William Lane Craig Says He’s Been Doing Apologetics Wrong… And So Have You!

1 Feb

If something William Lane Craig said at a conference last year is correct, almost every apologetics ministry has been going about things in a very counter-productive way. What did Craig say?

“…my evangelistic strategy is to set the bar as low as you can. Make it as easy as possible to become a Christian. There are very few things you need to believe to be a Christian. You’ve got to believe that God exists, that Jesus Christ is divine, he died for your sins and rose from the dead and that you will be saved by grace through placing your faith in his atoning death and really that’s about it. There’s not a whole lot more.”

(Source: http://www.premierradio.org.uk/listen/ondemand.aspx?mediaid={0B7E55DB-D910-4C44-8C56-DF1E5835FB79})

Am I taking Craig out of context? Read on and I’ll give more context and show how it doesn’t get any better. One might say “Craig is talking about evangelism, not apologetics.” True enough, but consider what Craig says about the relationship between apologetics and evangelism:

“It is the broader task of Christian apologetics to help create and sustain a  cultural milieu in which the Gospel can be heard as an intellectually viable  option for thinking men and women.

(Source: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/christian-apologetics-who-needs-it#ixzz2Jf9UxCCl)

So how does Craig’s remark at the UK conference indicate that we’ve all been doing apologetics wrong? By the fact that every Christian apologetics ministry, including William Lane Craig’s, is constantly hammering on issues that are not necessary for salvation as Craig has spelled it out.

For instance, when one goes to the apologetics website Stand To Reason, they will see on the front page a link to an article arguing against abortion and linking one abortionist mindest to slavery. But what does abortion have to do with being saved in Craig’s sense? Nothing. So isn’t STR placing the bar too high simply by linking the issue of being Christian with being pro-life in the mind of the unbeliever? Craig should say yes, if he were to be consistent. If you think not, because STR doesn’t itself link being Christian with being pro-life then read on…

If you go to Christian Apologetics UK you’ll see they frequently do posts on abortion, feminism, Bible contradictions, and the rest. But of course none of that is essential to salvation. By focusing on these issues, they are throwing up barriers to evangelism.

If you go to Reasonable Faith (Craig’s own website) you’ll see the usual posts on homosexuality, molinism, etc. (none of which is essential to salvation). But looking right now I see a link to a podcast on animal suffering. Well what does that have to do with salvation? Can’t you believe “that God exists, that Jesus Christ is divine, he died for your sins and rose from the dead and that you will be saved by grace through placing your faith in his atoning death” and also believe that God just lacks the power to prevent animal suffering or maybe the goodness to care about animal suffering? I don’t see why not. One doesn’t need to believe that God is perfectly good to hold to all the beliefs Craig lists. One can get by with a bare-bones “God is good enough to save me” belief, right? So it looks like Craig is raising the bar too high.

At this point, some may be rolling their eyes and saying “But Craig said that apologetics is ‘help[ing to] create and sustain a  cultural milieu in which the Gospel can be heard as an intellectually viable  option for thinking men and women’ so that’s not what Craig would say.” But notice the context of Craig’s advice to set the bar as low as you can. Just before the first quote on Craig’s evangelistic strategy he says:

“As an evangelistic strategy, I think it’s very unwise to attack Darwinism. … we shouldn’t make them jump through the hoop of becoming creationists in order to become Christians. Let them become Christians and believe in Darwinism and the theory of evolution.”

So if my characterization of Craig can be rebutted by pointing out that apologetics should create and sustain a cultural milieu for the gospel, then Craig’s own statement in the context of Darwinism makes no sense. An astute audience member at the conference notices this and challenges Craig. He says: “But didn’t you just say we couldn’t let the cultural milieu go unchallenged in which Christianity becomes non-credible?”

Craig responds to the challenger:

“Yeah, I’m talking about evangelistic strategy. … Certainly we need our theorists to be working on all of these sorts of questions.”

But Craig’s response makes no sense. Notice that Craig doesn’t say we need apologists working on all these sorts of questions. Clearly Craig has in mind apologetics as part of this evangelistic strategy (in what other context would Darwinism come up?), but in that case we can substitute things like the Kalam Cosmological Argument for creationism. So we could say something like “As an evangelistic strategy, I think it’s very unwise to attack the idea of an uncaused cause… Let them become Christians and believe in a universe that just popped into being.” Even if Craig does have in mind strictly evangelism to the exclusion of apologetics, we could still substitute almost everything Craig spends his time doing for Reasonable Faith into the quote about Darwinism.

