William Lane Craig Vs James White: An Analysis

white craig 1Theologians and scholars usually attract kindred spirits. Since Dr. James White is a reformed theologian, his fans would likewise consider themselves part of the reformed tradition. Unfortunately, the non-reformed usually do not enjoy the work of Dr. White, except when they want to conjure up a few words of criticism. They will be more inclined to listen to Dr. William Lane Craig. Both of these men have a lot to offer and have dedicated their lives to serving Christ and his people. But what they offer is distinctly different. Dr. White has found himself opposing and criticizing Dr. Craig on several occasions (receiving nothing but silence from Dr. Craig and his ministry). Since these men have so many fans and not enough overlap in their fan base, it might be helpful to offer a critical comparison. Perhaps when fans read William Lane Craig Vs James White: An Analysis, they will begin to understand what their nemesis has to offer.

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I have found myself defending Dr. Craig from Dr. White’s fans and vice versa. I am one of the few with overlapping fanship. I learn a lot from both of these men, and I think that everybody who learns from one should learn from the other as well. They both generate a lot of helpful content on a regular basis. If you sat down and started listening Dr. White’s Dividing Line or Dr. Craig’s Defenders Class, you would be confronted with a wealth of theological, historical and philosophical information. As I present William Lane Craig Vs James White: An Analysis, I hope you begin to understand what you stand to gain from these Christian teachers.

Learn About A Broad Range of Topics

As we share the gospel with the world, we will be confronted with a host of different points of view. Denial of the gospel comes in a variety of different forms. People conceal their love of sin behind different dogmatisms and traditions. When we share the gospel with these people, we need to be able to understand how to interact with them. Both of these ministries attempt to equip struggling Christians with real answers to difficult questions.

If you were to tune in to Dr. Craig’s Defenders class, you would find that he thoroughly covers a range of issues pertaining to the Christian faith. These presentations have enough latitude to provide a foundation for future education. However, while he will cover these issues in his Sunday school class, Dr. Craig has limited his debates to a few areas of specialization, mainly pertaining to the truth of the central claims of the Christian faith. He is an expert in the arguments for the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus. These are the areas in which he chooses to focus his ministry. I appreciate this emphasis immensely. Many people credit the strengthening of their faith (and even the prevention of apostasy) to Dr. Craig’s ministry.

While we appreciate everything that Dr. Craig has contributed, Dr. White offers something else. He recognizes that if you are going to defend the Christian faith, you need to defend doctrine. Dr. Craig believes in justification by faith alone and expounds upon the doctrine in his Defenders class, but he does not take the debate to dissidents. Dr. White does. He has had several debates with Roman Catholics about justification and related issues. They serve as an excellent resource for people who want to hear both sides.

Scholarship

When we say that somebody is a theologian or a philosopher, we mean that they are experts in these disciplines. They establish themselves as experts by earning accredited degrees. Of course, one can be an expert without a degree. A bachelor’s degree in a topic such as theology or philosophy is usually only enough to show you how much you do not know. If you want to be considered an expert, you need to earn a doctorate. When people listen to a man who has a doctorate in the topics of which he is speaking, there is an aura of legitimacy.

That is why people know to take William Lane Craig seriously when he steps onto a university campus. He is breaking the caricature of the uneducated Christian who is just dogmatically telling people to have faith and accept what he is saying. He showing people that it is possible to be both a Christian and an academic. Dr. Craig demonstrates that Christians do not need to be stupid. He is often the first encounter that young people have with intelligent Christians who actually have good answers when he attends these debates. There is no reason that we should not think that God does not sovereignly generate this newfound openness in the hearts of his elect so that they would receive the gospel. In other words, Dr. Craig’s doctorates in theology and philosophy, as well as his status as a Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology and Houston Baptist University establish his legitimacy and provides an inroad to a culture that appreciates an educated man.

