Friday, January 20, 2012

Making Christian War and Peace At the Same Time

"Good apologetics involves 'speaking the truth in love' (Eph 4:15)." ~ William Lane Craig

I began my previous post by quoting Dr. Craig to the effect that Christians should "prepare for war" against non-believers by steeping themselves and their children in sound arguments for their faith and against criticisms thereof. And I think I have to agree that if one is going to be Christian, one should know a fair amount about essential Christian teachings and be able to defend them effectively and not merely count on simple emotion and devotion to carry one through the temptations and trials of life. After all, Christians in general and Dr. Craig in particular believe that the posthumous fate of one's immortal soul depends on whether one loves and obeys God in this life, and surely most of us need all the intellectual as well as emotional and social support we can to fulfill this lofty requirement.

Furthermore, it makes perfect sense for Christians who want their children to go to heaven rather than hell to give them all the intellectual as well as other kinds of support they can to keep them strong in their faith and obedience to God. Thus, as Dr. Craig says, it would be grossly irresponsible for a Christian who believes this way not to render that support.

Yet, I wonder if and where parents should draw the line between sound and suitable teaching that enhances a child's religious knowledge but preserves and promotes her autonomy on the one hand and forceful indoctrination that interferes with a child's ability to make up his own mind about religion on the other. I'm concerned that parents who vigorously ground their children, especially their minor children, in apologetics may be crossing the line from acceptable teaching into unacceptable indoctrination.

I also wonder about how to reconcile Craig's talk of Christians going to apologetical "war" with non-believing individuals and with a culture increasingly hostile to believers and his following statement: "We should be gentle and respectful. Apologetics is also not the art of making somebody else sorry that you're a  Christian! We can present a defense of the Christian faith without becoming defensive. We can present arguments for the Christian faith without becoming argumentative."

When I think of war, I decidedly don't think of people respectfully reasoning together, and I suspect that many people who try to wage war against non-belief with respectful argument fail miserably at the latter, despite Dr. Craig's observation that "the better my arguments, the less argumentative I am. The better my defense, the less defensive I am. If you have good reasons for what you believe and know the answers to the unbeliever's questions or objections, there's just no reason to get hot under the collar. Instead, you'll find yourself calm and confident when you're under attack, because you know you have the answers."

Yet, I have to say that I have great respect for Christians who engage non-believers such as myself with respectful, calm, and reasoned argument, and I surmise that if more Christians were able to do this, it would place their faith in a much more appealing light and undoubtedly lead more non-believers to embrace it.

In my next blogpost, I want to briefly address Dr. Craig's reasons for why apologetics is important.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Outline of William Lane Craig's On Guard--Chapter 1

"We’ve got to train our kids for war. How dare we send them unarmed into an intellectual war zone? Parents must do more than take their children to church and read them Bible stories. Moms and dads need to be trained in apologetics themselves and so be able to explain to their children simply from an early age and then with increasing depth why we believe as we do. Honestly, I find it hard to understand how Christian couples in our day and age can risk bringing children into the world without being trained in apologetics as part of the art of parenting." ~ William Lane Craig

I now commence my study of William Lane Craig's On Guard: Defending Your Faith With Reason and Precision by summarizing Chapter 1.

1. Apologetics is about defending rather than apologizing for one's Christian faith.

2. The Bible (e.g., 1 Peter 3:15) commands Christians to respond gently and respectfully to nonbelievers' challenges with good reasons for their faith.

3. Defend the faith and present arguments for it without being defensive and argumentative.

4. The better reasons one has for one's faith, the less defensive and argumentative one will be.

5. Apologetics is biblical. (e.g., Luke 24:25-27, John 14:11, Acts 14:17, Romans 1:20, 1 Cor. 15:3-8)

6. There are three reasons why apologetics is important:

   I. It can shape culture to make non-believers more receptive to conversion through apologetics and other means.

   II. It can strengthen believers in three ways:

      A. Make them more confident and assertive in sharing their faith.

      B. Help Christians sustain their faith through difficult circumstances.

      C. Make Christians deeper and more interesting persons.

   III. It can lead others to believe, especially by converting the most intelligent and influential people in society (e.g., doctors, lawyers, engineers, C.S Lewis).

7. Read and study the logical structure and premises of the arguments presented in the rest of the book. If you can respond to non-believers challenges with sound arguments, you make it harder for them to reject or ridicule them or you.


argument map

Monday, January 9, 2012

Lee Strobel's Foreward to "On Guard"

"On Guard" begins with a foreword by former skeptic turned apologist Lee Strobel in which he praises Dr. Craig as "among the very best defenders of Christianity of this generation" and then recounts several of Craig's debates with atheists.

