Is William Lane Craig a Christian?

October 17, 2017

Below is a presentation I recently made at a local apologetics discussion group I am a member of. I’ve known about this issue for a long time. I thought it would eventually resolve itself, but it seems to have only gotten worse. I have noticed over the years that a few bloggers here and there have tackled this issue, but they have only done so piecemeal and they by and large really lacked the competence to represent Christian theology accurately and provide a proper diagnosis. Given this blog’s focus on the theology of St. Maximus the Confessor, I saw that I was well placed to address it more fully and adequately.  So I have undertaken to address it as part of a wider project. I hope you find it profitable.

I. What is the Question?

“Christology is the doctrinal locus where Christianity has the greatest need for theological precision. To be wrong here is to be wrong everywhere.”[i]

Now that I have your undivided attention, I need to take some space to toss out the questions that I am not asking. This list will not be exhaustive but sufficient to narrowImage result for big fish movie down the question to something workable.

  1. I am not asking if Craig is a recipient of divine grace. I am not asking if Craig is regenerate or “born again.” This is something neither I nor anyone else could know, maybe not even Craig.
  2. I am not asking if Craig thinks of himself as a Christian. A person may take themselves to be a Christian and may not in fact be one and likewise, one may be one and not know (e.g. Crucified thief)
  3. I am not asking if Craig is a nice person or a mean person. Nothing I write here implies or is meant to imply that Craig is malicious, intentionally deceptive or any other deliberate gross moral failure. Whether Craig secretly eats baby hamsters or some such thing is not something I know nor is it relevant to what I write here.
  4. I am not asking if Craig is the member of a or the Christian church. Whatever Craig’s ecclesial membership is (I simply do not know) is irrelevant to the question I am asking.
  5. I am not asking if Craig has done beneficial things to the furtherance of Christian belief in the world. Whatever good things Craig has done elsewhere or on other topics is irrelevant to whether what he professes in core areas of Christian doctrine count as Christian doctrines or not.

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The Heresy of Calvinism II

August 2, 2010

Calvinism, as was said previously, is a very elastic term. Broadly, it is a movement that has its origins in Zurich, and refined through Geneva. Often it is seen as flowering in the Puritan and Presbyterian movements in England, though much of the Puritan mind was drawn from Zurich from Heinrich Bullinger and Peter Martyr Vermigli, among others. But Bullinger, Martyr and Calvin were largely of one mind on most issues, the Eucharist excepted. The origin of the term seems to have come from its Catholic interlocutors, most notably Thomas Stapleton, though the word generally used was Calvinian. This helps us little in defining what it is. It is one of those words like liberal or conservative, though I don’t think quite so. Here, and especially here, I will give it the meaning of those who believe in forensic justification, effected in the Christian through the decree of God without reference to any faith, or faith foreseen. This definition would certainly take in not only Calvin, but also Martyr and Bullinger, and as well Melanchthon (though Luther is problematic, but not for the reasons the new Finnish interpretation of Luther teaches). Read the rest of this entry »

The Episcopalians Strike Back!

May 6, 2010

It seems that I’ve rustled the feathers of my recent Episcopalian acquaintance. He has responded with something that I think he wishes to present as an argument for excluding my view. Who would have guessed that such inclusive folks could be so exclusive? 

The reply is riddled with the typical left wing clap trap and moralistic superciliousness. But fortunately it gives me an opportunity, to point out another example of exactly what I pointed out previously, namely that what is offered there and being offered nationally by TEC is not Christianity, but something else. If you read the reply, there is no shortage of fallacious material to which to respond. Here he was quite generous and liberal.

The narrative grid in which my opponent places his response is that of fear. The root cause of all evil in the world, and specifically bad theology, you see, is fear. We construct grand systems of “oppression” and “separation” out of “fear.” We then become a mental ostrich loosing all sense, justifying “homophobia” and an army other left wing political bogymen. That might explain why he’s seemingly afraid of my view.

I would have thought that the basis for all bad theology would be to reject what God has revealed and taught. Notice the standard for good theology and bad theology is not what God has revealed but in some parochial disposition. But why take this culture’s disposition at this time as normative? The gloss that is given is also rather self serving and is in fact an idol of my interlocutors’ construction. It seems hard to find anything in what he professes that could point out error or failing in any of the left wing causes he seems to favor. Are left wing ideologies somehow morally perfect and exempt form the thirst for power? I seriously doubt they were immaculately conceived. (It seems I have problems with that notion across the board.) He is simply mirroring and projecting his own preferences, but we need a reason to think that his preferences are the right ones to have.

