December 12, 2013

Review: A Reasonable Response by William Lane Craig and Joseph Gorra

Craig, William Lane and Joseph E. Gorra. A Reasonable Response: Answers to Tough Questions on God, Christianity, and the Bible (Moody, 2013). 429 pp.

Over the years, Christian philosopher William Lane Craig has received hundreds of questions from his readers, both believer and non-believer alike. In A Reasonable Response, many of Craig's answers to these questions are collected together and organized in a helpful and readable manner.

In the lengthy introduction, co-author Joseph Gorra sets the stage by extolling the virtues of asking and answering questions and offering advice on how to read the book profitably.

What follows are six different sections covering questions ranging from the highly theoretical to the highly practical. Part one ("Questions on Knowing and Believing What Is Real") starts out, appropriately enough, with epistemological concerns like the nature of truth, the role of reason, the nature of faith, and the reliability of Scripture. From there, Craig moves on to "Questions about God" and "Questions about the Origins and the Meaning of Life" in parts two and three, respectively (it's here that some of the most complex argumentation and philosophical speculation is found). The book becomes increasingly practical (without losing it's philosophical bent) in parts four through six, covering "Questions about the Afterlife and Evil," "Questions about Jesus Christ and Being His Disciple," and "Questions about Issues of Christian Practice." Finally, in the conclusion and appendices, the reader is given practical advice for how to use the information gleaned from the book both for one's own personal growth as well as in the practice of discipleship and evangelism.

The most helpful thing about A Reasonable Response is its format. The material is organized in a very reader-friendly way, making this book ideal as a reference tool. It's also full of good insights and interesting arguments. Readers who are more philosophically-oriented will find it especially interesting. Craig's charitable and irenic tone is also appreciated (something many would-be apologists, including the author of this review, would do well to learn from). Finally, each part of the book contains a list of recommended supplemental reading, which, I think, is an excellent practice that more books like this ought to emulate.

I did, however, have a few issues with the book. First of all, the introduction was just too long (and a bit pretentious). This book, while an interesting read, is, after all, just an edited collection of Craig's correspondence with the readers of his website, not a groundbreaking tome in the field of Christian philosophy and apologetics. Reading the introduction, though, one might get the impression that it was the latter and not the former (Gorra practically fawns over Craig).

The book has some other shortcomings as well. As a preface to my criticisms, I should state that, as a convinced Calvinist, I have some substantial disagreements with Craig. However, I would also like to say that, unlike some other Calvinists, I don't see Craig as some sort of Arminian bogeyman. I've benefited from his writings in the past, and I agreed with much of what I read in A Reasonable Response. Having said that, I do have some concerns about Craig's apologetic method and the theology that underlies it.

First, the methodological concern. Craig has a tendency to argue for the lowest common denominator which, at worst, leads to the acceptance of a kind of bare theism or deism rather than Christianity (see pp. 60, 232, or p. 179 where a Muslim tells Craig how informative and helpful his arguments are). By arguing for the lowest common denominator in an attempt to move the skeptic toward the truth in steps, it seems as if Craig is sometimes presenting and defending something less than the truth (see pp. 233 and 323 where he downplays the doctrines of inerrancy and penal substitution, respectively). Rather than argue for the complete truth, Craig seems content to lead skeptics to Christianity in a piecemeal fashion (e. g. from atheism to agnosticism, then from agnosticism to theism, and so on).  In doing so, I believe that Craig sometimes downplays the complete antithesis that exists between Christian and non-Christian thought. Rather than downplay this antithesis (as Craig does), I believe (following Van Til and his followers) that the apologist must push the antithesis, showing the unbeliever that he has no rational option but to accept the truth of Christianity. The apologist's job is not to argue atheists into accepting deism but to present the truth of the Christian faith as revealed in Scripture.

In other cases, Craig doesn't merely argue for a sub-biblical position as part of his apologetic strategy (a methodological issue), he argues for an unbiblical position because it is a position which he actually holds (a theological issue). Examples include his defense of theistic evolution (pp. 239-242) and his arguments against Calvinism (pp. 175-178) and for Arminianism (p. 255). In some instances I was able to recognize unbiblical assumptions lurking beneath the questions of Craig's readers—assumptions which Craig did nothing to challenge. While this may be due in part to his previously mentioned strategy of arguing for the lowest common denominator, I think, in some cases, Craig failed to challenge his questioner's unbiblical assumptions because, to a certain extent at least, he shared them (see pp. 132-135, 254-256,

In other instances, I felt Craig did a marvelous job of presenting the truth. His distinction between knowing the truth and showing the truth (p. 315) is particularly helpful, and, in one instance, he even sounded like a Calvinist (p. 231)! Despite the claims of some of his critics, Craig is not an evidentialist who believes non-believers can be argued into accepting the Lordship of Christ. He recognizes that the unbeliever has, not just an intellectual, but a moral problem (p. 318). He understands that conversion is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit and that the believer's ultimate confidence in the truth of the Christian faith is based on the internal witness of the Spirit and not on rational argumentation or empirical evidence (pp. 316, 320-321).

Despite my frustration with some of Craig's argumentation, I enjoyed A Reasonable Response and found many sections interesting or enlightening. Recommended for those interested in Christian philosophy and apologetics.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

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