In the first such instance, writes Strobel, an atheist organization proposed a debate pitting one of their foremost atheists, Frank Zindler, against the best apologist Christians could muster, and the Christians put forth Bill Craig who debated Zindler before a packed church auditorium and massive media coverage in 1993, and, according to Strobel, Craig trounced Zindler, which led to several Christian conversions right on the spot and shocked the atheist community which had anticipated that they could easily debunk Christian teachings.

In another famous and much more recent debate, Dr. Craig debated the renowned polemicist writer and debater Christopher Hitchens and, according to this atheist, "spanked Hitchens like a foolish child."

Strobel then proceeds to explain that Dr. Craig, in his debate with Zindler, posed five essential arguments for the existence of the Christian God:

"First, the beginning of the universe clearly points toward a Creator (“Whatever begins to exist has a cause; the universe began to exist; therefore, the universe has a cause”). Second, the universe’s incredible fine-tuning defies coincidence and exhibits the handiwork of an intelligent designer. Third, our objective moral values are evidence that there is a God, since only He could establish a universal standard of right and wrong. Fourth, the historical evidence for the resurrection—including the empty tomb, eyewitness accounts, and the origin of the Christian faith—establish the divinity of Jesus. And, fifth, God can be immediately known and experienced by those who seek Him." 

Next, I will summarize Dr. Craig's key points in Chapter 1: "What Is Apologetics?"

Saturday, January 7, 2012

William Lane Craig as the Royce Gracie of Christian Apologetics

"It is hard to overstate the impact that William Lane Craig has had for the cause of Christ. He is simply the finest Christian apologist of the last half century, and his academic work justifies ranking him among the top 1 percent of practicing philosophers in the Western world. Besides that, he is a winsome ambassador for Christ, an exceptional debater, and a man with the heart of an evangelist. I know him well and can say that he lives a life of integrity and lives out what he believes. I do not know of a single thinker who has done more to raise the bar of Christian scholarship in our generation than Craig. He is one of a kind and I thank God for his life and work." ~ J.P. Moreland, distinguished professor of philosophy at Talbot School of Theology 

I spent most of my adolescent and adult life as a non-believer convinced that Christianity is an intellectually indefensible religion embraced by predominately stupid or at least ignorant people who are too lazy to learn and think enough about their ridiculous faith to realize just how ridiculous it is.

Of course, I'd seen intimations of rational Christian belief from theologians like Thomas Aquinas and modern apologist writers such as C.S. Lewis and Peter Kreeft, but I never bothered to study them carefully. Then I stumbled across William Lane Craig and began watching some of his debates on YouTube with the likes of famous atheists Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, and reading his essays on his website Reasonable Faith and segments from some of his books, and I have to come clean and admit that I'm enormously impressed by this guy's intellectual brilliance and theological and philosophical erudition even though I still don't accept the conclusions of his arguments. Here is a short video of the late, great polemicist Christopher Hitchens paying his respects to Craig before his famous debate with him at Biola University on April 4, 2009. Here is the debate itself, and here is a transcript of the debate.

As far as debates with non-believers are concerned, William Lane Craig is the Royce Gracie of Christian apologists. Royce Gracie is a jujitsu master who, back in the early 1990's, challenged anyone of any size or tradition in the martial arts world to full contact matches with very few rules, and he prevailed, sometimes with shocking ease, against everyone. He would take on karate and kung fu masters far larger and stronger than he was and fling them to the ground and choke them out or make them submit, and it sometimes happened so quickly that neither they nor the viewers of these matches knew what had happened. Royce Gracie and his Gracie family of martial artists revolutionized the way the public thinks of martial arts from seeing them as a predominately striking and kicking affair to viewing them as a multifaceted discipline that depends as much or more on grappling maneuvers than anything else and brings most fights to the ground.

In the same way, William Craig has demonstrated that non-believers can't take Christian apologetics or apologists lightly, and if they're going to debate a master apologist such as Craig and not get TKO'd, they better diversify and elevate their game to the intellectual and rhetorical stratosphere.

Now I have no delusions of grandeur that I could ever publicly debate Bill Craig and defeat him. First of all, I'm a nobody who will always fly completely under his radar, even though I've exchanged a few comments with him on his Facebook page. And, second, I'm not good at thinking on my feet and have no training in debate. However, I would like to believe that I have the wherewithal to examine his chief arguments for Christianity as well as the best counterarguments to those arguments, and that, if the counterarguments trump his arguments, I can write cogently about it here and elsewhere.

