asked him what he would like to do next if money were no object.  (Money certainly was an object; the Craigs had meager means.)  Craig responded that he would like to study philosophy in England under John Hick so that he could further develop the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  Until that moment, Jan did not even know who John Hick was but she took the time to find out.  By the next day, without Craig’s prompting, she had located Hick’s contact information.  Jan encouraged Craig to write a letter to Hick asking if he could come to England and study under him.  Craig did so and Hick responded positively.  However, in Craig’s words, he and Jan were “as poor as church mice”[34] and the University of Birmingham, at which Hick taught, required that students show the ability to pay in full for their educations up front.  This was an ability the Craigs didn’t have.  Full funding was obtained by the Craigs via a gift from a businessman, a family friend of Jan who had supported her during her time in Campus Crusade.  Thus, Craig was able to continue his education abroad and earn a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Birmingham under John Hick in 1977.

When Craig was nearing the completion of his studies under Hick, Jan once again asked him what he’d like to do next if money were no object.  Crag responded that he would like to study New Testament history under Wolfhart Pannenberg in Germany.  As the case was with Hick, Jan did not know who Pannenberg was.  As was the case with the University of Birmingham, the Craigs could not afford the expenses of study in a foreign country.  The next day, Jan began to research grant programs that could finance Craig’s study in Germany. One of the grant programs Jan identified eventually paid for Craig to study under Pannenberg, and he earned a Doctorate of Theology from the University of Munich in 1984.

Jan continues to perpetuate Craig’s ministry in the present.  “There was a time (Craig once told an interviewer) when he began to worry he was losing his knack for philosophy.  ‘Honey,’ he remembers telling Jan, ‘I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I just can’t seem to concentrate anymore. I used to be able to study all day long, and there was no problem, and now I find I just can’t concentrate anymore. My mind wanders, and I’m tired.’ He was tempted to despair.  ‘No, no, don’t be ridiculous!’ she told him.  ‘You just need to organize your day.’…She put him on a new schedule: starting the workday with the hardest philosophical work in the morning, then lighter material, like his writing for popular audiences, after lunch…Soon after trying this regime, he regained his philosophical powers completely.”[35]  Aside from scheduling his time, Jan types Craig’s daily email correspondences (he cannot type do a physical handicap) and manages their household.  Jan’s capability and resourcefulness has clearly colored the marriage advice that Craig gives to his students at Talbot: “These single women on the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ are really choice women…They are young, single, intelligent, university graduates, very attractive, independent, and capable of managing their own finances and a ministry.”[36]  Surely, this is a description of Jan Craig herself

CAREER

William Lane Craig’s career has been academically grounded and mission-oriented.  Since 1980, Craig has been involved in teaching or research at Christian universities.[37]  He began his teaching career at Trinity Divinity School in 1980 (where he remained until 1986 when his position was eliminated.)   He has held his present position as Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology since 1996.  In addition to teaching at Talbot, Craig has served as a visiting Professor of Theology at Wheaton College since 2003 and will serve as a visiting Professor of Philosophy at Houston Baptist University beginning in the fall of 2014.  Despite his thirty-four years of academic experience, Craig is best known for his apologetic writings and frequent, formal debates (though his academic credentials help to substantiate his legitimacy as a writer and debater).  Writing and debating are tools which Craig uses defend and spread the gospel.

Academic Contributions

As previously stated, Craig’s most notable academic work is his exposition and defense of the Kalam Cosmological Argument.  This argument is most simply stated as follows:

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
  2. The universe began to exist.
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause.

