Dr. William Lane Craig answers questions about Jesus in the New York Times

William Lane Craig lecturing to university students
William Lane Craig lecturing to university students at Purdue University

Nicholas Kristof, a secular leftist writer for the New York Times, is interested in Jesus, but he doesn’t want a Jesus who can perform miracles. He decided to ask the best living philosphical theologian, Dr. William Lane Craig, some questions. As you’ll see, Dr. Craig’s answers to his questions are perfect for the secular left audience of the New York Times.

Before we start looking at the questions and answers, I want to mention one important point. When discussing Christianity, it’s very important that Christians not allow the atheist to nitpick about minor details of Christian history or Christian theology. The Christian needs to ALWAYS redirect the discussion to the question of God’s existence. There, we are strongly supported by mainstream science. Only when the skeptic accepts a Creator and Designer can we allow ourselves to be moved on to specific points of theology or history.

Like this:

  • Skeptic: was Jesus born of a virgin?
  • Christian: do you accept a Creator and Designer of the universe?
  • Skeptic: no
  • Christian: then let’s discuss the scientific evidence for that first

And again:

  • Skeptic: am I going to Hell?
  • Christian: do you accept a Creator and Designer of the universe?
  • Skeptic: no
  • Christian: then let’s discuss the scientific evidence for that first

Why is this important? It’s important because most skeptics are fundamentalists. They think that if they can refute Christianity on an edge case issue, then the core crumbles. It’s very important to frame the discussion so that the skeptic understands that there are core claims of Christianity which are important and strongly evidenced, and there are less important claims, and also claims that are not well evidenced. The goal of any discussion with a skeptic is to get them to accept the important core claims which are strongly evidenced. If they accept the core, that’s enough to get them out of atheism, and into a relationship with God, where they can continue to grow.

I wrote a whole post about this that you can read later, but let’s get to the interview with Dr. Craig.

Let’s start with the first question and answer:

Kristof: Merry Christmas, Dr. Craig! I must confess that for all my admiration for Jesus, I’m skeptical about some of the narrative we’ve inherited. Are you actually confident that Jesus was born to a virgin?

Craig: Merry Christmas to you, too, Nick! I’m reasonably confident. When I was a non-Christian, I used to struggle with this, too. But then it occurred to me that for a God who could create the entire universe, making a woman pregnant wasn’t that big a deal! Given the existence of a Creator and Designer of the universe (for which we have good evidence), an occasional miracle is child’s play. Historically speaking, the story of Jesus’ virginal conception is independently attested by Matthew and Luke and is utterly unlike anything in pagan mythology or Judaism. So what’s the problem?

Did you notice what Dr. Craig did there? Regarding the evidence from science, Dr. Craig has defended that in two separate academic books, both with Oxford University Press. (Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology and God? A Debate Between A Christian and An Atheist)

Here it is again:

Kristof: How do you account for the many contradictions within the New Testament? For example, Matthew says Judas hanged himself, while Acts says that he “burst open.” They can’t both be right, so why insist on inerrancy of Scripture?

Craig: I don’t insist on the inerrancy of Scripture. Rather, what I insist on is what C.S. Lewis called “mere Christianity,” that is to say, the core doctrines of Christianity. Harmonizing perceived contradictions in the Bible is a matter of in-house discussion amongst Christians. What really matters are questions like: Does God exist? Are there objective moral values? Was Jesus truly God and truly man? How did his death on a Roman cross serve to overcome our moral wrongdoing and estrangement from God? These are, as one philosopher puts it, the “questions that matter,” not how Judas died.

For those who are concerned by this answer, you should know Dr. Craig is the former president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, and they do indeed sign a statement of faith that includes inerrancy. But again, an interview in the New York Times is not the place to focus on defending inerrancy. This is the place to have secular left elites contend with the core claims of Christianity.

In the next question and answer, notice how Dr. Craig refuses to yield that the skeptic is rational and evidence-driven. You should never let atheists assume that atheism is the “default” view of people who are reasonable and evidence-driven. Atheism is NOT the default view for reasonable people who are evidence-driven. Atheism is a furious retreat away from reason and evidence. In particular, it’s a refusal to bound your worldview with science and history.

More Dr. Craig:

Kristof: Over time, people have had faith in Zeus, in Shiva and Krishna, in the Chinese kitchen god, in countless other deities. We’re skeptical of all those faith traditions, so should we suspend our emphasis on science and rationality when we encounter miracles in our own tradition?

Craig: I don’t follow. Why should we suspend our emphasis on science and rationality just because of weakly evidenced, false claims in other religions? I champion a “reasonable faith” that seeks to provide a comprehensive worldview that takes into account the best evidence of the sciences, history, philosophy, logic and mathematics. Some of the arguments for God’s existence that I’ve defended, such as the arguments from the origin of the universe and the fine-tuning of the universe, appeal to the best evidence of contemporary science. I get the impression, Nick, that you think science is somehow incompatible with belief in miracles. If so, you need to give an argument for that conclusion. David Hume’s famous argument against miracles is today recognized, in the words of philosopher of science John Earman, as “an abject failure.” No one has been able to do any better.

This is the book he’s alluding to, there. Oxford University Press.

Please read the whole interview.

If you have non-Christian friends who think that all the “smart people” reject Christianity, and you don’t now how to talk to them, why not send them this article from the New York Times? There are also resources that you can use to train yourself to answer questions like he did.

