A lot of people are up in arms at the moment about a paragraph in William Lane Craig’s answer to Question 193 “Overweening Ignorance.” Facebook, blogs, twitter and message boards are abuzz with Christians angrily attacking Craig with the charge that this paragraph shows he either does not hold to the doctrine of original sin or that he thinks it is not essential to Christianity.
i) How does Matt know that we are “angrily” attacking Craig?
ii) If we are angrily attacking Craig, does this mean that Matt is angrily defending Craig?
The conclusion we are supposed to draw is that Craig is denying the truth of these passages and views these as “optional.”
Where did I indicate that Craig was denying the truth of these passages? How does Matt derive that conclusion from what I wrote?
In “Hollywood Squares” Hays draws a ejusdem generis parallel between Craig’s paragraph and the writings of liberal scholars like Spong, Bultmann and The Archbishop of Canterbury.
I didn’t identify them as liberals. I find it shocking that Matt would angrily attack Craig by comparing him to a bunch of liberals. He should be more charitable.
This own goal demonstrates not just an alarming inability for many Christians to read in context but also some overweening ignorance about theology (not to mention an alarming lack of charity for the man who is internationally renowned and respected for publicly defending the faith by lay people and the academy alike.)
i) Well that’s pretty choice. It’s not as if Matt is extending to us the same charity which he demands that we extend to Craig. Matt’s operating principle is “Charity for me, but not for thee!”
ii) In addition, Matt’s accusation demonstrates his alarming inability to read in context. What he’s done is to bundle together the comments of no fewer than six different critics. But how can he read six different critics in context when he treats them as if they are lodging interchangeable charges? If Matt really cared about contextual reading, he’d comment on each critic individually.
At a glance, sitting by itself in a Facebook status update, in a tweet or out of context on a blog, it may well look like Craig is saying that the doctrine of original sin is not essential to the Christian faith.
It may look like Craig is saying original sin is inessential to the Christian faith? Gee, how could we ever arrive at such an outlandish interpretation? Maybe because that is what Craig explicitly said. Here is his verbatim statement:
As for your two moral objections, the first is an objection to the doctrine of original sin. But once more, that doctrine is not universally affirmed by Christians and is not essential to the Christian faith.
It doesn’t just look like Craig said original sin is inessential to the Christian faith. Rather, that’s exactly what he said.
And two sentences later, he reinforced that statement: “What is essential to Christian faith is that all men are sinners and in need of God’s forgiveness and redemption.”
Notice that he’s underscoring his initial claim by setting up a point-blank contrast between something that’s essential to the Christian faith, and something that isn’t.
If Craig meant to convey that the idea that we are all innately sinful and as such need Christ’s salvation, is not essential to the Christian faith then why does he say in the very next line “What is essential to Christian faith is that all men are sinners and in need of God’s forgiveness and redemption”? [Emphasis original] He has just said that all of us are sinful and need Christ’s salvation!
Because what he said in the very next line is set in deliberate opposition to the first statement.
In the line after this he writes, “I’m sure you’d recognize your own moral shortcomings and failures, Luke.” Where does Craig get this surety from that Luke has moral shortcomings and failures.
Wherever he gets this surety, it’s not from believing that original sin is a Christian essential.
In case you need more evidence that this is not what Craig meant, then see the next line “So don’t get hung up on Adam’s sin. It’s your own sin you need to deal with.” Again, Craig seems pretty confident that Luke has sinned and needs a solution.
Which he sets in direct contrast to Adam’s sin.
Having realised now that Craig cannot have meant to convey a denial of universal sinfulness or the need for salvation – he said in sentence 4 that this “is essential to Christian faith” – we need to look at what he did say, what he meant.
Of course, that’s a straw man. Where did I suggest that Craig denies the universality of sin or the need of salvation? I didn’t.
Rather, I faulted him for treating original sin as inessential–for the apparent reason that it’s not universally affirmed by Christians, and Craig refuses to introduce that “stumbling block.”
By employing some helpful techniques I use for analysing difficult legal passages and finding coherent solutions to prima facie statutory ambiguities…
Well, that’s a counterproductive comparison. There’s no presumption that one law may not contradict another law. Indeed, the same bill may contain internal contradictions.
Obviously, many people are reading it as referring to the term “original sin” (and their understanding as to what that term means – more on that from Matt in clue three)…
Can Matt demonstrate where I based my criticism of Craig on my own understanding of original sin? I’m simply responding to Craig on his own terms.
On this reading, Craig is saying, “The doctrine of original sin [as understood by the outraged readers] is not universally affirmed by Christians.”
Why does Matt assume I’d be “outraged” by Craig’s claim that original sin isn’t universally affirmed by Christians? Where in my response to Craig did I take issue with Craig’s factual assertion regarding historical theology?
But as clue one showed us, this is a rather contradictory way of reading it. To read the paragraph this way we would have to read Craig as denying that universal sinfulness and the need for salvation are an essential Christian doctrine in the second sentence but then spending sentences 4-7 affirming universal sinfulness and the need for salvation and their place as an essential doctrine within Christianity!
It’s hardly a “contradictory reading” when Craig expresses his point by presenting an antithetical contrast between two different propositions.
Craig hold two PhD’s and is a world class analytic philosopher known for many things but making overt contradictions in the same paragraph, side by side, is not one of them.
i) Matt is tilting at windmills. He begins by imputing to critics like me the implicit accusation that Craig contradicted himself. Then he proceeds to reprimand us for accusing Craig of self-contradiction, after which Matt tries to demonstrate the falsity of our alleged charge by showing that Craig’s position is really consistent.
