An Open Letter to Dr. William Lane Craig

Dear Dr. William Lane Craig,

Let me be honest: I am opposed to Christianity. I am an enemy of Christianity. My life (or at least my free time outside of work) is dedicated to attacking and destroying the Christian faith.

However, though I hate the faith, I love the believer. I don’t hate you or any other Christian apologist. In fact, I admire you and your life-long dedication to the defense of Christianity. I think you have the potential to be the best Christian apologist of the 21st century, and even of the modern era. As an undergraduate, my plan was to attend Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and do graduate study in Christian apologetics under your guidance. But I left the Christian faith about the time I graduated with a B.A. in Philosophy, so my original plan did not work out.

As an enemy of Christianity, I must admit to a certain degree of pleasure in taking apart the arguments of Christian apologists, such as your arguments for the resurrection of Jesus. But, frankly, I’m tired of knocking down the straw men that you and your fellow apologists so steadily put forward. I’m not committing the Straw-Man Fallacy when I do so; there just are no ‘real men’ out there to challenge, no real, intellectually serious cases for the resurrection of Jesus that exemplify scholarly excellence.

I don’t want to win the war against Christianity simply because you and your fellow apologists are too lazy to make a real and honest intellectually serious effort to prove that Jesus rose from the dead. I want to win only after having come face-to-face with a powerful and scholarly and well-thought-out case for the resurrection, and I think you are the one who could actually pull this off. But you have not done so yet.

David Hume was a skeptic who challenged the intellectual complacency of Immanuel Kant. As a young man, Kant thought that Christian metaphysics was in the bag, a done deal, a settled matter. Kant was wrong. It took the skeptic David Hume to wake him from his dogmatic slumber. I want to perform a similar service for you and your fellow apologists. There is no real, intellectually serious case for the resurrection of Jesus, no case that exemplifies excellent historical scholarship and careful analytic thinking. I want to wake you up from your dogmatic slumber on this issue.

Although we are on opposite sides of the fence concerning Christianity, you and I agree on some important issues. We agree that everyone, at least every American and every European (and Canadian, Mexican, Central American, and South American), ought to take a stand for or against the Christian faith. Nobody should be a Christian just because their parents were Christians, or just because their friends or neighbors were Christians. Just like nobody should be an atheist just because their parents were atheists, or just because their friends or neighbors were atheists. Each person should make up his or her own mind and take a stand on this important issue.

We also agree that, although there are many different beliefs and practices associated with Christianity, there are a few basic issues that constitute the heart-and-soul of the Christian faith: Who was Jesus? Was Jesus just a wise Jewish teacher? Or was he a true prophet, the divine Son of God, and the savior of humankind? Anyone who denies that Jesus was a true prophet, or that he was (and is) the divine Son of God, or that he was (and is) the savior of humankind, is not truly a Christian, no matter what other specific Christian beliefs or values he or she may have adopted (e.g. the Golden Rule, charity towards the poor, etc.).

Finally, you and I agree that a key question to consider, before taking a stand for or against Christianity, is this: Did God raise Jesus from the dead? And an essential part of what one needs to think about to answer that theological question, is to think about these historical questions:

1. Did Jesus actually die on the cross on Good Friday?

2. Was Jesus alive and walking around unassisted on Easter Sunday (after Good Friday)?

Unfortunately, you and your fellow apologists have failed to deal with Question (1) in an intellectually serious way.

Dr. Norman Geisler has clearly spelled out a fundamental principle on this matter:

Before we can show that Jesus rose from the dead, we need to show that He really did die. (When Skeptics Ask, p.120).

I believe that Geisler is correct. This seems like common-sense to me. It is not possible for a person to rise from the dead until AFTER that person has actually died. Thus, in order to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, one must first prove that Jesus died on the cross. But in most of your various books, articles, and debates, you simply ignore this issue. For that reason, I’m convinced that your case for the resurrection is a complete failure.

You do make a brief attempt in The Son Rises to make a case for the death of Jesus on the cross (p.37-39). But you make dozens of historical claims in just a few paragraphs and offer almost nothing in the way of actual historical evidence to support those claims. This “case” is crap. I know it is crap, and you know it is crap. It is a joke to even use the word “case” to describe the five paragraphs filled with unsupported historical claims. Geisler does a better job than this in his general handbook of apologetics (When Skeptics Ask, p.120-123). But, to the best of my knowledge, your pathetic “case” for the historicity of the death of Jesus simply reflects the general intellectual laziness of Christian apologists concerning Question (1). You are not alone.

Here are my recommendations:

1. Confess the Truth (i.e. Geisler’s principle)

If you agree with Geisler’s principle that the historicity of Jesus’ death must be proven in order to prove the resurrection, then admit this principle. If for some reason you disagree with Geisler’s principle, then say so publically, and make your best and strongest case against Geisler’s principle in public and in writing.

2. Confess the Sin (i.e. the intellectual shortfall)

If you agree with Geisler’s principle, then take the next step and admit that your case for the resurrection (as well as the case made by each of your fellow Christian apologists) is a failure because you have not (yet) made an intellectually serious case for the historicity of the death of Jesus on the cross, a case that exemplifies excellent historical scholarship and careful analytical thinking.

As a young man, Richard Swinburne looked around and noted that one of the biggest challenges to the Christian faith was in the apparent conflicts between science and faith, particularly between science and the Christian faith. He also noted that this was the elephant in the living room, that Christian theologians and intellectuals had failed to seriously address this problem. He then dedicated his life to understanding both science and the Christian faith, and to making a serious intellectual effort to reconcile science with the Christian faith. As with alcoholism, it is essential to recognize and admit that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

3. Repent (i.e. fill the intellectual void)

I know you are a sharp person who has knowledge and skill in N.T. scholarship, and in the history of Christian apologetics, and in philosophical analysis. I have faith in you. I believe that you have the potential to fill a huge gap in Christian apologetics and to be the only modern apologist to make an intellectually serious case for the resurrection of Jesus.

So, no more of the crappy two-page “cases” for the historicity of the death of Jesus. Just say ‘NO’ to such intellectual sloth. Take your own good advice to heart:

The only reason most people think historical apologetics to be easier [than philosophical apologetics] is because they do it superficially. But, of course, one can do philosophical apologetics superficially too! My point is that if we are to do a credible job in our apologetics, we need to do the hard thinking and the hard work required, or at least to rely on those who have.

(Reasonable Faith, p.253)

On my bookcase is a two-volume set by Raymond Brown titled: The Death of the Messiah. The first volume is 877 pages. The second volume is 731 pages. Both volumes are densely-packed with intellectually serious work that exemplifies excellence in historical scholarship and careful analytical thinking. Brown is focused mainly on the meaning and significance of the Passion narratives, and pays less attention to historical issues. But there is plenty of good material there to make use of in building an intellectually serious case for the historicity of the death of Jesus.

But I’m NOT asking you to write a massive two-volume work spanning 1,600 pages in defense of the actual death of Jesus on the cross (although I wouldn’t complain if you did). What I’m asking is that you treat Question (1) with at least as much intellectual seriousness and effort and care as you have treated Question (2).

Please write a book or a long scholarly article defending the claim that “Jesus actually died on the cross.” One hundred pages would be a good start. A 200-300 page book could really do the trick.


Bradley Bowen

Skeptic and Enemy of Christianity