"Reasonable Faith: Christian truth and apologetics" (William Lane Craig) - Crossway Books, 2008 edition

This book is very much at the heavy end of the intellectual spectrum but has much interesting material for anyone wanting to delve very deeply into modern apologetics. 

Apologetics is defined as the discipline that tries to answer the question: what rational warrant can be given for the Christian faith? 

The book is divided into the following sections -

- Introduction

- How do I know Christianity is  true?

- The absurdity of life without God

- The existence of God

- The problem of historical knowledge

- The problem of miracles

- The self-understanding of Jesus

- The resurrection of Jesus

(1) Introduction

This section essentially deals with the idea that “apologetics is vital in fostering a cultural milieu in which the gospel can be heard as a viable option for thinking people.”

The following extracts from an excellent essay on the Reasonable Faith website (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/in-intellectual-neutral) provide some key ideas from this section.

“No one has issued a more forceful challenge to Christians to become intellectually engaged than did Charles Malik, former Lebanese ambassador to the United States, in his address at the dedication of the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, Illinois. Malik emphasized that as Christians we face two tasks in our evangelism: saving the soul and saving the mind, that is to say, not only converting people spiritually, but converting them intellectually as well. And the Church is lagging dangerously behind with regard to this second task. Our churches are filled with people who are spiritually born again, but who still think like non-Christians. Mark his words well:

I must be frank with you: the greatest danger confronting American evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism. The mind in its greatest and deepest reaches is not cared for enough. But intellectual nurture cannot take place apart from profound immersion for a period of years in the history of thought and the spirit. People who are in a hurry to get out of the university and start earning money or serving the church or preaching the gospel have no idea of the infinite value of spending years of leisure conversing with the greatest minds and souls of the past, ripening and sharpening and enlarging their powers of thinking. The result is that the arena of creative thinking is vacated and abdicated to the enemy.

Malik went on to say:

It will take a different spirit altogether to overcome this great danger of anti-intellectualism. For example, I say this different spirit, so far as philosophy alone—the most important domain for thought and intellect—is concerned, must see the tremendous value of spending an entire year doing nothing but poring intensely over the Republic or the Sophist of Plato, or two years over the Metaphysics or the Ethics of Aristotle, or three years over the City of God of Augustine. But if a start is made now on a crash program in this and other domains, it will take at least a century to catch up with the Harvards and Tübingens and the Sorbonnes—and by then where will these universities be?

What Malik clearly saw is the strategic position occupied by the university in shaping Western thought and culture. Indeed, the single most important institution shaping Western society is the university. It is at the university that our future political leaders, our journalists, our lawyers, our teachers, our scientists, 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.

Why is this important? Simply because the gospel is never heard in isolation. It is always heard against the background of the cultural milieu in which one lives. A person raised in a cultural milieu in which Christianity is still seen as an intellectually viable option will display an openness to the Gospel which a person who is secularized will not. For the secular person you may as well tell him to believe in fairies or leprechauns as in Jesus Christ! Or, to give a more realistic illustration, it is like a devotee of the Hare Krishna movement approaching you on the street and inviting you to believe in Krishna. Such an invitation strikes us as bizarre, freakish, even amusing. But to a person on the streets of Delhi, such an invitation would, I assume, appear quite reasonable and cause for reflection. I fear that evangelicals appear almost as weird to persons on the streets of Bonn, Stockholm, or Toronto as do the devotees of Krishna.

It is part of the broader task of Christian scholarship 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. Therefore, the Church has a vital stake in raising up Christian scholars who will help to create a place at the university for Christian ideas. The average Christian does not realize that there is an intellectual war going on in the universities and in the professional journals and scholarly societies. Christianity is being attacked as irrational or obsolete, and millions of students, our future generation of leaders, have absorbed that viewpoint.

This is a war we cannot afford to lose. The great Princeton theologian J. Gresham Machen warned on the eve of the Fundamentalist Controversy that if the Church loses the intellectual battle in one generation, then evangelism would become immeasurably more difficult in the next:

False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel. We may preach with all the fervor of a reformer and yet succeed only in winning a straggler here and there, if we permit the whole collective thought of the nation or of the world to be controlled by ideas which, by the resistless force of logic, prevent Christianity from being regarded as anything more than a harmless delusion.” 