Similarly, Dr. White is esteemed as a Professor of Systematic Theology and biblical languages. He has received a doctorate in theology. While that doctorate is unaccredited, he is nonetheless an expert. But as we consider this analysis, our task is to compare these two gentlemen. Therefore, it must be noted that Dr. Craig has the education and body of work that would establish him as an expert in theology and philosophy. Dr. White’s status as an expert is yielded only from his body of work.

Fluency In Different Topics

As we engage with the culture, it becomes patently obvious that it is not enough for a theologian to have a familiarization with theology. Theology is our foundation, and it is the queen of the sciences. But as we share the gospel with the culture, other areas of study and specialization become necessary. For example, if you are debating the illegitimacy of same-sex marriage in a public venue, you should understand both the relevant biblical data and the societal impact. Your audience will not appreciate if you are just reciting verses from the Bible. Similarly, if you are debating an issue that overlaps with science, it would be helpful if you were fluent in areas of science.

Dr. White has earned an accredited bachelor’s in biology. When he discusses issues such as evolution, he knows what he is talking about. This is in contrast with many Christians who will bring a few one-liners to an academic debate, only to embarrass themselves. Similarly, Dr. Craig is a scientifically literate philosopher. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals on topics relating to science and philosophy. Anybody who watched his debate with Sean Carroll can see that he has a firm handle on physics. If you have watched his debate with Francisco Ayala, you learned that he has a handle on biology. Dr. Craig can offer scholarly and informed critiques of the work of experts in their own area of expertise.

Calvinism And Arminianism

I believe that soteriology is important. While Pelagians such as Kerrigan Skelly may say things like, “Does God really care about soteriology?” I still find myself confronted by what Paul said in Galatians. “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Galatians 3:1). “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:4). As I pointed out in my article A Critique of Arminian Soteriology, synergism is the foundation of sacramentalism.

Unfortunately, many evangelicals embrace justification by faith alone firmly, while still holding to synergism. They believe that salvation is a cooperative effort, ultimately left in the hands of man. Dr. White is one of my favorite living defenders of monergism. He is a Calvinist without compromise, holding to the confessions of faith uttered by the Protestant Reformation. He makes no compromises to the papists. Significantly, his defense of Calvinist thought is driven by and founded in Scripture.

On the other hand, Dr. Craig is an Arminian. This is one of the few areas with which I cannot agree with Dr. Craig. I am uncomfortable with comments that he has made, such as, “Calvinism seems to impugn the goodness of God.” It seems just a few short steps away from the red-eyed “God is evil” objections that I answered in my article How Job Answers The Central Objection To Calvinism.

A Man of Philosophy

Philosophy undergirds every discipline in which we engage. A scientist makes a host of philosophical assumptions. There are second-order questions that an expert in any discipline needs to ask. When they ask these questions, they are engaging in philosophical discourse. Many people characterize philosophy as relating only to life’s big questions, such as “Is there purpose in life? Does God exist?” But philosophy transcends these simple questions. Philosophy spreads to every discipline. That is why professional philosophers such as Dr. Craig can interact with so many different fields. It is almost like being a linguist and therefore being able to interact with so many different languages. One can certainly learn languages without training as a linguist, but it is significantly easier with that training.

There is another common misunderstanding about the nature of philosophical thought. Dr. White has unfortunately represented this misunderstanding. He has mischaracterized the philosophical theologian as somebody who has “a fundamental lack of trust in God’s word.” For the philosophical theologian will answer questions relating to God’s word that are not strictly derived from God’s word. The philosophical theologian will ask (just as an example), “Is God omnitemporal (existing at all times in eternity past) or atemporal (existing without time in eternity past)?” The misunderstanding should be obvious. The Bible does not answer this question. It tells us only that God has existed for eternity past. But it is not a lack of trust in God’s word to ask of the best explanation for that truth. It is also not infallible knowledge or doctrine. It is just something for philosophers to ponder. Scripture is the only rule of faith for the Christian church. Philosophical theology did not fall down from heaven. But it is still a valid discourse.