In his treatment of this argument (specifically in defense of premise #2), Craig has turned the tables on those skeptics who wield science as a cudgel to pound theism into the intellectual dust.   Craig cites the Big Bang Theory, which asserts that the universe had a beginning in the finite past, as evidence for the existence of a “spaceless, timeless, immaterial, uncaused, and unimaginably powerful”[38] cause of the universe (i.e. God).  After reviewing Craig’s dissertation on the Kalam cosmological argument, John Hick presented it to one of the physicists on the campus of the University of Birmingham.  The physicist reported back to Hick that “everything (Craig) said was correct.”[39]  This report led Hick to ask Craig, “Why don’t the theologians know about this?”[40]  Certainly, the theologians have now been made aware.  The Baptist Press published an article about the very recent discovery of gravitational waves and its theological ramifications; this discovery serves as confirmatory evidence of the Big Bang Theory.[41]  Craig himself appeared on Fox News to comment on the theological implications of the discovery of these waves.[42]

Craig’s study of Big Bang cosmology and consideration of the beginning of the universe caused him to develop an interest in the concept of temporal becoming.  Among other notions, theistic philosophers of time must consider the reality that, with the creation of the universe, a timeless and immaterial being has created a material world that exists in time.  The question, “Is God eternal and outside of time or everlasting and inside of time?” results from such consideration. Craig has spent a great deal of time exploring this question and related ones.  Craig wrote a number of philosophical books (Time and Eternity: Exploring God’s Relationship to Time, The Tenseless Theory of Time: A Critical Examination, The Tensed Theory of Time: a Critical Examination, Time and the Metaphysics of Relativity, and Einstein, Relatively and Absolute Simultaneity) to address the questions raised by the temporal becoming of the universe about the nature of God and time.  Craig has been a member of the Philosophy of Time Society since 1992, serving as its president from 1999-2006.  Craig has even dedicated sessions of his Defenders Sunday school class to discussing theories of time.

As time has passed, Craig has moved on to the current area of focus in his academic research, Divine Aseity.   According to Craig is “Divine Aseity is one of the attributes of God that lies at the very core of the classical conception of God…He is self-existent…whereas everything else exists…through (Him)…everything that exists apart from God is created and sustained in existence by God…God’s self-existence implies his metaphysical necessity.”[43]  Craig sees Platonism as the most significant challenge to this crucial doctrine.  “According to Platonism, there exist abstract objects like numbers, propositions, properties, and other sorts of abstract entities…many of which are uncreated and self-existent.”[44]  The self-existence of abstract objects contradicts the (biblical) doctrine of Divine Aseity and, thus, Craig has set about to showing Platonism dubitable.  Craig has presented his thoughts on Divine Aseity in lectures and devoted an entire subsection of his website to the concept of Divine Aseity.[45]  Craig has been writing a book on Divine Aseity for “well over a dozen years”[46] and hopes to finish it by 2015.

 Debates

One factor that has kept Craig from finishing his book on Divine Aseity is the demand placed on his time by his debate schedule.[47]  Compared to his participation in formal debates upon matters relevant to Christian thought, Craig’s writings and lectures about Divine Aseity and the Philosophy of Time seem obscure.  Craig has gained widespread notoriety from Christians and non-Christians alike for his performance in debates against atheists, skeptics, and other detractors of Christianity.  He is discussed so often in the context of his debates that he is often very referred to by the shortened moniker “WLC.”   Such a moniker calls to mind the personas, theatrics, and fanfare of the professional wrestling business; WLC is a hero to some and a heel to others. This is apropos, as the outcome of a great many of Craig’s debates seem just as predetermined and choreographed as a WWE match-up.  Craig’s debate opponents are often assailed by arguments which they know are forthcoming[48] and do little to stop the onslaught. “In the opening statement (of his debates) (Craig) pummels the opponent with five or so concise arguments—for instance, the origins of the universe, the basis of morality, the testimony of religious experience, and perhaps an addendum of evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. Over the course of the rebuttals he makes sure to respond to every point that the opponent has brought up, which usually sends the opponent off on a series of tangents. Then, at the end, he reminds the audience how many of his arguments stated at the outset the opponent couldn’t manage to address, much less refute. He declares himself and his message the winner. Onlookers can’t help agreeing.”[49]  Craig is such an accomplished debater that some in the anti-Christian community have suggested avoiding debates with him altogether.[50]

