Life on this side of my decision hasn’t always been easy. It’s been nearly seventeen years since I first trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior. I still struggle to submit my prideful will to what God would call me to do. Christianity is not easy. It doesn’t always “work” for me. There are times when I think it would be easier to do it the old way; easier to cut a corner or take a short cut. There are many times when doing the right thing means doing the most difficult thing possible. There are also times when it seems like non-Christians have it easier, or seem to be “winning”. It’s in times like these that I have to remind myself that I’m not a Christian because it serves my own selfish purposes. I’m not a Christian because it “works” for me. I had a life prior to Christianity that seemed to be working just fine, and my life as a Christian hasn’t always been easy.
I’m a Christian because it is true. I’m a Christian because I want to live in a way that reflects the truth. I’m a Christian because my high regard for the truth leaves me no alternative.
I think this is important. There are people who I know who claim to be Christian, but they are clearly believing that God is a mystical force who arranges everything in their lives in order to make them happy. They are not Christians because it’s true, but because of things like comfort and community. But people ought to become Christians because they think it’s true. Truth doesn’t necessarily make you happy, though. Truth can impose intellectual obligations and moral obligations on you. Seeing God as he really is doesn’t help us to “win” at life, as the culture defines winning.
Winning in Christianity doesn’t mean making lots of money, or being famous, or winning human competitions, or being approved of by lots of people. Winning for a Christian might involve things like building relationships with people and leading them to know that God exists and who Jesus is. That has no cash value, and it’s not going to make you famous. Actually, it will probably cost you money and time, and make you unpopular with a lot of people.
The Bible doesn’t promise that people who become Christians will be happier. Actually, it promises that Christians will suffer for doing the right things. Their autonomy will suffer, as they sacrifice their own interests and happiness in order to make God happy, by serving his interests. Christianity isn’t something you add on to your before-God life in order to achieve your before-God goals. When you become a Christian, you get a new set of goals, based on God’s character and his design for you. And although you might be very successful in the world as part of serving God, there is no guarantee of that. Christianity is not life enhancement.
I want to draw your attention to a talk on “Vision in Life” given by Dr. William Lane Craig. Dr. Craig is the ablest defender of the Christian faith operating today. He has done formal academic debates with all of the best known atheists on major university campuses in front of thousands of university students.
It turns out that he owes a lot of his success to his amazing wife Jan.
This talk was Dr. Craig’s chapel address to Biola University students.
About 11 minutes into the talk, Bill describes what happened after he finished his Bachelor’s degree at Wheaton:
And so I joined the staff of Campus Crusade for Christ for 2 years, and was assigned to Northern Illinois University. And that was where I met my wife Jan. She was a graduate of the University of North Dakota where she had come to faith in Christ. And she had a similar vision for her life of evangelism and discipleship.
And as we worked at NIU together, she with gals and I with the guys, leading students to Christ and discipling them to walk with the Lord, we fell in love. And we decided that we would be more effective if we joined forces and became a team.
So their reason for getting together was because they thought that they would be more effective in evangelism and discipleship if they worked as a team.
It is at this point in the talk where Bill begins to explain just how Jan molded him into the lean, mean debating machine that travels the world striking terror into the hearts of atheists.
Bill’s first story about Jan occurs early after their marriage while he is working on his first Masters degree at Trinity:
And it was also at that time that I began to see what an invaluable asset the Lord had given me in Jan. I remember I came home from classes one day, and found her at the kitchen table with all the catalogs and schedules and papers spread out in front of her and she said, “look! I’ve figured out how you can get two Masters degrees at the same time that it would normally take to get one! All you have to do is take overloads every semester, go to all full-time summer school and do all these other things, and you can do two MAs in the time it takes to do one!”
And I thought, whoa! Are you sure you really want to make the commitment it takes to do this kind of thing? And she said, “Yeah! Go for it!” And it was then I began to see that God had given me a very special woman who was my supporter – my cheerleader – and who really believed in me. And as long as she believed in me, that gave me the confidence to dream bigger dreams, and to take on challenges that I had never thought of before.
