Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reasonable Faith, by William Lane Craig

This was an excellent book on Christian apologetics. By far, it is the best book on the subject by a contemporary author. In this book, Craig argues for the Christian faith using what has been called the “classical” method of apologetics. That is, he argues first for the existence of God (theism) and then for the truth of the Christian faith.

The first chapter deals with religious epistemology, or how we know that our religious knowledge is true. Here, Craig makes a distinction between showing that Christianity is true and knowing that Christianity is true. The Holy Spirit testifies to us of our sin before God, God’s judgment on us and the world, and the forgiveness offered in Christ. In contrast we can show that Christianity is true by arguing for the existence of God, the historical claims to divinity made by Jesus and ultimately Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Notice that none of these by themselves or even taken together necessarily leads to Christian faith. It is the inner witness of the Spirit that convicts us of our sins, tells us that we are accountable to God, and that Christ died for us to forgive us. Apologetics can help someone come to faith but it is ultimately God who brings that person to saving faith. Craig correctly states that apologetics is a servant of the gospel and as such it is the gospel that deserves ultimate priority in our discourse with nonbelievers.

The second chapter departs from the broad classical outline a bit, veering in an existential direction by arguing that life is meaningless/absurd without God and immortality. Basically, this apologetic is designed to get the nonbeliever to care about the question of God’s existence and possible revelation. One thing that is interesting about reading Craig is that he gives historical overviews of his present topic. In this chapter he discusses Pascal, Dostoyevsky, and Kierkegaard who are the greatest existentialist (in Pascal’s case proto-existentialist) thinkers. For those who have not read any of these men, Craig’s short discourses on their thoughts definitely provides an impetus for that endeavor. The main weakness I can see with this chapter is that it posits a choice is between Christianity and atheism only. In the West, this may largely be true but it does not encompass all the metaphysical options such as Buddhism, Islam or the other religions/philosophies. This apologetic doesn’t by any means get one to Christianity but it at very least it gets one to ask the right questions and be sincerely interested in the things of God. That is, it outlines the human predicament and argues that without God there is an utter absence of ultimate meaning, value and purpose.

Now we get to the first chapter on the existence of God. In this chapter Craig gives an interesting historical overview of the various key figures behind the traditional theistic arguments along with an elaborate defense of the kalam cosmological argument. This is a very simple argument: 1) Everything that begins to exist has a cause. 2) The universe began to exist. 2) Therefore, the universe had a cause. With Craig, I believe that this is a sound argument from both philosophical and scientific perspectives. Craig goes into much detail defending the Big Bang theory which lends to the interpretation that the cause of the universe was timeless, immaterial and personal. He also gives two philosophical arguments for why the universe could not be eternal. Of them I find the first argument persuasive but I think that the second argument fails on its own because it is dependent on the first for the reasons given by the philosopher Wes Morriston.

The second chapter on the existence of God begins with an excellent exposition of the fine-tuning design argument. Before reading this I admit to being more skeptical of the argument than I am currently. Next, Craig gets to the moral argument which he does a decent job of defending, although I much prefer C.S. Lewis’ formulation of the argument. Craig does little to argue against the modern skeptic who denies the objectivity of moral values. Again, Lewis did a better job of challenging the moral relativist there. The last part of the chapter is really the only silly part of the book. Here Craig drops the ontological argument but is both too brief and not very convincing, even if you agree with all his points. As with the Leibnizian cosmological argument, Craig refers to other theistic arguments to bolster the case for the ontological argument which basically renders it less convicting on its own. Also, he did not devote near enough space to defend the argument as he should have if he was going to bring it up. Craig ought to have cut out the discussion of this argument and focused more on the others.

Chapters 5 and 6 are really good defenses of historical realism and the possibility of miracles. Craig does a service by getting at the historical roots of the modern bias against miracles and argues persuasively that this philosophical predilection is without merit. Chapter 7 is a decent portrayal of Jesus’ divine self-understanding. I wished that Craig spent some time countering a widespread notion is scholarship that Jesus was a failed apocalyptic prophet as evidenced by him allegedly predicting the imminent end of the world, at least according to some New Testament critics. I know of one scholar who takes this route in arguing against the proposition that, “God raised Jesus from the dead,” and I admit that this is the best objection to the faith that I’ve come across.

The last chapter deals with Craig’s favorite topic, the resurrection of Jesus. Craig does a good job here and mentions other scholars like N.T. Wright and Gary Habermas that have done great work on the topic. Craig weaves into the chapter a reasonable criterion of historicity that he expounded earlier in chapter 5. The only complaint I have about the chapter is that Craig sometimes gets so excited making his points that he fails to fully explain some things that he brings up. I genuinely value depth more than breadth which is probably why I objected to his use of the ontological argument earlier. That being said, this was an awesome book which I recommend to anyone interested in learning more about the rational warrant for Christian belief.