 (2) How do I know Christianity is true?

This is a scholarly review of what medieval, 17th-18th Century, and contemporary philosophers had to say on the topic of the truth of Christianity. It is academic in tone and probably not of interest to most readers. It has a good section on the theme of “good arguments” (pages 55-58).

 (3) The absurdity of life without God

This is a compelling account of the current philosophical viewpoints which underpin western culture (pages 65-88, especially pages 74-88). You can get a good idea of the content and approach of this section from the following extracts from an essay on the the Reasonable Faith website (http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-absurdity-of-life-without-god). 

“If each individual person passes out of existence when he dies, then what ultimate meaning can be given to his life? Does it really matter whether he ever existed at all? His life may be important relative to certain other events, but what is the ultimate significance of any of those events? If all the events are meaningless, then what can be the ultimate meaning of influencing any of them? Ultimately it makes no difference.

Look at it from another perspective: Scientists say that the universe originated in an explosion called the "Big Bang" about 13 billion years ago. Suppose the Big Bang had never occurred. Suppose the universe had never existed. What ultimate difference would it make? The universe is doomed to die anyway. In the end it makes no difference whether the universe ever existed or not. Therefore, it is without ultimate significance.

The same is true of the human race. Mankind is a doomed race in a dying universe. Because the human race will eventually cease to exist, it makes no ultimate difference whether it ever did exist. Mankind is thus no more significant than a swarm of mosquitos or a barnyard of pigs, for their end is all the same. The same blind cosmic process that coughed them up in the first place will eventually swallow them all again.

And the same is true of each individual person. The contributions of the scientist to the advance of human knowledge, the researches of the doctor to alleviate pain and suffering, the efforts of the diplomat to secure peace in the world, the sacrifices of good men everywhere to better the lot of the human race--all these come to nothing. This is the horror of modern man: because he ends in nothing, he is nothing.

If life ends at the grave, then it makes no difference whether one has lived as a Stalin or as a saint. Since one's destiny is ultimately unrelated to one's behavior, you may as well just live as you please. As Dostoyevsky put it: "If there is no immortality then all things are permitted." On this basis, a writer like Ayn Rand is absolutely correct to praise the virtues of selfishness. Live totally for self; no one holds you accountable! Indeed, it would be foolish to do anything else, for life is too short to jeopardize it by acting out of anything but pure self-interest. Sacrifice for another person would be stupid. Kai Nielsen, an atheist philosopher who attempts to defend the viability of ethics without God, in the end admits,

We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view, or that all really rational persons, unhoodwinked by myth or ideology, need not be individual egoists or classical amoralists. Reason doesn't decide here. The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me . . . . Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality.

But the problem becomes even worse. For, regardless of immortality, if there is no God, then there can be no objective standards of right and wrong. All we are confronted with is, in Jean-Paul Sartre's words, the bare, valueless fact of existence. Moral values are either just expressions of personal taste or the by-products of socio-biological evolution and conditioning. In a world without God, who is to say which values are right and which are wrong? Who is to judge that the values of Adolf Hitler are inferior to those of a saint? The concept of morality loses all meaning in a universe without God.

As one contemporary atheistic ethicist points out, "to say that something is wrong because . . . it is forbidden by God, is . . . perfectly understandable to anyone who believes in a law-giving God. But to say that something is wrong . . . even though no God exists to forbid it, is not understandable. . . ." "The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone."

In a world without God, there can be no objective right and wrong, only our culturally and personally relative, subjective judgments. This means that it is impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, and love as good. For in a universe without God, good and evil do not exist—there is only the bare valueless fact of existence, and there is no one to say you are right and I am wrong.”

(4) The existence of God 

This section is extremely lengthy (pages 93-188) and very technical. However, for those with the patience and interest to work through the detail, it is an eye-opener into how modern philosophy of science thinking is not in the slightest bit incompatible with belief in God. 

Craig covers a number of historically famous arguments for believing that the universe owes its existence to a designer or originator. 

The Leibnizian cosmological argument (page 106) goes as follows:

  • Anything that exists has an explanation of its existence, either in the necessity of its own nature or in an external cause
  • If the universe has an explanation of its existence, that explanation is God
  • The universe exists
  • Therefore, the universe has an explanation of its existence
  • Therefore, the explanation of the existence of the universe is God.