As graduation from Trinity neared, Jan and I were sitting one evening at the supper table in our little campus apartment, talking about what to do after graduation. Neither of us had any clear leading or inclination of what we should do next.
So Jan said to me, “Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?”
I replied, “If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to England and do a doctorate under John Hick.”
“Who’s he?” she asked.
“Oh, he’s this famous British philosopher who’s written extensively on arguments for the existence of God,” I explained. “If I could study with him, I could develop a cosmological argument for God’s existence.”
But it hardly seemed a realistic idea.
The next evening at supper Jan handed me a slip of paper with John Hick’s address on it. “I went to the library today and found out that he’s at the University of Birmingham in England,” she said. “Why don’t you write him a letter and ask him if you can do a doctoral thesis under him on the cosmological argument?”
What a woman! So I did, and to our amazement and delight Professor Hick wrote back saying he’d be very pleased to supervise my doctoral work on that subject. So it was an open door!
And in the same article, he explains how Jan encouraged him to get his second Ph.D:
As Jan and I neared the completion of my doctoral studies in Birmingham, our future path was again unclear to us. I had sent out a number of applications for teaching positions in philosophy at American universities but had received no bites. We didn’t know what to do.
I remember it like yesterday. We were sitting at the supper table in our little house outside Birmingham, and Jan suddenly said to me, “Well, if money were no object, what would you really like to do next?”
I laughed because I remembered how the Lord had used her question to guide us in the past. I had no trouble answering the question. “If money were no object, what I’d really like to do is go to Germany and study under Wolfhart Pannenberg.”
“Oh, he’s this famous German theologian who’s defended the resurrection of Christ historically,” I explained. “If I could study with him, I could develop a historical apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus.”
Our conversation drifted to other subjects, but Jan later told me that my remark had just lit a fire under her. The next day while I was at the university, she slipped away to the library and began to research grants-in-aid for study at German universities. Most of the leads proved to be defunct or otherwise inapplicable to our situation. But there were two grants she found that were possibilities. You can imagine how surprised I was when she sprung them on me!
Both of these Ph.D experiences are also described in the talk. And the talk concludes as follows:
I am so thankful to be married to a woman who is tremendously resourceful, tremendously talented and energetic, who could have pursued an independent career in any number of areas, but instead, she has chose to wed her aspirations to mine, and to make it her goal to make me the most effective person I can be, for Christ. And she has been like my right arm in ministry over these many years. And it is a tremendous privilege to be a team with a person like that.
And you young men, I would encourage you, if you marry, to find a gal who shares your vision, not some independent vision, but who is interested in aligning herself with you, and pursuing together a common vision and goal that will draw you [together], so that you will avoid the growing separateness that so often creeps into marriages.
And now you know the rest of Bill’s story. The person you marry will have an enormous influence on the impact you will have for Christ and his Kingdom. It is up to you to decide whether that influence is going to be positive or negative, by deciding if you will marry, and if you do marry, by deciding whom you will marry.
You may also be interested in this talk given by William Lane Craig, entitled “Healthy Relationships” (National Faculty Leadership Conf. 2008) (audio here) In that talk, he offers advice to Christians who want to have a marriage that is consistent with their Christian faith.
I found the video below on the blog of my friend Eric Chabot, who just recently hosted Michael Licona at the Ohio State University. I am hopeful we will get the recording of that soon, and I heard it was a very good lecture and a good turnout.
Here is the video, featuring Dr. William Lane Craig:
When I was doing my undergraduate degree, I had an atheist friend who was super smart, and he once surprised me by announcing that he had read the gospel of John. Flabbergasted, I asked him why. He said “I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about”. Indeed. And this video from Dr. Craig explains to you what all the fuss is about. This is basically everything that everyone – Christian or non-Christian – should know about what Christianity is about. This is what I wish all my co-workers knew about me.
