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.”
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.
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.