Matt’s entire exercise is a muddleheaded digression. I never said or suggested that Craig’s position is inconsistent. Indeed, I think Craig is following a consistent, albeit, inexcusable policy.
ii) In addition, Glenn Peoples, in a comment on Matt’s post, disagreed with Matt that this is a “contradictory way” of reading Craig.
But Glen must be sadly ignorant of the “helpful techniques” that Matt uses for “analysing difficult legal passages.” Or maybe Glen is “angrily attacking” Craig.
It is clear that by “that doctrine” he does not have in mind the idea that we are not all innately sinful and as such do not need Christ’s salvation – he is talking about something else, the specific doctrine that Luke raised.
Matt continues to burn his strawman. Did I ever suggest that Craig denies our need to be saved from our own sins (“It’s your own sin you need to deal with”)? No.
Are we really sure we know what the doctrine of original sin is as Craig is using the term?
Once more, that’s irrelevant to my argument. I wasn’t evaluating Craig’s own grasp of the doctrine in question.
The problem is that he’s exempting his correspondent from having to believe the witness of Scripture on this issue, regardless of how he (Craig) may understand the witness of Scripture on this issue. Instead, Craig seems to suggest that:
i) A doctrine is inessential if it lacks universal Christian assent.
ii) We mustn’t put a stumbling block in front of unbelievers regardless of what the Bible requires them to believe.
Craig also has a PhD in Philosophy and has worked in the field of contemporary analytic philosophy for most of his career. This is an important point to note because in Responsibility and Atonement, Richard Swinburne advanced one of the most important philosophical discussions of “original sin.”
Matt is drawing distinctions that Craig didn’t draw. Matt is introducing considerations that Craig didn’t introduce. That’s no way to interpret Craig. Why introduce all this extraneous material, then assume that this is what Craig really had in mind? How is that any way of adducing what Craig actually meant?
Now when Craig, a philosopher, talks about the doctrine of original sin as being “unessential,” he is claiming that acceptance of all three of these doctrines is “unessential.”
He is? Where does Craig claim that? Matt quotes Swinburne, not Craig.
So when Craig states that the doctrine of original sin is unessential, the question we should be asking is which of the three components is he refering to?
No, we shouldn’t be asking which component of Swinburne’s analysis Craig is referring to, since there’s no textual evidence that Craig was even operating with that framework, or affirming one component to the exclusion of another or others.
Rather, we should operate with the text before us.
In addition, Craig’s reply to the correspondent is consistent with his overall policy. His “minimal facts” approach to apologetics. His disinclination to get “sidetracked” into defending the inerrancy of Scripture or even the general reliability of Scripture. (For instance, see his preface to the 3rd edition of Reasonable Faith).
That’s how I read Craig “in context.”
Interestingly, all the scriptures Craig’s detractors cite do not clearly or unequivocally teach 3), the doctrine of original guilt.
i) Rom 5:12-21 doesn’t teach original guilt? That’s a denial which Matt needs to defend, not assert.
ii) Again, though, I wasn’t evaluating Craig’s personal version of original sin, or denying his personal belief in original sin. Matt can’t get that out of anything I said.
Rather, I faulted Craig for his laissez-faire attitude towards the obligations of Scripture.
Such claims would be news to the Eastern Orthodox Church…
I don’t hesitate to say the Orthodox church has a defective view of original sin.
Perhaps Craig could have been clearer. Not all his readers will draw the distinctions we have above, so given this, perhaps he should have used the term “original guilt” so as to be clearer to those less familiar with the literature as to which component of original sin he was speaking of.
But I thought Craig was a world class philosopher with two earned doctrines. Can’t he express himself clearly?
But really it is the duty of readers to read in context, to read charitably – where there are two possible readings, the one that does not entail blatant contradictions two lines later is probably the reading we should adopt… It is unfortunate that in this case it appears many Christians have failed to do so and are so quick to publicly jump to conclusions about one of their brothers.
i) I didn’t attribute a contradiction to Craig’s position. That is Matt’s cloud castle.
ii) Matt has been singularly uncharitable in his reading of Craig’s critics. In Matt's universe, some brothers are more equal than others.
iii) In terms of interpretive charity, there’s nothing uncharitable about my interpretation of Craig’s statement. It’s entirely consistent with his modus operandi in apologetics and evangelism.
Matt’s post is a study in sustained hypocrisy and sustained incompetence.
Matt’s wife also added her two cents:
The problem with your approach here Steve (and Bnonn and others) is that you start with your erroneous theological assumptions, you inability to read in context to then arrive at a dodgy conclusion.
And the problem with your approach here Madeleine (and Matt and others) is that I didn’t start with my “erroneous” theological assumptions. I didn’t introduce my own view of original sin into the discussion. Sorry if you’re too dim to see that.
Glenn Peoples also weighs in:
I thought I would add my voice to those defending Dr Craig and calling our fellow evangelical Christians to be a little more patient and careful – as well as striving to be better informed about the theological issues we discuss.
Of course, Glenn isn’t really defending Craig. Rather, Glenn is using the Craig incident as a pretext to defend himself. Glenn is a liberal (denies hell, denies inerrancy), so he wants to make evangelicalism a big tent. Defending Craig is just a ploy for making his case that evangelicals should be more tolerant and open-minded with respect to the Glenn Peoples of the world.