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.

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

  1. Thanks for posting this and your synopsis. The verse that comes to mind is from ps 84 – that NO good thing does He withhold from those who are righteous. And the believer is righteous because of Christ. Failure is a good reminder that we are not in control.


  2. I think that “failure” has been redefined as “success” in America these past 5 years. One can sit back and have the government redistribute the wealth from those who stand on their own two feet to those who don’t. This is fundamentally out of sync with God’s plan for us.

    Why did God allow this to happen? Because of the 41 year long War on the Womb? To separate the wheat from the chaff, as much (most?) of the church falls away from Biblical-historical Christianity? To bring more people authentically to Jesus through the darkness of ungodliness? Probably all 3 and many more.

    Stand firm.


  3. I’ll try to get to this whole audio later, but to address the points you outline here, WK, this is something you wrote about a while ago, which I commented on, but will repeat my thoughts here.
    This is the only time I’ve found a message of Craig’s that doesn’t quite hit the mark. He makes some great points — e.g. failure isn’t persecution or trials — and his practical points are unassailable, but they don’t necessarily follow from or prove that God’s plan for Christians does or might include failure. I think Craig is wrong that God’s will could include failure or that God *wants* us to fail or leads us into failure sometimes.
    The answer to Bill’s “failure” in the example given isn’t very mysterious or at all faith-questioning. Bill failed because he wasn’t prepared. God did not withhold granting their prayer request, they simply prayed for the wrong thing. There was no need or justification for them to pray that Bill pass the exam. If we look at the prayer as a conversation, we can imagine one of God’s replies to be, “So, you want me to pass you without you meeting the requirements?” If Bill were sincere, his answer of course would be no. So what they might instead have prayed for is God’s help in Bill understanding and meeting those requirements.
    Yes, God can and does teach us through failure, but this is not evidence that failure is an intentional tool of God’s with His children. Failure is unavoidable, but it is *not necessary* for *any* lesson God wants us to learn.
    The ones noted for Bill — i.e. human relationships are more important than careers, “success” in life is not worldly success, true success is getting to know God — do not require failure to be learned. They are taught in His Word. And again, none of Craig’s practical lessons (which, again, I agree with) *require* failure to be learned.
    The positive actions Bill took after failing didn’t prove the need for failure or that God wanted that failure for Bill. They, in fact, only prove what Bill’s original desire required for achievement — not prayer, but correct action. God only agrees to answer prayers that are according to His will/Word. (1 John 5:14)
    I know people will have example after example of things they learned through failure, and I am not contesting that at all. I’m only saying God doesn’t *need* or *want* us to fail to learn. We *will* fail and God *can use that, but failure is not from God, it’s always from our lack somewhere- — knowledge, character, etc.


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