Tag Archives: Philosophical Theology

William Lane Craig’s Defenders class now live-streamed every Sunday at 11:30 AM Eastern

I saw this post up on Pastor Matt’s blog.

He writes:

William Lane Craig’s ministry has been grace upon grace to me.  He is one of the apologists whose work saved my faith from the relativistic emergent church fog in which I wandered for several years as a young Christian (you can more about that here).

However, it is not just Dr. Craig’s books and debates that have blessed my Christian life and ministry but his podcasts are also outstanding.  I subscribe to both his Reasonable Faith and Defenders podcast.  The former is conversational in style and often features Dr. Craig answering the questions of both believers and skeptics alike.  The latter is a regular Sunday school class Dr. Craig teaches on theology and apologetics.

Now the Defenders class is going to be live streamed from the church he attends every Sunday morning at 11:30 a.m. EST.  You can watch here.  The time may be bad for many of you on the east coast (I’ll be preaching tomorrow at that time) but perfect for those in Europe and the west coast.  Also, you can watch or listen to archived classes at Reasonable Faith.

There was a recent episode of the Reasonable Faith podcast in which Kevin Harris and William Lane Craig talked about the live-streaming of the Defenders class.


Every church should have a class like this! Dr. Craig’s ‘Defenders’ class gets to the meat of the Christian life and worldview. Now, there’s breaking news concerning the class!

Here’s a snip from the transcript that explains what Defenders is all about:

Dr. Craig: We believe strongly that every Christian believer needs to be exercising his spiritual gifts in the context of the local church. There are no lone rangers in Christianity. We are part of a local body. God has gifted the church in ways that we serve and help one another. So, having a gift in the area of teaching, it would be natural for me to teach an adult Sunday School class. I thought, “Well, what might I teach on?” I didn’t want to teach a course on straight apologetics. I think that would be spiritually unhealthy, just week after week to be dealing with apologetic arguments.

Kevin Harris: Why?

Dr. Craig: Because they would not be getting any biblical input or knowledge.

Kevin Harris: You mean directly from the Scriptures?

Dr. Craig: Exactly. There would not be biblical input and teaching. So it seemed to me that it would be better for my students if I were to teach a survey of Christian doctrine. What I discovered during my doctoral studies in Germany is that when you do a survey of the body of Christian doctrine there simply naturally arises at various points along the way issues of apologetic significance that can then be addressed in passing. So, for example, if you are talking about the Doctrine of God, naturally the question will arise, “What reason is there to believe that God exists?” So you can do a sort of excursus on arguments for the existence of God. Or if you are doing Doctrine of Creation, the question will naturally arise, “How does the Christian doctrine of creation comport with what contemporary biology tells us about the evolution of biological complexity on earth?” So that will be an area, again, that you will want to address with a view toward producing what I call a synoptic Christian theology; that is to say, a theology which is integrated with the best knowledge that secular disciplines have to tell us about the world. An integrated worldview that gives a Christian perspective on science, on the arts, on literature, on history, and so forth.

So based upon my studies in Germany, I developed this survey of the whole body of Christian doctrine, or systematic theology, starting with the Doctrine of Revelation (that is to say, how does God reveal himself to us) going right up through the Doctrine of the Last Things (that is to say, the return of Christ and the final state of man into eternity), and then in between the rest of basic Christian doctrine.

Kevin Harris: You’ve done a series on the Doctrine of the Trinity, the Doctrine of Christ, fascinating things. Probably one of the more popular ones you did was a whole series (12 to 15 sessions) of Creation and Evolution.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that was an excursus under the Doctrine of Creation. Having given a theological understanding of creation, then how does that integrate with what we learn about the created biosphere from science?

Kevin Harris: Just a personal aside, the times that I’ve been in the class, it is really fun because these are the people who don’t realize that you are “The WLC,” they just know you as the carpenter’s son who lives among them. [laughter] You are just Bill! But some do come to the class and seek you out because of your work, but then you’ve got a bunch of other people who . . .

Dr. Craig: What has happened, Kevin, is initially I just started teaching this adult Sunday School class, and we just had a handful of folks who would come. People who were interested in learning about Christian doctrine. But as Reasonable Faith developed, we began to record these classes and then to put them on the website so that they could be available as podcasts. That has been a great joy to see how people from all around the world are accessing these podcasts and listening to them.

Kevin Harris: Your class asks questions. You pass the microphone around so the questions could be heard.

Dr. Craig: That’s right. One of the things that we do in the class is provide ample time for discussion. We don’t have any schedule to get through. Whether we cover a lot of material in a lesson, or just a little bit of material, doesn’t matter because we just continue the next Sunday wherever we happen to leave off. So the pace at which we move will be very much dictated by the people in the class and the questions that they have.

One of the things that we do in the Defenders class is to encourage open exploration and questioning. So when I cover a subject, I will typically give a range of views that are present in Christian theology, very often associated with particular Christian confessions. For example, I’ll say, “Here is what Catholics believe about this doctrine. Here is the Lutheran perspective. Here is what Reformed theologians say. Here is what Baptist or Methodist theologians believe.” And we look at a range of options, and then give some word of assessment about them. I think folks appreciate not being put into a cage, but presented with a range of options and then being allowed to decide for themselves which one best represents the most coherent and biblically faithful view of the subject that we are discussing.

