Tag Archives: William Lane Craig

Philosophy and the Christian (PFCW)

“To be ignorant and simple now – not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground – would be to throw down our weapons, and betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.” – C.S. Lewis in “Learning in Wartime”

When I told my high school math teacher that I was changing my college major to philosophy he wrote a letter to me and signed off with Colossians 2:8, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than Christ.” This teacher was certainly not the first person to react this way when I would tell them that I was getting my B.A. in Philosophy, from a secular university nonetheless!

Nowadays, however, there is a greater appreciation for philosophy among Christians. For many, however, it still echoes C.S. Lewis’ position quoted above – philosophy is a tool for defending the faith. In a sense that is true, often Apologetics is profoundly philosophical. However philosophy is so much more than that!

In their recent book, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview 2nd Edition, William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland put forth a convincing argument for why Philosophy, not just apologetics, is a good thing for Christians. They begin by appealing to philosophy_dictionarya lecture given by the former UN General Secretary, Charles Malik, at Wheaton. Malik said that evangelism was about “saving the soul and saving the mind.” By this Malik meant that there is an intellectual struggle going on in today’s universities and scholarly journals, which are inherently anti-Christian. Malik emphatically states, “For the sake of greater effectiveness in witnessing to Jesus Christ, as well as for their own sakes, evangelicals cannot afford to keep on living on the periphery of responsible intellectual existence!” (Malik, The Two Tasks)

Part of recentering ourselves into a position of responsible intellectual existence, is the recovery of philosophy as a Christian task. Why? There are at least 3 reasons. First, philosophy is the foundation of The University. As the University goes, so goes culture. Second, pastors deal with peoples’ question about moral values, suffering, evil, religious skepticism, etc. Philosophy addresses all these issues. As Craig and Moreland say, “We do not know how one could minister effectively in a public way on our university campuses without training in philosophy.” (PFCW, 6) Third, not being “passive, sensate, busy and hurried, incapable of developing an interior life” is part of Christian discipleship. (PFCW, 6)  Philosophical thinking promotes the life of the mind, which in turn, affects our spirituality.

If those reasons don’t convince you that Christians should engage with philosophy, at least in some way, then perhaps the fact that theology necessarily interacts with philosophy will. What do I mean by that? I mean that all of our theological concepts have philosophical implications and that our philosophical assumptions have theological implications. Think for example about the concept of Justice. Theories of justice are common discussions among philosophers. These discussions trickle their way down into popular culture. The result is that you probably have adopted one of these theories of justice, and probably aren’t even aware of it. Your theory of justice, which you probably aren’t aware of, affects how you read biblical passages about justice and it affects how you think about God’s justice.  Or take another example, this time related to the philosophical concept of free will: “A psychologist reads the literature regarding identical twins who are reared in separate environments. He notes that they usually exhibit similar adult behavior. He then wonders if there is really any such thing as freedom of the will, and if not, he ponders what to make of moral responsibility and punishment.” (PFCW, 22) Whatever this psychologist decides on regarding his understanding of freedom will have profound theological impact. Is theological determinism compatible with moral responsibility? Can we be morally responsible if we are bound to sin according to the doctrine of Original Sin? After all, original sin, implies that it is inevitable we will sin. And what about God? Is God free to choose between genuine alternate possibilities? If not, is he really free? If so, does that mean that God must be able to choose between evil and good in order to be free? All of these are philosophical issues that make their way into theology. Or what about our doctrine of atonement? Most evangelicals believe in a doctrine of penal substitution. But is penal substitution just? Who dictates what is just and what is not? Is retributive punishment the best form of punishment? How can Christ take our punishment on our behalf? What makes it the case that we are united with Christ on the cross?  Again, all of these are philosophical questions with profound theological implications.

philosophy

All of this is just to say, philosophy is important. Philosophy is a worthwhile task for Christians. Christians should not ignore philosophy. If you agree with any of these statements, or are open to exploring whether or not you agree with these statements I recommend the following books:

  1. God and the Philosophers edited by Tom Morris
  2. Philosophers Who Believe edited by Kelly Clark
  3. An Invitation to Analytic Christian Theology by Tom McCall
  4. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview by William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland
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A Penal Substitutionary Doctrine of Atonement (Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview Pt. 1)

I just picked up the 2nd edition of William Lane Craig & J.P. Moreland’s Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (PFCW) – I immediately flipped over to the chapters dealing with philosophical theology – and in some cases what I would call 5187Analytic Theology. The chapter I gravitated towards first was the chapter on Atonement. I’m currently in a seminar on contemporary theories of atonement and I know Craig has recently been busy working on the topic. So, I wanted to see what they had to say.

Unsurprisingly the chapter on the doctrine of atonement is primarily a defense of penal substitution (PSA). They define PSA as:

The Doctrine that God inflicted on Christ the suffering we deserved as the punishment for our sins, as a result of which we no longer deserve punishment. (613)

They helpfully nuance this position saying that this definition leaves open the question whether or not Christ was punished for our sins. They say that one option is that Christ was indeed punished on our behalf and another option is that the suffering Christ experienced, had it been experienced by us, would have been a punishment.

In other words, Christ was a not punished, but he endured the suffering that would have been our punishment had it been inflicted upon us.

With this definition in mind they treat two objections:

1)The Incoherence Objection

This objection states that given an expressivist theory of punishment, it is conceptually impossible for God to punish Christ for our sins.

There are several options one could take in light of this objection. First one could deny the expressivist account. Second, one could say that God does not condemn Christ himself, but that God condemns sin. Finally, one could say that God in fact censures Christ, propose that our guilt is imputed onto Christ. The contemporary analogy to this doctrine of imputation would be cases in civil law which involve vicarious liability. For example, a case in which an employer incurs liability for acts committed by her employee.

Craig and Moreland conclude that the advocate of PSA can agree Christ was not punished, deny an expressivist account, or argue for the compatibility between PSA and expressivist accounts.

2) The Injustice Objection

“It is always unjust to punish an innocent person. Christ was an innocent person. God is always just. Therefore, God could not have punished Christ.” Thus goes a standard critique of PSA.

Again, the defender of PSA has several options. First they could adopt a consequentialist account of justice. If so, the act of punishing one innocent person, is justified because it prevents the guaranteed damnation of the human race. Second, they might argue that issues of justice are determined by God himself. Third, they could argue that, given divine command theory, God does not issue commands to himself, so he ha not moral duties to fulfill. Finally one might want to argue that Christ in fact had our guilt imputed onto him, so it actually is just to punish Christ.

Review of the Chapter

I really appreciated the clarity that Craig and Moreland brought to the issues involving PSA. This includes their definition of PSA which allows for a version of PSA to obtain even if Christ is not strictly punished for our sins. However, one critique I have of this chapter is that for some reason (their conservative evangelical background) they decided to focus solely on PSA. Not only that, they state (not argue) that essential, and indeed central to any biblically adequate theory of atonement is PSA. They offer no argument for that claim. While I am inclined to believe in some doctrine of PSA, they offer no reasons for why we should think PSA is the essential or central model of atonement. There may be reasons for why this is true, but they don’t say why.

Finally, I am left wondering, what we should do with biblical passages which mention that we have died with Christ. If punishment for sin is death (2 Cor 5 & Gal. 2), then it seems like in our “dying” with Christ we have experienced some sort of punishment. Are these passages figurative? Or should we take them in some sort of realist fashion? I’m inclined to say that it is the latter. And if in fact, we have died with Christ, experiencing the punishment for sin, would we still be able to call such an account PSA? I’m not sure… That’s just some food for thought.

Middle Knowledge & Geerhardus Vos

If Al Gore had become President of the United States, America would not have gone to war in Iraq. If the Broncos beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, the world would be a better place. If Johnny had asked Susie out on a date, she would say yes.

All these statements are examples of statements called counterfactuals. We use counterfactuals in every day conversation. For example we might say that “If I would have left home 5 minutes earlier, I would have missed traffic.” We say stuff like that all the time. But does God have this sort of knowledge too?

Most theologians agree that God has knowledge of all necessary truths. That is indisputable. Most also agree that God has knowledge of things that “will” be. However a disputed question is whether God has knowledge of things that “would” be. And if God does have this sort of knowledge, when does he have it? Does God have it before or after his divine decree to create?

Luis Molina (a Jesuit), from whose name Molinists derive their own name, believed that God’s hypothetical knowledge of creatures free decisions comes logically prior to his decree to create. The Dominicans, following Thomas Aquinas disagreed. Supposedly this makes room for human freedom, after all truths about human decisions come prior to God’s decree. According to Molinists, God knows what hypothetically humans would do prior to his divine decrees thus this allows room for human freedom but allows God to bring about his ultimate purposes through free creaturely decisions since God decides which world he will create.

According to William Lane Craig, this knowledge, lies between his knowledge of necessary truths and his knowledge of what “will” be, thus Molinists call this God’s middle knowledge.

But we need to ask ourselves a few questions:

Is middle knowledge a coherent concept?

Is middle knowledge a biblical concept?

Now before we answer some of these questions let’s define middle knowledge.

Here are a couple of definitions:

God knows, for any creature he might create, how that creature will behave in whatever circumstances he might be placed. God is able to know this, moreover, even though the creatures in question will, if created, enjoy libertarian freedom. This kind of knowledge…[is] called middle knowledge. –Hugh McCann

What is middle knowledge? This is the doctrine that between God’s natural knowledge, his knowledge of all necessities and possibilities, and his free knowledge, what he has freely planned to bring to pass, there is a middle knowledge, his knowledge of what his free creatures would do in a vast variety of different circumstances. – Paul Helm

So what should we think about Middle Knowledge? Geerhardus Vos helps us to think through some of these things in his Reformed Dogmatics…

First Vos says that – Knowledge is only “knowledge” if it refers to something that is certain. “Only what is certain and sure can be known.” This makes sense, knowledge only consists of what exists. Counterfactuals don’t have real existence – hence it is impossible to know them in the full sense of the word. So the concept is incoherent. (This is basically the grounding objection.)

Second, Vos says that what is free and uncertain in itself cannot be the object of knowledge. This is the same type of objection that Open theists make… Gregory Boyd helpfully points out: “it is hard to understand how agents can be said to possess libertarian freedom when the facts about every choice they will ever make eternally precede their making it.” So for freedom to be truly libertarian, an agent’s actions must be unknown. This is precisely what Middle Knoweldge tries to avoid. Again it seems like Middle Knowledge is an incoherent concept. Either God does not know libertarian actions or they are not truly libertarian – there doesn’t seem to be a way between these two options

Finally, is it biblical? Vos seems says that 1 Samuel 23 and Matthew 11, verses used to support middle knowledge are not in fact biblical. I don’t think the answer is as clear as Vos wants it to be.

But there are a host of issues, not touched upon by Vos, that make the concept of middle knowledge incoherent, or at least muddy. For instance, What is the Ontological status of molinist counterfactuals? These counterfactuals are logically prior to God’s decree to create, so how are they related to the Creator? How is it possible for the truth of these “facts” to exist apart from God’s creative will?

So what is the status of middle knowledge? I don’t know – all I know is that there are some pretty weighty objections against its existence. In my opinion, this last objection regarding the ontological status of these counterfactuals is the trickiest. From where do they derive their existence if they somehow “are” prior to God’s decree to create? Tricky Stuff…