In Intellectual Neutral by William Lane Craig – A Rhetorical Analysis

In this exhortation to a local baptist church in Marietta, Georgia, Dr. William Lane Craig delivered a concerned evaluation of the intellectual climate within the American church. Throughout his speech, Dr. Craig’s use of logos focuses on persuading the audience of the severity and significance of his assessment. Appealing to statistics, expert authority, and logical inference, he meticulously demonstrates his claims with an aim toward responsive action.

Dr. Craig’s consistent use of anthypophora anticipates his audience’s concerns and addresses them in the same logical manner. Expressing careful thinking, he presents logical reasons in the setting of pathos to emphasize the ethical responsibility that accompanies his urgency. Craig does not merely focus on expressing his view, but showing his audience that things are really the way he sees it.

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In his opening paragraphs, Dr. Craig begins to set the groundwork for what could rightly be identified as a tripartite, logos-pathos-ethos case for intellectual Christianity. Over and over, he uses logical reasoning to demonstrate the worrisome and dangerous state of evangelicals in order to stress the moral obligation of his listeners to take action. Dr. Craig appeals to statistics and expert authority, claiming that large percentages of American students are ignorant of fundamental historical, literary, and theological facts. He contrasts these broader findings with a survey of evangelical students and concludes that “Christian students have not been able to rise above the dark undertow in our educational system.”[1]

There are three primary examples of this logos-pathos-ethos strategy that Craig uses throughout his speech. These examples serve as the primary persuasion of his call to action as well as the depiction of his overall tactic. Craig’s goal is to convince his audience of the conclusion that “the greatest danger confronting American evangelical Christianity is the danger of anti-intellectualism.”[2] Such a danger, in Craig’s mind, cannot be without correction.

Dr. Craig’s first example of the logos-pathos-ethos structure comes in his first reason for the importance of intellectual Christianity. He says that Christians must engage themselves intellectually in order to “to shape American culture” so that Christianity can be an “intellectually defensible alternative.”[3] Here Craig appeals to the authority of “Atheists like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins” in order to demonstrate that popular American Culture perceives Christianity as foolish.[4]

Craig also appeals to the popular depiction of Christians in modern entertainment to evoke an emotional response from his listeners. After showing the audience a comic portraying Christians as fascinating zoo animals, Craig says, “I hope this cartoon makes you angry.”[5] This punctuates his assessment of mainstream culture with a call to emotional distress. For Craig, it is not enough to be convinced that his evaluation is right, but one should also be disturbed by it.

Having planted the seeds for a response, Craig now calls on his listener to act out of moral responsibility. The cost of allowing American culture to continue to view Christians in an unsympathetic light is too high. Craig associates the perceptions of Christians to their ability to be effective evangelists. This association makes it clear to his Christian audience that being intellectual leaders is a “vital way of being salt and light in American society today.”[6] Craig admonishes the task of shaping American culture not merely because it is distressing, but because it is a moral responsibility that followers of Jesus must undertake.

The second example of Craig’s logos-pathos-ethos comes in his claim that intellectual engagement is useful for “Strengthening believers.”[7] Craig carefully breaks down this idea and gives three subpoints to defend this claim. He appeals to expert authority, this time including his own experience.  Craig says that having rational reasons for the beliefs that one holds can provide extreme confidence. He states, “I see this happen all the time on the university campuses.”[8] He also refers to statistics to help confirm the idea that a large number of Christian students “completely quit church involvement altogether after they graduate,”[9] further supporting the need for intellectual development.

After demonstrating the need for Christians to have a stronger, more robust faith, Craig once again appeals to the emotions of his listeners in order to showcase the severity of that need. He refers back to a mother and father he had met who recognized this need only too late for their children. After reporting the story, and based on the analytical data he just presented, Craig concludes, “It just breaks my heart to meet parents like this.”[10] Like his first example, Dr. Craig is setting an atmosphere of emotional response toward his assessment of the facts. The situation is a heartbreaking one, even to the point of broken families.

