Review of Reasonable Faith by William Lane Craig

Reasonable Faith, Christian Truth and Apologetics by William Lane Craig, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1984, Third Edition 2008, 415 pp.

William Lane Craig has had greater success in promoting his views than nearly any other contemporary Christian apologist. Many have benefitted from Craig’s work; some even having come to the faith through it as an instrument. Due at least in part to the wide availability of his writings and public debates, both atheists and Christians have raised criticisms of his views. Atheists who argue that Craig is unintelligent are surely mistaken. Christians who argue that he is wrong in his general approach or in some details can be taken more seriously. Regardless of one’s views, there is much to learn from Craig who has studied and written far deeper than most. As Reasonable Faith is Craig’s “signature book” it is a good place to begin consideration of his views.

In his first chapter “How do I Know Christianity Is True?”, Craig (I think rightly) emphasizes a distinction between “knowing that Christianity is true” and “showing that Christianity is true.” The former is “fundamentally by the self-authenticating witness of God’s Holy Spirit” (p. 43) with argument and evidence playing a “subsidiary role” (p. 47), while in the latter the roles are “somewhat reversed.” (p. 51) Craig’s (unfortunate) Arminianism is evident throughout the chapter in such ideas as that man has power over God to successfully resist “the drawing of God’s spirit on his heart.” (p. 47) It seems to me that the error of Arminianism commonly results from man’s seeking for an understanding of salvation satisfying to his own mind, against the predestinarian teaching of the Scriptures. The reader should carefully consider whether Craig extends the error of the Arminian method into his apologetics.

Chapter two, “The Absurdity of Life Without God” addresses a category of apologetic for Christianity based on “the human predicament.” Craig calls this “an extremely recent phenomenon, associated primarily with Francis Schaeffer” (p. 65), yet gives examples not only from Schaeffer but from thinkers of centuries past including Blaise Pascal, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Soren Kierkegaard. Apparently Craig has a broader idea of “extremely recent” than I do. The chapter is quite good (and right) in pressing the point that nihilism is the logical conclusion of atheism. The more consistent atheists even admit this point, but the majority of atheists delude themselves into thinking there is meaning in life despite having rejected the existence of the God of the Bible. In line with this chapter, I’m convinced that today’s ever increasing suicide rates are due in some measure to the resulting nihilism and despair of the atheistic worldview. Craig rightly notes that while atheism is “insufficient to maintain a happy and consistent life,” in Christianity there is both “God and immortality” (p. 86) which provides meaning and value to life.

Chapter three, “The Existence of God,” summarizes the historical arguments of natural theology. Craig agrees with Leibniz that “nearly all the means which have been employed to prove the existence of God are good and might be of service, if we perfect them.” (p. 106) This seems an odd conclusion to me, as each argument should first be evaluated as to whether it is a proof, not whether it is “good” or “might be of service.” And whether “perfect” or not, I’m not persuaded that any of the arguments are proofs; certainly not for the full Christian God. These arguments seem to be Craig’s greatest interest as he spends not only this chapter on them, but the next as well. In the end Craig doesn’t seem to think the arguments are proofs either. Proof is “a bar set too high.” (p. 189) Instead he just claims they are “good arguments” by which he apparently means that “it’s more probable than not that God exists.” But what is the numerator and what is the denominator? Such a question apparently is too precise; Craig wants a more qualitative analysis. Ultimately, it seems to me, the judgment of the probability of God’s existence on these methods is probably (no pun intended) directly proportional to the degree of persuasion one already has for the conclusion.

Chapter five, “The Problem of Historical Knowledge,” is basically a response to post-modern or subjectivistic views of history. Craig argues that these views are impossible because self-contradictory. That is, they accept (and must accept) certain things as historically true all the while denying the possibility of historical truth. While I agree that such non-Christian views are incoherent, it is harder to follow when Craig argues in turn that the truth of Christianity can be verified by historical evidence. (p. 207) In his doing so, it is now apparent—if it wasn’t already—that Craig supports a “cumulative case” approach to apologetics. That is, he likes a little of the human predicament, some Kalaam Cosmological argument, a pinch of the moral argument, and adds a sprinkling of historical evidences. But do too many cooks spoil the broth? Perhaps the apologete has to pick which approach (or approaches) to use based on circumstances. Regardless, Craig moves on to historical evidences. I can certainly see value in this. Christianity is a historical religion. Jesus actually came to Earth in space-time, lived, and died on the cross. Such facts are essential to gospel proclamation. But while I can have confidence in these historical facts because they are recorded in the Bible, extra-biblical histories are not breathed-out by God. In all of Craig’s work it seems he is merely looking for good reasons to believe Christianity. But isn’t the best reason (if not the only reason) to believe something because it is true? I want to know what is true, not just what is potentially persuasive or rational to believe.

Chapter six is on “The Problem of Miracles.” Of course, miracles are not a problem on the Christian worldview; it is only a problem for modernists and others who presuppose the impossibility of miracles. Any “problem of miracles” seems to me to be the weakest argument of unbelievers. I can agree with Craig who concludes “the presupposition against miracles survives in theology only as a hangover from an earlier Deistic age and ought to be once for all abandoned.” (p. 278) He well says “Once the non-Christian understands who God is, then the problem of miracles should cease to be a problem for him.” (p. 281)

The seventh chapter is titled “The Self-Understanding of Jesus.” Like the modernists who denied miracles, the Jesus Movement (among others) took out all that is supernatural from the Gospels and ended up with Jesus made in the image of their own lacking theology. Various “theologians” sought for “the historical Jesus,” the supposed entirely-distinct-from-that “Jesus of history,” and “the real Jesus,” but never apparently were interested in the Jesus of the Bible. But Craig is not perhaps so focused on the Jesus of the Bible either. Rather than just going directly by the Bible it seems that Craig’s approach is indirect; he goes by the history of Jesus as informed by Bible and other sources. It is important to his apologetic that “within twenty years of the crucifixion a full-blown Christianity proclaiming Jesus as God incarnate existed.” (p. 300) Jesus’ self-conception was as the messiah, the Son of God, and the Son of Man. In the ways he is said to have acted in the Gospels it is clear that he believed himself to be God. All of this then is best explained by the fact that Jesus was God.

The eighth and final chapter on “The Resurrection of Jesus” is, like the arguments for the existence of God, an area of expertise for Craig. But, like his approach in all of the chapters of this book, he works not from the Bible but to the Bible.

Ultimately, Craig is an example of one that is more of a philosopher than a theologian. Large sections of Reasonable Faith are devoid of Scripture as Craig veers into discussions of modern physics and secular thought. There certainly is value in much of what he writes, but the overall idea of cumulative case apologetics too much brings me back to the mindset I had as a teenager when I had yet to read more substantial, Calvinistic, Biblical things.

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