Kevin Harris: These podcasts of the Defenders class appear at ReasonableFaith.org every Monday. So people look forward to that time when they go on, along with the new Reasonable Faith podcast. So you get Defenders and the Reasonable Faith podcasts.

You can click here to listen to it. (20 minutes)

I like his survey of opinions approach. The best sermon I ever heard was on ordinances and sacraments, and the pastor did a survey of the different views and what reasons they had to hold it. My ears perked up – you never hear anything like that in church, usually. But in the Defenders class, you hear it every week.

Now the lady I am mentoring most listens to this podcast – she is listening fro the beginning because they are all online now. She is getting better at apologetics every day, and I suspect that the Defenders class has a lot to do with that. She is listening to the 20 podcasts from Series 1 of the Defenders podcast. They are now on Series 2. If you like your theology done with philosophical and historical rigor, you’ll find it here – this is theology you can talk to a non-Christian about.

I’m sure that some people who read my blog think that church is boring, impractical and irrelevant to the real work of being a Christian.  I have sympathy with you, because I used to be you – until my friend Dina encouraged me to attend church more regularly, and made me a cross-stitch (it took her a LONG time to make!) that I couldn’t refuse. Now I try to attend church and I do believe that it adds value to what I do as a Christian operator and agent, although my church does not know who I am and they do not use any of my skills. I think some of you were just like I used to be, and have had nothing but bad experiences in the church. I am not minimizing the bad experiences that serious people have in unserious churches, but eventually I do want you to go to a good church and learn something and share what you know with others. But if you still cannot bring yourself to go to church YET, then consider that this Defenders class is the corrective to the bad experiences you have had in church. You are not going to find any anti-intellectualism, feminization, postmodernism, moral relativism, etc. in this class. You will actually learn something useful in this class. Every week you are going to take home something useful that makes you better at know who God is and how to act on that knowledge in practical ways. Take a look and see for yourself what goes on!

Finally, here is a list with links to all my favorite podcasts.

Book review of the book “Contending with Christianity’s Critics”

Apologetics 315 posted a review of the book “Contending with Christianity’s Critics“, which I discussed in posts earlier today. I wanted to excerpt a few chapter summaries for chapters that you may not find in any other apologetics book.

Here they are:

Part 3, The Coherence of Christian Doctrine, begins with chapter thirteen: “The Coherence of Theism” by Charles Taliaferro and Elsa J. Marty. Here the authors seek to defend the coherence of the concept of God. They address six attributes: “necessary existence, incorporeality, essential goodness, omnipotence, omniscience, and eternity.”(26) They point out: “The attributes of God are therefore not a patchwork of arbitrary characteristics. Each one is, rather, interconnected, and together they form a coherent whole. Appreciating this helps one avoid the more crude depiction of God one finds in Dawkins’s work.”(27)

Chapter fourteen: “Is the Trinity a Logical Blunder? God as Three and One” by Paul Copan covers the concept and difficulties of the Trinity. Copan discusses some common problems to avoid in our understanding of the trinity: overemphasizing threeness, overemphasizing oneness, rejecting equality.(28) He then lays out six considerations that will make the understanding the trinity clearer. Finally, Copan shows the philosophical and practical relevance of the Trinity.

Chapter fifteen: “Did God Become a Jew? A Defense of the Incarnation” by Paul Copan aims “to show that the incarnation, though a mystery, is a coherent one.” Copan’s task: “(1) briefly review the scriptural affirmations of Jesus’ humanity and divinity, (2) highlight three important distinctions to help us understand the incarnation, and (3) examine the question of Jesus’ temptation in light of His divinity.”(29)

Chapter sixteen is entitled: “Dostoyevsky, Woody Allen, and the Doctrine of Penal Substitution” by Steve L. Porter. The title refers to the two contrasting characters in the works of these men, as Porter explains:

The difference between these two stories [Crime and Punishment and Crimes and Misdemeanors] is extremely relevant when it comes to the doctrine of penal substitution, for it seems that most of the contemporary objections to the view that Christ suffered the punitive consequences of human sin on behalf of sinners are fueled by the fact that we in the West find ourselves more in the world of Dr. Rosenthal than Raskolnikov. The doctrine of penal substitution does not make sense to many of us because, unlike Raskolnikov, punishment in general no longer makes sense to us.(30)

Porter describes the goal of his essay “the first goal … is to clarify and defend the plausibility of the moral framework required to ground penal substitution.” … “the second goal … is to offer an argument that penal substitution is the best explanation of why Christ voluntarily went to His death.”(31) Porter sheds light on the misconceptions of our understanding of punishment, while pointing out the coherence of the doctrine as it relates to the Biblical narrative as a whole.

