Monday, December 23, 2013

A Reasonable Response: Apologetics Learning ‘With’ and ‘Beyond’ William Lane Craig by Joe Gorra

Various images and ideas often dominate people's perceptions about Biola University's research professor of philosophy, William Lane Craig. Perhaps he is mostly know as debater, or Bill as lecturer, or Bill as philosophy and theology scholar, or Bill as apologist, etc. After ten years of directly serving Bill's research needs in any of the above areas, here’s what I have come to realize: to understand what animates Bill Craig in his work is to understand the role that asking questions and answering them has in all of his scholarly and public engagements. And not just asking and answering from any and all standpoints, but with the Christian tradition before his mind; as someone who is seeking to faithfully represent and steward that tradition through his life and witness in the world.

A Reasonable Response: Answers to Tough Questions on God, Christianity and the Bible (Moody Publishers) seeks to offer a particular kind of reading and learning experience with Bill's work, which I think readers will find to be distinct from their other experiences with Bill's other contributions. Fox News chief religion correspondent, Lauren Green, recently described the book as "fascinating," "user-friendly," and "wonderful" in the course of her recent interview with Bill. In his endorsement of the book, Stand to Reason's youth apologetics influencer, Brett Kunkle, correctly observes that "[A Reasonable Response] does not dump a bunch of answers in your lap and then send you on your way.  No, this book lingers with you, inviting you into the practice of thinking itself." Exactly!

So, here are some distinct ways that we try to facilitate a particular reading experience:

First, we feature Bill ‘doing apologetics,’ instead of a book where he is talking about apologetics. But we also emphasize a particular mode of ‘doing’: namely, Bill at work in the context of answering people's questions. Arguably, when most think of Bill ‘doing apologetics,’ they often think of him in his very public role as a debater. Over the years, there have been some books that have featured him in that way, and even more dozens of audio and video content that exemplify this public posture. But what I try to do with A Reasonable Response is to focus Bill's long-time and first-time readers on a few dozen examples where Bill is helping an inquirer sort through their own questions in order to discover an answer. We feature questions in the interest of both believers and unbelievers.

Second, we show Bill answering questions that are not canned, generic or simply needing a Bible proof-text in order to be answered. So, we wanted to showcase a particular collection of Q&A from To do so, I put my ‘Joe as content curator’ hat on and went digging in the dimly lit corridors of the archive in order to establish a ‘canon’ of Q&A that would eventually become A Reasonable Response. The selecting of Q&A was really more ‘art’ than ‘science.’ Some of my guiding questions were like "Is it interesting?" "Is it insightful?" "Is it instructive?" (looking back, I now realize that we could have been far more scientific in our choosing by pulling a "Jesus Seminar" on this endeavor, establish a committee, and then vote with colored beads to determine which Q&A would make-the-cut. But, alas, the beads were unavailable for purchase - you have to use the right beads! - and they don't glow-in-the-dark). Seriously, though, we don't claim that this collection is comprehensive or even that this canon is ‘closed.’

Third, as the collection of Q&A was forming, distinct themes began to emerge, which eventually became articulated as the six parts of the book. So, real briefly, we feature Q&A related to
  • Part One: Knowing and Believing What is Real.
  • Part Two: God's Attributes
  • Part Three: Origins and the Meaning of Life
  • Part Four: Afterlife and Problem of Evil
  • Part Five: Jesus Christ and Being His Disciple
  • Part Six: Issues of Christian Practice
These parts have their own sections, in order to help with the organizational flow and topical interrelationship of the Q&A in any given part.

Fourth, in order to further enhance the reading experience, I offer 2-3 pages of Introduction for each of the six parts, in order to help frame the expectations of the reader, but to also encourage further study relevant to the topics discussed in the Q&A from a given part. So, for example, I provide further resources by Bill, which are arranged by "beginner," "intermediate," and "advanced" levels of comprehension. I also provide other "supplemental recommended resources" by other credible thinkers. One of our aspirations for A Reasonable Response is that it might encourage greater study in the topics that Bill addresses in this book, even if you disagree with him. In the course of any Q&A, Bill doesn't say all that he would like to say; the genre doesn't permit that. Moreover, I tend to want to learn more when someone doesn't tell me 'everything' they think on a topic. We think that readers may have a similar experience with the Q&A in this book; it might prod, invite, and perhaps even compel toward further study about what you think and believe about topic x, y or z. If that happens, we think the book has been effectual.

