A Critique of William Lane Craig: Part II

a-critique-of-william-lane-craig-part-iiIf there is anything we may be able to glean from the current election cycle it is this well-established truism – American culture is rotting from within. The political discourse has itself reached such despicable lows that engaging in meaningful discussion is an exercise in futility. The major party divides, driven by a media complex hungry for ratings, works tirelessly to incite moral outrage over an aggressive tone of voice rather than the actual lives being ruined by disastrous foreign and domestic policies. Despite the depth of our cultural debauchery, politicians continually invoke the blessings of God. While espousing the secular religion of Americanism, the neo-Jacobins occupying our federal government are under the presumption that God is ready and willing to bless our next foreign policy adventure, and to continually preserve a concept of freedom that spurns his very name.

Let’s take a brief survey of the social realities our politicians are expecting God to bless:

A vaunted liberty Americans hold dear is the freedom of speech enshrined and protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Indeed, the pillar of political dialogue is vitally important in a thriving democracy. Given the magnitude of its importance, do we American citizens use this right responsibly? Do we use this right to discuss politics in a passionate display of civic virtue, duty, and honor? No. We do not. Freedom of speech is utilized to vilify and spurn any differing political point of view with the most vitriolic jargon one can muster. In addition to the brutal nastiness of basic American discourse, the neo-Jacobins champion an alleged right to blaspheme the sacred and holy name of God. Out of one side of their mouth they will implore God to bless our country and to protect our rights, while out of the other side of their mouth they argue that in the name of freedom the Creator ought to be the recipient of blasphemous abuses.

In addition to blasphemy, the federal judiciary deciphered an unassailable constitutional right to pornography as a legitimate form of artistic expression, and within this form of “expression” our young men and women are degraded, abused, and scandalized.

The American Christian community has idly sat by while prayer has been evicted from our public schools, displays of the Ten Commandments have been stripped from our courts, and militant atheist groups actively seek to deny open expression of the Christian faith in the public square all in the name of secular religious neutrality.

Our culture has instituted abortion as a legal and moral norm. Ever since the moral abomination of Roe v Wade, over 50 million unborn babies have been deprived of their life, often times in the most heinous of executions. Our little children have literally been torn apart in the womb in the name of “reproductive rights” and “a woman’s right to choose.” Mrs. Hillary Clinton proudly argues that the unborn have absolutely zero rights and that abortion ought to remain legally permissible. This is not only an evil perpetrated against innocent life; it provides women with a false sense of freedom and “liberation” from the patriarchy that “oppresses” them. Our culture has not only enshrined this insanity in our legal canon – the unbridled destruction of innocent life – but vigilantly guards this practice as progress for a civilized society. To the contrary of the common progressive narrative, women are most protected in a marriage where a godly man seeking to love his wife as Christ loved his Church fulfills the patriarchal role of masculine protector.

We live in a culture that spurns the traditional family and the conjugal definition of marriage. Divorce is rampant, adultery is applauded, and the systematic redefinition of marriage has been instituted through judicial fiat. The progressives that are pulling the cultural levers have argued that marriage is a social construct subject to the caprice of changing circumstances and the impulse of the ballot box. This is an inversion of the foundation that supports the civil communal order. Society is a marriage construct, and the traditional family is the first community. Children are no longer considered the fruit of a marriage blessed by God; they are accessories, the add-ons of a life motivated by an unending pursuit of material possessions and worldly attention. Christians have cowered in fear of a fanatical opposition that proudly broadcasts their golden calf of secular sexual libertinism. American Christians have been afraid to proclaim the power of the living God in the Gospel because a people who worship a false idol might call us names. Instead of standing boldly and personifying Davidic courage against a perceptibly insurmountable Goliath, we Christians slunk behind a watered down notion of “religious freedom” in a desperately pathetic attempt to seek permission from the state to worship God and live by a code of ethics that preserves life through the sacramental marital union. The dominion mandate is not one of religious freedom; it is about building a culture that honors God.

Satan now has an equal footing with the Triune God in the public square. Harvard attempted to practice a black massSatanists sought to put up a monument next to the Ten Commandments in Oklahoma, and Satanists in Oklahoma have also practiced a black mass at a Civic Center event. In the name of secularized American freedom, Satanism and the occult are spreading throughout the country and Christians don’t seem to be bothered by this at all.

