William Lane Craig and God.
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The title of this brief blog post is misleading; it’s just to get you to read it. If I entitled it “Report on a Theological Conference in Houston” (or whatever) many of you wouldn’t read it. But that’s what it is, although I want to focus on the main speaker at the conference — Christian philosopher, theologian, apologist William Lane Craig.
The conference was one of many hosted by the Lanier Theological Library in Houston, Texas. If you don’t know about that place, you should. It’s much more than a library. It’s a campus with beautiful buildings including a gorgeous chapel. Go online and look it up. It is ever-expanding.
This past weekend Christian attorney Mark Lanier and his team invited Craig to speak on his book about the atonement (which I reviewed here recently) and interact with special invited guests such as myself.
I have known of Craig for many years, read some of his 33 books, heard him speak, but never met him. He has two doctoral degrees in theology, one from England and one from Germany. We share in common that we both studied with German Lutheran theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg. He didn’t know that about me so we had some good conversation about Pannenberg and his theology.
Here are some things that came to light from our conversations. To my delight, Craig, a conservative evangelical, does not believe in the traditional doctrine of “divine simplicity” and he believes that God is (since creation) temporal. I have here and in my teaching and writing denied divine simplicity (in its traditional, highly philosophical interpretation) and affirmed that (since creation) God is temporal.
One of the most interesting claims Craig makes in his book The Atonement and the Death of Christ is that God, as judge and ruler of the universe, faced a “dilemma” when confronted with creaturely rebellion and sin—a dilemma caused by his love and his justice which are not just two facets of the same attribute. The substitutionary atonement was, we agree, God’s self-decided, voluntary solution to that inner dilemma.
Craig has written the best book ever on the substitutionary atonement. If you have qualms about that doctrine, you should read the book. I cannot repeat all that it says here.
Craig and I agree that the doctrine of substitutionary atonement is biblical and the best model/theory of what God did for us in Jesus Christ on the cross—not to to the exclusion of every other aspect of Christ’s work for us on the cross. Yes, we both affirm, it was a moral example and influence. Yes, we both affirm, it was a victory over the powers and principalities that held and hold people in bondage to sin and away from God. Yes, we both affirm, it unmasked those powers and principalities for what they are. Never have I said and Craig does not say that these other aspects of the atonement are false; our joint claim is that substitutionary atonement is a necessary aspect of the work of Christ—for a complete and accurate understanding of it.
Craig and I agree that most of the critics of substitutionary atonement do not understand it correctly. He expounds it absolutely correctly (although I won’t say I agree with every sentence of his book) such that he sweeps away many of the objections to it made by critics. For example, the violence done to Jesus was not done by God; it was done by men. The real suffering of Jesus on the cross for us was his experiencing the God-forsakenness we deserve.
And both Craig and I believe in universal atonement. In the book he explains very well how it is possible for people receiving a pardon to reject it and not benefit from it.
Is Craig an Arminian? He seemed to affirm so in our face-to-face conversation over dinner, but he is a Molinism and that causes me some difficulties. But that’s for another time and another conversation.
But I must end this brief blog post about Craig by telling his. The conference ended with a Sunday School class at a Houston Baptist mega-church. Mark Lanier interviewed Craig for an hour in front of about a thousand church-attenders. The best part of the interview was Craig’s extremely moving description of his conversion to Jesus Christ as a young man. He’s not just a philosopher-theologian; he is a devoted Christian which doesn’t always come across in his writings and debates with atheists, etc. I was extremely pleased to hear his testimony and it even moved me to tears.
I will end this by recommending that you look into the Lanier Theological Library (which is developing a branch just outside of Oxford, England) which is a unique institution. Students and scholars especially are encouraged to go there to study and to attend these occasional conferences. Later this year, Oxford mathematician and Christian apologist John Lennox will be the special guest at one such conference. Also N. T. Wright at another one. Also, and finally, read The Atonement and the Death of Christ by William Lane Craig.