William Lane Craig Replies to My Attack on Faith Statements (2 of 3)

William Lane Craig Replies to My Attack on Faith Statements (2 of 3) November 20, 2017

silly person

William Lane Craig (WLC) has responded to my attack on faith statements (or “doctrinal statements”) in “A Call for Honesty in Christian Scholarship.” See part 1 for WLC’s claim that they help create community.

Let’s continue with more of WLC’s concerns.

Cause and effect

WLC moves on to misunderstand the problem. He says that a doctrinal statement doesn’t determine a scholar’s views; rather, scholars will have formed their views beforehand and only then seek an institution that fits with their views.

That’s correct, as far as it goes. When you join, the doctrinal statement fits you like a just-right sweater since you picked an institution that shared your views. The problem comes when you change, and the sweater then becomes a straightjacket.

WLC is confident that this won’t be a problem—for him, at least:

Thus, it is naïve on your part to imagine that [Houston Baptist University’s] doctrinal statement, for example, imposes some sort of restraint upon me with respect to belief in the virgin birth or the deity of Christ or the resurrection of Jesus. I held these beliefs long before affiliating with HBU, and I would believe them no matter where I taught.

Craig tells us that if he hasn’t felt constrained by a doctrinal statement, then it’s all good.

But he isn’t completely clueless, and he can imagine the problem—though his solution is rather harsh.

It can happen that one’s doctrinal views can change in the course of one’s career, with the result that one can no longer sign the doctrinal statement in good faith. In that case, the professor should seek employment elsewhere.

Oh, so it’s as easy as that? If you’ve grown so that you can’t accept the outmoded doctrinal statement, just quit.

This gets back to the original problem. Sure, you can quit your job. Maybe you’ll lose your tenure or even your career, depending on how far your views have changed. But you might have other obligations than that to the university. Can you quit if there’s a family to feed? Or do you convince yourself to muddle through by not thinking about the problem much?

We can humanize this issue by moving from an abstract hypothetical to the concrete problems of hundreds of actual Christian clergy with failing faith by looking at the Clergy Project. Some of these clergy members have walked away from their careers in the church as atheists, while others keep their head down as long as they can, preferring an uncomfortable present to an unknown future.

WLC seems to appreciate the problem, but Christian compassion isn’t where he goes for an answer:

The danger is that because such a move can be so gut-wrenching, the professor may be tempted to continue in his present position, even though he no longer believes the doctrinal statement. In that case, he compromises his own integrity and the integrity of the institution. If the institution does not take the difficult step of dismissing him, the seed of corruption is planted which may derail the institution in coming generations.

In other words, it’s the scholar’s fault that the straightjacket is too tight. I’m sure that’s comforting.

And “the seed of corruption”? Really? Christian scholars’ views are so uncompromising that they can’t tolerate any challenges?

People change. Doctrinal statements are too brittle to accept this, but this is the fault of the institutions that demand them, not that of the people.

Consequences of a doctrinal statement

It is false, then, as you allege, that by signing a doctrinal statement [that includes the claim that Jesus was born of a virgin], “a professor has publicly stated, ‘I promise to never conclude that the virgin birth was just a myth’.” He has made no such promise.

He has. Your point is simply that he can break his promise. Yes, he can, but the original point stands: we can’t treat his conclusions at his Christian college as useful new information when he was bound to reach them. (I clarify this statement in part 3 below.)

You say that he can just quit? Sure, but why have this cumbersome and punitive policy? Harvard isn’t bothered by what its scholars conclude. What does it say that Harvard’s view of academic freedom wouldn’t tolerate doctrinal statements?

Mike Licona’s crime

In my original post, I discussed one cautionary tale: “Might the scholar simply have come to an unbiased conclusion? That’s possible, but how would we know? Mike Licona is a Christian scholar who found out the hard way that faith statements have teeth. In 2011, he lost two jobs because, in a 700-page book, he questioned the inerrancy of a single Bible verse.” WLC responded:

The case of Mike Licona is a good example. Licona has never denied biblical inerrancy, nor was he fired because of it.

The point about Licona is that he’s an example of someone who ran afoul of a doctrinal statement and lost his job. I don’t want to split hairs over the theological validity of the charges against him, but let me respond to the two points WLC made.

In one of his public attacks on Licona at the time, Norm Geisler wrote an article titled, “Mike Licona on Inerrancy: It’s Worse than We Originally Thought.” You’re free to disagree with Geisler’s conclusion, but, yeah, it’s about inerrancy.

And I didn’t say that Licona was fired from his jobs, just that he lost them.

WLC’s point was to vaguely defend Licona against the charges and note that he’s still “a member in good standing of the Evangelical Theological Society.” That’s nice, but it still turned the guy’s life upside down. Can he still want to ignore the collateral damage of faith statements?

I agree with WLC on one important point in the conclusion in part 3. 

All those who persistently reject Jesus Christ in the present life
shall be raised from the dead and throughout eternity
exist in the state of conscious, unutterable, endless torment of anguish.
— Biola doctrinal statement that WLC has signed

Image credit: Kimberly Vardeman, flickr, CC

Browse Our Archives