I really wish that non-Christians could understand how different Christianity is is from other religions, because it is true. Half my family is Muslim, the other half is Hindu and some Catholic. There is literally nothing cognitive going on in the spiritual journeys of my Muslim and Hindu friends and family members. But Christianity is so different from that – it is truth-centered. Anyway, in the rest of this post, I’ll describe three striking things about the Christian worldview.
Christianity is testable
First, the Christian worldview is testable scientifically and historically. There are claims made about the external world in Christianity. For example, creation is a major doctrine in the Bible, and in Romans 1, Psalm 19 and other places, God explains to us through his human scribes that the nature of the world (created, designed) is there to prove to us that there is a Creator and Designer. If the universe were eternal, and complex embodied life common for any permutation of the constants and quantities that are built into the fabric of the universe, that would be evidence for atheism. And the same with history. As 1 Corinthians 15 says, if the historical person of Jesus did not die and was not seen alive after by large numbers of friends, skeptics, and enemies, then there is no point in being a Christian. Christianity started out as a movement in the very time and place where the events that make it significant happened. There was no long delay between the central events, and the earliest proclamation of those events. So, you can test scientifically and historically. If the universe did not begin to exist, and if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then Christianity would be disproved. These are things that anyone can investigate, but some people do not because they are afraid about what they will find, and how much they will have to adjust to God’s existence and character.
Christianity is hard
Second, Christianity is not something that you get into because you need a crutch or because it enhances your life. It is not done in order to fit in with your family or with your culture or with your nation’s dominant religion. Christianity is designed to not be fun, to not be easy, to not make you popular. In fact, one of the ways that you know that you are a real Christian and that God is leading you, is because God allows you to suffer, and because some people around you don’t like you, and because your career and finances and so on are a little harder because now there is God to worry about in the decision-making, and not just you. It’s like being married. A good marriage takes work because it is a commitment to another person. The more you learn about God through your study of science, history, theology and apologetics, the more you love him. And the more you love him, the more you choose to adjust your priorities and actions in a way that will invest in the relationship, instead of just what is best for you.
Christianity is effective
Third, Christianity is not about just being passive, having feelings and doing private things like prayer, singing and attending church. Christianity, when done right, involves projecting your beliefs outward. Evangelism, the practice of telling non-Christians the truth about Christianity, is not optional for Christians. Although many other religions dislike Christians for evangelizing, and some even use coercion and force to stop us, it is our responsibility. Many Christians seek to augment their evangelism by learning how to answer objections to Christianity, and how to make a case for the truth of core Christian beliefs. This involves studying philosophy, as well as scientific and historical evidence. And then there are other things to do – like organizing talks with good scholars on university campuses, and funding them through your job. Giving to charities that protect religious liberty, promote the pro-life message, and natural marriage. Those last two are important, because Christians care about children, since they are made by God, in order to know God, and selfish adults must be convinced control themselves. Christians often get involved in politics, seeking to limit the power of the secular government to infringe on human rights, to promote economic growth and to support the military when they engage in just wars. Christians often serve in the police force or the military, because we seek to restrain and destroy evil and protect the good.
You should use this video as a way to think again about what your life is about. Have you investigated the evidence for Christianity? Have you made an effort to find answers to your objections to Christianity? Have you thought about how to live out your Christianity and make a difference for Christ and his Kingdom? What’s your plan?
Let’s get started
Two good Kindle books are on sale right now, for those who want to investigate the claims of Christianity:
Here’s a must-read article about the effectiveness of apologetics on college campuses in Christianity Today.
I don’t know when I first became a skeptic. It must have been around age 4, when my mother found me arguing with another child at a birthday party: “But how do you know what the Bible says is true?” By age 11, my atheism was so widely known in my middle school that a Christian boy threatened to come to my house and “shoot all the atheists.” My Christian friends in high school avoided talking to me about religion because they anticipated that I would tear down their poorly constructed arguments. And I did.
