One of the first people who helped me convert from deism (belief in a generic creator God) to Christianity was not a Catholic. It was the Protestant philosopher and theologian William Lane Craig. Since then, he has also been a role model for how to do apologetics, because he embodies the rare combination of someone who is well-read in philosophy, science, history, and theology, can communicate those ideas in a winsome way, and is able to defend them in a debate by being quick on his feet.
He may be most famous, in fact, for his debates against prominent atheists like Christopher Hitchens. Even atheists agree that Craig absolutely walloped Hitchens in their 2009 debate on the existence of God. This prompted Sam Harris to admit in his debate with Craig that Craig is “the one Christian apologist who seems to have put the fear of God into many of my fellow atheists.”
A lot of other Catholics follow William Lane Craig, too. And I have noticed certain patterns in how they treat him—three common stages, if you will.
First, there’s unrestrained hero worship: “Oh my gosh, guys, have you heard of William Lane Craig? He is like the greatest Christian thinker of all time.” Craig’s winsome way of delivering pithy rebuttals in debates causes some Catholics to get a bit of amnesia while watching him and forget about the other theological giants of the Christian tradition like Augustine or Aquinas.
But then, after rooting for Craig for a while and then reading Catholic approaches to the philosophy of religion, their mood often sours. They begin to see cracks in his Kalam cosmological argument (and may gasp in horror when they learn that Aquinas rejected it). They realize that he endorses the heresy of Monothelitism: the view that Christ has only one will. They get reminded of his stark Protestantism when he defends this view by saying things like, “No earnest Christian wants to be considered a heretic. But we Protestants recognize Scripture alone as our ultimate rule of faith (the Reformation principle of sola scriptura). Therefore, we bring even the statements of ecumenical councils before the bar of Scripture”.
This leads to stage two: unrestrained contempt. “Oh my gosh, you listen to William Lane Craig?? Why would you care what a heretic has to say about anything? Along with being a Protestant, which is bad enough, he thinks Christ had only one will and that God is in time. Throw away your WLC and replace it with TST: Thomas’s Summa Theologiae . . . in Latin.”
Then, often, after going from cheerleader to critic, the typical Catholic-philosophy-of-religion nerd eventually finds a middle ground and learns how to appreciate insights of non-Catholic scholars. He eventually reaches stage three, where I am at today: balanced appreciation. “William Lane Craig is a thoughtful, intelligent Protestant who has made significant contributions to the philosophy of religion and has also modeled how to be an effective communicator. Although his theology has errors and some of his philosophical arguments are problematic, Christians would do well to critically engage his arguments.”
Indeed, we should have a balanced appreciation for all Protestant philosophers, apologists, and evangelists who have helped lead people to faith in Jesus Christ. Aim for stage three!