Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Book Review: Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? A Debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan.

Grape-Nuts isn't either.

Like the cereal that doesn't literally live up to its name, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? A Debate between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan (moderated by William F. Buckley, Jr., edited by Paul Copan) is neither a debate nor a book in a literal sense.

Not A Debate

It isn't really a debate because while Dr. Craig seems anxious to engage in verbal combat, Dr. Crossan isn't. Dr. Craig employs traditional debating tactics, such as setting up contentions with support, and then chides Dr. Crossan for not rebutting them (called "drops" in debate parlance). Dr. Craig laments after the debate, "Fully expecting these points to be vigorously disputed by Dr. Crossan, I came to the debate prepared to defend each of them; but Dr. Crossan, to my surprise, failed to contest a single piece of evidence which I adduced in support of the four main facts." (p. 163.) Dr. Craig continues: "Again, I came to the debate fully expecting a lively exchange concerning these presuppositions, but my preparation proved superfluous, as Dr. Crossan made almost no effort to defend his presuppositions." (p. 167.)

As Dr. Craig is essentially correct in his criticism (and Dr. Crossan even seems to concede that he was more interested in a dialogue [see, p. 71; pp. 154-55]), this curious one-sided scenario approximated a boxing match where only one participant made any effort to punch or even defend.

Further, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? isn't a mere transcription of a debate. For example, Dr. Craig's "Opening Address" contained 25 footnotes. I doubt the audience at Moody Memorial Church in Chicago heard them (mostly citations).

Finally, the "debate" between Drs. Crossan and Craig is sandwiched between an introduction by the editor, Paul Copan, and various essays by New Testament scholars, including Ben Witherington III and Marcus Borg, which foment some intriguing exchanges and some zingers. For example, Crossan embarrasses Witherington who surprisingly misquotes Crossan as saying, "Easter never happened. Easter always happens." (p. 141.) To the contrary, Crossan actually said, "Emmaus never happened. Emmaus always happens." (p. 121; p. 153.)

Not a Book

It's not really a book because it is based, in part, on an audio recording of the exchange at Moody Memorial. "The book version of the debate between John Dominic Crossan and Willliam Lane Craig is based on the audio version available from Pearl Publishing Company...." (p. 4.)

In other words, the book does, at least partially, try to hew to what was said at the debate. It contains moderator Buckley's "Introduction to the Debate" (p. 24); the "Opening Addresses" (p. 25-39); rebuttals (pp. 40- 47); a "Dialogue" (pp. 48-67); and then "Closing Statements", including one from the moderator (pp. 68-73.) Moreover, as noted previously, the text contains essays from four scholars who did not participate in the earlier "debate", which makes it more like a compilation than a unified book. Nevertheless, these essays often used the "debate" as a springboard to thoughtful interactions.

I'll close with some remarks about Dr. Craig's approach. While he doesn't have formal legal training (but does hold two earned doctorates), Dr. Craig argues in a very lawyerly fashion. In his opening statement, he made "two main contentions": (I) "The real Jesus rose from the dead in confirmation of his radical personal claims to divinity"; and (II) If Contention I is false--that is, if Jesus did not rise--then Christianity is a fairy tale which no rational person should believe." (p. 25.)

In turn, he supported these contentions with "four facts" (and those with evidences or reasonings): (1) "After his crucifixion Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in his personal tomb" (p. 26); (2) "On the Sunday following the crucifixion, the tomb of Jesus was found empty by a group of his women followers" (p. 27); (3) "On multiple occasions and under various circumstances different individuals and groups of people experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead" (p. 28); and (4) "The original disciples believed that Jesus was risen from the dead despite their having every reason not to." (p. 28).

Evidenced by this occasion (and others), Dr. Craig has established himself as a formidable debater. There's no doubt he outdistanced Dr. Crossan on points here. Interestingly, Dr. Craig is so skilled in this type of forum that a recent piece has been written (by a lawyer, no less), on how to debate him:

Given his mode of argumentation, and an ostensible objective to persuade outsiders (see, e.g., pp. 178-79), Dr. Craig surprises when says in his concluding essay (after the debate) that he is not "an evidentialist, if by that term is meant someone who holds that Christian faith is based on evidence." (p. 171.) Dr. Craig writes in this vein, "I see faith in Christ as what epistemologists called a properly basic belief which is grounded in the witness of God's Holy Spirit." (p. 171.)

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