What motivates William Lane Craig and why is he so effective?

Nathan Schneider, who wrote a balanced profile of Dr. Craig for the Chronicle of Higher Education a few weeks back, has written an even more in-depth profile of Christianity’s ablest defender.

Here’s the introduction:

Nobody—or just about nobody, depending on whom you ask—beats William Lane Craig in a debate about the existence of God, or the resurrection of Jesus, or any topic of that sort. During their debate at Notre Dame in April of last year, New Atheist author Sam Harris referred to Craig as “the one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists.”

Over the course of working on my book about how people search for proof of God’s existence, I had the chance to spend a generous amount of time with Craig, both in the Atlanta area where he lives and at Biola University, an evangelical school on the outskirts of Los Angeles, where he teaches a few weeks out of the year. For the book, I’ve gotten to write about ideas like his “kalam cosmological argument,” one of the most-cited ideas of its generation in philosophy of religion, which fuses medieval Muslims with modern cosmology. I also tell of his entrepreneurial savvy in turning the Evangelical Philosophical Society into an academic organization that moonlights as a slick-as-a-banana apologetics platform for changing hearts like yours and mine. But none of that quite captures the man’s role as a sage and exemplar, in which he renders something like the upbuilding service Oprah provides to home-bound American women, except that his acolytes are the precocious set among conservative, evangelical, young-adult males. He makes me almost wish I were that kind of conservative evangelical myself—which is, to him, the point.

Craig dresses impeccably and professorially, often with a buttoned shirt and a patterned blazer, sweater, or sweater-vest. His dimples hint at a basic innocence that can be startling when it pokes through the frontage of logic. I find in Craig the decency associated with an era I am too young to be nostalgic for, and which I’ve been taught to imagine was imperialistic, sexist, homophobic, narrow-minded, or otherwise regressive. His rationalizations of certain parts of the Hebrew Bible can sound like he’s okay with genocide. Yet none of these accusations quite sticks to him; none is even comprehensible in the cosmic snow-globe within which he expertly thinks his way through life, whose sole and constant storyline is bringing more and more souls to a saving knowledge of the one true Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I live in a different snow-globe from Craig’s. Nevertheless, I’ve gained a lot from the lessons I learned with him, and from his carefully crafted advice, and from his answers to my questions. (“I may not answer, but you can ask!” he once warned.) They’ve improved my productivity, and my relationship with loved ones, and my physical fitness. It would be selfish if I did not pass some of these lessons on, in synthesized and practicable form, to you.

The article covers 7 points about Dr. Craig:

  1. Do Everything Like It’s a Ministry
  2. Make a Covenant with Your Wife
  3. Organize the Day
  4. Turn Weakness into Strength
  5. Be Prepared
  6. Remember That Time Is Everything—and Nothing
  7. Love God and Authority

And here’s one that I found fascinating, being single myself:

3. Organize the Day

There was a time, says Craig, when he began to worry he was losing his knack for philosophy. “Honey,” he remembers telling Jan, “I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I just can’t seem to concentrate anymore. I used to be able to study all day long, and there was no problem, and now I find I just can’t concentrate anymore. My mind wanders, and I’m tired.” He was tempted to despair.

“No, no, don’t be ridiculous!” she told him. “You just need to organize your day.”

As usual, she was right. She put him on a new schedule: starting the workday with the hardest philosophical work in the morning, then lighter material, like his writing for popular audiences, after lunch. He doesn’t look at his email until late afternoon, “when my brain is really fried.” (For fear of being bombarded with mail, he doesn’t even share his email address with his graduate students.) Soon after trying this regime, he regained his philosophical powers completely.

The couple’s life together, at home in the suburbs of Atlanta, is a picture of (a certain kind of) teamwork. Craig wakes up each morning at 5:30, and begins the day with devotional time, reading from the Church Fathers and the New Testament in Greek, and then he prays for the spread of the gospel in some benighted part of the world, with the help of the Operation World handbook. Soon, Jan is up. They have coffee together (which he dislikes, but recommends for the health and social benefits), after which he goes down to the weight room for an hour of exercise. By the time he reemerges, she has a hot breakfast ready and waiting—sometimes as elaborate, he says, as ham and eggs and pumpkin waffles with whipped cream and strawberries. (“She’s a fabulous cook.”) He’ll return downstairs for an intensive morning of scholarship, and reemerge for the hot lunch Jan has prepared. Then, he’s back downstairs for the lighter work of the afternoon, culminating in emails, which he responds to in longhand and she has often been the one to type out and send, since his rare neuromuscular disease—more on that in a moment—renders him unable to type. Between meals and typing sessions, Jan plays the stock market. Before long dinner is ready, and they eat, and spend the evening together, watching TV and drinking red wine (which he also dislikes, but also recommends for the health and social benefits).

“She’s not an intellectual herself,” Craig says of his wife, “but she appreciates the value of what I do, and that’s what matters.” One would hope that this is true, because she has typed out all of his papers, books, and both doctoral dissertations. Would that we all had such devoted help, though it may be untenable in the present economic climate for those scholars among us unable to garner five-figure speaking fees. We can at least hold off on our email for a few hours—which I have since done, to enormous benefit.

It’s very interesting to read this because it’s got lots of positive and negative points. On the one hand, he finds Dr. Craig’s conservative beliefs and exclusive positions difficult to accept. On the other hand, he has to admit that Dr. Craig really believes what he says he believes, and he’s very good at persuading others. He’s done his homework. I think the biggest problem that a person has with accepting Christianity is re-orienting the will. Another big problem is being willing to be disapproved of by non-Christians. Even if they can’t beat you, the pressure to compromise and please others makes many people shy away from Christianity.

This new profile of Dr. Craig is getting tons of likes and shares on Facebook, so give it a look. Be sure and share it on Facebook and tweet it, too.

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8 thoughts on “What motivates William Lane Craig and why is he so effective?”

  1. “I think the biggest problem that a person has with accepting Christianity is re-orienting the will.”

    I completely agree. The misconception is that Christians think atheists just want to bathe in a sinful lifestyle and be immoral, when really it is the refusal to submit to God’s authority. Great blog!!


  2. Yeah, this is awesome, WK – thanks! My New Year’s resolution, from WLC’s arsenal: to exhibit even one ounce of grace in my dealings with others.


  3. I’m curious about your response to this: “She’s not an intellectual herself,” Craig says of his wife, “but she appreciates the value of what I do, and that’s what matters.”

    That’s different from your requirements for a future wife, isn’t it?


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