Sean Carroll, Craig’s most recent debate opponent, summed up Craig’s reputation as a debater very well on his blog, stating “William Lane Craig . . . is of course a very well-known figure, largely for his many public debates, on theism/atheism as well as on various other specific theological issues. As far as debating goes: he’s very good at it! If his debates were being judged by a panel of experts as in an intercollegiate debate tournament, he would have a very good record indeed. This has led many people to conclude that atheists just shouldn’t debate him at all, or at least not until they have devoted 10,000 hours to learning how to be a good debater.  (Notable Atheist Philosopher) Daniel Dennett warned me that, as soon as word got out that I would be debating WLC, I would be deluged with opinions and unsolicited advice.”[51]  Carroll was, in fact, inundated with such advice.  Carroll’s statement served to confirm what Craig, himself, had suspected for a long time.  Atheists are so concerned about losing face in debates with Craig that they have started to coach each other about how to best debate him.  A Google search of “How to debate William Lane Craig”[52] yields websites with detailed analyses of past debates with Craig along with suggestions for how best to navigate a debate with him.  Such coaching is not ill-conceived given that Craig’s debating experience is vast.

Craig was asked how many debates he had participated in on January 14, 2014.  Craig’s response was, “I’ve lost count.  I do not know because I just wasn’t counting.  I’ve been doing it since 1982.”[53]  This question was asked in reference only to Craig’s debates done in the vein of his work as a Christian apologist.  He actually began participating in debates long before 1982.  “Craig comes by his mastery of the formal debate honestly; he worked at it on debating squads all through high school and all through college, with uncommon determination. From birth he has suffered from Charcot-Marie-Tooth syndrome, a neuromuscular disease that causes atrophy in the extremities. He walks with a slight limp, and his hands often look as if they’re gripping an invisible object. Growing up, he couldn’t run normally…Since varsity sports weren’t an option, he discovered debate. High-school competitions took him all over Illinois. The subject matter was never religion—rather, the usual debate-team fodder of public-policy questions.”[54]  His debates as a Christian apologist have taken him much farther than Illinois.  Craig has debated in South Africa, Australia, and throughout Europe (where he even debated while speaking in a German).  The worldwide impact Craig has made in propagating the Christian worldview through his debates certainly makes one wonder if Craig was stricken with a neuromuscular disease that prevented him from participating in athletics so that the works of God might be displayed in him.[55]

A REASONABLE FAITH

Apologetics, in the view of William Lane Craig, is a vehicle for shaping culture, strengthening believers, and evangelizing unbelievers.  This is the viewpoint from which he teaches and the viewpoint from which he wrote his signature book, Reasonable Faith.  It is also the view point from which he operates his web-based ministry of the same name (www.reasonablefaith.org).  The book is “intended primarily to serve as a textbook for seminary level courses on Christian apologetics.”[56]  The website, which provides numerous articles, transcripts, and podcasts, is a source for Christian perspective and education and serves as a supplement, of sorts, to the book.  The name “Reasonable Faith” sends a message to both believers and nonbelievers alike who see the affirmation of religion as a matter of uncritical fideism.  Craig clearly believes that if someone is rational and follows the evidence where it leads, he will find himself assenting to the truth of the gospel.  Through Craig’s defenses of the simple truth of the gospel, Reasonable Faith (whether in the form of Craig’s book or his web ministry) has become very popular.  So, too, has Craig.  This popularity has brought with it high praise as a well as harsh criticism.  Craig has endured both with humility.

 Defending Mere Christianity

Craig’s personal theology is that of an Arminian-leaning Baptist.  However, this would be hard to surmise from watching the majority Craig’s debates, reading his apologetic articles at reasonablefaith.org, or listening to one of his many podcasts.[57] Craig’s apologetic materials are ecumenical and wide-reaching.  Craig avoids debating other Christians on what could be considered “in-house” issues such as Calvinism or the proper mode of baptism.  In February of 2014, Craig used an illustration from C.S. Lewis to express his apologetic approach.  Said Craig, “My burden and my calling is to help to reach a secular society with the Gospel. Here what C. S. Lewis called ‘mere Christianity’ is so relevant. Mere Christianity for Lewis was the central cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith which are affirmed by all of the great confessions of Christendom both Calvinist and Arminian and represent the common ground on which we stand. It is those truths that I want to defend in public debate…Now, one thing that C. S. Lewis said that was very helpful…in relation to this is that mere Christianity, (Lewis) said, doesn’t represent your stopping place. This is not where you rest. He said mere Christianity is like the hallway, or the entrance way, to the building. It is off of the hallway that you find various rooms. It is in those rooms that you find the fireplace, the reclining chair, the sofa. These are the rooms where you ultimately end up in, and these represent the different specific doctrinal confessions and denominations of Christendom. I certainly do have views on those subjects that would put me in one such room. But those aren’t the issues that I am interested in debating. I want to be in the public arena out in the hallway debating these central truths of the Christian faith. It would be a distraction, I think, to be debating other people in the various rooms.”[58]  With the exception of teaching his Sunday school class, Craig can almost always be found in the hallway.