Fifth, I help the reader see how Bill might be a model of ‘how to get the job done’ when answering people's questions. So, for most of the Q&A, I offer some observations about what to possibly 'notice' in a question or answer (maybe the observation is about the relevancy of a distinction, emphasis, a definition, assumptions, etc). These appear in boxes off-to-the-side of the main text, labeled, "INSIGHTS." We worked with Moody to avoid cluttering the text but to also give place for these observations. For me, these INSIGHTS were motivated by the value of 'learning in the doing,' and the desire to facilitate that instructional value when reading a Q&A. Bill’s not perfect, and not everyone will agree with how he answers. I simply encourage readers to maintain a teachable posture and find instruction wherever they may as they read A Reasonable Response.

Sixth, capitalizing on the instructional value of Bill-as-exemplar of the practice and ministry of answering people's questions, my Introduction seeks to offer a broader perspective of this practice and ministry beyond what self-identified 'Christian apologists' might expect of themselves or of those they lead. My opening "meditation" not only helps frame the reader's expectation of what follows and how to profit by the reading of this book, but then reflects on these relevant topics:
  • How asking questions can connect us with reality.
  • How asking questions is integral to discipleship.
  • How questions are core to the spiritual discipline of study.
  • The role of questions when dealing with doubt.
  • On answering people's questions as a ministry for their good.
  • How asking and answering questions is healthy for the local church.
My Conclusion picks-up where the Introduction ends: encouraging thoughtfulness and stewardship about the practice and ministry answering questions in light of our vocations. I find that most talk about 'doing apologetics' tends to be explained or advocated as if it were abstracted and maybe 'in spite of' the ordinariness of one's life as a parent, business leader, teacher, etc. So I try to encourage readers (especially laity-oriented, non-professional apologist types) by stressing that we are not called to be 'William Lane Craig' (or pick your most admired apologist), but we can learn to take-up this crucial ministry and practice from within the ordinary, everyday scope of our vocations in the world. That's at least my encouragement.

Seventh, further leveraging the values and goals of the Introduction and Conclusion, I provide three appendixes that help to envision not only possible uses of this book in a small group learning context (see Appendix 1), but also perspective on fostering question-asking and answer-seeking environments in the Family, the local Church, and places of Employment (Appendix 2). All three environments merit the care and thoughtfulness of Christian influencers, but how we think about the local church is indispensable. For that reason, I am grateful for the 'apologetics and the local church' discussion stimulated here at Apologetics315 and elsewhere. I try to extend that discussion further by
  • Identifying 9 different models for conceiving apologetics work in the local church.
  • Offering general implementation recommendations for 'doing' apologetics in the local church.
  • Discerning 7 lead-questions for church leaders to ask in order to understand the value of an 'apologetics endeavor' in a congregation.
  • Surfacing common mistakes and problematic assumption to avoid when advocating for apologetics training.
In Appendix 3, I attempt to offer some perspective about the value, need and approach for civility in online environments where we engage people's questions. So, interested readers will learn the following:
  • 3 behavioral problems that often shape online discussions and why they should be addressed.
  • 10 crucial factors toward developing a framework for online civility.
  • 20 general recommendations toward a more civil, online engagement.
Whatever one may think of 'apologetics,' it cannot be divorced from the discipline required of all communication practices in public life. So, the value of civility, should be something of concern and care for anyone who cares about Christian witness before others.

Our hope is that A Reasonable Response will be a valuable resource and encouragement that keeps on giving, whether in whole or in part, to anyone who wants to grow in the ministry of helping to answer people's questions in Jesus' name.

Joe Gorra is involved with various publishing endeavors for Biola University's graduate program in Christian apologetics and the founder and director of the religious nonprofit, Veritas Life Center, which seeks to show the relevancy of Christianity as a tradition of understanding and wisdom for living a flourishing life. Twitter:@GorraResearch.

Moody is pleased to offer a 50% discount through using coupon code: 50%Auten315. Expires: January 1, 2014.


Eric I. Gatera. said...

ReasonableFaith Q&A have been a blessing to me since 2008. Keep up the good work.

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