And even if Craig did want to limit it to evangelism narrowly defined, it would still follow that every apologetics ministry (including Craig’s own) is being counter-productive by not just focusing on defending those things which are necessary to salvation. By addressing things like homosexuality, abortion, inerrancy, intelligent design, God’s omnipotence, God’s omnibenevolence, etc. they are in danger of creating a misunderstanding in the minds of unbelievers that will think to accept Christ means accepting all that other stuff. In other words, apologetics ministries have been setting the bar too high simply by attacking these non-essentials. (Note that this is the parallel to Craig’s claim on Darwinism: he links *attacking* Darwinism to making them jump through the hoop of creationism to become Christians.)

In this regard, Michael Horton has recently written a piece on knowledge and salvation that has some relevance. Horton opens the article with an analogy to dating: “…when ‘How far can I go?’ is the main question, we’ve already lost too much.” and draws the parallel to knowledge and salvation: “A similar phenomenon happens when people ask, ‘How much do you need to know to be saved?’ It’s like asking, ‘How ignorant can I be?'” Similarly, I think it can be a huge mistake for the apologist to set up his evangelistic strategy in the way Craig has done. Does one need to affirm young earth creationism or God’s omnipotence or the sinfulness of homosexuality to be saved? No. But when you’re asking that question, you’ve probably already lost the right focus.

5 Responses to “William Lane Craig Says He’s Been Doing Apologetics Wrong… And So Have You!”

  1. James February 21, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

    I think that you are applying what Craig says to the general pop. For each person we evangelize to, the approach is different. Initially, one can only believe the basics before diving more into the Word to learn more about our beliefs and worldviews. For some you can’t touch on subjects that will cause tension. For others you have to to even get them to budge. This is why you have to get to know the person before coming at them with the same ole witnessing pickup lines.

    I’m sure the majority of his website visitors are Christians and believe it or not, many Christians still don’t hold to Biblical worldview. So you need guys like Crag to explain to them topics like abortion, homosexuality, etc.

    Don’t get me wrong dude. I typically like your blog. But I don’t get the purpose of you bashing on Craig.

  2. The Janitor February 23, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

    Hey James,

    Sorry for the delayed response. I’ve been really busy lately. First, let me say that I think Craig is probably the best apologist alive today. He’s also by far the most popular. And that’s precisely why I’m “bashing on Craig” or taking aim at him or however you want to put it. As Carl Trueman correctly points out, we live in a celebrity culture and Christians in the pew are not immune to the celebrity culture. We have celebrity pastors. We have celebrity Christians, like Tim Tebow. Likewise, apologists have celebrity apologists. Apologists need to realize that they aren’t above such psychological phenomena either, though we often like to think of ourselves as the less likely to be fooled by such things. Not so.

    Recently I heard someone pointing out in a podcast or a blog (can’t remember which), that a lot of internet apologists (and beyond) are “Craig Clones.” Craig definitely has celebrity status among many budding apologists and just like evangelicals will swallow everything their celebrity pastor says, so many young apologists will swallow everything Craig says. That’s not a healthy attitude, especially by someone trying to cultivate intellectual virtues. One reason it’s not a healthy attitude is because Craig is, like me, far from infallible. So when I hear Craig say something wrong, I know a lot of young apologists are probably going to receive it uncritically and then repeat it later on down the road. That’s why I have taken aim at Craig as often as I have on my blog.

    Moving on, I agree with a lot of what you say. Different approaches are appropriate for different people, a person won’t immediately believe or even be aware of everything in the Christian worldview, it’s good if we can get to know a person we are evangelizing, etc. All that’s fine. But none of it requires Craig’s advice of “setting the bar as low as possible” in evangelism. Remember that Craig is saying that in evangelism we shouldn’t challenge Darwnisism.

    This could be taken in a few different ways. One, it could mean that when sharing the gospel with someone we shouldn’t bring up the issue of Darwinism. Two, it could me that when sharing the gospel, if someone else brings up the issue of of Darwinism we should ignore it. Three, it could mean both that we should not bring up the issue of Darwinism and that if the person we are sharing the gospel with brings it up then we should ignore it. Anyone who endorses the second option would of course also agree with the first option, so that makes option two sort of superfluous but you get the point.