Our country’s current foreign policy is on a trajectory of perpetual warfare, and our most influential media outlets are prone to instigate war with Iran, Syria, a new Cold War with Russia, and conflict with China. During President Obama’s tenure, he has quietly redeployed troops to Iraq, continues to arm Syrian rebels in an effort to overthrow Assad, and is funding an unjust Saudi war against Yemen. Consider this for a moment, during the 2012 presidential primary campaign Representative Ron Paul argued that our foreign policy should consider the golden rule as a primary value when interacting with other countries. How did the evangelical Christian crowd of South Carolina receive this suggestion? Was there a standing ovation that lasted for minutes on end? Nope. Not even close. Ron Paul was booed by a crowed of evangelicals because he suggested that our foreign policy ought to seek diplomatic resolution with other countries rather than bomb them into submission in the name of faceless American interests. Christians have allowed the moral standard of Just War Theory to be replaced with imperial dogmatism.

These are some of the political realities our ruling class calls upon God to bless. This list of cultural depravities is not exhaustive. There are many more that could be added. However, the task that faces us now is building a strategically effective counter to these institutional strongholds. William Lane Craig provides some suggestions in part 2 of his advice to budding Christian apologists,

“This may not come as welcome advice to some of you. But popular apologetics alone will not do the job. Popular apologetics may sway the uneducated, but it will not change the prevailing thought structures of society.

In order to shape the thought structures of society so as to foster a cultural milieu that allows a place for the Christian worldview as an intellectually viable option, we must influence the university. I say this because the single most important institution shaping Western culture is the university. It is at the university that our future political leaders, our journalists, our lawyers, our teachers, our business executives, our artists, will be trained. It is at the university that they will formulate or, more likely, simply absorb the worldview that will shape their lives. And since these are the opinion-makers and leaders who shape our culture, the worldview that they imbibe at the university will be the one that shapes our culture. If we change the university, we change our culture through those who shape culture. If the Christian worldview can be restored to a place of prominence and respect at the university, it will have a leavening effect throughout society.

But that implies that popular-level apologetics aimed at the masses will not do the job. Only scholarly level apologetics aimed at specialists in the various academic disciplines will be capable of changing the university and so ensuring lasting cultural change.”

Craig continues,

“Thus, paradoxically, the most effective books in apologetics will not be books on apologetics at all. Rather they will be scholarly monographs in areas of specialized study. I brought along with me a few of the best books I know of in Christian apologetics. They might surprise some of you: Alvin Plantinga’s The Nature of Necessity , Robert Gundry’s commentary on the Gospel of Mark, Colin Hemer’s The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History , William Dembski’s The Design Inference , Thomas Morris’s The Logic of God Incarnate . These are the sort of books that will be studied and discussed for years to come in scholarly circles and classrooms and will shape the thinking of future generations. They will provide the basis of popularizations like Lee Strobel’s excellent apologetic books for laymen and thus influence even the masses.

In order to change the culture, we must change the university. In order to change the university, we must do scholarly apologetics. In order to do scholarly apologetics, we must earn doctorates. It’s that simple.”

On Craig’s view, the culture is directly steered by the university, and it will be Christian intellectuals speaking to others in their area of expertise through scholarly monographs and presumably peer-reviewed journals that will rescue American civil society. I find this assessment of Craig’s, if I may borrow a term he routinely charges his fellow Christians with, to be incredibly naïve. And that is putting it mildly.

At least one problem with this diagnosis is that it completely ignores the education system preceding higher learning institutions. By the time the American youth are received into the college and university system, most of them have already been thoroughly catechized by the secularism Christians are supposedly combatting. The vocabulary of orthodox secular liberalism has become the key to which arriving students utilize in order to unlock their understanding of reality. The vocabulary associated with orthodox Christianity has been utterly suppressed, and any version of Christianity that exists on the campus of a secular university is a mere liberal add-on to already heretical views. Sprinkling a few evangelical professors into the various academic departments, armed with a background in analytic philosophy, is not a sufficient means to counteract this reality.