With his audience primed, again, we see Craig’s move toward ethical responsibility. His mandate for action stems from the responsibility Christians have towards the children of their community. Craig sees the lack of intellectual growth and training in the lives of children as a detriment to their faith, leaving them weak and vulnerable to criticism. He pulls no punches and criticizes the church for this shortcoming, saying, “How dare we send them [students] out, unarmed, into an intellectual battlezone.”[11] This statement expresses the moral responsibility Craig believes falls on every Christian. The epidemic of intellectually weak Christianity is not only a risk of negative perceptions but one that threatens the faith of the Christian. Craig challenges his listeners to “train our kids for war!”[12]

The last example comes from Craig’s third and final point. He claims that being an intellectually engaged Christian will help in “Winning unbelievers.”[13] Craig, for the third time, appeals to authority to substantiate the idea that a thinking Christian has a significant impact on the task of evangelism. He tells of his friend Lee Strobel whom he says, “has lost count of the number of people that have come to Christ through his books.”[14] Craig rejects the idea that people do not respond to rational argumentation and attributes that mindset to people “speaking out of their limited experience.”[15]

Craig shifts seamlessly into a mood of emotional provocation, stating that “every human being is precious to God.”[16] He presumes that even if those who respond to rationality are a minority, they are nevertheless important. Craig refers to C.S. Lewis as an example of someone who has responded positively to intellectual Christianity. This reference served as both a logical and emotional tactic for Craig. As most Christians are familiar with a prominent figure like Lewis, this appeal proved to be one of both demonstration and reminiscence.

Having once again primed his listeners for action, Craig concludes his third point (and speech) with a call to respond. This response should be seen as the moral duty of a Christian and a “vital part of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.”[17] According to Craig, the development of the mind in the life of a Christian is not an optional aside, but rather an essential way that one expresses love for God. As such, it becomes the duty of anyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus.

Dr. Craig’s three-fold, rhetorical strategy is straightforward and effective. In order to maximize his influence, Craig addresses the three primary fields of consideration in human experience: intellectual, emotional, and ethical responsibility. This complete and harmonious approach of a logos-pathos-ethos strategy seems one that leaves little to be desired. Through the use of logos, Craig makes a case for his claims that stands up to the demands of understanding. Through pathos, he identifies the distressed state that moves people in the direction of restoration. Through ethos, he brings to light the morally appalling nature of the situation that mandates responsibility.

Craig’s holistic approach is one that seems extremely useful in persuading a listener. Given the complexity of human experience and the satisfaction demanded by all of its realms, a multifaceted rhetorical approach is the best way to convince an audience and motivate action. This tactic serves as Craig’s main format and finds itself replaying over and over in the details of his speech. As both an insightful examination and a convincing call to intellectual renewal, Dr. Craig’s oration seems a rhetorical success.


REFERENCES:

[1] William Lane Craig, “In Intellectual Neutral,” ReasonableFaithOrg (streaming video), posted April 24, 2012, accessed November  28, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u-Eqwfmns8
[2] Craig, “In Intellectual Neutral,” ReasonableFaithOrg, posted April 24, 2012
[3] Craig, “In Intellectual Neutral,” ReasonableFaithOrg, posted April 24, 2012
[4] Craig, “In Intellectual Neutral,” ReasonableFaithOrg, posted April 24, 2012
[5] Craig, “In Intellectual Neutral,” ReasonableFaithOrg, posted April 24, 2012
[6] Craig, “In Intellectual Neutral,” ReasonableFaithOrg, posted April 24, 2012
[7] Craig, “In Intellectual Neutral,” ReasonableFaithOrg, posted April 24, 2012
[8] Craig, “In Intellectual Neutral,” ReasonableFaithOrg, posted April 24, 2012
[9] Craig, “In Intellectual Neutral,” ReasonableFaithOrg, posted April 24, 2012
[10] Craig, “In Intellectual Neutral,” ReasonableFaithOrg, posted April 24, 2012
[11] Craig, “In Intellectual Neutral,” ReasonableFaithOrg, posted April 24, 2012
[12] Craig, “In Intellectual Neutral,” ReasonableFaithOrg, posted April 24, 2012
[13] Craig, “In Intellectual Neutral,” ReasonableFaithOrg, posted April 24, 2012
[14] Craig, “In Intellectual Neutral,” ReasonableFaithOrg, posted April 24, 2012
[15] Craig, “In Intellectual Neutral,” ReasonableFaithOrg, posted April 24, 2012
[16] Craig, “In Intellectual Neutral,” ReasonableFaithOrg, posted April 24, 2012
[17] Craig, “In Intellectual Neutral,” ReasonableFaithOrg, posted April 24, 2012