The Kalam cosmological argument (page 111) goes as follows:

  • Whatever begins to exist has a cause
  • The universe began to exist
  • Therefore, the universe has a cause.

Teasing out the logic to prove that the universe began to exist, the steps are:

  • An actually infinite number of things cannot exist
  • A beginningless series of events in time entails an actually infinite number of things
  • Therefore, a beginningless series of events in time cannot exist. 

Such exercises in “academic logic” may seem silly. But what is compelling about Craig's narrative is his understanding of modern quantum physics, cosmology and the like. He justifies his deductions and conclusions by copious reference to cutting edge thinking and, as a minimum, shows that belief in a divine being does not represent intellectual lunacy, cowardice or laziness. For example, he shows how modern astronomy and astrophysics are committed to the physical evidence for the expansion of the universe, meaning that arguments against an infinite past time are strong (i.e. the universe had to have a beginning). Which means that the question “Why did the universe come into being?” is very much a reasonable one to ask. 

Craig writes (page 139) - “The history of twentieth-century cosmogony has, in one sense, been a series of failed attempts to craft acceptable non-standard models of the expanding universe in such as way as to avert the absolute beginning predicted by the Standard Model...the Standard Model's prediction of an absolute beginning has persisted through a century of astonishing progress in theoretical and observational cosmology and survived an onslaught of alternative theories.”

In another part of this highly technical section, Craig looks at the Second Law of Thermodynamics and teases out in detail the cosmological implications (pages 140-150). Craig concludes: “Indeed, thermodynamics is so well established that this field is virtually a closed science. Even though we may not like it, concludes P.C.W. Davies, we must say on the basis of the thermodynamic properties of the universe that the universe's energy was somehow simply 'put in' at the creation as an initial condition. Prior to the creation, says Davies, the universe simply did not exist.” 

In a passage commencing on page 157, Craig examines the teleological argument for the existence of God, analysing what nowadays is termed the “cosmic fine tuning”. He summarises the “fine-tuning” facts, which are not disputed. However, there are obviously a number of different approaches to explaining “fine-tuning”. 

See http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-existence-of-god-and-the-beginning-of-the-universe for an online discussion of the Leibnizian and Kalam cosmological arguments, as well as consideration of the thermodynamics issue. 

Craig states the teleological argument which appeals to cosmic fine-tuning as follows: 

  • The fine-tuning of the universe is due to either physical necessity, chance, or design
  • It is not due to physical necessity or chance
  • Therefore, it is due to design.

The physical necessity and chance explanations are considered in numbing detail (pages 161- 172), taking in such theories as the Many Worlds Hypothesis and the Anthropic Principle, and Richard Dawkins' argument against design in “The God Delusion”. I suspect there are few readers who will be able to fully understand the discussion. 

See http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-teleological-argument-and-the-anthropic-principle for an online discussion of this topic. 

Craig summarises the moral argument for the existence of God as follows:

  • If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist
  • Objective moral values and duties do exist
  • Therefore, God exists.

The discussion justifying the above argument is fascinating (pages 172-182). Here are a few quotations: 

“As philosopher of science Michael Ruse explains, 'The position of the modern evolutionist is .. that humans have an awareness of morality .. because such an awareness is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth .. Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction .. and any deeper meaning is illusory.” 

Richard Taylor writes: 'A hawk that seizes a fish from the sea kills it, but does not murder it; and another hawk that seizes the fish from the talons of the first takes it, but does not steal it – for none of these things is forbidden. And exactly the same considerations apply to the people we are imagining.”

“As Kurtz puts it, 'The central question about moral and ethical principles concerns their ontological foundation. If they are neither derived from God nor anchored in some transcendent ground, are they purely ephemeral?”

“In short, on an atheistic, naturalistic worldview, there just seems to be no basis for affirming the existence of objective moral values and duties. Certainly we have a sense of morality, but on naturalism that sense is an illusion wrought by socio-biological conditioning.”

See http://www.reasonablefaith.org/can-we-be-good-without-god for an online discussion of this topic.

