|James Strauss with William Lane Craig at my 1985 graduation from TEDS|
When I studied with Doc Strauss people called me a "Straussite," along with some others who started the Chi-Lambda apologetical studies group. I wear that badge with honor. I had an education that was next to none when I studied with Doc. He didn't do much writing, except for producing numerous syllabi with long lists of books to read, interspersed with comments. It was a challenge to find a new book he hadn't heard about yet. He was a teacher par excellence without peer though. There is no other intellectual that has made such a big impact on me. His wit also exceeded anything I have ever known. Any truck driver down HWY 10 could be stopped and he would tell us that, Doc would say! How could so much wit, wisdom and love be put together in that one package is quite the mystery to me. But I'm so glad to have crossed his path. He was the most unique and amazing man I'll ever meet! He inspired a generation to dream big. He will be missed greatly.
Strauss motivated me to become a Christian apologist in the first place. The irony is that it eventually led me away from faith and I now use what he taught me in my books. So to the degree I am effective in my attempts to disabuse people of faith, his towering influence casts a shadow over me. My life would be much different had I not met or studied or laughed with him. I am very grateful. Here's why:
I wrote about his influence on me for an essay on the Secular Web.
As a former student of James D. Strauss at Lincoln Christian Seminary in Lincoln, Illinois, I credit much of my approach to Christianity to three things that Strauss drilled into us as students, but in reverse. When doing apologetics, he said, "if you don't start with God, you'll never get to God." Strauss is not a Van Tillian presuppositionalist because he doesn't start with the Bible as God's revelation, but he does start "from above" by presupposing that God exists and then argues that God's existence makes better sense of the Bible and the world than the alternatives. Again, "if you don't start with God, you'll never get to God." Since this is such an important, central issue, I'll focus on why we should not start "from above" with a belief in God, but rather "from below" beginning with the world in which we find ourselves. If successful, my argument should lead us to reject the existence of the sort of God thought to confirm the biblical revelation.I will probably never see atheism in America as prevalent as it is in European countries, especially in Denmark and Sweden, but it will come. To the degree my work helps to speed this along then Strauss is to be thanked. I mean this sincerely even though he would probably not appreciate it.
The second thing that Strauss underscored was his notion that "we don't need more data, we need better interpretive schema." What he meant was that we evaluate the details of the historical and archaeological evidence through interpretive schema. The need to come up with more data or evidence, while important, isn't as important as the need to better evaluate the available data through the lens of an adequate worldview, unless there is overwhelming noncontroversial evidence to the contrary (in which case there would be no believers). While the data are indeed important, the big worldview picture provides the necessary rational support to the available data. We need to be specialists in the big picture, not the minutia, he argued. I agreed then, as I agree now, but have since concluded that the better interpretive schema that supports the data is not Christianity, but atheism.
Strauss' final emphasis was that "all truth is God's truth," by which he meant that if something is true, it's of God, no matter where we find it, whether through science, philosophy, psychology, history, or experience itself. All truth comes from God wherever we find it. There is no secular-sacred dichotomy when it comes to truth; in fact, there is no such thing as secular "knowledge" at all, if by this we mean beliefs that are justifiably true. There is no sinful, carnal, or secular "knowledge" because such "knowledge" isn't true. All truth is sacred and comes from God alone, whether we learn it inside of the pages of the Bible, or outside of them in the various disciplines of learning. Therefore, since not all truth is found in the Bible, the Christian apologist must try to harmonize all knowledge, since it all comes from God. Strauss argued "from above" that the Christian worldview is what best interprets these other truths—something that I now deny. In this paper I will argue that the lessons learned outside of the Bible in other areas of learning, debunk the Bible, by continually forcing believers to reinterpret the Bible over and over again until there is no longer any basis for believing in the Christian worldview. In short, my thesis is that the Christian faith should be rejected by modern, civilized, educated, and scientifically literate persons, even though I know that many Christians will still disagree. LINK.
With a slight bit of humor, he should be congratulated, or something! ;-)
I wish his family and close friends all the very best.