Criticisms

William Lane Craig is quite familiar with the story of the Sword of Damocles.[59] Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown and it is Craig who has been coronated “Christian philosophy’s boldest apostle”[60] and proclaimed to be “the one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God into many…atheists.”[61]  Becoming a target of criticism comes with territory such as this.  The criticism of Craig comes from all sides.  Craig is reviled by many atheists and grudgingly endured by many of his fellow Christians.  There is, of course, a certain amount of persecution to be expected from the non-believing side that comes along with fulfilling the great commission.[62]  There is also a certain amount of criticism that comes from fellow believers as a result of being ecumenical or conservative.  Craig is both.  Much of Craig’s criticism is unfounded and unwarranted, some of it is valid, and some of it is brought on by the confounding statements of Craig, himself.

Craig’s own dissertation supervisor, the liberal-minded theistic philosopher of religion John Hick, “counts Craig in his memoir as among the top three students of his teaching career, even while describing Craig’s ‘extreme theological conservatism’ as in at least one respect ‘horrific’ and generally indicative of ‘a startling lack of connection with the modern world.’”[63]  Many in the atheist community are far less kind in their assessments of Craig.  During a 2013 dialogue with Craig on God’s existence in Melbourne, extreme atheist Lawrence Krauss stated, “I came here convinced based on my past interactions and his writing that Dr. Craig was a dishonest charlatan”[64]  Krauss’ friend Richard Dawkins has even accused Craig of being an “apologist for genocide”[65] (in regards to Craig’s stance on Old Testament apologetics).

Christian critiques Craig are generally less caustic and have more to do with Craig’s obscure (Molinist) views of soteriology, insensitive statements, and head-scratching doctrinal-positions that seem to border on the edge of orthodoxy.  Calvinists see Molinism as a violation of God’s sovereignty or even the price paid for adhering to philosophical principles over theological ones.  It’s hard for one to disagree with the latter assertion given that Craig is known to make ill-conceived statements such as “I don’t really have any favorite theologians, at least systematic theologians, for I find most of them to lack the philosophical training to do really good systematics.”[66]  Craig is not exactly a go-to theologian himself.  He’s been criticized for his rather irreverent theological analogies.  He once compared the hypostatic union to the mind-body transformation of the protagonist in the science-fiction film Avatar.  He has compared the nature of the Trinity to that of the three-headed dog Cerberus of Greek mythology.  (This is a social Trinitarian view which apologist Rob Bowman has described as “orthodox but leaning towards tritheism”[67])  Craig, ever the proponent of free-will, has even argued that “it’s possible that God would permit the damned to leave hell and go to heaven but that they freely refuse to do so.”[68]  Such strange arguments and analogies are more often than not put forward by Craig during his attempts to present a plausible case for Christianity in debates.  Judging Craig only in this context will more likely lead one down the path of deciding that Christianity is just the conclusion of a syllogism for Craig.  However, Craig should be judged in his complete context in order to be properly understood.  To call upon the analogy of C.S. Lewis, Craig should not only be observed as the philosopher apologist in the hallway but as the evangelism-minded Baptist who affirms biblical inerrancy reclining by the fireplace in the great room.

