Posts Tagged ‘historiography’

Final thanks again to Connie at Crossway Books for this review copy.  Introductory comments here, part 1 here, and part 2 here.

For this final portion of my review of William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith, I will tackle Craig’s last major sections, De Creatione and De Christo.  The former section addresses the problem of historical knowledge and miracles.  The latter, the self-understanding and resurrection of Christ.

Craig opens De Creatione with a quote from George Ladd, “The uniqueness and the scandal of the Christian religion rest in the mediation of revelation through historical events” (p.207).  Indeed, anybody who has ever tried to share about the life of Jesus will be confronted with the problem of historical knowledge.  Can we be certain about anything in the past?  With popular books like The Da Vinci Code claiming (to general head-nodding) that “history is written by the winners,” how can we trust the historical accounts of Christ’s life?

Craig addresses this problem by following his standard formula, and taking a frank assessment of historiography.  The bulk of his writing is aimed at debunking the notion of historical relativism, that is, the notion that history cannot be objectively written, nor can historical facts be objectively known.  Historical meaning, postmoderns will say, is determined by the interpreter.  Craig deconstructs such ridiculous and impractical notions with his trademark attention to detail, and candid humor (e.g., “No one employs the postmodern hermeneutics in reading the instructions on a medicine bottle” (p.229)).  Craig’s treatment on the problem of miracles is similarly thorough.  Though he admits little practical evangelistic value for this material (p.278), he notes that it is often important because of the naturalistic tendencies of skeptics today.  Indeed, he notes, if one begins to consider Jesus presupposing naturalism, the reconstructed Jesus will not be “based on evidence, but on definition” (p.279).

De Christo serves as a strong finish to an already strong book.  Craig begins by examining the quests for the “historical Jesus,” which he divides into three phases.  His opening assessments of these quests is the first of many strong rebuttals to the fallacies therein:

Who did Jesus think that he was?  In asking such a question, I take for granted that we want to know what Jesus thought about himself.  The primary object of the quest of the historical Jesus is Jesus himself, not some abstraction manufactured by the historian (p.296).

So much for historie, geschichte, “the historical Jesus,” “the real Jesus,” “the total reality of Jesus,” etc.  Craig (rightly, in my opinion) keeps his focus on what we can know about Jesus, and there is no better place to start than to consider what He thought of Himself.  By the end of the chapter, Craig has laid out a very clear case that Jesus claimed to be everything orthodox Christianity has said He is for close to two millennia.

To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to reading the final chapter, which deals with the resurrection of Christ.  This is mainly because I, perhaps like many Christians, have already heard (ad nauseum?) the arguments for Jesus’ resurrection several times.  It is this bias that made Craig’s treatment so refreshing.  While it certainly does rehash many arguments heard before (e.g., why would the disciples fabricate a resurrection story with women being the first witnesses?), the text is far from “been there, done that.”  Craig develops the argument on evidences for three facts: the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith.

Throughout, Craig applies C. Behan McCullagh’s seven factors used in weighing a historical hypothesis (see p.233).  Craig applies these criterion to all of the theories regarding the empty tomb, resurrection appearances, and the origin of the Christian faith.  The result is a very powerful series of arguments.  Although I read Craig’s text as a believing Christian, I wonder if a non-Christian could read this chapter and (honestly) be unconvinced of Christ’s resurrection.

I was especially struck by the power of his argument for the origins of the Christian faith.  Typically, I had never considered this as an important point, but as Craig concludes,

The origin of Christianity ower itself to the belief of the earliest disciples that God had raised Jesus from the dead.  That belief cannot be plausibly accounted for in terms of either Christian, pagan, or Jewish influences…The origin of the Christian faith is therefore inexplicable unless Jesus actually rose from the dead (p.395).

Craig’s book closes with a few pages about “the ultimate apologetic,” viz. the life of the Christian, which adds a concluding ministerial touch to what was (by his admission and intent) a text focussed primarily on theory.

As a whole, Reasonable Faith is the powerhouse of Christian apologetics that one would expect from the powerhouse of apologetics that is William Lane Craig.  I would commend it highly to anybody interested in what I find to be one of the most exciting fields of Christian study.  I will restate my caveat that this is indeed a technical text, and the intended audience (seminary students) ought to be at least casually versed in various philosophical and theological terms.  Said audience should also be prepared to take their time (though maybe not a year…) to try to digest much of the heavy solids that are on every page.  Somewhat like a text in systematic theology, Reasonable Faith, after an initial reading, will at the very least serve well as a reference book.  I can hardly think of a better starting point for the serious student of apologetics.  It is worth the effort, head explosions inclusive.

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