Baptist apologist James White's latest post: On How Theology Determines Apologetics, devoted to the prominent Protestant philosopher William Lane Craig (one of my very favorite Christian thinkers today: see his own website) is a classic case-in-point of where his presuppositionalist and fundamentalist mindset leads. Dr. Craig is probably the leading Christian apologist with regard to the Resurrection of Jesus (examples: one / two / three / four / five).
He's also known as perhaps the ablest Christian proponent of the cosmological argument for God's existence (made famous by St. Thomas Aquinas) and an excellent debater of atheists. He's a fine Christian man and wonderful apologist. I wish there were a thousand more out there like him. Here I am, a Catholic, and I greatly appreciate my Protestant brother and fellow apologist, but White the Baptist condemns him. Oh the irony and the tragedy (and right after we have just celebrated the holy day of Easter) . . .
White opposes William Lane Craig (at bottom, I believe) because he is neither a Calvinist in soteriology nor a presuppositionalist in apologetic methodology. This was all apparently brought about by a letter that White received. He allows no comments on his blog, but occasionally he decides to bless us with some reader feedback:
I would like to request James White to use his knowledge to tame Islam - rather than wasting time on other christians [sic] like William Lane Craig, who frankly is doing a very good job. Let us focus on the MAIN doctrines like Divinity of Christ, his life and message, which we all accept cutting across different apologetic styles, cutting across denominations etc. So, instead of wasting time on minor issues of differences, it will be better to spend time on those who do not accept Christ at all.Now, to his credit, White actually does a great deal of contra-Muslim apologetics, and even debates Muslim apologists. I link to some of it. It's good stuff. But he will also go unfairly critique other Protestants and create unnecessary strife and division (because he doesn't even accurately represent what they believe in the first place). He proceeds to describe Craig's beliefs as "Vanilla Christianity" and "sub-biblical" and continues:
His Molinism is more of a symptom of a wider theological weakness, one that, I believe, illustrates what happens when philosophy becomes the guiding force in theology. As a result there is a tremendous difference between the apologetic he represents and that which would flow from a consistent theological position. Apologetic methodology must of necessity flow from our theology. What we believe about God, His self-glorifying purpose in Creation, His nature, His power, His will, and His creatures, will determine how we defend His truth. A theocentric theology will result in a theocentric apologetic; an anthropocentric theology always results in an man-centered apologetic.
As a Molinist myself, I can defend this position. White often fails to properly understand other positions and ends up warring against straw men. White doesn't argue in these instances; he merely proclaims what he already holds (too often, circular logic). This is, broadly speaking, a huge problem with the presuppositionalist approach.
For White, pretty much, whatever isn't Calvinist is "sub-biblical." It's that simple in his mind. He can't handle the notion that competing systems of theology, even regarding an extraordinarily complex topic such as free will and predestination, could be respectable and permissible (as is allowed in the Catholic Church, in the Thomism vs. Molinism schools).
Rather, he has to demonize Arminians (in classic fundamentalist Calvinist fashion) because they come down a different way on one of the most difficult problems in philosophical theology. His way is "biblical"; therefore, the Arminian way must not be. Black and white. East vs. west. Divine vs. evil.
And if some theological belief is not Calvinist, then it is, of course, "man-centered." White is apparently unable to comprehend and conceive of a non-Calvinist theological belief-system that is not "man-centered" and not Pelagian (the heresy that makes man the ultimate determiner and initiator of his salvation, rather than God: firmly condemned by the Catholic Church at the Council of Trent). For White, the non-Calvinist cannot possibly glorify God (i.e., if at all) the way that the Calvinist does, or fully accept His sovereignty, His providential care of His creation, His glory and majesty, etc. And so this jaundiced, warped perspective affects how he argues. Let's examine a bit, then, where he goes with this critique:
Let me give you an example. It is common for WLC and those trained in his system to argue that the "preponderance of the evidence" points to the "greater probability" of the truthfulness of Christianity. Is this kind of argument consistent with the Apostolic proclamation? Did the Apostles claim that "there is very good reason to believe Jesus rose from the dead!"? Or did they proclaim it as a certainty, the very foundation of God's judgment itself (Acts 17:31).