To that end, I want to begin by examining a book of his, On Guard, that he wrote to serve as a primer for Christians to use to defend their faith. Craig has actually written many acclaimed apologetical books, including his masterwork, Reasonable Faith. But "On Guard" is a clearer and simpler book aimed at a broader audience that includes philosophically and theologically unsophisticated types such as myself, although, unlike what I suspect is true of most of his readers, I'm interested in ultimately refuting rather than embracing his arguments.

However, if it should come to pass that I find Dr. Craig's arguments more compelling than the counterarguments, I will write about that instead and adjust my viewpoint accordingly.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Giving Christianity a Skeptical but Fair Hearing

After my linking in a Facebook forum to yesterday's introductory blogpost, someone made the following pithy comment:

"Steve, you have not been investigating Christianity. You have not been writing in a manner that admits to investigation. You have written in a way that shows that you have ruled it out. You have been seeking agreement from others to rule it out as well. Calling a non-investigation an investigation is like calling ad hominem argument debate."

This is how I replied:

"I admit that I begin my investigation with the strong assumption that traditional, exoteric Christian teachings are absurd and nonsensical, just as most Christians "investigating" atheism [or other religions] would probably begin with similarly strong convictions against atheism [or other religions]. Having said that, I do want to understand the arguments for Christian teachings as thoroughly as I understand their counterarguments and to be as fair to both sides in my blogging as I can possibly be. That's the best I can do, and I will try my best to do my best."

I think my Facebook critic raises a good point. When I read and write about Christianity, it's always with the intent of debunking the faith. But does this guarantee that I can't give the best arguments for the faith a fair hearing? Josh McDowell, one of the most popular Christian apologists ever, supposedly came to the faith after setting out to debunk it. No doubt many others have taken a similar path to Christianity. So, who's to say that I can't give the faith a reasonably fair hearing despite what my motives may be starting out?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ever since I left the Nazarene Church as an early teen, I've spent ungodly amounts of time arguing with Christians against essential Christian teachings concerning God, Jesus, sin, and hell.

Before the Internet came along, I argued mostly face-to-face with people. After I got on the Internet, I've done most of my arguing by baiting Christians into heated online debates over their beliefs or by posting blog entries elsewhere attacking Christian beliefs.

I don't know why I've been so preoccupied with critiquing Christianity over all these decades. Christians have often told me it's because God keeps calling me to Him so powerfully that I can't just ignore Him; yet, rather than openly heed His call, my wicked pride compels me to rebel against Him by relentlessly attacking, albeit ineffectually, the "one, true faith" that represents Him.

Needless to say, I don't accept this explanation. Even if it were true, I'm not conscious of it being true, and I sincerely believe that I can offer more plausible explanations for why I'm so negatively preoccupied with Christianity.

For starters, Christianity has immensely influenced American culture right up to the present day, and I think baser versions of it wield inordinate influence over culture and politics. That is, I see politicians using religion not so much in order to draw the diverse peoples of this nation together in mutual respect and common purpose as to divide them into "us" Godfearin' conservative Christians and "them" Godforsaken liberal heretics and atheists so that they can rally support that gets them voted into or kept in office where they can carry out a political agenda of aggrandizing the rich, imperialist warmongering, and legislating a narrow morality with which I hotly disagree. Thus, I want to neutralize this Christian menace or, at least, lash out in angry frustration against it even if my efforts are too weak or Christian resistance to them is too strong for them to do any tangible good.

Another reason I could cite is that I've just always been extremely interested in religion. Not so much in its practices as in its guiding principles or teachings. And since I live in a still predominately Christian culture rather than a Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist one, Christianity is what I focus on disproportionately, albeit not exclusively. Furthermore, because I don't believe in Christianity as I understand it, I focus on refuting it.

I could further speculate about why I think, talk, and write so much against Christianity, but the bottom line is that I plan to keep doing it because I enjoy it too much to stop and don't see good reason to stop. In fact, I even have the fanciful notion that I might be able to earn money writing about Christianity if I can learn more about it and why it's as implausible as I think it is.

That's where this blog comes in. I plan to engage in a deeper and more systematic investigation of Christian teachings than I ever have before, and I'd like to record the essential results of that effort here and share them with anyone who wants to follow along with me or comment on what I have to say.

I won't be able to record everything I read, hear, or think about during my investigation, but I will challenge myself to post here what seems especially important. And I've decided to begin by summarizing and, to a lesser extent, at least at first, evaluating William Lane Craig's formidable introduction to Christian apologetics, On Guard: Defending Your Faith With Reason and Precision.

I will have more to say about this in my next blogpost.