As I set off in 2008 to begin my freshman year studying government at Harvard (whose motto is Veritas, “Truth”), I could never have expected the change that awaited me.
It was a brisk November when I met John Joseph Porter. Our conversations initially revolved around conservative politics, but soon gravitated toward religion. He wrote an essay for the Ichthus, Harvard’s Christian journal, defending God’s existence. I critiqued it. On campus, we’d argue into the wee hours; when apart, we’d take our arguments to e-mail. Never before had I met a Christian who could respond to my most basic philosophical questions: How does one understand the Bible’s contradictions? Could an omnipotent God make a stone he could not lift? What about the Euthyphro dilemma: Is something good because God declared it so, or does God merely identify the good? To someone like me, with no Christian background, resorting to an answer like “It takes faith” could only be intellectual cowardice. Joseph didn’t do that.
And he did something else: He prodded me on how inconsistent I was as an atheist who nonetheless believed in right and wrong as objective, universal categories. Defenseless, I decided to take a seminar on meta-ethics. After all, atheists had been developing ethical systems for 200-some years. In what I now see as providential, my atheist professor assigned a paper by C. S. Lewis that resolved the Euthyphro dilemma, declaring, “God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”
Joseph also pushed me on the origins of the universe. I had always believed in the Big Bang. But I was blissfully unaware that the man who first proposed it, Georges Lemaître, was a Catholic priest. And I’d happily ignored the rabbit trail of a problem of what caused the Big Bang, and what caused that cause, and so on.
By Valentine’s Day, I began to believe in God. There was no intellectual shame in being a deist, after all, as I joined the respectable ranks of Thomas Jefferson and other Founding Fathers.
I wouldn’t stay a deist for long. A Catholic friend gave me J. Budziszewski’s book Ask Me Anything, which included the Christian teaching that “love is a commitment of the will to the true good of the other person.” This theme—of love as sacrifice for true good—struck me. The Cross no longer seemed a grotesque symbol of divine sadism, but a remarkable act of love. And Christianity began to look less strangely mythical and more cosmically beautiful.
Now, I’m going to get into a lot of trouble for saying this, but I think that if you are a Christian and you are in a secular university, then you really need to have put in the effort to study the areas of science, history and philosophy that are relevant to the Christian faith. This is regardless of your personal abilities or field of study. We must all make an effort regardless of how comfortable we are with things that are hard for us to learn.
Granted, most people today are not interested in truth, because we just have this cultural preoccupation with having fun and feeling good and doing whatever we want to do whenever we want to do it. Most atheists I’ve met are like that, but some are more honest, open-minded, and they just have never encountered any good reasons or evidence to think that God exists and that Jesus is anything other than a man. There are a lot of atheists like that who are just waiting to hear some decent evidence. Our job is to prepare for them and then engage them, if they are willing to be engaged.
I think that definition of love she cited – self-sacrifice for the true good of another person – is important. I don’t think that ordinary Christians like you or me spends time on apologetics because we “like” it. I know lots of Christians who are in tough, expensive academic programs trying to get the skills they need to defend truth in areas that matter. They do this because they know that there are people out there who are interested in truth, and who are willing to re-prioritize their lives if the truth is made clear to them. We need to be willing to serve God by doing hard things that work.
What started you on his journey of studying faith and reason?
How would you define the word “faith”?
Are faith and reason compatible? How are they related?
How can reasonable faith help us to avoid the two extremes of superstition and nihilism?
Who makes the best arguments against the Christian faith?
Why are angry atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens more well known than better-informed academic atheists?
Does the Bible require Christians to give the unbeliever reasons for their faith?
How does faith spur Christians to think carefully about the big questions in life?
Should the American church prod churchgoers to develop their minds so they can engage the secular culture?
When talking about Christianity intellectually, is there a risk of neglecting the experience of being a Christian?
Which Christian apologist has shaped your thinking the most?
Which Christian philosopher has shaped your thinking the most?
