In Case You Missed It

1) Southeastern alum (M.Div.) and current pastor at Gateway Heights Church in Cleveland, Ohio, Cory Wilson writes about the evangelical expression of “A Biblical Vision of Marriage” at First Things.

2) Students must read: Southeastern VP of Institutional Advancement, Art Rainer, shares some good advice on how to avoid student loan debt.

3) Ed Stetzer provides helpful analysis of the growth of Pentecostalism while many other evangelical denominations are shrinking.

4) An illuminating testimonial and helpful argument from Al Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on sexual orientation and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

5) Our culture didn’t become secular overnight. Read Trevin Wax’s interview of James K. A. Smith to find out how Charles Taylor tells this story.

6) This one is a bit more dated, but still worth reading. At the New Republic, John Gray reviews Richard Dawkins’ auto-biography, An Appetite for WonderAtheism, it seems, is a religion.

 online para mobiles

Briefly Noted: William Lane Craig & The New Theists

Of all the things I expected to encounter this morning when I woke up, an appreciative essay about William Lane Craig published in The Chronicle Review was not one of them.[1] And yet, this is what I found when I read Nathan Schneider’s “The New Theist,” in which he argues that Craig is the leader of a brand of Christian philosophy with which the broader philosophical academy must now reckon.

Schneider begins by detailing a conversation that he (Schneider) recently had with Richard Dawkins. Dawkins had debated Craig and expressed bewilderment by Schneider’s interest in Craig, and dismissed him as “very unimpressive” (B7). This sort of dismissive attitude is the norm for Dawkins who tends to be an enthralled fan of his own performances. And yet, Schneider notes Sam Harris, who like Dawkins is a New Atheists, considers Craig “the one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God into many fellow atheists” (B7). Schneider considers Craig’s polarizing influence the prime reason for him to examine Craig’s message and intellectual posture.

Schneider reports that Craig is best known for holding debates with atheists on college campuses. Craig believes that “debate is the forum for sharing the gospel on college campuses,” (B7). He insists upon the same format for each debate. In his opening statement, Craig  “pummels the opponent with five or so concise arguments,” about, say, the origins of the universe or the resurrection of Jesus (B7). Following the opening statement, Craig responds point-by-point to his opponent’s rebuttals and states at the end of the debate how few of his arguments the opponent engaged, much less refuted. Schneider notes that debate audiences tend to view Craig as the winner (B7).

Craig’s success in these debates is rooted in a neuromuscular disease that causes atrophy in the extremities. Because of this disease, Craig was unable to play sports in high school and subsequently joined debate teams instead. Through these debate contexts, Craig was learning a skill set that he would one day employ in the service of Christ. Craig recounts how as a high school student he was soon confronted with the claims of Christ because of the witness of a fellow student in German class. Craig began to read the Bible. “For me,” Craig told Schneider, “it was a question of personal, existential commitment: Was I prepared to become this man’s follower?” (B7). His commitment to Christ grounded him and led him through his studies at Wheaton College. From Wheaton Craig went on to study philosophy under John Hick at the University of Birmingham in England.

Schneider reports that Hick found Craig to be one of his top three students, but one whose “extreme theological conservatism” seemed to separate him from the modern world. “Hick, a pioneer of religious pluralism and non-exclusivist approaches to Christianity, was taken aback by this brilliant student’s single-minded ambition: to persuade more people everywhere to make professions of faith in Jesus Christ” (B8). Nonetheless, Craig’s dissertation was published as two books and has become influential in philosophical discussion. He continued this academic work with a doctorate in theology at the University of Munich. Thus by the mid-1980s Craig was equipped to work as a Christian apologist, philosopher, and biblical scholar (B8).

Craig views the live debates as only one component of his larger evangelistic strategy, a strategy that also includes a heavy emphasis on digital and social media. Craig remarks, “‘I have become convinced that we need to be more active in using the media . . . I need to work smarter, not harder, by leveraging these media opportunities” (B8). He seeks to leverage these media for the various aspects of his wide-ranging ministry. His website, Reasonable Faith, serves as an “on ramp” to the philosophical highway containing his books, essays, and videos. His books include Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (an introduction to Christian philosophy), Reasonable Faith (an apologetic for Christian faith), and On Guard (designed specifically for church groups).

Another component of Craig’s strategy is the mentoring and development of graduate students in philosophy. Along with Scott Rae and J.P. Moreland, Craig underpins the philosophy program at Biola University, a program that has placed students in PhD programs and faculty positions all over the world. Many atheistic philosophers describe Biola grads as very well prepared students. Schneider notes that “Laurence Bonjour, a philosopher at the University of Washington who has supervised the Ph.D. work of [Biola] program graduates, ‘Biola students, especially those interested in epistemology, are often very well trained” (B9). Yet the explicitly Christian confession and orientation of Biola can taint it in other philosophers’ perceptions. For example, “The Philosophical Gourmet Report,” which rates philosophy departments according to their faculty does not even mention Biola (B9), and Schneider speculates that this neglect might stem from Biola’s reputation as an evangelical Christian university.

