Overview:

William Lane Craig says HE's cool with faith statements, so where's the problem?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Christian philosopher William Lane Craig takes a Pollyanna approach to faith statements—they don’t bother him, so there’s no problem.

But there is a problem. In part 1 I responded to WLC’s claim that they help create community. Let’s continue with more of his concerns.

Cause and effect

WLC moves on to misunderstand the problem. He says that a doctrinal statement doesn’t determine a scholar’s views; rather, scholars will have formed their views beforehand and only then seek an institution that fits their views.

That’s correct, as far as it goes. When you join, the doctrinal statement fits you like a just-right sweater since you picked an institution that shared your views. The problem comes when your thinking progresses, and the sweater becomes a straitjacket.

WLC is confident that this won’t be a problem—for him, at least:

Thus, it is naïve on your part to imagine that [Houston Baptist University’s] doctrinal statement, for example, imposes some sort of restraint upon me with respect to belief in the virgin birth or the deity of Christ or the resurrection of Jesus. I held these beliefs long before affiliating with HBU, and I would believe them no matter where I taught.

Craig tells us that if he hasn’t felt constrained by a doctrinal statement, then it’s all good.

But he isn’t completely clueless, and he can imagine the problem—though his solution is unsympathetic.

It can happen that one’s doctrinal views can change in the course of one’s career, with the result that one can no longer sign the doctrinal statement in good faith. In that case, the professor should seek employment elsewhere.

Oh, so it’s as easy as that? If you’ve grown so that you can’t accept the outmoded doctrinal statement, just quit.

This gets back to the original problem. Sure, you can quit your job. Maybe you’ll lose your tenure or even your career, depending on how far your views have changed. But you might have other obligations than that to the university. Can you quit if there’s a family to feed? Or do you convince yourself to muddle through by not thinking about the problem too hard?

We can humanize this issue by moving from an abstract hypothetical to the concrete problems of hundreds of actual Christian clergy with failing faith by looking at the Clergy Project. Some of these clergy members have walked away from their careers in the church as atheists, while others keep their head down as long as they can, preferring an uncomfortable present to an unknown future.

WLC seems to appreciate the problem, but Christian compassion isn’t where he goes for an answer:

The danger is that because such a move can be so gut-wrenching, the professor may be tempted to continue in his present position, even though he no longer believes the doctrinal statement. In that case, he compromises his own integrity and the integrity of the institution. If the institution does not take the difficult step of dismissing him, the seed of corruption is planted which may derail the institution in coming generations.

In other words, it’s the scholar’s fault that the straitjacket is too tight. I’m sure that’s comforting. Notice that this is just a problem within religious institutions. Scholars in public and Ivy League universities are encouraged to follow the facts where they lead.

And “the seed of corruption”? Really? Christian dogma is so uncompromising that it can’t tolerate any challenges? This is medieval thinking. Again, try to imagine this criticism coming back to a physicist or geologist in response to a paper submitted for peer review.

People change. Doctrinal statements are too brittle to accept this, but this is the fault of the institutions that demand them, not of the people.

The problem comes when your thinking progresses, and the comfortable sweater becomes a straitjacket.

Consequences of a doctrinal statement

It is false, then, as you allege, that by signing a doctrinal statement [that includes the claim that Jesus was born of a virgin], “a professor has publicly stated, ‘I promise to never conclude that the virgin birth was just a myth’.” He has made no such promise.

He has. Your point is simply that he can break his promise and quit. Yes, he can, but the original point stands: we can’t treat his conclusions at his Christian college as useful new information when he was bound to reach them. (I have more to say about this—see the link to the final part below.)

You say that he can just quit? Sure, but why have this cumbersome and punitive policy? Harvard isn’t bothered by what its scholars conclude. As long as the facts support them, their professors can build their conclusions. They’re not constrained by a prior commitment to a conclusion. What does it say about doctrinal statements that Harvard’s view of academic freedom wouldn’t tolerate them?

Mike Licona’s crime

In my original post, I discussed one cautionary tale: “Might the scholar simply have come to an unbiased conclusion? That’s possible, but how would we know? Mike Licona is a Christian scholar who found out the hard way that faith statements have teeth. In 2011, he lost two jobs because, in a 700-page book, he questioned the inerrancy of a single Bible verse.” WLC responded:

The case of Mike Licona is a good example. Licona has never denied biblical inerrancy, nor was he fired because of it.

The point about Licona is that he’s an example of someone who ran afoul of a doctrinal statement and lost his job. I don’t want to split hairs over the theological validity of the charges against him, but let me respond to the two points WLC made.

In one of his public attacks on Licona at the time, Norm Geisler (co-founder of Southern Evangelical Seminary) wrote, “Mike Licona on Inerrancy: It’s Worse than We Originally Thought.” You’re free to disagree with Geisler’s conclusion, but, yeah, it’s about inerrancy.

And I didn’t say that Licona was fired from his jobs, just that he lost them.

WLC’s point was to vaguely defend Licona against the charges and note that he’s still “a member in good standing of the Evangelical Theological Society.” That’s nice, but it still turned the guy’s life upside down. Can Craig still ignore the collateral damage of faith statements?

I agree with WLC on one important point in the conclusion, next time.

All those who persistently reject Jesus Christ in the present life
shall be raised from the dead
and throughout eternity exist in the state
of conscious, unutterable, endless torment of anguish.
— part of the Biola doctrinal statement
that WLC is obliged to believe

CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware, and he is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...