William Lane Craig on Spiritual Experiences (Updated)

Note: This is an updated version of the original post. I put in the second quote by Craig after watching the rest of the 2 hour debate.

Evangelical philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig held a debate with historian and New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman on the historical probability of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The first of a 12 part video of this debate can be found here. In his debate with Ehrman, Craig revealed his thoughts about the validity of personal spiritual experience as a method for obtaining truth (approx. 1:30 of video 1):

Of course, ever since my conversion I believed in the resurrection on the basis of my personal experience and I still think that this experiential approach to the resurrection is a perfectly valid way to know that Christ is risen, it’s the way that most Christians today know that Jesus is risen and alive.

Later, towards the end of an extensive debate, (approx. 4:10 of video 11) Craig says the following:

In short I don’t think that there’s any good reason for thinking that the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus is not best explained by the resurrection, and I want to conclude now just by saying something about that other avenue to a knowledge of the resurrection, that experiential approach. You see, if Christ is really risen from the dead as the evidence indicates then that means that Jesus is not just some ancient figure in history or a picture on a stained glass window. It means that he is alive today and can be known experientially.

For me Christianity ceased to be just a religion or a code to live by when I gave my life to Christ and experienced a spiritual rebirth in my own life. God became a living reality to me. The light went on where before there was only darkness and God became an experiential reality, along with an overwhelming joy and peace and meaning that he imparted to my life, and I would simply say to you that if your looking for that sort of meaning and purpose in life then look not only at the historical evidence but also pick up the New Testament and begin to read it and ask yourself whether or not this could be the truth. I believe that it can change your life in the same way that it’s changed mine.

I’m sure that Craig has much more to say on the topic, and this by no means is meant to be taken out of a wider context in which he might prefer to place these words. Nonetheless, this represents his basic opinion of the matter which he expressed in an academic debate.

Why is this noteworthy? A common attack leveled against the LDS approach to God is that our reliance on the personal experience with God as the foundation for our faith is not a valid approach to truth. Here we have a very prominent non-LDS Christian apologist stating otherwise.

The debate may rage on, but this at least counts for something.

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7 comments on “William Lane Craig on Spiritual Experiences (Updated)

  1. BHodges says:

    This is interesting, I saw Shawn McCraney mocking the “burning in the bosom” last night on his program.

    I believe his argument, even in this academic setting, counts for an awful lot and I’ll take him at his word for now. I see an objection to my acceptance arising in some former LDS who have told me that this proves that spiritual experiences do not lead to “the truth,” especially if one wishes to believe both Craig and Mormonism.

    Why? Because, apparently, one would have already agreed with the other. The Spirit seems to offer different answers to different people in this view; and this, in the eyes of the critics, would make God the author of confusion. Even Joseph was concerned about the “lo here” and “lo there.” However, I think as Joseph matured he realized there could be spiritual experiences that did not automatically lead one to Mormonism. Perhaps even experiences for Mormons that did not automatically fit into their already-achieved understanding or testimony of Mormonism.

    Far be it from me to decry a spiritual experience offhand simply because it contradicts my own.

  2. Fascinating! I think that most people recognize, whether consciously or not, that religious belief is built upon spiritual, “subjective” experiences. I think it’s laughable that critics sometimes mock our belief stating that “there ain’t no evidence at all for x y or z.” First, what do they base their belief on–objective proof? How can a person prove the resurrection, the creation, the fall, the flood, the exodus, the miracles, etc? Second, it shows a real ignorance of the scholarship and evidence supporting the Church. But, alas, that kind of statement is made by those who generally care the least to try to be objective or fair.

  3. Tim says:

    Craig’s comments should be taken in light of a subjective experience plus something else. Evangelicals don’t eschew mystical spiritual experiences, they have them all the time. But we don’t think they are evidence for anything other than our own experience.

    If the resurrection is not a real historical event, I assure you Dr. Craig would not spend so much time talking about it and his spiritual experiences would mean something quite different to him.

  4. James says:

    Blair,
    I was surprised and happy to hear Craig’s opinion in such an academic setting as well. In regard to contradictory spiritual experiences, I tend to think they are in fact quite rare, since in my experience most people don’t ask God for manifestations of doctrinal truth in the first place. For those rare occasions in which a critic claims contradictory revelation, I have two points:
    1. At the least they recognize that spiritual experiences are real
    2. Since God prefers orthopraxy over orthodoxy, I believe God would prefer someone believe in a competing faith tradition if it helps that particular individual develop Christ-like attributes better than the LDS Church could.

    Andrew,
    Thanks for you comments! I actually know evangelical Christians who believe that all knowledge of heavenly things should be first and foremost based on scientific approaches.

    Tim,
    Dr. Craig claims to have believed in the resurrection of Christ before becoming aware of the logical arguments for the event. Obviously Craig highly values the intellectual pursuit of religious truth, and Mormonism esteems such a venture equally highly. Nevertheless, Craig identifies what he considers two valid avenues to obtaining truth. One of them is personal experience with God.

  5. You write:
    “A common attack leveled against the LDS approach to God is that our reliance on the personal experience with God as the foundation for our faith is not a valid approach to truth.”

    My reply:
    There are many religions. Only one can be correct. All religious people has their experiences of what they think to be g*od.

    A religion that is from the perfect Creator cannot contain contradictions.
    I will in this post examine who the first century Ribi Yehoshua from Natzrat (Nazareth) (the Messiah) was.

    The research of world-recognized authorities in this area implies that first century Ribi Yehoshua from Natzrat (Nazareth) (the Messiah) was a Pharisee (a Torah-practising Jewish group – who according to 4Q MMT practised both written and oral Torah). As the earliest church historians, most eminent modern university historians, our web site (www.netzarim.co.il) and our Khavruta (Distance Learning) texts confirm, the original teachings of Ribi Yehoshua were not only accepted by most of the Pharisaic Jewish community, he had hoards of Jewish students.

    1972, Paqid Yirmeyahu served notice to the scholarly world with his book, The Netzarim Reconstruction of Hebrew Matityahu–which most of the scholarly world still refuses to deal with. In the reconstruction all anti-Torah doctrines is removed; anti-Torah doctrines which Dead Sea Scrolls 4QMMT proofs no Pharise could ever have said – including Ribi Yehoshua.

    Because NT is anti-Torah it cannot be from the Creator; because it’s clear from Tan’’kh that the Creator doesn’t change. And according to Tan’’kh the mitzwot (commandments) in Torah are the Instructions from the Creator.

    If the person reading this blog post wants to learn about Historical Ribi Yehoshua, whose followers Orthodox Jews can live with (witness the Netzarim Jews in Raanana, Israel, members in good standing in an Orthodox synagogue), you must start with books like How Jesus Became Christian by Prof. Barrie Wilson (most bookstores) and Who Are The Netzarim? (publ. http://www.schuellerhouse.com) by Israeli Orthodox Jew, Paqid Yirmeyahu Ben-David.

    From Anders Branderud
    Geir Toshav, Netzarim(www.netzarim.co.il)

  6. James says:

    Anders,
    Thanks for the interesting point of view!

  7. David V.S. says:

    Anders visited my blog with the same poor scholarship. My rebuttal is here.

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