Schneider points out though that “the Christian aspect” is everything for Craig and the Biola team (B10). Craig begins his seasonal classes with a reflection on the integration of Christian faith and scholarship. Again, this is part of the larger evangelistic calling Craig follows. For Craig the way to influence the culture is through influencing the university. This requires “scholarly apologetics” (B10). So Craig trains students (and families, as seen in his children’s book What is God like?) to be clear-thinking Christians who engage the increasingly atheistic culture. This is also a prophetic calling for Craig. In Reasonable Faith he argues, “Biblical Christianity retreated into the intellectual closet of Fundamentalism . . . Satan deceives us into voluntarily laying aside our best weapons of logic and evidence, thereby ensuring unawares modernism’s triumph over us” (cited on B10). Thus Craig aims to show how “a grown up faith in modern society requires grown up reasons” (B10).

According to Schneider, perhaps the best reason to take Craig and his brand of philosophy seriously is the results it is achieving. Craig has given many college students reason to believe in Christ and trust the biblical witness. Schneider notes, “In class, Craig is more than his students’ teacher; for many, this is the man who saved their faith” (B10). Schneider compares Craig to the ancient philosophers whose goal was not to engage in overly specialized debate about philosophical minutia. Instead, “philosophy was supposed to serve the polis, to educate and embolden its young, to raise up leaders. Whether one likes their preconceived conclusions or not, today it is evangelical Christians, with William Lane Craig in the lead, who are doing so better than just about anyone else” (B10). With the original telos of philosophy in mind, then, Craig and his tribe present a formidable challenge to the New Atheists.

[1] Nathan Schneider, “The New Theist” in The Chronicle Review (July 5, 2013), B6–10.

Augustine for the 21st Century (4): What Were Augustine’s Starting Points and How are They Relevant for Today?

Augustine teaches us to use Christian doctrine as a lever to unseat false prophets such as Peter Singer, Richard Dawkins, or Christopher Hitchens.

Augustine defended Christianity from one basic starting point: the biblical narrative is true and it alone explains the world within (existential viability) and the world without (empirical adequacy). He knew that his interlocutors did not agree. Augustine understood that, as Romans 1 puts it so damningly, the Roman pagans were busy suppressing the knowledge of the truth, exchanging the truth of God for a lie, and worshipping the creature rather than the creator. In response to their idolatry, therefore, Augustine presupposed and proclaimed the truth of the biblical narrative. He used certain basic Christian doctrines (God, Creation, Man, Sin, Redemption) as starting points to show the falsity of the competing Roman narrative.

Those same doctrines provide starting points for us in defending the gospel in a 21st century context.

Take, for example, the doctrine of man in relation to atheism. As I wrote in an article in Spring 2007, “The problem with atheism, as with other worldviews, is that it is not able to account for the unique nature, capacities, and ends of human existence. Inevitably, it tends toward either an enthronement or a denigration of humanity, unable to strike a proper balance.

At times, atheists tend toward the enthronement of humanity. This might seem an obvious move; if one chooses not to worship God on His throne, the next best thing would be to enthrone oneself. This can be seen in Humanist Manifesto II, which states that, ‘At the present juncture of history, commitment to all humankind is the highest commitment of which we are capable.’

At other times (or ironically, at the same time), atheists denigrate humanity. A glittering example of this is Peter Singer, of Princeton University’s Center for Human Values. Singer, like Nietzche and others, realizes what a radical revisioning of mankind must take place. For him this means that we cannot base our ethics on the imago Dei or argue that our immortal soul distinguishes us from the animals. ‘By 2040,’ he writes, ‘it may be that only a rump of hard-core, know-nothing religious fundamentalists will defend the view that every human life, from conception to death, is sacrosanct.’[1]

For Singer, the moral status of a human being is defined, not by his being created in the image of God, but by his consciousness and ability to function. Those humans who are most conscious and functional have more worth and moral status that those who are less conscious and functional. Healthy teenagers and middle-aged folks, then, are worth more than babies and old people, and certainly more than the mentally and physically handicapped.