This is an amazing unawareness of the basic biblical teaching concerning apologetics: all the more striking coming from an actual Christian apologist. Where to begin? Well, for example, how about the story of Doubting Thomas after the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus? I wrote in my soon-to-be-published book, Mere Christian Apologetics (p. 46):
White mocks the notions of "preponderance of the evidence" and "greater probability" as antithetical to biblical Christianity and the proclamation of the gospel, yet the early Christians proclaimed eyewitness testimony of what they had seen and heard. If they presented "legal"-type testimony, then why cannot an apologist use the same sort of argument today? No one alive was an eyewitness of these events, so it is necessarily the case that we have to make legal-historical arguments in order to do an intelligent rational apologetics.Jesus thought it was important to furnish empirical proofs of His Resurrection to His followers. His Resurrection was, by its very nature, tied up inextricably with history and eyewitnesses (legal-type proof) and physical sensory experience (scientific or empirical evidence). Thus, belief in His Resurrection was the very opposite of blind faith.Jesus presented "many infallible proofs" of His Resurrection (Acts 1:3) and appeared on one occasion solely to destroy the doubts of skeptical, hard-nosed empiricist Thomas -- a type of modern "scientific" man (John 20:24-29). Jesus did say that it was better to believe without the necessity of such undeniable proof (20:29), but after all, He still chose to appear for Thomas' sake, and told Thomas to put his hands in His real, physical wounds. For that person who seems to require such evidence, then, we ought to attempt to provide it for them, following the example of Jesus with Thomas.The other disciples and followers of Jesus (e.g., Mary Magdalene) touched Him as well (Matthew 28:9, Luke 24:39, John 20:17), and Jesus ate fish with them (Lk 24:41-43, John 21:12-13) – a wonderful, earthy and (outwardly) "unspiritual" act if there ever was one! Likewise, we must give unbelievers reasons for belief in Christianity, such as historical evidence for the Resurrection, etc.Jesus gave proof of His Resurrection, which was, in turn, the proof of His claim to be the Messiah and God the Son. Paul and the early Christians preached Christ risen on the basis of eyewitness and empirical proof. Paul himself appealed to eyewitnesses, as he had not seen the glorified Jesus in the flesh.This is emphatically apologetics, and it cannot be separated from our overall presentation of the gospel. An irrational, a-historical faith is no better than any other religion on the market, and the unbeliever instinctively senses this. Apologetics is crucial in the process of revealing the absolute distinctiveness and uniqueness of Christianity.
This does not involve any lessening of the certainty of faith at all. All Christians should have a rock-solid faith. But Christian faith is not identical to philosophy. Christian certainty in faith is not philosophical epistemological certainty. Yet we have to argue philosophically in order for the non-Christian to understand us. St. Paul did this. He gave us the principle (quite hostile to presuppositionalism) of approaching people where they are at:
For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel's sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.
(1 Corinthians 9:19-23)Applying this principle in his own actions, we see him at Mars Hill (the Areopagus) in Athens (Acts 17:22-34): the intellectual center of the world and of the Greeks, and speaking to people according to concepts that they can understand. Did Paul condemn all Greek philosophy when he preached the gospel? No; to the contrary, he cited the Greek pagan poet Aratus in Acts 17:28 (and also the Cretan philosopher Epimenides), and other Greeks in 1 Corinthians 15:33 (Menander) and Titus 1:12 (Epimenides, again, whom Paul even describes as a "prophet").
Furthermore, Paul consistently "argued" and "reasoned" with the Jews and Greeks. This is not mere proclamation; it is attempted persuasion. And in order to persuade, one must find common ground with one's opponent and go on from there to undermine their position and demonstrate the superiority of another one. The presuppositionalist (by and large) doesn't even try to do that. He simply proclaims, and whoever doesn't accept the preaching is (so he reasons) obviously unregenerate, which is why he can't comprehend it in the first place. This is scarcely apologetics at all. It's fideistic preaching. And it is not the biblical model that we clearly see.
Thus Paul refers to the "defence and confirmation of the gospel" (Phil 1:17). The Greek word dialegomai is where we get our English word dialogue. This word is used to describe St. Paul "reasoning" or "disputing" with Jews and Greeks in many places: Acts 17:2; 17:17; 18:4; 18:19; 19:8-10. Obviously, Paul firmly believed the things he was arguing about (just as Dr. Craig does and as I do). But that doesn't mean that he ignored the rhetorical tactics of persuasion according to evidences and (strictly from from the perspective of the unbeliever) probabilities and plausibilities.
