Posted by Clark Bates
April 22, 2019
Recently on social media, a Q&A from Dr. William Lane Craig’s website, Reasonable Faith, made the rounds. Needless to say, it has caused no small stir amongst the Reformed on social media, and likewise it has concerned me. Before I begin though, let me state that this is not going to be an attack on Dr. Craig or his theology. I have great respect for Dr Craig and the work that he does. He has even given me some very wise advice early in my apologetic pursuits, and I will always be thankful for that. What concerns me, and has for many years now, is the increase in compromise that I have seen come from within the so-called “Mere Christianity” movement, of which Dr. Craig is a large contributor.
These compromises often center doctrinally around what can best be described as Sola Resurrectio or the resurrection alone. By this, I mean that the only important Christian doctrine that needs to be pressed on an unbeliever is the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. If this can be proven, usually from the famed “minimal facts” approach, it is theorized that everything else that Christians believe, and what the Bible teaches, must be acceptable. While I disagree even on logical grounds that simply because Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead, the rest of Christianity necessarily must be true, what is more troubling is the extent to which this perspective has been taken.
A popular evangelical minister has made headlines in recent years with ever increasing claims about the value believers should place on the Bible itself. He has taught sermon series that challenge historical aspects of the Bible, cardinal beliefs of the Christian faith, and most recently suggested that Christians should cease to use the Hebrew Bible as it is not authoritative for the believer. This preacher’s main thesis for this increasing polarity is that the only thing that matters is the resurrection. It is Sola Resurrectio ad extremo. I am not laying this pastor’s actions at the feet of Dr. Craig, although it should be noted that Dr. Craig and other apologists involved in the Mere Christianity movement have continued to express support for this pastor and his actions. Rather, this is just an example of the extremes to which Sola Resurrectio can go.
I say all of this to set the stage for why the question and answer article posted at Reasonable Faith has caused such a stir, and why the response from Dr. Craig is what it is. The Question posed to Dr. Craig concerned an interview given by Dr. Craig in January of this year. This is the question:
Hello Dr. Craig,
I appreciate your work and am going through the Defender podcasts I enjoyed your interview with Erik Thoennes of Grace Evangelical Free in January 2019. In that interview you said “We believe in the Bible because we believe in Christ. We do not believe in Christ because we believe in the Bible”. Can you explain what you meant by that statement ?
Thank you !
I have not seen this interview, so I cannot comment on anything that was said during the actual discussion. This is why I am limiting this article to Dr. Craig’s posted response. It begins this way:
“Sure! What I’m expressing in a pithy way by this aphorism (which is not original to me!) is that in order to rationally believe in Christ as Savior and Lord, you need not embrace biblical inspiration or inerrancy. So long as the New Testament documents are sufficiently reliable to establish the historicity of Jesus’ radical personal claims and the historicity of his crucifixion, burial, empty tomb, post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples’ belief in his resurrection, then you are warranted by the evidence in believing that Jesus rose from the dead and so was who he claimed to be. That suffices for a Christian commitment.”
To begin with, Dr. Craig asserts that the “pithy aphorism” he has employed is referring to the belief in the inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible, but if that is in fact the case, and I take Dr. Craig at his word here that it is, the aphorism says nothing about either doctrine. The purpose of an aphorism is to create an easy-to-remember mnemonic for a larger truth. This aphorism seems to imply that the Bible should be doubted were it not for Christ. If you have to explain the aphorism then it has failed to serve its purpose. But let’s look at the larger claim being made. Dr Craig says that,
“So long as the New Testament documents are sufficiently reliable to establish the historicity of Jesus’ radical personal claims and the historicity of the crucifixion, burial …then you are warranted by the evidence in believing Jesus rose from the dead and so was who he claimed to be.”
Here is where I struggle. What appears to be going on is nothing more than a semantic game, for what Dr. Craig is saying is that we don’t believe Christ because of the Bible, but because of the reliability of the “New Testament documents”. The New Testament documents are part of the Bible. They were viewed as Scripture on par with the Old Testament within the lifetime of the apostle Paul. So, in reality Dr. Craig is affirming the exact opposite of his aphorism. He does in fact believe in Christ BECAUSE he believes in the Bible! I actually don’t disagree here either. I believe that the Bible is the sole infallible rule of faith and practice for the Christian and that includes the belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Despite the increasing trend of shying away from referring to the Bible as the Bible, a rose by any other name….
Dr. Craig’s response does not end there. He goes on to say:
“Even taken as ordinary, fallible human records, the New Testament documents have been shown to be reliable with respect to these facts. Too many Christians naively think that unless you presuppose biblical inspiration and inerrancy, the historicity of the life of Jesus goes down the drain. This attitude, far from showing confidence in the Bible, actually betrays a profound lack of confidence in its historical credibility. Without the theological assumptions of inspiration and inerrancy to hold it up, the Bible is implicitly taken to be untrustworthy on this view.
But once one becomes a Christian, then one submits to the teaching of the Lord Jesus. When we see how Jesus regarded the Old Testament, we perceive that he taught it to be the inspired and wholly reliable Word of God. So as his disciples, we should, too. We believe in the Bible because we believe in him.”
– William Lane Craig
While it might be true that some Christians believe that inerrancy and inspiration are the only means by which the Bible can be true, this is certainly not the prevailing view in academia or in the majority of seminaries or pulpits. The following statement also seems to be a false dichotomy that believing that the Bible is inspired by God, something affirmed by the apostle Paul, is somehow naïve and betray a lack of confidence in its historical credibility. Clearly the apostles and the Lord himself believed in the inspiration of the Old Testament AND its historical credibility. To say that these “theological assumptions” are mistaken creates more havoc within Christian belief than most in the mere Christianity movement seem to recognize or want to acknowledge.
Finally, Dr. Craig affirms the inspiration of Scripture only after it is clear that Jesus believed this. Yet, as I’ve stated above, Dr. Craig inadvertently affirms that belief in the reliability of the New Testament is how someone believes in Jesus, meaning that the entire argument is ultimately circular. If we remove the semantic wordplay the response devolves to, “I believe in Jesus because the Bible is reliable and because the Bible is reliable about Jesus, I believe that the Bible is inspired.
In the end, I agree with all the things that Dr. Craig inadvertently admits. I do not agree with the use of confusing aphorisms that really only exist for shock value. As I have written elsewhere, the most important verse in all of Scripture is 2 Timothy 3:16, precisely because it is the affirmation that all of Scripture is “God-breathed”. This is the reason that the Bible carries the weight of authority that it did for the Jewish believers of old and the Christians that would follow. To affirm it as any less, even with the noble intention of wanting to bring someone to faith in Christ, is to play a type of deceptive game. It is not helpful to deceive someone into the faith. Likewise, multiple studies from the Pew Research Center, Ligonier Ministries, and the George Barna Group repeatedly demonstrate that biblical literacy in the American church is at an all-time low. The answer to this disturbing trend is not to remove large portions of the Bible to make it easier for Christians and non-Christians, but to increase the teaching of the full counsel of God’s Word, even in apologetics. Let us strive for higher, not set the bar lower.