7 Habits of a Highly Effective Philosopher: Life lessons from the Christian apologist William Lane Craig.


William Lane Craig, from his July 2013 email newsletter says the following:

Nobody—or just about nobody, depending on whom you ask—beats William Lane Craig in a debate about the existence of God, or the resurrection of Jesus, or any topic of that sort. During their debate at Notre Dame in April of last year, New Atheist author Sam Harris referred to Craig as “the one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists.”

Over the course of working on my book about how people search for proof of God’s existence, I had the chance to spend a generous amount of time with Craig, both in the Atlanta area where he lives and at Biola University, an evangelical school on the outskirts of Los Angeles, where he teaches a few weeks out of the year. For the book, I’ve gotten to write about ideas like his “kalam cosmological argument,” one of the most-cited ideas of its generation in philosophy of religion, which fuses medieval Muslims with modern cosmology. I also tell of his entrepreneurial savvy in turning the Evangelical Philosophical Society into an academic organization that moonlights as a slick-as-a-banana apologetics platform for changing hearts like yours and mine. But none of that quite captures the man’s role as a sage and exemplar, in which he renders something like the upbuilding service Oprah provides to home-bound American women, except that his acolytes are the precocious set among conservative, evangelical, young-adult males. He makes me almost wish I were that kind of conservative evangelical myself—which is, to him, the point.

Craig dresses impeccably and professorially, often with a buttoned shirt and a patterned blazer, sweater, or sweater-vest. His dimples hint at a basic innocence that can be startling when it pokes through the frontage of logic. I find in Craig the decency associated with an era I am too young to be nostalgic for, and which I’ve been taught to imagine was imperialistic, sexist, homophobic, narrow-minded, or otherwise regressive. His rationalizations of certain parts of the Hebrew Bible can sound like he’s okay with genocide. Yet none of these accusations quite sticks to him; none is even comprehensible in the cosmic snow-globe within which he expertly thinks his way through life, whose sole and constant storyline is bringing more and more souls to a saving knowledge of the one true Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I live in a different snow-globe from Craig’s. Nevertheless, I’ve gained a lot from the lessons I learned with him, and from his carefully crafted advice, and from his answers to my questions. (“I may not answer, but you can ask!” he once warned.) They’ve improved my productivity, and my relationship with loved ones, and my physical fitness. It would be selfish if I did not pass some of these lessons on, in synthesized and practicable form, to you.

1. Do Everything Like It’s a Ministry

Each day during the two-week, winter-session course that Craig teaches for master’s philosophy and apologetics students at Biola, he begins with a short devotional reflection. On my first day sitting in on the class, the text he recited came from Howard Hendricks, a famed professor at Dallas Theological Seminary: “Men, don’t study for a class, study for a life of ministry.” That it was addressed to “men” was almost appropriate; of the 15 or so people in the class that day, only two were women—one, a visiting significant other, and the other, a retired housewife. But, for anyone, the message is the same: Pursue the higher calling of serving God, and success will follow.

What, though, should we think of as success? This was the subject of other devotional reflections during that fortnight of classes. Craig quoted Bill Gothard, minister and founder of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, as having said, “Success is not measured by what you are compared to others; success is what you are compared to what you could be.” While one might be tempted to take this maxim as license for lowered expectations, Craig’s interpretation was, of course, wiser. Consider this “humility for the proud,” he said—for where much is given, more is expected—and “encouragement for the discouraged.”

Another morning’s reflection offered yet another view on success, this time, from 1 Corinthians: “the foolishness of God is wiser than men.” Craig was surely speaking from his own experience when he warned his students not to hope for academic respectability above all. “Don’t seek the praise of men, but the praise of God.” And: “You’re not really ready to be used of God,” he warned them, in typically antique syntax, “until you’re ready to be seen a fool for Christ.” Here he speaks from experience; “my burden is evangelism,” he once told me over lunch. Preaching his gospel has often conflicted with mainstream academia’s expectations, but by the standards of ministry, he’s been an eminently faithful servant.

Surely we can use every chastisement we can get against careerism, and every encouragement to make service our business. It’s the job of each of us to discern the ministries we have to offer and to carry them out as such—foolishly if necessary.

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