Does the confidence that comes from apologetics undermine humility and reverence?
If you had to sketch out a 5 minute case for Christianity, what would you present?
Can non-Christians use their reason to arrive at truth?
Are there cases where atheists must affirm irrational things in order to remain atheists?
Can the universe have existed eternal, so that there is no need to explain who created it?
Even if you persuade someone that Christianity is true, does that mean they will live it out?
There is also a long period of questions, many of them hostile, from the audience of students (55 minutes).
Haven’t you said nasty things about some atheists? Aren’t you a meany?
What do you make of the presuppositional approach to apologetics?
Can a person stop being a Christian because of the chances that happen to them as they age?
Why did God wait so long after humans appeared to reveal himself to people through Jesus?
Can a person be saved by faith without have any intellectual assent to truth?
How do you find time for regular things like marriage when you have to study and speak so much?
How would you respond to Zeitgeist and parallels to Christianity in Greek/Roman mythology?
Do Christians have to assume that the Bible is inerrant and inspired in order to evangelize?
If the universe has a beginning, then why doesn’t God have a beginning?
Can you name some philosophical resources on abstract objects, Platonism and nominalism?
How can you know that Christianity more right than other religions?
Should we respond to the problem of evil by saying that our moral notions are different from God’s?
Define the A and B theories of time. Explain how they relate to the kalam cosmological argument.
How can Christians claim that their view is true in the face of so many world religions?
What is the role of emotions in Christian belief and thought?
Can evolution be reconciled with Christian beliefs and the Bible?
When witnessing person-to-person, should you balance apologetics with personal testimony?
Is there a good analogy for the trinity that can help people to understand it? [Note: HE HAS ONE!]
How can Christians reconcile God’s omniscience, God’s sovereignty and human free will?
This is a nice introductory lecture that is sure to get Christians to become interested in apologetics. As you watch or listen to it, imagine what the world would be like if every Christian could answer the questions of skeptical college students and professors like Dr. Craig. What would non-Christians think about Christianity if every Christian had studied these issues like Dr. Craig? Why aren’t we making an effort to study these things so that we can answer these questions?
It is really fun to see him fielding the questions from the skeptical university students. My favorite question was from the physics student who sounds really foreign, (at 1:19:00), then you realize that he is a Christian. I do think that Dr. Craig went a little far in accommodating evolution, but I put that down to the venue, and not wanting to get into a peripheral issue. I’m also surprised that no one asked him why God allows humans to suffer and commit acts of evil.
If you are looking for a good basic book on apologetics, then I would choose “Is God Just a Human Invention?” by Sean McDowell and Jonathan Morrow. And you can even be part of a reading group that Brian Auten of Apologetics 315 just announced, that I will be participating in. We will all be reading the book together, chapter by chapter, and lots of people will be available to answer your questions.
William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology in La Mirada, California.
Dr. Craig pursued his undergraduate studies at Wheaton College (B.A. 1971) and graduate studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (M.A. 1974; M.A. 1975), the University of Birmingham (England) (Ph.D. 1977), and the University of Munich (Germany) (D.Theol. 1984). From 1980-86 he taught Philosophy of Religion at Trinity… In 1987 they moved to Brussels, Belgium, where Dr. Craig pursued research at the University of Louvain until assuming his position at Talbot in 1994.
He has authored or edited over thirty books, including The Kalam Cosmological Argument; Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus; Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom; Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology; and God, Time and Eternity, as well as over a hundred articles in professional journals of philosophy and theology, including The Journal of Philosophy, New Testament Studies, Journal for the Study of the New Testament, American Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophical Studies, Philosophy, and British Journal for Philosophy of Science.
William Lane Craig is, without a doubt, the top living defender of Christianity. He has debated all of the most famous atheists, including Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc. as well as academic atheists like Quentin Smith, Peter Millican, etc. if you search this blog, you’ll find many debates posted here, sometimes even with snarky summaries.