Craig’s assessment also ignores the fact that secularism has found a cozy home in American Christianity. The recent dust-up at the Society of Christian Philosophers should be concerning if our strategy to save the culture is to pursue doctorates in order to influence the university.[1] If we are looking to transform the broader American culture, Christianity in America itself must first be transformed. This brings me to a glaring problem for Craig, which is the fact that evangelical Christianity is part of the delinquency of our current culture. Protestantism, and especially the evangelical variety, at its core, subscribes to the basic tenet of secular progressive liberalism, which is the absolute autonomy of the individual; stated another way, a core issue with evangelical Christianity is that it is based upon the premise of private judgment. You can pick and choose whichever Christianity feels right to you because any tradition that allegedly violates the autonomy to make such a choice is viewed as oppressive ‘Popery’. This is why Craig can explicitly deny the doctrine of the simplicity of God, and claim that any disagreement with his heterodoxy is merely a matter of differing opinions among brethren. Nope. Sorry. You don’t get to deny doctrines concerning the nature of God and act as though this is a normal component of orthodoxy working through the issues. If the simplicity of God is on the table for dispute among popular analytic philosophers, then there is no reason, if we are to remain consistent, that adherents to Oneness Pentecostalism aren’t simply working through the issues and find themselves disagreeing with their fellow Christian brethren about the Trinity.

Moreover, this strategic recommendation seems to turn a blind eye to the already numerous seminaries, colleges, and universities that are attempting to mold their students in a Christian view of the world. There is not a lack of Christian institutions for higher learning. Maybe a better question is why have the Christian institutions already in existence failed so monumentally against the secular progressive movement? It seems to me that the loss of the culture is not due to a lack of a Christian presence; I would argue that it is due to Christians seeking to get along with the culture instead of converting it.

I would also contend that Craig is a contributor to the “get along” mentality of mainstream American Christianity. His entire apologetic methodology is couched within an agnostically held, evidential, vanilla theism. Rather than repudiating the mechanistic ontology handed down from the Enlightenment, Craig embraces it and merely attaches Christianity on top of it as “the best explanation for the evidence.” Indeed, Craig states in the article being examined, and in his most well known book Reasonable Faith, that in order to shape the overall structure of society Christianity must remain an intellectually viable option within the culture. Such a proclamation is modernism attempting to be faithful to a Christian creed when it is actually standing as its opposition. Even stronger than that, it is to ignore the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are commanded to baptize the nations, not to cultivate and maintain a sliver of the public square allowing for Christianity to be an option among many in a pluralistic society. We are called to convert the nations! The modernist apologetic methodology results in sheepishly imploring a militant atheist to become a theist, rather than proclaiming the Gospel of repentance and restoration.[2]

Another significant weakness in the advice put forth by Craig is that he says virtually nothing about the relationship between theology, the Sacred Page, and the work of defending the faith. This is not an accidental omission. It is a cornerstone of mainstream apologetics in America. Craig states that, “Apologetics is inherently an agonistic discipline. That is to say, it is combative, involving a struggle of ideas.” This may be what apologetics is when it is reduced to analytic methodology and the philosophy of religion, but it has very little to do with the Apostolic mandate to contend for the faith. It is worth noting that when Saint Peter decreed that we always be ready give an account for the hope that is within us, it was very much a life and death matter. Rather than being an argumentative discourse elevated to the safety of plush ivory towers, defending the faith could cost you your life. And such a defense was not “an inherently agnostic discipline.” Apologetics is meant to defend the very Gospel inaugurated by the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ and given to the Apostles to the glory of God. A person’s theological commitments drive the apologetic method and task. Craig’s watered down methodology is the result of a watered down evangelical Christianity that is pervasive among American culture and the broader society.

In addition to the exclusion of mentioning the importance of theology and Scripture when doing apologetics, Craig doesn’t say a word about the local communities Christians live, nor does he speak of the local churches and their role in shaping these communities. If strategy is of any importance in converting the culture, it may make more sense for academics to focus on shaping and training those soldiers of Christ working in communities, rather than attempting to change the minds of careerist academics sheltered from the harsh realities communities are facing everyday.

As I stated in the beginning of this series, Christians pursuing doctoral level specialization in a given field is uncontroversial. The context surrounding the advice offered by William Lane Craig, however, is disastrously naïve. The cultural issues we currently face in America are not lurking around the corner; they have been systematically institutionalized and American Christianity has been unable to appropriately combat them.


– Lucas G. Westman

[1] See these articles – ‘Shut Up, Bigot’ The Philosophers Argued, ‘F-ck You, A—holes,’ Argued the Yale Philosoher, Michael Rea Owes Richard Swinburne an Apology, Christina van Dyke Owes Richard Swinburne Her Resignation.

[2] During the debate between William Lane Craig and Alex Rosenberg, Craig asserts his desire for Rosenberg to become a theist, rather than standing on the revealed truths of Christ as an absolute priority of salvation.

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