Dr. Craig’s embrace of philosophical theology has left him open to resolve difficult questions in ways that are simply not available to Dr. White. In the long controversy related to the alleged tension between divine sovereignty and human freedom, Dr. Craig is free to say that God employs his middle knowledge to actualize a libertarian anthropology. But since Dr. White has acquired such a distaste for philosophical theology, that explanation is just not available to him. In fact, he has raised a number of poor philosophical objections and has called on Dr. Craig to debate him. In all candor, Dr. White is something like a student challenging a professor in this area.

(However, I appreciate that Dr. White would likely prevail in an exegetical debate about the issues pertaining to Arminianism and Calvinism. But in a philosophical discussion about the objections that he has raised, he would simply be out of his element.)

Focusing On The Gospel In Debates

When these men enter into an academic debate, they have the same goal. They want people to hear the gospel and become disciples of Christ, as well as embolden Christians. Their approach to this is a little different, and these differences have unique benefits and drawbacks. When Dr. Craig is engaged in an academic debate, he is portraying belief in God and the resurrection of Jesus as a rational alternative for thinking men and women to consider. The hearts of university students may soften under the sovereign drawing and irresistible grace of God upon hearing Dr. Craig’s presentations.

When he engages in these debates, he tries to remain within the confines and strictures of an academic debate. He labors to avoid making any missteps that might turn the audience away. Sometimes, the result leaves him vulnerable to criticism. During his debate with John Shelby Spong, a liberal who denies the existence of a personal God, denies that the Bible is the word of God and denies that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, a student asked him a question. He asked, “Do you think your opponent is a real Christian?” This is a central issue. If he is a real Christian, then university students can be free to choose to deny the resurrection if they would like. His answer should have been an unshakable “No, he is not.” But he recognized that if he said that, Spong would have scored a few debate points by calling him intolerant. So Dr. Craig dodged the question by saying that this was not the topic of the debate.

I can say confidently that Dr. White would not have made that misstep. He would have answered the question and probably would have anticipated the accusation of intolerance. When Dr. White focuses on the gospel, he overtly preaches the gospel and answers questions with no room for compromise. He pulls no punches. This is true when he is in a debate with atheists, Muslims, or even John Shelby Spong.

William Lane Craig Vs James White: An Analysis

Many faithful Christians have learned a lot from both of these men and their ministries. While we may disagree with both of them on certain points, that does not mean that we should not learn from them or listen to them. We live in a culture in which people feel as though they need to be protected from opposing opinions. Liberals need to shout down speakers who they feel are too conservative. They just cannot handle hearing somebody with whom they disagree. If William Lane Craig starts to speak about Molinism, we need to either plug our ears or look for everything that is wrong with his presentation. This state of mind is why men such as Leighton Flowers can get away with reviewing some of Dr. White’s arguments without actually engaging with the core of what he said. His followers did not listen to what Dr. White said. They protected themselves from it.

While you may need to listen to some things with which you disagree, you will still learn a lot from both of these men. They contribute a lot that the other does not. Dr. Craig has areas of specialization that Dr. White does not, and vice versa. Perhaps you will learn something about the opposing position. If you are an Arminian and a fan of Dr. Craig, then perhaps you should listen to Dr. White for his presentations about Calvinism. If you stop looking for all of the reasons that he is wrong, you might learn something. Similarly, if you stop looking for all of the reasons that William Lane Craig is wrong about Molinism, you might learn something. You might even become both a Calvinist and a Molinist!

One other thing. If you are a fan of Dr. Craig, you may be inclined to say that this post is just an attack on him. If you are a fan of Dr. White, you might say that I am just attacking him. I am doing neither. These are probably my two favorite Christian ministries. I am expressing that these ministries have strengths and weaknesses. As a Christian, you should feel free to explore and learn from both.

If you want to read related content, see my article Does William Lane Craig Have An Orthodox Christology?

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