Likewise, Jesus is referred to as "reasoning" (Gk., suzeteo) in Mark 12:28. Once one tries to argue a position, this is inevitable. But White wants to run it down. Somehow he has missed all of this. He talks a good "biblical game" but I have actually demonstrated the biblical teaching on how to do apologetics.
Did they say there is more evidence Yahweh exists than there is that He doesn't, or did they identify as foolish any argument raised against the existence of the Creator by the created?
The fact that Paul reasoned with the Greeks using terms and arguments they could understand, suggests that he took their own beliefs seriously inasmuch as he could use them to build upon, in presenting a Christian apologetic and gospel proclamation.
The Greeks believed in idols and false gods. Paul talks about how he observed these, walking in Athens (Acts 17:23). But did Paul simply mock all that as from hell and the devil? No. He used common sense and persuasive techniques (not to mention considerable charity). He commended the pagan Greeks for being "very religious" (17:22), then he cited their pagan poets and philosophers (17:28). He proceeded not to blame them as rank idolaters, but to excuse them (at least to a large extent, it seems) for their ignorance (17:30).
All of this is very different from common techniques of Calvinist polemicists like James White, who think they have a monopoly on religious and theological truth. Paul didn't dismiss all of this pagan religiosity as only "foolish" and nothing but foolish and false and stupid; he built upon what they knew and led them to Christian truth by means of it.
I believe a consistent biblical theology will result in the proclamation that outside of the Creator, who has revealed Himself perfectly in Jesus Christ, there is no grounds for human predication at all, and that Christianity is not merely the "best of a number of possibilities," but it is the only possibility.
Ultimately, this is true. We all believe this. White need not lecture Dr. Craig about the truths of Christianity. That is what is so ridiculous about White's approach: as if other non-Calvinist Christians don't share this outlook. But non-believers can also believe much truth. That is because God gives them the ability and the grace to do so, whether they are aware of it or not. Apologetics is the task of persuasiveness according to what a person knows in his present state. It is not merely condescending preaching, taking the lowest possible view of the moral integrity and thinking capacities of any nonbeliever.
What is more, the WLC system places the sinner, man, in the position of "neutral judge" of these "probabilities," and again, this is something the Apostles did not do. Man is not a neutral judge of the existence of God: he is a rebel creature busily suppressing the knowledge of God.
Again, no one disagrees that man is in rebellion. But the same Paul who wrote Romans 1:18-32, all about human rebellion and suppression of the truth, approached the pagan Greeks as he did on Mars Hill and elsewhere. Moreover, in the very next chapter (and remember, the New Testament didn't have chapters, as it was originally written, so this is immediate context to Romans 1) he wrote very differently about pagan Gentiles, showing that he was not intending to teach that absolutely every unbeliever was a wicked rebel through and through:
12: All who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.This shows that men who haven't even heard the Law of Moses, let alone the gospel, can be "justified," because they are "doers of the law" based on the knowledge in their conscience. Extremely unCalvinistic! It looks to me (I'd be happy to entertain other opinions) that Paul says they can even be saved (the "excuse" in 2:15 seems to imply this possibility). They are saved by Jesus and the gospel whether they know about Jesus or hear the gospel, but they can be saved without hearing about this. So White's view is, I submit, directly opposed to the Bible and the Apostle Paul.
13: For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.
14: When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.
15: They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them
16: on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
What you believe about these things will tremendously impact your apologetic methodology as a whole,
That's right. We see how White's own somewhat unbiblical approach to apologetics has adversely affected his method, leading him to attack even fellow Christian apologists like William Lane Craig, on ludicrous, baseless grounds.
How about we consider the words of Dr. Craig himself (White didn't do him the courtesy of citing a single word of his)? Do the following statements from Dr. Craig sound like "vanilla Christianity," and "sub-biblical" and "fuzzy" theology? Do they reflect a stunted, unbiblical worldview that White cynically presents as characteristic of Dr. Craig's personal beliefs?:
There is a danger in this sort of book that ought to be mentioned at the outset. One might receive the impression that belief in God is based solely on rational proofs, so that a person who does not find the arguments convincing can dismiss god without another thought. That would be a grave mistake. The Bible does teach that there is evidence of God's existence in the natural world around us -- but it also teaches that God's spirit "speaks" inwardly to the soul of each man in an unmistakable way, drawing him to God.For readers who want to delve into the question of the epistemology of belief in God in great depth, see Craig's fascinating survey: Introduction: The Resurrection of Theism; particularly the lengthy section where he interacts with the brilliant Calvinist philosopher Alvin Plantinga (another one of my very favorite Christian thinkers). At the conclusion of this "feast for the theistic mind" he expresses his unalterable supra-philosophical belief in God, in more sophisticated and biblically-soaked terms:
. . . God gives undeniable testimony of His existence to each individual through this inner drawing of His Spirit.
