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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

"A Reasonable Response" (William Lane Craig)

TITLE: A Reasonable Response: Answers to Tough Questions on God, Christianity, and the Bible
AUTHOR: William Lane Craig
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2013, (416 pages).

Apologetics is getting more popular by the day, for the questions never truly go away. While there are many different Internet sites offering all kinds of perspectives to anything under the sun, few come close to the kind of learning and authority of William Lane Craig, an American apologist, trained in theology and philosophy in England, Germany, and the US. Currently a research professor at Talbot School of Theology at Biola, one of the world's leading schools on apologetics, WLC puts on paper what he has often done face to face in public engagements. Calling this book a "reasonable response" is already a give away, that this book is about the process, the problem, and the promise of answering tough questions facing both Christians as well as non-Christians. This book may very well be WLC's most personal book on how he engages the tough questions surrounding Christianity today.

Calling "questions" as friends, Craig and Gorra helpfully helps us to see questions not as threats but as invitations to learn and to build friendships. Readers need not be afraid of questions, even those they cannot answer. People who ask questions need to be respected and gently engaged with honesty and integrity. There are several distinctiveness in this book's approach to apologetics. Firstly, it goes beyond mere Bible answers to see the bigger picture of the Bible vision. Secondly, without wanting to wear people down with heavy textbook answer, the authors put forth a compelling concise and fairly comprehensive way to engage the questions without missing the questioner's beat. Thirdly, there is the "doing of apologetics" approach, instead of just talking about it. In other words, apart from just learning the answers toward learning to answer them. The rest of the book represents the authors' take on six major groups of questions.
  1. Part One: Questions on Knowing and Believing What is Real
  2. Part Two: Questions about God
  3. Part Three: Questions about Origins and Meaning of Life
  4. Part Four: Questions about the Afterlife and Evil
  5. Part Five: Questions about Jesus Christ and Being His Disciple
  6. Part Six: Questions about Issues of Christian Practice
Fourthly, the selections of the questions are not haphazardly done. All the questions are selected on the basis of three criteria.
  • Is it interesting?
  • Is it insightful?
  • Is it instructive? 
Fifthly, there is a participation style that invites readers to come alongside the authors to learn about engaging the question itself. It begins with a simple reading of the question. It then considers the question from the perspective of the person asking the question. Finally, it gives readers an opportunity to compare their approaches with that of Craig's. At the same time, WLC shares with readers some insights from his Biola colleague, JP Moreland on how to cultivate both a Christian mind and spiritual formation.
  1. Growing in mental fortitude via truth-seeking, honesty, and wisdom;
  2. Growing in trust and hope
  3. Growing the inner soul through humility, open-mindedness, non-defensiveness, and circumspection;
  4. Growing holistically in ardor (zeal), vigilance, and fortitude;
  5. Growing in our relationship with God in fidelity and dedication to God's mission.
Sixth, the book is comprehensive, covering six major parts of the doing of Apologetics. Part One touches on the reality of life, the place of knowledge, and essentially about epistemology (big word for knowledge). Lessons are given on how people learn, the basis for truth, the Bible as foundational to the seeking of truth, and how to persuade. Readers will learn of how WLC phrases and resits the questions in a way that is clearer but also appreciative of the questioner's concerns. He shows the way for readers not just to know the answer, but to learn how to answer the questions. For example, in addressing the question of the Authority of Scripture, WLC mounts a powerful defense via explanatory notes, showing the different critieria and the thinking processes that led to the canonization of the Holy Bible.

Part Two covers the very big topic of God and in particular Christian Theology. In explaining the existence of God, WLC draws on a wide beliefs of religion in general and adopts a personal approach in answering the question. Weaving in his own thinking and based on biblical references, he makes a distinction between mere intellectual enquiry versus honest searching for faith. Our apologetics need to be geared toward the latter and less toward the former.

Part Three is a hallmark of WLC's cosmological approach in his form of apologetics. It goes back all the way to argue that the existence of life is because of God, the ultimate cause (Creator) of the universe.  For God is not an impersonal force but a personal Being. For example, he highlights the importance to see the "is" in "God is the cause of the universe" as a predicate, that is, the second part cannot exist without the first. In other words, "God is good" is not to be understood merely the goodness of God, but without God, nothing is good. With this idea, one can begin to appreciate creatio ex nihilo (creating something out of nothing). WLC exposes how the philosophy of Hawking and Mlodinow contradicts their physics. In one brilliant example, he takes to task Hawking and Mlodinow's argument for determinism, that free will is an illusion since by twitching something in our brain, the arm can be move. WLC then goes on to say that it is wrong to presuppose that even if one can scientifically move the limbs and bypass one's freewill to choose how to move the arm, it fails to acknowledge that one can choose to move his/her arm freely on other occasions too. WLC also makes a keen distinction between "methodological naturalism" and "metaphysical naturalism," that many physicists like Hawking and Mlodinow are more about the former. The way he answers the question on time and timelessness is also a fascinating clarification to the question of eternity. He carefully touches on the question of life's meaning, arguing with passion that without an ultimate purpose, value, and destiny, there is truly no ultimate meaning in life. We need to move beyond constructing meaning about meaning which leads to nothingness and absurdity, but toward discovering meaning after meaning, leading to the Greatest ultimate purpose. For me, this part alone is worth the price of the book.