Appeals to “fear” and other emotional states are either too nebulous or question begging to do any argumentative work. In some cases, fear can be good. It depends on whether the fear is unwarranted or not. So what is the dividing line in that case are the reasons as to whether what is feared is warranted or not and not fear itself.

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Why I Am Not An Episcopalian

April 12, 2010

For readers who do not know, I am a former Episcopalian. My personal history of religious affiliation goes something like the following. I was baptized Catholic but raised in the Episcopal church until my teen years. From then I’d attend the Episcopal church on Sunday and then Calvary Chapel for “Bible study” on Friday evenings with their youth group. This was on account of a number of reasons, not the least of which was that the youth group at the Episcopal church voted that I should leave since I wanted to read the Bible and not have pizza parties and such. The youth directors agreed given that the kinds of questions I was asking really required a “professional” response. This was after I became exasperated with the whole approach of, let’s sit in a circle and go around the room asking what each person thinks such and so verse means “to me.” At the ripe old age of 13 I blurted out, “I don’t care what it means to me, I just want to know what it means!”

To sum up, I eventually ran into the Horton/Riddlebarger crowd when I was about 17 and then became Reformed for a number of years. I then moved towards a more high church Anglican view, returning to what I had been raised with, ending up in the then, Anglican Catholic Church (ACC). Fortunately I met my wife in the ACC, who was also a life long Anglican, though her family had left the Episcopal church (TEC) earlier than I did and joined the then forming ACC. After a few schisms in the ACC and/or theContinuing church movement and a deepening in my grasp of Christology through an exposure to the teaching of Maximus the Confessor, my wife and I were received into the Orthodox Church.

Recently, I was reminded once again why I am not an Episcopalian. The reminder doesn’t explain why I am Orthodox but it does I think point to something that is worth thinking about and discussing. So the reminder came in a post on another blog that I saw through the WordPress blog feature of Tag Surfer. It allows me to see other recent blog entries across WordPress with similar topics as my own.

The post was by an apostatized Baptist of sorts who returned to “Christianity” through the Episcopal church. The post was an expression of his thoughts on “reformulating” the doctrine of the Trinity. What the post was, was in fact not a reformulation, but more an expression of his rejection of the Trinity and an expression of its perceived uselessness. I didn’t take the post to be overtly hostile, (I am sure he’s a nice fellow) but it wasn’t something that amounted to Christian thinking on the subject and that’s the point. This post expresses the typical adoptionistic Christology found among classical Unitarians and contemporary liberals. Jesus is the man who was more open to the divine or “Spirit” and so is a means by which one is in contact with “God” or “Spirit” and so moved or inspired to “social justice.” The other posts on Hell and other doctrines pretty much fall into the typical liberal, that is Unitarian teaching.

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Free Will and Virtue in Athanasius

February 9, 2010

“‘Wherefore having already begun and set out in the way of virtue, let us strive the more that we may attain those things that are before. And let no one turn to the things behind, like Lot’s wife, all the more so that the Lord hath said, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and turning back, is fit for the kingdom of heaven.’ And this turning back is nought else but to feel regret, and to be once more worldly-minded. But fear not to hear of virtue, nor be astonished at the name. For it is not far from us, nor is it without ourselves, but it is within us, and is easy if only we are willing. That they may get knowledge, the Greeks live abroad and cross the sea, but we have no need to depart from home for the sake of the kingdom of heaven, nor to cross the sea for the sake of virtue. For the Lord aforetime hath said, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” Wherefore virtue hath need at our hands of willingness alone, since it is in us and is formed from us. For when the soul hath its spiritual faculty in a natural state virtue is formed. And it is in a natural state when it remains as it came into existence. And when it came into existence it was fair and exceeding honest. For this cause Joshua, the son of Nun, in his exhortation said to the people, “Make straight your heart unto the Lord God of Israel,” and John, “Make your paths straight.” For rectitude of soul consists in its having its spiritual part in its natural state as created. But on the other hand, when it swerves and turns away from its natural state, that is called vice of the soul. Thus the matter is not difficult. If we abide as we have been made, we are in a state of virtue, but if we think of ignoble things we shall be accounted evil. If, therefore, this thing had to be acquired from without, it would be difficult in reality; but if it is in us, let us keep ourselves from foul thoughts. And as we have received the soul as a deposit, let us preserve it for the Lord, that He may recognize His work as being the same as He made it.”