The Ultimate Apologetic

Craig says very little defend himself against his critics.  He just presents his apologetic case the best he can in a respectful and honest way.  One would be hard-pressed to accuse Craig of acting with anything other than gentleness and reverence.  Craig’s attitude even eventually won over (not to Christ or theism) Laurence Krauss.  Krauss stated in the previously mentioned Melbourne dialogue that he “thinks Dr. Craig earnestly believes, deeply in the (arguments for God’s existence).”[69]  In fact, Dr. Craig often receives compliments for his attitude from atheists who write in to his website.[70]  People, of all convictions, listen to Craig.

Perhaps that’s why he has become such a leader in the Christian community.  Dr. Craig has served on the executive committee of the Society of Christian Philosophers and as President of the Evangelical Philosophical Society (an office which he held for nine years).  During that time, Craig, in his words, “kicked the organization into high gear”[71] by holding apologetics conferences alongside the annual scholarly meeting.  Given the increasing popularity of apologetics conferences,[72] others seem to have followed Craig’s lead.  Seminaries are now beginning to add degree programs in Christian apologetics.  This, too, can fairly be attributed to the influence of Craig.

Yet for all his influence and all of the philosophical arguments in Craig’s apologetic arsenal, he sees something else, which he calls “the ultimate apologetic”, as a better tool for winning persons to Christ.  In the closing pages of Reasonable Faith, Craig writes, “This ultimate apologetic involves two relationships: your relationship with God and your relationship with others…When people see this—our love for one another and our unity through love—then they will in turn be drawn to Christ and will respond to the gospel’s offer of salvation. More often than not, it is who you are rather than what you say that will bring an unbeliever to Christ. This, then, is the ultimate apologetic. For the ultimate apologetic is—your life.”[73]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alpha and Omega Ministries. “William Lane Craig Comments.” Alpha and Omega Ministries. October 9, 2013. http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php/2013/10/09/william-lane-craig-comments/ (accessed March 26, 2014).

Boa, Kenneth D., and Jr., Robert M. Bowman. Faith Has Its Reasons. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001.

Brierley, Justin. “Profile: William Lane Craig.” Christianity Magazine. November 2011. http://www.christianitymagazine.co.uk/Browse%20By%20Category/features/lanecraig.aspx (accessed March 15, 2014).

Craig, William Lane. “Classical Apologetics.” In Five Views on Apologetics, by Steven B. Cowan. Zondervan, 2010.

—. “Defenders Series II.” Reasonable Faith. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-series-ii (accessed March 15, 2014).

—. “Double Doctorates.” Reasonable Faith. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/double-doctorates (accessed March 23, 2014).

—. “http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s11-08.” Reasonable Faith. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s11-08 (accessed March 10, 2014).

—. On Guard. David C. Cook, 2010.

—. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Crossway Books, 2008.

—. “Stuart Hackett.” Reasonable Faith . http://www.reasonablefaith.org/stuart-hackett (accessed March 22, 2014).

The Platonic Challenge to Divine Aseity. Performed by William Lane Craig. 2013.

Dawkins, Richard. “Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig.” The Guardian. October 20, 2011. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/oct/20/richard-dawkins-william-lane-craig (accessed March 26, 2104).

Do new Big Bang findings support the Bible? Produced by Fox News. 2014.

Dunn, G. Seth. “William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics.” Submitted to Dr. Robert Stewart of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Februray 15, 2014.

Koukl, Greg. Dr. William Lane Craig – A Reasonable Response (January 14, 2014). 2014.

Life, the Universe and Nothing: Is it reasonable to believe there is a God? Produced by City Bible Forum. 2013.

NDotEDU. The God Debate II: Harris vs. Craig. Video. YouTube, April 7, 2011.

Reasonable Faith. “A Highly Anticipated Debate.” Reasonable Faith. February 9, 2014. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/a-highly-anticipated-debate#_ftn3 (accessed March 25, 2014).

—. “A Look at Upcoming Debates and Events.” Reasonable Faith. February 03, 2014. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/a-look-at-upcoming-debates-and-events (accessed March 25, 2104).

—. “Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?” Reasonable Faith. 1994. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/can-a-loving-god-send-people-to-hell-the-craig-bradley-debate (accessed March 26, 2014).

