Saturday, May 08, 2010

Review of "On Guard," by William Lane Craig

William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010. $16.99. 286 pages.

Apologetics is the discipline of defending Christianity as true, rational, and pertinent to life. The apologist may be a philosopher, historian, theologian, or a practitioner of some other intellectual discipline. However, in the broadest sense, all Christians are commanded to have a reason for the hope within them, to offer this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15), and to love God with all their minds (Matthew 22:37-38; see also Romans 12:1-2). Jesus defended his views through argument (see three examples of this in Matthew 22), as did the Apostle Paul throughout the Book of Acts (see especially his speech to the Athenians in Acts 17). (I defend the claim that Jesus was a philosopher and apologist in On Jesus [Wadsworth, 2002]).

Learning apologetics (first from Francis Schaeffer) transformed me from an intellectually insecure and timid Christian into a thinker who had found confidence and certainty in the challenging world of ideas. All Christians need this kind of confidence and should receive the exhortation that the Apostle Paul gave to his disciple Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). While I have learned much from many apologists, William Lane Craig work’s has been formative for me in many respects. As a respected philosopher who often writes at the highest intellectual levels in academic journals and books, Craig has, through his long and fruitful career (which includes debating influential atheists and other non-Christians), also offered apologetics at a more popular (but always intellectually serious) level. With On Guard, Craig distills and simplifies work available in other books (such as Reasonable Faith and God: A Debate Between a Christian an a Atheist) in order to present a thorough defense of Christianity. While taking the reader fairly deep into apologetic arguments, the book does not presume much knowledge of philosophy. To keep the reader’s interest, it uses charts and graphics—but not to excess. The book is also punctuated by two “personal interludes” in which Craig presents his own “journey to faith.”

In ten chapters, Craig explains the nature and purpose of apologetics, the significance of God’s existence for the meaning of life, why the existence of the universe is best explained by God, how the universe reveals God’s design, and how the existence of morality is best explained by God as its source. He also takes up the problem of suffering, and the identity of Jesus as God Incarnate and as raised from the dead. The final chapter asks, “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” and addresses the claim that Christianity is too exclusive and harsh (consigning unbelievers to hell). While presented in a rather popular form, Craig does not cut any corners, and he gives ample documentation where needed.

While I disagree with Craig’s strategy at a few points (particularly on religious exclusivism and the problem of evil), the book deserves high praise as a complete, readable, and compelling defense of Christianity. While Craig uses the design inference to defend the fine-tuning of the universe for human life (given its unlikely combination of constants, proportions, and laws), he fails to use this argument to infer design at the biological level, as do the proponents of Intelligent Design such as William Dembski, Stephen Meyer, and Michael Behe. But this is a small complaint given the overall excellence of this work, which I highly recommend to who are all interested in apologetics at the beginning to intermediate level. After reading On Guard, one will want to explore Craig’s more advanced works, as well as writings by J.P. Moreland, Paul Copan, Winfried Corduan, Norman Geisler, Richard Swinburne, Alvin Plantinga, and other philosophical apologists. Nothing less than the rational defense of eternal truth is at stake.


John W. Loftus said...

Nice review. Can I surmise from the names mentioned at the end of it what your own apologetics textbook might look like? I can't wait to see it.

Matt said...

Would you mind expounding a bit about the points where you disagree with Craig? (Or point me to where you do)


D. A. Armstrong said...

Not having read the book, but knowing Craig's other work, I'd guess that Craig's reconciliation of the problem of evil, presupposes Molinism. Ideal that this really is the best probable world that God could create so that the maximum number of people would freely chose him. In this view evil is basically necessary based on libertarian free will. God couldn't create a better world than the one we have.

Now that I've said my part off the top of my head, Groothuis can correct any mistatement I've made.

Ken Dreyer said...

Please review God: A Debate Between a Christian an a Atheist! I'd really like to know what you think about this one.

Ken Dreyer said...

Please review God: A Debate Between a Christian an a Atheist! I'd really like to know what you think about this one.

Doug Groothuis said...


I already reviewed in in Books and Culture a few years ago. Should be on line.

Bill P said...

I read in another place that this book has "memorizable steps". Is this true? I have a hard time explaining my faith because I can't remember all the details arguements and such.