Part Four deals with the afterlife and the problem of evil. It deals with morality and to discern the goodness and the fairness of God in all things. WLC argues that the burden of proof for the problem of evil lies not with theists but with atheists! By separating the "emotional" and the "intellectual" components of the problem of evil, he makes it clear that atheists who argue against God using the problem of evil argument are merely mixing up the two. Once we separate the two, we can easily see that issues of morality and emotion cannot be easily explained from an atheistic standpoint. At best, they can argue from an intellectual capacity, which is why the burden of proof lies with the atheists, when it comes to emotional trauma. He touches on other critical topics like genocide in the Old Testament, that God has absolute right to do anything; that God is preserving Israel's spiritual health for the sake of the whole world; that the Canaanites are deserving of such judgment; that God is the ultimate Judge; and many other reasons.

Part Five comes to Jesus, the New Testament, and discipleship. WLC argues that Jesus is a real person, and not some mythological allusions. He gives a history of the Jesus scholarship movement, casts doubts on those who doubts the authenticity of Jesus, and explains how the pagan culture of the times has influenced the understanding of Jesus's life. Again, WLC argues that anything casting doubt on the authenticity of Jesus themselves have to bear the burden of proof. Christians have already stated their proofs through multiple witnesses and documented testimonies. WLC defends the resurrection of Jesus, debunking some of the common arguments that say just because they do not see more historical evidence, that Jesus' resurrection is untrue. WLC turns it around and say, just because we do not see more historical evidence does not necessarily mean Jesus' resurrection is false. In fact, Jesus' resurrection is not about proving the theory of the resurrection, but to give hope to all and to prove Jesus' claims of saving the world. On the part of being a disciple, WLC shares a powerful personal story of his own conversion, his intellectual challenges growing up in an environment of skepticism and cynicism, and how he finally comes to faith. On difficult questions, WLC poses an interesting challenge for readers, that the secret of dealing with doubt is not to have all our questions answered, but to be able to live victoriously in faith, even when not all our questions are answered.

Part Six is about Christian Practice. WLC deals with seven questions that covers issues in our modern culture; postmodern environment; unequally yoked marriages; homosexuality; physical stamina; and marriage.     For any solution, a good diagnosis is essential. He sees that it is the bed of modernism that has spawned the growth of relativism and pluralism. This version of modernism grows out of a culture that sees no big picture of life, no historical meta-narrative, and subsequently forgetfulness of historical traditions of the past. It is thus easily diagnosed that without a common story, people make up their own. Secularism, relativism, and all sorts of isms are society's ways of trying to build some meaning. He urges Christians not to marry non-Christians. He persuades people not to use "homosexuals" as genders but a sexual preference, arguing that it is more choice than genetics at stake here.

So What?

Although this is a big book to digest, the authors have made it more palatable by giving readers several useful guideposts when reading this book. First, each part has a helpful introduction to give readers a road map and the main points in the chapters that follow. Written in easy to follow point form, readers will be able to read the flow of arguments with this end in mind. Second, there are boxes of "Insight" that highlights at a glance the core arguments that WLC has to make. This is extremely helpful for readers who may find it hard to follow some tough philosophical arguments being built up. Third, the resources shared have been separated into three categories: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced. Interested readers will find it very helpful for further research. A good book will generate greater interest among readers to find out more, which makes this book itself a gem to have. Four, there is a gentle movement that happens when one reads this powerful book. One moves from mere intellectual reason to a passionate desire to want to believe. Five, the questions selected in the book are some of the most frequently asked questions. One may say that the issues are old, but the fact that it continues to be asked shows us the nature of the human person to be curious about the issues of life. Six, the value of the book is not the content but the process in which the reader can be trained to be a good apologist. Each step of the way, the authors do not just tell readers. They show readers what to do and how to do it.

Finally, I appreciate WLC's sharing of some of the most personal questions posed to him. If you notice carefully, WLC takes a personal interest and appreciation for every question posed, keeping at the forefront the personal concerns and struggles of the questioner. In answering the question, WLC does not beat around the bush or to meander in circles. He is very direct and keeps the reader attentive.

These reasons and many others have given me a renewed respect for William Lane Craig. If you cannot afford to take a course at Biola where he teaches, reading this book as well as checking out ReasonableFaith.org can perhaps be your next best alternative.

This book has certainly moved me from mere reasonable faith to more resolute belief.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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