—. “Dr. William Lane Craig to Join Faculty of Houston Baptist University.” Reasonable Faith. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/news/dr.-william-lane-craig-to-join-faculty-of-houston-baptist-university (accessed March 23, 2014).

—. “The Cosmological Argument.” The Kalaam Cosmological Argument. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/transcript-kalam-cosmological-argument (accessed March 23, 2014).

—. William Lane Craig. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/william-lane-craig (accessed February 2, 2014).

Roach, David. “‘Big Bang’ discovery may point to a creator.” Baptist Press. March 21, 2014. http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=42220 (accessed March 25, 2014).

Schneider, Nathan. “7 Habits of a Highly Effective Philsopher.” Killing the Buddha. July 12, 2013. http://killingthebuddha.com/mag/witness/7-habits-of-a-highly-effective-philosopher/ (accessed March 23, 2014).

—. “The New Theist.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. July 1, 2103. http://chronicle.com/article/The-New-Theist/140019/ (accessed March 25, 2014).

Wikipedia contributors. “Damocles.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. March 25 , 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Damocles&oldid=601246724 (accessed March 27, 2014).

—. “Wheaton College.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. February 26, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wheaton_College_(Illinois)&oldid=597148750 (accessed March 22, 2014).

—. “William Lane Craig.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. March 22, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=William_Lane_Craig&oldid=600683970 (accessed March 23, 2014).

Wintery Knight. “William Lane Craig debates Lawrence Krauss in Melbourne, Australia: Does God Exist?” Wintery Knight. September 3, 2013. http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/william-lane-craig-debates-lawrence-krauss-in-melbourne-australia-does-god-exist/ (accessed March 26, 2014).

 APPENDIX 1: A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE

In writing this, I attempted to be as fair an objective as possible.  This was no easy task given that William Lane Craig is not only one of my favorite apologists but one of my favorite people.  When I watch William Lane Craig debate I feel a deep sense of admiration.  This is the same sense I feel when I, a lifelong Alabama Crimson Tide fan, see Nick Saban walk onto the field.  Readers in SEC country will surely understand this comparison but for those outside of the land where Christianity is a relationship and football is a religion, I will offer another example.  I named my child after him.

It may seem strange for a Southern Baptist Seminary student, such as myself, to name a child (a girl, at that) after a Christian apologist.  Broadly speaking, we are not an intellectual denomination.  We are an evangelistic one and we know we can’t ague someone into the kingdom. Craig is an arguer…but he is also an evangelist.  I came to seminary to become a better evangelist.  Like Craig, I was not interested in the spouters of philosophy, at least not from a Christian perspective. I minored in Philosophy at the University of Georgia and enjoyed my studies in it very much.  Yet, when I got to seminary, I found my required philosophy class off-putting.  Like Craig’s philosophy class at Wheaton, my philosophy class at seminary was a survey of Western thought.  Before taking the class, I already knew the opinions of Aristotle and company.  I wanted to learn more about the Bible!  I was disinterested in apologetics altogether.  Then, one day, I reviewed Reasonable Faith to fulfill an assignment for my Systematic Theology.

My entire perspective changed.  I discovered that Christian Philosophy and Apologetics was a way to build relationship with people so that they may be led to Christ. Furthermore, like Craig, I discovered that I didn’t have to put my intellect away to do evangelism. Since that time I’ve listened to every single podcast on Dr. Craig’s website and familiarized myself with the writings of other Christian apologists.  I changed my major to Christian apologetics because I read Reasonable Faith.  I owe a debt of gratitude to Professor Mike Edens for assigning it to me and to William Lane Craig for writing it.

[1] Craig, William Lane. “http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s11-08.” Reasonable Faith. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s11-08.

[2] Craig, William Lane. “Defenders Series II.” Reasonable Faith. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-series-ii

[3] It was during this section of the class that the quoted words were spoken by Craig.

