Thursday, March 20, 2014

Book Write-Up: A Reasonable Response

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

I would like to thank Moody Publishers for my review copy of this book.  See here for Moody’s page about it.

I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would.  I was expecting a book in which questioners would ask the same stock questions about God, Christianity, and the Bible, and William Lane Craig would give the usual stock Christian apologetic answers.  But, overall, I was impressed by both the questions and the answers, whether I agreed with them or not.  Many of the questioners had thought about William Lane Craig’s arguments, and there were times when the questions were as lengthy and philosophical as some of Dr. Craig’s answers!  And William Lane Craig in his answers impressed me as one who is well-read and has a grasp of nuance.

As one who is more on the liberal side of the religious spectrum, I appreciated that Dr. Craig appeared open-minded, accepting, or at least tolerant on such issues as biblical inerrancy, different conceptualizations of the atonement, the use of methodological naturalism in science, the question of whether the biblical Conquest historically happened, and historical criticism of the Bible.  I also learned new things from the book, such as the philosophical debate about whether or not time is tenseless (i.e., the past, present, and future exist simultaneously).  Moreover, Dr. Craig offered valuable insights on Christian and practical living, and I appreciated the times when he shared details about himself as a person (i.e., his Christian testimony, his struggle with a neuromuscular disorder, his marriage, the times when he was picked last for athletic teams as a child, etc.).  Moreover, Dr. Craig had beautiful things to say about humility in learning.

In terms of what I did not like about his responses, I thought that there were times when he could have been more tactful rather than putting down questioners’ statements or arguments, and I also did not care for his advice to a Christian struggling with doubt that he not read atheistic websites and that he let people more competent do so.  That struck me as a promotion of closed-mindedness.  I also did not like Dr. Craig’s sentiment that a number of atheists do not believe in God on account of spiritual or moral problems rather than (primarily) for intellectual reasons.  But Dr. Craig may think that he has to believe that way, since Romans 1 says that everyone knows that God exists, but people choose to repress that knowledge.

If there was one issue in the book that especially stood out me, it was that of not knowing.  The first question in the book was about skepticism: How can we be certain of anything (i.e., that the universe has a cause), when there is so much that we do not know, and thus we are unaware of so many possibilities?  I got annoyed with how Dr. Craig often argued against skepticism by saying that it is self-refuting: that, if we cannot know anything, then that means that we cannot trust the claim that we cannot know anything.  That is a fairly decent point, but it does not mean that all of the skeptics’ arguments are without merit, on some level.  It was interesting to me how Dr. Craig interacted with the topic of not knowing throughout the book.  Before he tried to reconcile Gospel contradictions regarding Jesus’ crucifixion, he said that there are things about history that we do not know, perhaps as a way to warn skeptics of the Bible not to be too hasty when they claim that the Bible is historically inaccurate.  Dr. Craig explained why he believes that an intelligent being caused the universe, rather than accepting the argument that there are other possible causes that we may not know about.  And Dr. Craig affirmed that the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is a better foundation for faith than resting it on the latest issue of The Philosophical Issue or the most recent archeological discoveries.  These discussions highlighted to me how not knowing can be used as an argument for and against Christianity, as well as the limits of classical apologetics.

Joseph E. Gorra was the other author of this book.  His contributions included thoughtful essays about how study should have a goal beyond satisfying curiosity; ways to bring apologetics into the family, home, and workplace; and how to interact in online discussions.  Although Gorra did not say so explicitly, my impression was that he was responding to popular criticisms of classical apologetics: that it focuses on winning arguments, that it leads to pride, etc.  Gorra was promoting humility, a willingness to learn from others, wisdom and prudence in interactions, and loving those with whom one disagrees.  Gorra also contributed little blurbs inside of a number of Dr. Craig’s answers to questions, highlighting what one can learn from Dr. Craig’s approach.

Finally, I appreciated the numerous references in the book to sources.  A number of the articles and debates that the book mentions can be accessed online and for free, and the book provides readers with web addresses.  The book also refers to books on certain subjects, labeling them according to their level of difficulty.  This will be valuable for those who want to learn more.

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