Life of Anthony, 20.

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Contra Mundum: Athanasius and the LDS on Deification

October 30, 2009

For some time, the Mormons have been availing themselves of material in the Fathers of the Church regarding theosis in order to render their own doctrines more plausible. There is no shortage of LDS blogs and websites that exclaim with glee that the LDS doctrine of exaltation is within the bounds of Christian teaching on the basis of the Orthodox cut-n-pastedoctrine of theosis. They routinely pelt Protestants as well as Catholics with patristic material maintaining that not only is their view within the corral of Christian orthodoxy, but that they alone possess the true teaching with respect to deification. They then put such claims in the service of motivating their claims of an apostasy after the apostolic age. Of course, such claims are, so far as I have seen not only false and supported by fallacious reasoning, but in many cases the use of Patristic material would make the cut and pasters over at the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society blush. Here I leave an examination of these specific claims by LDS apologists for another time.

What I wish to look at here is one of the principle texts brought out by LDS apologists and its argument thatStAthanasius4 Athanasius’ doctrine of theosis is inconsistent with his doctrine of creation ex nihilo. This claim has become quite common among Mormon apologists and it is well suited to demonstrate the coherence and strength of the Orthodox position.

The specific text is a doctoral dissertation by Keith E. Norman entitled, Deification: The Context of Athanasian Soteriology. It is available in both print and electronic form. The dilemma so far as I can tell from Norman’s text is that if we are to be deified, then we cannot be created ex nihilo and vice versa. And this is so because things created ex nihilo can’t become deified since by essence, God enjoys a kind of underived existence or aseity.  Humans are therefore radically different or “wholly other”  than God, so much so that it is impossible to become what God is by essence. Something cannot both be beginingless and have a begining. Deification would entail a natural and therefore essential change in humanity which is precluded by the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Without such a change, humans can’t be deified and are left in a mutable metaphysical state apart from salvation. The implication is that the LDS can affirm theosis consistently because they reject the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Therefore LDS theology stands in superior position to the Athanasian and by extension, the Orthodox teaching on deification.

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Pattern Recognition

August 28, 2009

“Alexander was quite right in emphasizing that Arius taught the mutability of the Son, for Arius wrote in the Thalia, ‘[The Son] is not unchangeable like the Father, but he is by nature changeable like created things.’  This is so because he is by nature a created thing. Furthermore, since the Son is not  a created thing like a stone or wood but rather a reaosnable being who possesses free will, he can change his own choice. But, Arius asserted, though the Son is capable of either virtue or vice, he always in actuality has remained virtuous, felt justified in rewarding with the gift of glory even before any virtuous deeds were done :

‘Like all others, the Logos himself by nature is changeable, but by his own free will, while he wishes, he remains good. But when, however, he wills, he himself, like us, is able to change, since he is of changeable nature. For on account of this, having foreknown that he will be good, having anticipated it, he gave this glory to him which as man he later came to have from his virtue, so that by his deeds, whih God foreknew, he has made him come to be now such a one [that is, a glorious being]. ‘

“The gift of glory must surely be identified with adoption as God’s Son, an adoption which was unforuntately only mentioned in passing in the extant fragments of Arius’ Thalia, ‘The Father advanced him as Son to himself by adoption.’ Presumably Arius could claim the Son to be unchangeable, as he stated in his latter to Eusebius of Nicomedia, yet still to be changeable, because he maintained that the Son has the capability of virtue and vice. Arius appears to have been most concerned to preserve the Son as an ethical model for manwhich certainly means that his soteriology was based on the notion of reward for ethical activity, as Professors Groh and Gregg have argued. Such a soteriology was nowhere developed in Arius extant writings, but it seems implied by his adoptionist Christology. That man was at the center of Arius’ thought is substantiated by his subserving even the Son to him. He wrote, ‘For [the Son] has been made for our sake, in order that God might create us through him as through an instrument; and he would not subsist unless God willed to make us.”

Kopececk, A History of Neo-Arianism, Vol. 1, 23-24

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