[4] Craig co-wrote this book with another philosopher, J.P Moreland

[5] Classical Apologetics, according to Craig, is the “methodological approach…that reason in the form of rational arguments and evidence plays an essential role in our showing Christianity to be true.”  This statement from Craig comes from Kindle Locations 397-398 of Five Views on Apologetics by Steven B. Cowan

[6] Brierley, Justin. “Profile: William Lane Craig.” Christianity Magazine. November 2011. http://www.christianitymagazine.co.uk/Browse%20By%20Category/features/lanecraig.aspx

[7] As I can’t see into Dr. Craig’s heart, this is merely my own personal belief.  However, I believe this belief is quite reasonable given my own extensive study of Craig’s career and observations of his speaking and writing.

[8] Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Crossway Books, 2008, 14

[9] Wikipedia contributors. “William Lane Craig.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. March 22, 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=William_Lane_Craig&oldid=600683970

[10] Brierley, Justin. “Profile: William Lane Craig.” Christianity Magazine. November 2011.

[11] Craig, William Lane. On Guard. David C. Cook, 2010, Kinde Location 824

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid

[14] Craig, William Lane. “http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s11-08.”

[15] Titus 3:3, New American Standard

[16] Craig, William Lane. On Guard, Kinde Location 870

[17] Ibid

[18] Ibid, Kindle Location 824

[19] Ibid, Kindle Location 846

[20] Ibid

[21] Ibid, Kindle Location 870

[22] Craig, William Lane. “Classical Apologetics.” In Five Views on Apologetics, by Steven B. Cowan, Kindle Locations 370-371

[23] Craig, William Lane. On Guard, Kinde Location 1202

[24] Craig, William Lane. “Classical Apologetics.” In Five Views on Apologetics, by Steven B. Cowan, Kindle Location 372

[25] Ibid

[26] “Goofy” is, of course, a matter of an opinion.  Google some pictures, I’m sure you’ll agree with me.

[27] Boa, Kenneth D., and Jr., Robert M. Bowman. Faith Has Its Reasons. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001, 115

[28] Craig, William Lane. “Stuart Hackett.” Reasonable Faith . http://www.reasonablefaith.org/stuart-hackett

[29] ibid

[30] Craig, William Lane. On Guard, Kinde Location 1221

[31] Craig, William Lane. “Stuart Hackett.” Reasonable Faith . http://www.reasonablefaith.org/stuart-hackett

[32] ibid

[33] ibid

[34] Craig, William Lane. “Double Doctorates.” Reasonable Faith. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/double-doctorates

[35] Schneider, Nathan. “7 Habits of a Highly Effective Philsopher.” Killing the Buddha. July 12, 2013. http://killingthebuddha.com/mag/witness/7-habits-of-a-highly-effective-philosopher/

[36] ibid

[37] Here, I use the term “Christian” in a broad, sociological sense. Craig spent approximately seven years as a visiting researcher at the Catholic University of Leuven.

[38] Reasonable Faith, “The Cosmological Argument.” The Kalaam Cosmological Argument. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/transcript-kalam-cosmological-argument

[39] Craig, William Lane. On Guard, Kinde Location 1846

[40] ibid

[41] Roach, David. “‘Big Bang’ discovery may point to a creator.” Baptist Press. March 21, 2014. http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=42220

[42] Do new Big Bang findings support the Bible? Produced by Fox News. 2014.

[43] The Platonic Challenge to Divine Aseity. Performed by William Lane Craig. 2013., 0:20-0:52

[44] Ibid, 2:43-3:35

[45] Craig’s website has a section devoted to “Scholarly Articles.”  This section is broken into seven sections, of which Divine Aseity is one.  It can be found at http://www.reasonablefaith.org/scholarly-articles

[46] Reasonable Faith. “A Look at Upcoming Debates and Events.” Reasonable Faith. February 03, 2014. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/a-look-at-upcoming-debates-and-events

[47] According to the podcast transcript cited at footnote 45, Craig has scheduled only one debate for 2014 so that he can prioritize finishing his book.

[48]Craig almost always uses some variant of the same five arguments in his debate.  His opponents and detractors have taken notice and criticized him for doing so.  Recently this criticism backfired on one of his opponents during a debate.  In a 2013 debate at Purdue University between Craig and atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg titled “Is Faith and God Reasonable?” Rosenberg criticized Craig in his opening statement for presenting the same five arguments over and over.  Craig proceeded to present two new arguments.  This debate can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhfkhq-CM84.

