I recall the one time I actually met one of my academic heroes, Dr. William Lane Craig, at a debate I attended between him and Shabir Ally on the topic Resurrection: hoax or history? It was hosted at McGill University in Montréal in 2009. It was a fascinating experience to attend one of Dr. Craig’s debates live, and I couldn’t resist when the opportunity presented itself to participate in the Q&A session. I got to ask my question at exactly 2:02:10 into the video which can be found here. Dr. Craig, to my delight, seemed impressed with the question I asked, since I was challenging Shabir Ally in two ways: first, I was challenging his premise, outlined during the debate, that the assumption of Jesus was taken implicitly to indicate that he had not yet died, since only living people are assumed. I pointed out, in response, that this simply isn’t true, since I could think of an example in the book of Jude (Jude 9) where a dead person was assumed into heaven. I made the mistake of saying that this was a quotation from the Pseudepigraphal book of 1 Enoch, which is quoted in the book of Jude a few lines later (Jude 14). However, verse 9 is actually a quote from another work called The Assumption of Moses. That was my mistake, and it was only later, in University, that I realized that I had been wrong about the source for verse 9 in Jude. The second way in which I was intending to challenge Shabir Ally was to ask him to give us some reason why the Apostles and the first Christian evangelists would choose to preach a doctrine so obviously unpalatable for Jewish (or Greco-Roman for that matter) consumption? Why did they proclaim the risen Christ rather than the Christ taken up into glory? If the ‘Christ taken up in glory without having died’ was more palatable, then what explains the fact that the earliest Christians preached the Christ risen from the dead?
The first half of Shabir Ally’s answer was more or less a concession that there is some dispute about this premise of his in the academic literature. However, in the second part, I literally stopped in place (I had been listening while walking back to my seat) and I shook my head ‘no’ at Ally’s answer with a smile – I was not satisfied, and he knew it. At that moment I really wished I could have had the mic again, though I knew follow-ups were not allowed. I think you can see Shabir’s eyes change given my reaction at 2:04:28. Shabir Ally actually insinuated, if not outright said, that the original preaching of the early Christians (probably thinking of some Q community) was not that Jesus had been raised from the dead, but that he had ascended into glory.
Dr. Craig, in his opportunity to respond after Shabir Ally, focused the question even further and re-issued the same challenge, highlighting the same problem. He turned to 1 Corinthians 15:3, the beginning of that famous creedal statement inherited by St. Paul, which most scholars believe dates to within 5 years of Jesus’ death, and most believe it dates within less than 3 years! That pushes the date of a resurrection proclamation so early among the Christian community that any notion of a Q community with chronological priority proclaiming a Jesus who was not killed, nor resurrected, becomes simply untenable. Moreover Dr. Craig added another example from the Testament of Job where in Ch. 40 two young male children were killed, and then were immediately assumed into heaven. Chapter 39 should be read for context, but I’ve since looked it up, and he’s right.
After the debate I got a chance to meet Dr. Craig face to face, and as he shook my hand he commended me for an astute question once again, and then promptly asked me where I was studying. I had to tell him that I, unfortunately, wasn’t studying anywhere, as I had failed out of Cégep after probation. I was working full time looking forward to applying to Concordia University for Theological Studies and Philosophy. Looking back on it now, I’m glad that I’ve come so far since then. I am not only in Theological Studies and Philosophy at Concordia, but in Honors Theology, aiming for Honors Philosophy as well. Ironically I have chosen to do my undergraduate thesis on the topic of God’s relationship to time, and I will there make myself an antagonist to Dr. Craig’s work on the matter. However, whatever disagreements I have developed in my thinking over the years, I owe Dr. Craig a deep debt of gratitude for being such a brilliant example of a Christian philosopher and scholar. I recall discovering his debates and ‘Reasonable Faith’ podcast when I was beginning to seriously consider Atheism and throwing myself into the study of arguments for and against the existence of God. Although I came out of that period not an Atheist, but a Roman Catholic, I recall learning a great deal from Dr. Craig. The most important things which I’ve learned from him are not, however, his arguments. Even insofar as his arguments are concerned I am not now entirely convinced that every single one of them is good. For instance, though he helped to convince me that the Moral argument, the argument from the Resurrection, and the Ontological argument are very good arguments, I have come to develop reservations about his presentation of the Kalam argument because I am no longer confident that an absurdity necessarily follows from every* kind of actual infinity. In this respect I remain undecided even when reading through the arguments between the Seraphic Doctor and the Angelic Doctor (St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas respectively). More important than arguments, however, Craig helped me as a student of philosophy to think things through critically, and to grow in confidence with respect to my conviction that Christianity is both true, and presents itself as a worldview which stands head and shoulders above anything and everything else on offer in the intellectual atmosphere today.