Book Review: On Guard – By William Lane Craig

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Letter IIn the world of Christian apologetics, William Lane Craig is one of the contemporary giants, and is also one of the philosophers primarily responsible for the resurgence of classical Christian apologetics (as opposed to presuppositional).

On Guard is what is described as a “one-stop, how-to-defend-your-faith manual,” and aims at providing a basic overview of the classic arguments for the Christian faith. Craig begins his text by presenting a defense of apologetics itself, and a justification for it, to demonstrate of what great difference question such as “Does God exist?” and “Why does anything exist?” are of such importance. Following this Craig goes through some of the classical arguments for the existence of God, such as the cosmological argument, the argument of fine-tuning, the argument from morality, and also deals with the question of suffering. After this more philosophical approach to apologetics Craig turns to the more historical/evidentialist/Biblical approach, discussing such questions as the historicity of Jesus, the resurrection, dispelling the mistaken belief that Jesus being a ‘legend’ is a valid option, and the exclusivity of the Christian faith.

Throughout this Craig not only offers the basic logical arguments, but also – in the classic manor of Aquinas – also offers the basic objections to his arguments, followed by a rebuttal against those objections. This aspect of the book is perhaps one of the most helpful parts; many holes which I thought drilled in the classic arguments were plugged by Craig, to my great satisfaction.

After having studied presuppositional apologetics over the years I had come to the conclusion that the classical approach to apologetics was bunk, having been beaten into final submission by Kant, and yet Craig in this text manages to answer most of the objections that might be offered. I have to say that it was an overall refreshing read.

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Memorable Quotes:

-“Part of the challenge of getting American people to think about God is that they’ve become so used to God that they just take Him for granted. They never think to ask what the implications would be if God did not exist. As a result they think that God is irrelevant.”-29

-“The question is not: Must we believe in God in order to live moral lives… can we recognize objective moral values and duties without believing in God… can we formulate a system of ethics without referring to God… Rather the question is: If God does not exist, do objective moral values and duties exist?”-134

-“I’m convinced that for most people the terrible suffering in the world is really an emotional, not an intellectual, problem. Their unbelief is born, not out of refutation, but out of rejection.”-153

-“This is really quite extraordinary when you reflect on how obscure a figure Jesus was. He had at most a three-year public life as an itinerant Galilean preacher. Yet we have far more information about Jesus than we do for most major figures of antiquity.”-185

– “In a real sense, then, hell is self-perpetuating. In such a case, every sin has a finite punishment, but because sinning goes on forever, so does the punishment.”-273

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Specific Criticisms

While I did thoroughly enjoy this book, it is not without its problems. My most pressing complaint to get out of the way is the fact that this book doesn’t have an index, which automatically drops it a few points in my book. As somebody who frequently does research, an index is an indispensable part of any book and I always get annoyed when an otherwise good book doesn’t contain one. Some other problems might be:

– At some points I feel that Craig relies a little too much on scientific theories in order to prove his point, such as with the Big Bang and the expanding universe. While it might be possible to make these theories work in favor of the Christian system, they are still only one possibility and therefore too much stock should not be placed in them.

– In regards to the problem of suffering, it needs to be noted that the question is not whether God and suffering are incompatible once the system is in play – that is, now – but the probability of it coming it being at the outset.

– Even with Craig’s splendid presentation of the cosmological argument, a contention might still be that it may just as well prove the possibility of a polytheistic world as a monotheistic one.

One other problem which I haven’t had the time to think through at the moment is Cornelius Van Til‘s classic critique of this sort of apologetic that it leads to a Platonic God; that it ‘proves’ a God which is not the Christian God and therefore proves nothing at all (at least in relation to Christianity).

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