[49] Schneider, Nathan. “The New Theist.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. July 1, 2103. http://chronicle.com/article/The-New-Theist/140019/

[50] It has been theorized in atheist and theist circles alike that Richard Dawkins is scared to debate Craig and thus refuses to do so despite many invitations.

[51] Reasonable Faith. “A Highly Anticipated Debate.” Reasonable Faith. February 9, 2014.

[52] As of the date this was written “How to debate William Lane Craig” was the first automatically suggested search term completion suggestion provided by Google upon typing “How to Debate”

[53] Koukl, Greg. Dr. William Lane Craig – A Reasonable Response (January 14, 2014). 02:40-02:46.

[54] Schneider, Nathan. “The New Theist.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. July 1, 2103. http://chronicle.com/article/The-New-Theist/140019/

[55] Here, I make reference to John 9:3 and Jesus’ statement about a man being born blind so that God’s work would be displayed though his healing.

[56] Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. 2008,  Kindle Locations 103-104

[57]Craig’s recorded comments to his Sunday school class are the best resource for pinning down his specific theological views, especially on soteriology. During the Q&A time of one of his Sunday school classes he jokingly responded to a class member who asked about Irresistible Grace by exclaiming, “Here my Arminian slip is showing!”  The exchange can be found here:  http://www.reasonablefaith.org/defenders-2-podcast/transcript/s4-28.  Of course, even this is not a complete description of Craig’s soteriology.  Craig is more accurately described as a Molinist and he devotes a significant portion of Sunday school class time to promoting that obscure viewpoint.

[58] Reasonable Faith. “A Look at Upcoming Debates and Events.” Reasonable Faith. February 03, 2014. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/a-look-at-upcoming-debates-and-events

[59] In fact, when Craig removes someone from his friends list on Facebook, he remarks “the sword of Damocles strikes again!”

[60] Schneider, Nathan. “The New Theist.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. July 1, 2103. http://chronicle.com/article/The-New-Theist/140019/

[61] ibid

[62] John 15:8, Matthew 5:11

[63] Schneider, Nathan. “The New Theist.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. July 1, 2103. http://chronicle.com/article/The-New-Theist/140019/

[64] Wintery Knight. “William Lane Craig debates Lawrence Krauss in Melbourne, Australia: Does God Exist?” Wintery Knight. September 3, 2013. http://winteryknight.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/william-lane-craig-debates-lawrence-krauss-in-melbourne-australia-does-god-exist/

[65] Dawkins, Richard. “Why I refuse to debate with William Lane Craig.” The Guardian. October 20, 2011. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/oct/20/richard-dawkins-william-lane-craig

[66] Alpha and Omega Ministries. “William Lane Craig Comments.” Alpha and Omega Ministries. October 9, 2013. http://www.aomin.org/aoblog/index.php/2013/10/09/william-lane-craig-comments/

[67] Bowman describes the view as such in lecture notes he passed out during a lecture on the Trinity which he gave at a January 2014 apologetics conference in New Orleans.  These notes are not publically available, but I posses them and was an attendee at this lecture.

[68] Reasonable Faith, “Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?” Reasonable Faith. 1994. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/can-a-loving-god-send-people-to-hell-the-craig-bradley-debate

[69] Life, the Universe and Nothing: Is it reasonable to believe there is a God? Produced by City Bible Forum. 2013. 38:12-38:15

[70] Some of these compliments can be seen here http://www.reasonablefaith.org/testimonials

[71] Schneider, Nathan. “The New Theist.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. July 1, 2103. http://chronicle.com/article/The-New-Theist/140019/

[72] This paper, itself, fulfills the course requirements of an apologetics class that took place during an apologetics conference.

[73] Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Crossway Books, 2008. Kindle Locations 9763 – 9818

2 thoughts on “WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: EVANGELIST, PHILOSOPHER, APOLOGIST

  1. Pingback: Recommended Podcast Resources from a Christian Worldview | Seth Dunn

  2. Pingback: Apologetics Vs Polemics: Why Both Are Necessary | Pulpit & Pen

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