Some people reading may not like Dr. Craig’s approach. That might be because you’re only able to talk about Christianity to people by quoting the Bible to them. Maybe you think that quoting the Bible to a non-Christian will cause them to become a Christian. This approach, (I call it the “magic words” approach), is popular in many churches. It will work on people who are already Christians, but it won’t work on non-Christians, since they don’t accept the Bible. It’s also not how anyone in the New Testament talked about spiritual things. (See Acts 17 for an example, or read what Jesus does to prove his claims to skeptics in the gospel of John). If you want to discuss Christianity outside the church, then I recommend Dr. Craig’s approach.

Positive arguments for Christian theism

11 thoughts on “Dr. William Lane Craig answers questions about Jesus in the New York Times”

  1. He makes lots of good points, but missed a softball re. Judas dying. No contradiction there, just different accounts. There is no reason to punt on the inerrancy of scripture like that. He could say, “I have many reasons to believe scripture is inerrant, but I don’t need that to know Jesus rose from the dead.”

    And while I do agree with explaining to people why they take the Bible seriously, it is the word of God that will ultimately transform them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, it is a softball, and we should definitely get to it, but maybe not for a secular left New York Times audience, in their first introduction to apologetics for an audience of secular leftist elites. We should not yield the ground to the other side that says “if you have a nitpick about the Christian worldview, then you don’t have to investigate it at all”. This is what 99% of the secularists do with Christianity – find something like Jonah and the whale, or Noah and the ark, and then say “oh good, now I can keep living with my girlfriend”. Wise people understand that we need to lead with mainstream evidence in order to prove modest conclusions at the beginning. Like the the first generation of apologists, we’re not fighting for evangelism in this culture, we’re fighting for the right to exist at all. And convincing secularists in power that Christianity is not irrational is PRIMARY IN CHRONOLOGY to convincing them all that the Bible is inerrant.

      I suspect that most people who disapprove of Dr. Craig’s approach are either uneducated, or simply don’t engage successfully with educated non-Christians.

      The problem right now isn’t whether the Word of God will transform them, it’s whether there is a Word of God, or even a God, at all.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your final paragraph in your comment is so true. Anti-theists deny that the Bible is the Word of God, calling it a collection of myths, and also deny the existence of God, so one cannot quote what Scripture says, because they will dismiss it out of hand, along with extra-Biblical sources. They also dismiss spiritual experiences, even miraculous healings (there have been two in my close family), calling them “anecdotal” and “subjective” (as though their views are not subjective! Lol. They then try to use the “scientific evidence” route). They will throw up any smoke-screen they can to deny God and his existence, because ultimately they do not want to acknowledge his sovereignty nor that they are accountable to him. Self and rebellion against God are at the heart/ root of all sin. I keep praying, having two atheists in my immediate family.

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        1. Don’t give up on your atheist family members, Eleanor. I surrendered my faitheism to Christ at 42. They just need to follow the good science, logic, and philosophy where it necessarily leads.

          For a bit of snark, here is my Atheist Creed,

          I, the atheist, recite my blind faith:

          1. That the universe miraculously popped into existence out of nothing uncaused by anything.
          2. That life magically sprang forth from non-life when lightning hit some mud.
          3. That minds and morals evolved from molecules through monkeys.
          4. That there is no God, and I hate Him.

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  2. I agree with Craig’s strategy of avoiding the rabbit hole of Biblical contradictions. If you reconcile one contradiction to the other person’s satisfaction, they’ll just bring up another one, and that’s a conversation that will last all day and go nowhere. Craig’s strategy is good because it allows you to avoid that whole diversion and get to the more essential stuff like the existence of God and who Jesus is.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I agree 100%, WK!

    I came into the Christian faith “backwards,” with lots of technical degrees and secular arguments for God’s existence. I outright rejected churches (wisely, even from this side) and the Bible (not so wisely), so quoting Bible verses to me would not work.

    I didn’t discover Craig or Lewis or others until right after becoming a Christian, but when I did discover them, they told me through their writings that I was on the right track. Many of Craig’s formal arguments dovetailed nicely with the less formal, but equivalent, thoughts going through my head as an atheist. Of course, I know that NOW as the Workings of the Holy Spirit.

    I get into a lot of discussions with atheists on the sidewalk in front of our abortion mill, and as you say, WK, when one throws out a strawman, I just reply with “why do you deny science?” That helps keep us focussed on God’s existence. I have been blessed to positively engage with many atheists on the sidewalk, and all Glory goes to God, but He certainly works through WLC and this site as well, both of whom I routinely reference.

    BTW, you might like to know that the best approach to dealing with angry pro-aborts on the subject of abortion is much the same, asking them questions such as:

    “Why do you deny science?”

    “What does your question have to do with them killing innocent defenseless babies inside that building?”

    And such, to get them back on track from the seemingly infinite number of strawmen that are thrown at pro-lifers.

    Saying “because God says so” rarely works, even with someone who claims to be a Christian, because, let’s face it, authentic Christians do not defend child sacrifice, inside of the womb or out.

    Anyway, since most of our country is secular, including most of the people in the churches, I always BEGIN with the secular approach. We still discuss Christianity out there, and the Gospel, and Hell and Objective Moral Justice, etc, but we always ground it in secular arguments and show that they are fully consistent with the Bible when that topic comes up later.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The phrase of why deny science or asking about abortion and divorce are good points to their contradiction.

    If they go off track it can depend on the individual. If they tell me any hard to point of atheism such as a multiverse or thwt life just starts from nothing then if they try to move to a point like God creating as a show stopper, or against the viegin birth I will point out quickly is far less faith required to believe my view than their similar faith view.

    Then get back to more solid evidence issues. Using comparison as a quick way to move the topic back to the real issues in a personal discussion in person can work fine.

    In a debate or some kind of online situation I am sure it will get lost in the process so it will become better to just go back to the science facts side and say we can revisit those topics later once we have dealt with the fundamental issues

    Liked by 1 person

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