William Lane Craig lectures on failure in the Christian life

I found this audio on Brian Auten’s Apologetics 315 web site.

Here is the MP3 file.

And here is my summary.


  • the topic of failure is not one that is often discussed by Christians
  • failure #1: failure in the Christian life which is the result of sin
  • failure #2: when a Christian is defeated while trying to serve God
  • the consequences for failure #1 can be worse for the Christian
  • the consequences for failure #2 can be worse for the world as whole
  • how is it possible for a person to fail when they are obeying God? (#2)
  • how can it be that God can call someone to a task then let them fail?
  • failure is not persecution – persecution is normal for Christians
  • failure is not trials – testing is normal for Christians to grow

Bill’s failure:

  • Bill had submitted all the coursework for his second doctoral degree
  • but he had to pass a comprehensive oral examination
  • he failed to pass the comprehensive exam
  • Bill and Jan and his supporters had all prayed for him to pass
  • how could God allow this to happen?

Solution to the problem:

  • God’s will for us may be that we fail at the things we try in life
  • there are things that God may teach us through failure
  • Bill learned that human relationships are more important than careers
  • we need to realize that “success” in life is not worldly success
  • true success is getting to know God well during your life
  • and failure may be the best way to get to know God well
  • it may even be possible to fail to know God while achieving a lot
  • the real measure of a man is loving God and loving your fellow man


  • give thanks to God regardless of your circumstances
  • try to learn from your failure
  • never give up

The ending of Bill’s story:

  • Bill spent an entire year preparing for a re-take of his exam
  • Bill was awarded his second doctorate “magna cum laude” (with great distinction)
  • Bill learned that American students are not well prepared for exams
  • the year of studying remedied his inadequate American education
  • in retrospect, he is thankful for the failure – he learned more

If you like this, you should pick up Craig’s book “Hard Questions, Real Answers“, which has a chapter on this problem. And here is a similar lecture that Dr. Craig gave at his home church in Atlanta on the same topic. I’m not posting this because I’ve had a catastrophic failure or anything. But I think in this economy, I am seeing a lot of my plans dashed and I am being forced to circle the wagons a little and take fewer risks. I am being forced to aim for smaller goals, and plan for future difficulties. It does bother me that I can’t comfortably take risks to achieve the best goals that I want to achieve. But I have to play the hand I’m dealt, and do what looks doable right now. Some of my friends are having the same problem of having to recalculate what is probable and what is possible.

2 thoughts on “William Lane Craig lectures on failure in the Christian life”

  1. I might argue against the first “Solution to the problem” point, particularly in this case (but perhaps also in general). I think the answer is extremely simple and easy, viz. Bill wasn’t prepared enough. The “unanswered” prayer (or answer of “No”) makes complete sense in this light, since it would mean Bill was (certainly unintentionally) praying outside of God’s will, i.e. “Lord, please let me succeed at something for which I haven’t done the sufficient work.” Certainly, those weren’t the words he prayed, but that was in effect what he was asking. It’s completely in line with the a moral, ethical, Biblical God that He would not grant that request.

    Since Bill presumably had a sincere heart in wanting to be successful (not just attain success without the necessary work), the attendant life lessons were learned, Bill, applied himself, and eventually succeeded.

    In short, I don’t think that example presents a moral dilemma for unanswered prayer, though it’s certainly a good example to examine for just such conclusions as I’ve noted.

    To revisit my argument against “God may want us to fail sometimes”, I think my above points can simply be logically extrapolated to sufficient reasons why that premise isn’t true and the premise that “God always want us to succeed” (admitting the need for definition of “succeed”) is true. Namely, we don’t “fail” because God “wants” us to, at those times, but, as with the moral issue of why Christians sinning doesn’t nullify God’s moral perfection, it’s simply because we still make mistakes.

    Civil and respectful rebuttals are welcome.


    1. I really like what you are saying, Chris, and I really like this particular posting – which I have seen somewhere else. It is a great reminder – a very important reminder. And for some reason, the first thing I thought of was that we should not use God as a cosmic vending machine – especially when we haven’t put the correct amount of “money” in. :-) I realize there is much more depth to the Craig posting, but that is what came to mind.


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