Finally, the ontological argument is given some attention (page 183). This is such a purely intellectual argument that it doesn't resonate at all with most people. In its most recent version (by Alvin Plantinga), it goes as follows:

  • It is possible that a maximally great being exists
  • If it is possible that a maximally great being exists, then a maximally great being exists in some possible world
  • If a maximally great being exists in some possible world, then it exists in every possible world
  • If a maximally great being exists in every possible world, then it exists in the actual world
  • If a maximally great being exists in the actual world, then a maximally great being exists
  • Therefore, a maximally great being exists. 

(5) The problem of historical knowledge

This section (pages 207-241) makes a case for the truth of Christianity by reference to historical evidence. The key issue, of course, is not did certain events appear to occur (such as apparent miracles) but did they actually occur? Craig makes the point (going back as far as the 17th century philosopher, Charles Leslie), that “when one examines the biblical narratives as one would any matter of fact, one will find them to be historically reliable. Hence, he (Leslie) maintains that one must either reject all the historical works of classical antiquity or else admit the Gospel accounts along with them.” Of course, this is not to claim that miracles actually occurred, but merely that they were thought to have occurred at the time.

Craig spends the rest of the section discussing “historical relativism”(the belief that it is near-impossible to establish objective historical “fact”). The reason the section is so important is that nowadays relativism is a hugely influential yet also concealed point of view within western culture. Karl Popper put it this way - “There can be no history of the past as it actually did happen; there can only be historical interpretations; and none of them final; and every generation has a right to frame its own.” Craig unpicks this perspective to show its flaws and suggests that the inaccessibility of the past is exaggerated. He points out how historians put together hypotheses and test them against reasonable criteria (see page 233 in particular) and this enables us to work out some degree of historical probability (though not certainty). This is fascinating material, if you have the interest and patience to stick with it. 

You can get an idea of  Craig's line of argument about this topic by reading the following extract from http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-challenge-of-history-an-interview-with-william-lane-craig#ixzz3GhE0pLgR 

“Why are people so skeptical today of the idea that history is an objective reality?

I think that some people are skeptical about this because of the popularity of relativistic views of truth. Post-modernism denies the existence of objective truth. Post-modernists believe that the past is merely the construction of the present. They believe that since the events of the past are gone, they are lost—they’re no longer accessible.  Therefore history is what we make it.  And, moreover, since they claim that no historian is a neutral observer, but is inevitably caught up in the historical process, he cannot reconstruct the past objectively as it really was.  This has led some thinkers to a relativistic view of history according to which, as one person put it, “History is a series of lies that everyone has decided to agree upon.”

Is there any point in trying to discover the historical facts about Jesus, when so many people have tried to do it and have come up with different assessments of them?

Yes, I believe there is. I think that the diversity of opinions about the historical Jesus can be largely tied to the sort of philosophical presuppositions that critics bring to the table. Their conclusions are not really being determined by the evidence so much as by the  presuppositions that they bring to it. You see this clearly in their published works.

For instance, the members of the Jesus Seminar explicitly state what their presuppositions are in their introduction to their edition of Five Gospels. For them, the number one pillar of scholarly wisdom is the presupposition of scientific naturalism. In other words, they don’t believe that there are supernatural events in history. They think that whenever you find a miraculous event in the narrative, this is an automatic sign that you’re in the presence of either legend or mythology. They simply begin with the assumption that miracles are fictional in character. Extraordinarily, they make no attempt to justify this presupposition.  If you begin with the assumption of scientific naturalism, then of course events like the virgin birth, the incarnation, the miracles of Jesus and his resurrection will have to be assessed as non-historical.

Again, some critics like Marcus Borg make it very clear that what he’s looking for is a Jesus who will be religiously available to people in the contemporary scene. Borg deliberately sets out to re-interpret Jesus to be a sort of cross-cultural, spiritual person (a kind of mystic) who will appeal to persons in all cultures and in all religions. That’s why he comes up with a very politically-correct Jesus, a Jesus who is not offensive or jarring to the modern mind. Borg’s reconstructed Jesus is a good example of how some scholars’ conclusions are deeply shaped by their presuppositions.

However, if you do not force these critical presuppositions upon the Gospels, then there is quite a remarkable consensus emerging amongst scholars about the person of the historical Jesus, what He taught, and about events in his life surrounding his death and resurrection. So I think we need to be careful not to exaggerate the diversity of views amongst scholars today. Certainly there has been a diversity of views in past quests to recover the historical Jesus, but contemporary scholarship has actually recovered, I think, the broad outlines of a portrait of Jesus that can be largely agreed upon.”