For this reason, certain non-human animals have higher moral status than certain human animals. A donkey or a dog will often have superior consciousness and function than a defective human baby. It is for this reason that he believes one might find instances when infanticide is acceptable; sometimes, he thinks, it would be more wrong to take the life of an animal than to take the life of a defective baby.[2]

Furthermore, since Singer does not hold to the imago Dei, which gives a clear line of delineation between humans and animals, he has no problem suggesting that inter-species sexual activity is sometimes acceptable. In some instances, sex between a man and an animal might be mutually satisfying and, therefore, not problematic. He hurries to say, however, that with small animals such as chickens or ferrets, sexual activity might be painful for the animal and would therefore be problematic.[3]

Singer’s re-definition of humanity finds company even in popular culture. Take, for example, the movie Bicentennial Man (1999). In this movie Robin Williams is a robot who is on a two-century journey toward becoming ‘human.’ At one point in the movie, he begins to use the word ‘I,’ signifying that he has now become self-conscious. He is now every bit as ‘conscious’ as human beings, and the implication, it seems, is that he has therefore achieved humanness.”[4]

Atheism-like any worldview other than Christianity-cannot make proper sense of mankind. It tends toward either the enthronement or the denigration of humanity. The imago Dei is essential for understanding humanity. It makes sense of who we are; indeed, it renders coherent the socio-cultural activities that surround us and pervade our lives. As we image forth God through our capacities for spirituality, morality, rationality, relationality, and imagination, we are able to live distinctively human lives. Our work in the sciences is possible because of our ability to reason. In the arts, we may participate because of our imaginative and creative capacities. In the public square, we may act and interact because God made us not only rational but relational beings. As theologians, this robust anthropology unlocks the complexities of man’s unique capacities and his relationship to the rest of the created order.

Or take the doctrine of God in relation to pantheism (Note: Certain ancient philosophers, most Buddhists, many Hindus are pantheists. Pantheism comes in many varieties, and this blogpost inevitably will refer only to certain streams of pantheism). One of the problems for pantheists is that they are unable to account for aspects of human life such as evil or logic precisely because they do not believe in the God of the Bible. As Christian theists, we believe that God is eternal and good. He created the world from nothing, is separate from it, but relates personally to it. Pantheists, on the other hand, believe that God is the world and the world is God. All is one. This monism, however, puts the pantheist in a major bind. If all is one, then there can be no distinctions. But few things are more apparently false than this belief.

If all is one, there can be no such thing as logic. Logic just is the making of distinctions. Logic is premised upon the belief that A cannot be non-A at the same time, in the same place, and in the same way. Our use of human language is in turn premised upon logic. When we state something, we intend for it to be taken in the way that we meant it (“A”) rather than in the opposite manner (“non-A”). But for Buddhists, logic is the enemy and if we are to become one with the world we must rid ourselves of it. This is why one can find Buddhists meditating on the sound of one hand clapping. It is an illogical exercise aimed at setting the practitioner free from captivity to logic. The Zen Buddhist D. T. Suzuki, for example, argues that we must abandon/transcend logic because it is not applicable to reality.[5] But in order to deny that logic applies to reality, one must make a “logical” statement about reality to the effect that one cannot make logical statements. If a person states that there is no logic (because all is one and there are no distinctions), his statement is itself a distinction.

Further, if all is one, I find it difficult to imagine how one can explain evil in relation to goodness. If all is one, the concepts of “good” and “evil” are not really opposed to one another after all-they are really the same thing. For this reason, some pantheists argue that there is neither good nor evil and others argue that evil is an illusion. Prabhavananda and Usherwood, for example, say, “All good and all evil is relative to the individual point of growth….But, in the highest sense, there can be neither good nor evil.”[6] Such an argument, however, is not only counter-intuitive but goes against an abundance of empirical evidence. Good and evil exist and evil is not an illusion.

In summary, just as Augustine used basic Christian doctrines to show how the competing pagan worldview lacked explanatory power, we are able to use those same doctrines to expose the weaknesses, fallacies, and falsities of pantheism, atheism, and other worldviews.

[1] Peter Singer, “The Sanctity of Life,” in Foreign Policy (Sept/Oct 2005) 40.

[2] Ibid., “Sanctity of Life or Quality of Life,” Pediatrics (July 1983) 129. Also, in Practical Ethics (New York: Cambridge University, 1979), he argues that membership in the human species is irrelevant to moral status.

[3] Singer’s most famous treatment of bestiality, or as he calls it zoophilia, is “Heavy Petting,” published at, on March 12, 2001. Lest one think that Singer is an obscure radical with no real influence, it should be noted that he is often called one of the most influential philosophers alive. In fact, his Practical Ethics is the most successful philosophy text ever published by Cambridge University Press.

[4] Bruce Riley Ashford, “Worldview, Anthropology, and Gender: A Call to Broaden the Parameters of the Discussion.” The Journal for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood XII, Issue 1 (Spring 2007) 7-9.

[5] D. T. Suzuki, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism, 58.

[6] Prabhavananda and Usherwood, Bhagavad-Gita, 140.