. . . I know that God exists because, in 1965, I responded to the inner pull of His Spirit and gave my life to Jesus Christ. Now God's Spirit lives within me and undeniably assures me of His existence. God will speak to your heart as well, giving you assurance of His presence, if you seek Him sincerely.
. . . Should my arguments seem weak and unconvincing to you, that is my fault, not God's. it only shows that I am a poor philosopher, not that God doesn't exist. Whether you judge my arguments to be sound or fallacious, God still exists; he loves you and holds you accountable. I will do my best to present sound arguments to you. But ultimately you must deal, not with arguments, but with God Himself.
(The Existence of God and the Beginning of the Universe, San Bernardino: Here's Life Publishers, 1979, 9-10)
Now what Plantinga asks is why some belief itself may not have sufficient warrant to overwhelm its potential defeaters; it would in that case be an intrinsic defeater-defeater. He provides an engaging illustration of someone who knows that he has not committed a crime, but against whom all the evidence stands. Such a person is perfectly rational to believe in his innocence even if he cannot refute the evidence against him. In the same way, says Plantinga, why could not belief in God be so warranted that it constitutes an intrinsic defeater of any considerations brought against it?And here is another clear statement from Dr. Craig, along the same lines, putting the lie to White's jaundiced and twisted caricature of what Dr. Craig believes (and by extension, what all or at least most non-Calvinist apologetes allegedly believe, according to White):
With this Plantinga has moved, I think, in the direction of the Reformers and the New Testament. For the Reformed theologians, the basis of faith which could withstand all rational attacks was the testimonium spiritu sancti internum. For Calvin, apologetics was a useful discipline to confirm the Spirit's testimony, but it was by no means necessary. A believer who was too uninformed or ill-equipped to refute anti-theistic arguments was rational in believing on the basis of the witness of the Spirit in his heart even in the face of such unrefuted objections. The Reformer's doctrine was grounded squarely on the New Testament teaching about the work of the Holy Spirit. According to both Paul and John, it is the inner witness of the Holy Spirit that provides the ultimate assurance that one's faith is true (Gal. 4-6; Rom. 8:15-16; Jn. 14:16-26; I Jn. 2:20, 26-7; 3:24; 4:13; 5:7-10a). Paul uses the term plerophoria (complete confidence, full assurance) to indicate the surety that the believer possesses as a result of the Spirit's work (Col. 2:2; I Thess. 1:5; cf. Rom. 4:21; 14:5; Col. 4:12). Nor is the Spirit's work restricted to believers; He is at work in the hearts of unbelievers in order to draw them to God (Jn. 16:7-11). Being a theist, then, is not a matter left to historical and geographical accident; even a person confronted with what are for him unanswerable objections to theism is, because of the work of the Holy Spirit, within his epistemic rights, nay, under epistemic obligation, to believe in God.
It seems to me, therefore, that the biblical theist ought to hold that among the circumstances that rationally warrant and, indeed, justify theistic belief is the witness of the Holy Spirit, and that non- propositional warrant is an intrinsic defeater of any potential defeater that might be brought against it. It is here that William Alston and Illtyd Trethowan's contributions on religious and moral experience as the grounds for properly basic belief in God become relevant. Though their philosophical viewpoints are diverse, each attempts in his own way to show how an immediate experience of God constitutes the circumstances for a non-inferential knowledge of God's existence.
Most people would say that it's impossible to "prove" the existence of God and that therefore, if one is going to believe in God, he must "take it by faith" that God exists. I've heard many students say this as an excuse for not believing in God. "Nobody can prove that God exists and nobody can prove that he doesn't," they say with a smile, "so I just don't believe in him." I've already argued that such a blithe attitude fails to appreciate the depth of man's existential predicament in a universe without God. The rational man ought to believe in God even when the evidence is equally balanced, rather than the reverse. But is it in fact the case that there is no probatory evidence that a Supreme Being exists? This was not the opinion of the biblical writers. The Psalmist said, "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of his hands" (Ps 19:1), and the apostle Paul declared, "Since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they [men] are without excuse" (Rom 1:20). Nor can it be said that this evidence is so ambiguous as to admit of equally plausible counter-explanations-for then people would not be "without excuse." Thus, people are without excuse for not believing in God's existence, not only because of the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, but also because of the external witness of nature.white creates trumped-up differences where there are none. I challenge any reader, of any belief to show how these three statements betray some alleged "sub-biblical" worldview that is supposedly far inferior to White's own certainty of God's existence, and destructive of a healthy biblical assurance of same. How is this at all "man-centered"? Best wishes in that futile endeavor . . .
(Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics , Crossway Books: Wheaton IL, Revised Edition, 1994, p. 77)
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Robert Fisher (of unknown Christian affiliation) asked in the comboxes below:
Dave - do you believe in the doctrine of original sin? Craig denied this in one of his debates with Shabir Ally - White plays it on the Dividing Line from 1/30/07 [link] - I think that's mainly what's concerning him. Even in the two quotes from Craig you posted one can see that there is no mention of sin and judgment. White is merely concerned about the weak approach Craig is taking, he's not anathematizing him.
You imply White is against evidential apologetics from this one post of his, but I think all he's trying to do is show where Craig's emphasis is off, not present his complete view on evidential apologetics (I've heard him use evidential arguments before. Btw, even Van Til thought evidential arguments were valuable).
Of course I do. There was no particular need to mention sin and judgment in the two quotes because the topic was the basis of belief in God (i.e., ontology and epistemology and metaphysics, not soteriology). So that's neither here nor there.
I've been searching around to see if Craig denies original sin anywhere. I found this:
Number 3: Original Sin. Dr. Curley gives the following argument:
1) Infants are damned because of original sin.His opponent noted that Craig "does not explicitly reject either the universality of sin or original sin" and "It's worth noting that Craig does not explicitly reject the second premise, that the Christian scriptures teach the doctrine of original sin. He limits himself to denying that the Christian scriptures teach infant damnation."
2) The Bible teaches original sin.
3) Therefore the God of the Bible does not exist.
[Dr. Craig] 11. I dispute the first premise. In fact, I challenge Dr. Curley to read me a single passage of Scripture that teaches that infants are damned because of original sin. The Bible teaches no such thing. On the contrary, Jesus took up the little children in his arms and blessed them, saying, "Let the little children come to me, for to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven." 
I listened to the relevant portion of Dividing Line (1-30-07). Dr. Craig claimed for sure that the particular argument he gave about God did not depend on original sin. Whether he also personally rejects it is unclear to me and not sufficiently proven (at least not for me) from these words alone.
One can distinguish between elements in particular arguments and personal acceptance of various things. In other words, if I don't use an element in some argument I am making it doesn't follow that I don't believe it.
I do think, however, that there is enough doubt and ambiguity as to Dr. Craig's meaning that it is worth pursuing further. He should be asked exactly what he believes, and if he truly denies original sin. Until that is clarified, I assume that he accepts it, because I have seen no compelling evidence to convince me otherwise.
I think the excerpt I offered above from William Lane Craig shows that if he did deny original sin, then he had a golden opportunity to state that he denied premise #2 (that "the Bible teaches original sin"). But he didn't do that. He only denied that infants are damned solely due to original sin.
ADDENDUM: James White's Comments on Dividing Line
[starting at 16:50 on the audio file, up through 18:20]
. . . this has been coming up a lot because of what I said about William Lane Craig on the blog a couple days ago, that I have serious theological problems; I view his theology as sub-biblical. Molinism is a Roman Catholic construct that was specifically designed to get around the teaching of the Reformers. It is not biblical. It does not come from exegesis. You're never going to come up with this idea by exegeting the text of Scripture. It's externally derived, forced on the Scriptures, and the greatest proponent of Molinism today is William Lane Craig. I'm sorry if you're offended that I say that. Dave Armstrong had a cow, that I would dare say that. What is so surprising about that? I've been saying this for a long, long, long time.
I cannot view as having any meaningful foundation, a Roman Catholic methodology of getting around the sovereignty of God, as Molinism is. . . . If you hold to what I consider a sub-biblical theology, it's gonna result in a different kind of apologetic methodology. . . . if you have primarily an Arminian theology, you have a weak doctrine of sin; you have a high view of the capacities of man; a low view of the work of the Holy Spirit of God, I would argue, in being able to bring regeneration, etc., etc. . . .