On Guard by William Lane Craig – A Book Review

On Guard, by Dr. William Lane Craig, is an excellent introductory text on Christian apologetics. It is, therefore, a good resource for both Christians and those interested in Christianity alike.

The book is organized in a logical fashion, starting with the nature of apologetics (‘the defense of the Christian faith’) and the significance of the question ‘Does God exist?’

Dr. Craig than ably presents and explains, in accessible language, a number of the strongest arguments for the Christian worldview, in a two-part structure.

Part One consists of arguments for theism, the idea that an all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving God exists. Part Two establishes the identity of God as the one revealed by the Christian tradition and Scriptures, primarily by explaining who Jesus is, how we know that Jesus was raised from the dead, and why Jesus is the only way to God.

The author, Dr. Craig, is a world renowned philosopher and apologist. He has been endorsed with the highest praise by many of the finest Christian evangelists, apologists, and philosophers. The reason for these accolades is that he simply has an outstanding and comprehensive understanding of the relevant philosophical and scientific and historical issues relevant to the question of God’s existence. Further, he writes and speaks in a crisp, clear, and incredibly organized manner. And finally, he lives what he teaches, with a personal integrity and dedication to Christ, the church, and the world that is worthy of respect. He provides a great deal of free resources through his ministry Reasonable Faith.

His children’s books aside, On Guard is one of Dr. Craig’s most accessible books. It is interspersed with sidebars that provide definitions, small group discussion questions, occasional cartoons (!), short biographical profiles, argument maps, and chapter outlines. Illustrations from his ministry Reasonable Faith and his own life experience bring the more abstract components of the book to life. Altogether, these additional materials strengthen the book’s purpose: “This book is intended to be a sort of training manual to equip you to fulfill the command of 1 Peter 3: 15. So this is a book to be studied, not just read” (KL 345-346).

You might ask – But why be trained? Why study? Why such hard work? Unfortunately, intellectual laziness is often the default posture of the Christian church.

In response, the book provides a convincing defense of the importance of apologetics as a matter of Biblical faithfulness. Further, Craig argues that when disciples of Jesus are trained to think carefully about the reasons for the Christian hope of salvation, they will be empowered to effectively shape culture, strengthen believers, and winning unbelievers to faith in Jesus. Dr. Craig’s own experience, and for what it is worth, my own experience in ten years of campus ministry at places like Harvard and Boston College Law School, readily confirm the significance of the apologetic enterprise. If we treasure Jesus, love the Scriptures, and long to see our family and friends know the God who made them and loves them, we have simply got to put in the hard work to study apologetics. On Guard is an excellent place to start.

From a practical perspective, perhaps the most important chapter is Chapter 2 on “What Difference Does It Make If God Exists?” In this section, we gain a clear understanding of the dramatic contrast between the implications of the Christian worldview and the atheistic perspective. Dr. Craig carefully argues that there is a logical consistency between affirming God’s existence and a world of meaning, value, purpose, and significance, but a logical inconsistency on these existential necessities for the atheistic approach. Many common misunderstandings of this argument are noted and responded to in this chapter.

Imagine with me for a moment that one of your secular friends, having considered the argument of this chapter, admitted that “If we live happily as atheists, it is only by inconsistently affirming meaning, value, and purpose for our lives, despite the lack of foundation for them” (Kindle 811-812). Does that mean that Christianity is true? By no means. But does it rightly motivate a search to investigate the Christian worldview? Absolutely. Christ offers a real fulfillment of our most essential human concerns. This is a significant clue in our search for God.

The following chapters on theism present what are known as Leibniz’s Cosmological Argument, the kalam Cosmological Argument, the Design Argument, and the Moral Argument. Each one is presented in a very easy to remember format. For instance, here’s the moral argument:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values and duties do exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists (Kindle 2075-2077).

With a little effort, I do believe that you can remember all twenty-three words of this argument. After all, there are only twelve unique words. This is as simple as it gets.

Here’s the genius of it: this is an entirely logical, deductive argument for the existence of God. Both premises are often admitted to by atheists. The conclusion follows as a matter of rational necessity. This is a valuable argument to understand and to be able to share in a conversational and friendly manner with people who are interested in what you believe. When you stand on such solid intellectual ground, there’s no need to get nervous or defensive about anything at all.

Readers of the book will benefit from the chapter on suffering for many reasons. It clearly distinguishes between many different versions of the problem. It forthrightly acknowledges the emotional intensity of the discussion. It acknowledges the weaknesses of the Christian position, but not without stating the far greater struggle atheism has in responding to suffering. The conclusion is excellent, summarizing many different strands of response into one powerful synthesis:

Paradoxically, then, even though the problem of suffering is the greatest objection to the existence of God, at the end of the day God is the only solution to the problem of suffering. If God does not exist, then we are locked without hope in a world filled with pointless and unredeemed suffering. God is the final answer to the problem of suffering, for He redeems us from evil and takes us into the everlasting joy of an incommensurable good: fellowship with Himself (Kindle 2843-2846).

In fairness, there are a few changes I would like to see in On Guard. I offer these critiques in a friendly spirit, as Dr. Craig has been a significant intellectual influence on my life, and has spoken at events I’ve arranged on at least three occasions. Still, I do think that On Guard unnecessarily limits its audience and its reach in a few ways, and consequently, there remains room for improvement.

For instance, this training manual really needs a final chapter that explains how to initiate and discuss these challenging intellectual matters with friends. It isn’t just Christians who don’t study bubble universes and infinite mathematics! How does Dr. Craig envisage the average Christian discussing these complicated matters over dinner with their friends?

One simple solution would be to explain where to start depending on who you are talking to. For instance, the moral argument is perhaps the most accessible and the most personally relevant point of the entire book. Letting people know that the moral argument is an excellent starting point will encourage them to actually start somewhere. By contrast, if a reader of On Guard starts up a conversation on bubble universes with an actual astrophysicist, I don’t expect that this introductory training manual will be sufficient (nor is it intended to be). Much else could be said on this point.

Second, in his introduction, