There can be no doubt that William Lane Craig is an outstanding apologist. He is, first of all, an academic who has made a significant contribution to scholarship. (Craig’s scholarly output speaks for itself, including two earned doctorates from leading universities, dozens of journal articles in the top journals in philosophy, and several academic books.)
Perhaps even more importantly, Craig has a great demeanor for the rough-and-tumble of apologetic exchange. I have been impressed on many occasions by Craig’s unflagging ability to engage politely with people who can occasionally be rude, condescending, and downright hostile.
Finally, Craig is an excellent communicator. Sure, he sometimes comes off as a bit machine-like, but who else can succinctly present five arguments for God’s existence inside of twenty minutes, and do so with not a word wasted?
The Craig Clones
The problem isn’t Craig. Rather, it is the army of Craig-clones that march behind him. While I have a lot of reasons to be dissatisfied with the current state of Christian apologetics, one of my biggest complaints concerns the lack of imagination I see among so many popular apologists. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard young Christian apologists step up to present their case for God’s existence, and then they proceed to spool off a kalam cosmological argument, an argument from cosmic-fine tuning, a moral argument (one that errantly assumes atheism entails moral relativism) and an argument from the historicity of the resurrection. I regularly hear these apologists use all the same quotes Craig uses (typically without proper attribution) and occasionally I’ll even hear them use his very same words. (At some point, one must raise the ugly but appropriate word: plagiarism.) Mercifully, at least I haven’t yet heard anybody rip off Craig’s testimony which often forms part of his presentation.
I suspect a big problem here is not only Craig’s enormous shadow, but also the way apologetics is often taught. Rather than be trained as thinkers, many apologists seem keen to learn by rote a bunch of factoids and arguments peppered with impressive quotes from select sources. This is a desperately boring and unimaginative approach, and it suggests that the common stereotype of the apologist as merely trained to present a sales-pitch is not undeserved.
Apologetics and Imagination
William Lane Craig is a great apologist. But we don’t need more William Lane Craigs. We need independent, creative thinkers who are equipped to think about the world in novel ways and explore the grounds for — and against — their beliefs from a fresh, and honest perspective free of spin and informed by their own unique experiences, interest, and context.
Alvin Plantinga once delivered a lecture titled “Two Dozen (or so) Theistic Arguments“. The point of the lecture was to get Christians thinking in novel ways about God’s existence. Needless to say, Plantinga hardly exhausted the field with that lecture. There are dozens more arguments waiting to be discovered, and innumerable creative ways one could present them, contextualized to the particular time and place in which one finds oneself.
So what say we call a moratorium on the slavish and unimaginative regurgitation of William Lane Craig’s otherwise admirable presentations? Instead, everyone should go back to the drawing board and come up with your own presentations. Even if you sacrifice something in terms of slick presentation, at least the thoughts will be your own. And as apologists begin exploring new ways to defend their beliefs, apologetics will benefit in the long run.