Interview with Dr. Travis Campbell

TravisCampbell2014Through RTB’s Visiting Scholar Program, we often have the pleasure of hosting and working with experts in various fields of study. This summer theologian Dr. Travis Campbell spent two months at RTB headquarters penning articles and recording podcasts. Dr. Campbell received his PhD in philosophical theology from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia) in 2004, and currently serves as a history teacher at Deerfield-Windsor School in Albany, GA.

RTB editor Maureen Moser sat down with Dr. Campbell to discover what books, people, and experiences have shaped his approach to Christian apologetics.

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Outside of the Bible, what are the two most important books that shaped your Christian theological and apologetics perspective?

It’s hard narrow them down, but looking back right now, I’d say the two books that had the most impact on me were Hugh Ross’ The Fingerprint of God and Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s God: His Existence and Nature.

When I first read that latter book I was wrestling with the existence of God and I found that Gerrigou-Lagrange laid out the case for God’s existence so clearly. He also convinced me that Molinism is untenable.

Who is your favorite Christian thinker from the past and why?

Well, I have three. Jonathan Edwards may be my all-time favorite theologian because he had a huge passion for God, but he never wanted to bypass the mind to get to the heart. John Calvin is another favorite because of the impact Institutes of the Christian Religion had on the Reformation. I also like Thomas Aquinas for similar reasons. I think Aquinas is the most intelligent Christian that ever lived.

Which Christian apologist today do you hold in high regard?

I think the greatest living defender of the faith is William Lane Craig.

Now, isn’t Craig a Molinist?

Yes, he is. I’ve actually published two essays on Craig’s work: one defending what he’s done and the other critiquing his position.

But despite your disagreements on that topic he ranks at the top of your list.

Yes, he has literally gone around the world and confronted the top atheistic philosophers. He’s done a heck of a job defending God’s existence in light of the criticisms from skeptics. And he’s also gone up against the top New Testament scholars in the world who deny the Resurrection.

So, he’s defended the two pillars of the faith—God’s existence and the Resurrection—better than, or at least as well as, anybody. Plus, he brings so much erudition to the discussion. He’s made major contributions to five or six areas of study. Craig is a force to be reckoned with. I don’t know why he’s not more appreciated in the evangelical community.

I’d also put Hugh Ross in my top five. I’m working with Reasons to Believe because I believe that.

What argument or fact or piece of evidence do you view as being the most probative in support of the truth of Christian theism?

The strongest argument for God’s existence, in my opinion, is the Thomistic cosmological argument.1

How does that argument differ from the Kalām cosmological argument?

The Thomistic cosmological argument assumes that the universe is eternal and still shows that God exists. That’s why I like it. Even if the universe were eternal, God still has to be there.

Thomas Aquinas, for whom the argument is named, was familiar with versions of the Kalām cosmological argument in his day. He knew that some people—especially some Muslims—were trying to argue that the universe had a beginning. He didn’t think you could do that; he thought those arguments were bad arguments. He said that as a matter of faith he believed the universe had a beginning, but he couldn’t prove it through reason. So, he assumed, as he argued for God’s existence, that the universe is eternal.

In regards to Christian theism specifically, I’d say the historical evidence for the Resurrection is the strongest proof. So, if you put the argument for God’s existence and the historical evidence for the Resurrection together, you have a case for Christianity.

As an apologist, what is the greatest sin that you wrestle with?

Self-reliance—I sometimes forget that it’s really the grace of God that wins sinners to the kingdom and not my arguments. This is one of the reasons I appreciate my Reformed convictions. I’m always being pulled back to that truth.

What important apologetics lesson has working with RTB taught you?

One of the things that was driven home to me is how important the peer-review process is.

Yes, peer-review is very important for scientists. Is there a similar process for theologians and philosophers?

The kind of peer-review you get in theology or philosophy is different from the kind you get in science. If I’m giving an argument for the Resurrection, I’m defending a core belief. If it’s false, then my faith is false. So, any argument I give for the core belief has to be grounded in a consensus argument. It’s very encouraging that the majority of scholars hold to the basic facts from which we make the case that Jesus arose from the dead.

So, imagine that in establishing one of those facts, a particular translation of the Greek had to be true—but the translation was controversial. This would mean that my case for that fact is really shaky. I don’t think that would pass peer-review. When considering core beliefs I believe it’s very important that the facts they stand on pass peer-review.

But now let’s say I want to speculate on something regarding eschatology. This field is so debated anyway and nobody—inside or outside the faith—has a clue as to what’s going to happen in the future. Thus, the fact that my eschatology might be very speculative is just not that big of a deal—as long as I’m trying to give a biblical rationale for it and as long as it’s reasonable and within the context of my Christian confession. If you come to me and say, “Wow, that’s really controversial,” I’ll respond, “Of course it is!” Everyone knows eschatology is a controversial topic. I shouldn’t be criticized for saying something debatable in this area, but I should be criticized for doing so when I’m defending a core belief.

What is your opinion on the current state of Christian apologetics?

I think it’s under attack, mainly from secularists, but I also think that the church is apathetic toward the questions apologetics addresses. The church would rather entertain students than equip them for college. Yet it doesn’t take a lot of training to answer basic apologetics questions. In my Sunday school class we’re going through Genesis using an apologetically oriented presentation. I did something similar in our study of Luke where I defended the historicity of the stories told there.

An apologetics thrust increases people’s faith in the text. I’d like to see more Bible teachers and youth group leaders going in this direction.

Endnotes

1. Another name for the Thomistic cosmological argument is Aquinas’s Argument from Contingency. Here’s one way of summarizing it:
a. Contingent beings are caused.
b. Not every being can be contingent.
c. There must exist a being which is necessary to cause contingent beings.
d. This necessary being is God.

 

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