(6) The problem of miracles

This chapter (pages 247-281) considers the belief that any supposedly historical account of miraculous events must be deemed out of hand. The following extracts from http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-problem-of-miracles-a-historical-and-philosophical-perspective give an idea of the type of arguments discussed by Craig. Most readers will find the discussion rarified, an exercise in high philosophy. 

“In recent times the classical debate over the identification of miracles has continued in the dispute over principles of historical methodology. It has been contended that the historical method is inherently restricted to non-miraculous events; for example, D. E. Nineham asserts,

It is of the essence of the modern historian's method and criteria that they are applicable only to purely human phenomena, and to human phenomena of a normal, that is non-miraculous, non-unique, character. It followed that any picture of Jesus that could consistently approve itself to an historical investigator using these criteria, must a priori be of a purely human figure and it must be bounded by his death.

On what basis can it be said that the historical method applies only to non-miraculous phenomena? According to Carl Becker, it is because that method presupposes that the past is not dissimilar to our present experience:

History rests on testimony, but the qualitative value of testimony is determined in the last analysis by tested and accepted experience . . . . the historian knows well that no amount of testimony is ever permitted to establish as a past reality a thing that cannot be found in present reality. . . . In every case the witness may have a perfect character--all that goes for nothing . . .

. . . We must have a past that is the product of all the present. With sources that say it was not so, we will have nothing to do; better still, we will make them say it was so.”

(7) The self-understanding of Jesus 

http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-evidence-for-jesus is an informative essay exploring who Jesus understood himself to be. The book “Reasonable Faith” in pages 287-328 gives a much more detailed analysis of this topic; the discussion and level of scholarship is excellent. 

“Jesus’s radical self-understanding is revealed, for example, in his parable of the wicked tenants of the vineyard. Even sceptical scholars admit the authenticity of this parable, since it is also found in the Gospel of Thomas, one of their favorite sources. In this parable, the owner of the vineyard sent servants to the tenants of the vineyard to collect its fruit. The vineyard symbolizes Israel, the owner is God, the tenants are the Jewish religious leaders, and the servants are prophets send by God. The tenants beat and reject the owner’s servants. Finally, the owner says, "I will send my only, beloved son. They will listen to my son." But instead, the tenants kill the son because he is the heir to the vineyard. Now what does this parable tell us about Jesus’s self-understanding? He thought of himself as God’s special son, distinct from all the prophets, God’s final messenger, and even the heir to Israel. This is no mere Jewish peasant!

Jesus’s self-concept as God’s son comes to explicit expression in Matthew 11.27: "All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him." Again there is good reason to regard this as an authentic saying of the historical Jesus. It is drawn from an old source which was shared by Matthew and Luke, which scholars call the Q document. Moreover, it is unlikely the Church invented this saying because it says that the Son is unknowable—"no one knows the Son except the Father"—, but for the post-Easter church we can know the Son. So this saying is not the product of later Church theology. What does this saying tell us about Jesus’s self-concept? He thought of himself as the exclusive and absolute Son of God and the only revelation of God to mankind! Make no mistake: if Jesus wasn’t who he said he was, he was crazier than David Koresh and Jim Jones put together!”

(8) The resurrection of Jesus 

This section (pages 333-400) is heavy going. It is a thorough review of traditional and current apologetic writing about the resurrection. There are lots of interesting angles, though it is not necessarily convincing for an agnostic. For an idea of what is contained in this section, you might like to read an online transcript of a debate between William Lane Craig and  Bart D. Ehrman with the title “Is there historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus?” - 


The topics covered in Craig's full length treatment in his book, “Reasonable Faith”, are:

  • (a) the gospels are authentic 
  • (b) the text of the gospels is pure
  • (c) the gospels are reliable 
  • (d) how the historical defence of the resurrection declined in Christian thinking or how the resurrection came to be placed in “historical quarantine” (a fine summary of the influence of the biblical criticism movement)
  • (e) a re-statement of the empty tomb argument
  • (f) alternative explanations for the empty tomb
  • (g) are the post-mortem appearances credible?
  • (f) explaining the resurrection appearances psychologically 
  • (g) explaining the origin of the Christian faith