Chapter seventeen: “Hell: Getting What’s Good My Own Way” by Stewart Goetz was the most challenging for this reviewer. Not because of the difficulty of the concept so much as the angle the author takes in exploring it. Goetz discusses the doctrine of hell and the particular philosophical issues that it raises He asks questions about how hell relates to the good, free will, and choices. For Goetz, “heaven and hell must ultimately be understood in terms of how a person chooses to live his life in pursuit of what is good.”(32)The author raises and explores important questions – but his responses could have been presented with more clarity.

The book ends with chapter eighteen: “What Does God Know? The Problems of Open Theism” by David P. Hunt. While not addressed to atheists or non-Christians, this chapter does deal with the significant issue of the Open Theism view. This is the view that God does not have complete knowledge of the future. Hunt provides an overview of what Openists teach, followed by a critical response and survey of the scriptural data.

I think these chapters are a little off the beaten path of apologetics books, which is why you should get this book. Philosophical theology is an important part of your apologetics toolkit.

If you’re looking for an even more scholarly take on some of these doctrinal and theological issues, then look no further than the recently published Oxford University Press book “Debating Christian Theism“. The book features two scholarly points of view for about twenty or so issues related to Christianity. The topics range from science to philosophy to history to theology.

This is a great book to put on your desk at work for three reasons. First, it is published by Oxford University Press, and that right there has a prestige factor that will defuse the arrogant attitude that so many non-theists have from their vast experience of reading Dan Brown novels and watching the Discovery channel. Second, it features world-class scholars for each of the twenty or so topics under debate, so you can show that these issues are debated by people at the highest levels. Third, the book doesn’t mark you out as being a Christian, so you can just feign neutrality when the tolerance and diversity police come by to tell you that they have to fire you for having different views than they do. This is the book that you need to put on your desk to get the debate started (or not) depending on who happens to ask about it.

Now, if these books look to be a bit too complicated, then I recommend this easy-to-understand introduction to Christian apologetics entitled “Is God Just a Human Invention?“. That book is suitable for anyone who finished high school. It’s my favorite book to buy for beginners to apologetics. Even simpler than the Lee Strobel books, if you can believe that.

Jim Spiegel: the free will theodicy and the soul-making theodicy

Here’s an interesting post about two of the better known defenses to the problem of evil, from philosopher Jim Spiegel.

Here is his introduction:

The evidential problem of evil presents the theist with the burden of explaining why an almighty and all-good God would permit evil. Many such reasons, known as theodicies, have been proposed as solutions to this problem. Two of the more promising among these are the free will theodicy and the soul-making theodicy. While each of these approaches has strong proponents, rare are those who advocate the use of bothin response to the problem of evil. In fact, it is often the case that defenders of one are strong critics of the other. Given that theists, and more specifically Christian apologists, share the conviction that the evidential objection from evil fails and that theism is quite reasonable despite the reality of evil, it is curious that there isn’t more interest in embracing both of these theodicies as helpful responses to the problem. In what follows I want to offer a comparative analysis of these two theodicies in hopes of both understanding the divide between their proponents and making the case that the two are best used in tandem when dealing with the problem of evil. Towards the latter end I hope to show that these theodicies have more in common than has been traditionally thought and that their differences have more to do with their divergent aims than their relative merits as potential solutions to the problem of evil.

I am not going to be able to summarize his entire case in this post, but I at least wanted everyone to know what the two theodicies were. In the case of the free will theodicy, evil is permitted because without it we could not have free will. And free will is necessary in order to achieve certain higher moral goods.

Dr. Spiegel explains:

First, this theodicy places the blame for moral evil entirely on human beings. God did nothing wrong in creating us with the capacity to sin, however much he might have anticipated our rebellion. Second, notice the high premium that is placed on self-determination. Proponents of the free will theodicy typically assume that personal autonomy is so valuable that it makes the risk of moral evil worthwhile. But it is not really self-determination itself that is of ultimate value. The ultimate good for which such autonomy is a critical means is genuine loving relationships between persons, whether between humans or between God and humans.

And here is his explanation of the soul-making theodicy:

Defenders of the soul-making theodicy point out that there are numerous moral virtues that cannot be achieved except by struggling against or in the midst of evil. These “second order” goods include patience, courage, sympathy, forgiveness, mercy, perseverance, overcoming temptation, and much greater versions of faith, hope, love, and friendship. What sense could be made of the trait of courage in a world in which there was no danger and nothing to fear? How could one show sympathy if there were no sorrow or affliction with which to sympathize? How might one forgive where there has been no offense? And how can one be said to “persevere” through perfectly pleasant circumstances? These characteristics-courage, sympathy, forgiveness, perseverance-are not just good traits. They are, among the greatest of all character traits. And, according to Hick and other proponents of the soul-making theodicy, it is worth God’s permitting evil in order to realize these goods.

I’m going to confess my ignorance and say that I always used both of these when discussing the problems of evil and suffering. It never occurred to me that they would be in conflict. So I enjoyed reading the rest of the paper where Dr. Spiegel argues that far from being in conflict, the two are actually dependent on each other! The discussion of the two kinds of theodicies is actually really good for understanding the details of them. I think it’s going to be worth for me to read it over a few times and then explain it to someone else, so that I really get it straight. I just have to find a willing victim to listen while I work it through.