    Is any option good advice? I don’t think so, at least not categorically. I’m inclined to agree with the first option. When trying to share the gospel, why would we bring up the issue of Darwinism? Likewise, why would we bring up abortion or homosexuality? But, like you said, for each person we evangelize to, the approach is different. So maybe I’m sharing the gospel with someone and they are wearing a gay pride t-shirt or something like that. In that case, it may be appropriate to raise the issue of homosexuality. Likwise, maybe I’m sharing the gospel with someone and I see that they have a Darwin fish on the back of their car. In that case, it may be appropriate to raise the issue of Darwinism.

    So given your remarks, I would think that you would have to reject Craig’s unqualified statement. (Unqualified in the sense that he doesn’t say something like “only when you sense it to be inappropriate”.) But we should also reject Craig’s statement because it’s just bad advice to try and set the bar as low as possible in evangelism. Perhaps you’ve heard the slogan “what you win them with is what you win them to.” I think that’s true and I think if we applied Craig’s advice consistently we would have a lot of theological monsters in the church who would then be very surprised to learn that now that they’ve signed up for Christ they should also accept all this other stuff about homosexuality, God’s omniscience, no sex outside of marriage etc. And why should these theological monstrosities ever want to adopt our other beliefs if, as Craig says, they don’t need it to be saved???

    You try to excuse Craig’s arguements on his website by saying that Craig is writing to Christians and many Christians don’t have a biblical worldview. Well my response is (1) why should Christians care about having a biblical worldview since they don’t need it to be saved? If they can get in on the lowest common denominator, why should they raise it later? And (2) I already anticipated this response when I said that “it would still follow that every apologetics ministry (including Craig’s own) is being counter-productive by not just focusing on defending those things which are necessary to salvation. By addressing things like homosexuality, abortion, inerrancy, intelligent design, God’s omnipotence, God’s omnibenevolence, etc. they are in danger of creating a misunderstanding in the minds of unbelievers that will think to accept Christ means accepting all that other stuff.” So even if Craig is directing his arguments against homosexuality *to Christians* then he is still doing the apologist a disservice because many non-Christians will read Craig’s arguments and understand that having a Christian worldview means taking such and such a stand on homosexuality. So why should they become a Christian?

    • James February 26, 2013 at 4:45 am #

      Becoming a Christian isn’t easy. We can’t pick and choose what parts of Christianity we like. Jesus wants us 100%. LUKE 9:57-62. If someone doesn’t want to be a Christian because they want to like homosexuality or to be okay with homosexuals, then they are missing the whole point. I would question if the Spirit has really softened their hearts to be saved. But that’s whole ‘nother topic. Anyway, I really appreciate your extensive answer! Good stuff. “Craig Clones” haha.

  3. The Janitor February 23, 2013 at 7:02 pm #

    By the way, I originally heard Craig make these remarks a while ago (before I had access to the internet again) and then forgot about it. Then, just prior to writing this blog, I saw an apologetics website doing a series on apologetics and theology, basically arguing that theology matters. This reminded me of Craig’s remarks and I quickly wrote a comment on that blog that, tongue-in-cheek, stated Craig’s advice applied to many other areas.

    Someone commented back to me saying:

    “But is that what we want, Jonathan? People who have their salvation, but believe a bunch of wrong things about God, the bible and Christianity?

    And the reality is that the things you list — Darwinistic views, acceptance of homosexuality and abortion, God as a moral monster, etc. — may be the very things that keep a person from the Lord. Therefore, we have to deal with them and explain God’s truth.

    It isn’t enough to have partial truth. We shouldn’t settle for it in any aspect of our lives, including our roles as apologists.”

    I think the commenter is right (although they missed the tongue-in-cheek nature of my own remarks). But many people probably wouldn’t have given Craig’s own remarks a second thought. Would the person who wrote this comment to me have thought to say the same if they had just heard Craig’s original comment? Or would they have just passively soaked in the awesomeness of Craig?

    • James February 26, 2013 at 4:39 am #

      Lol, yeah Craig is awesome. It would be easy to just jump on his side because we know his intentions. But like you said, we really have to pay attention to everything one says.

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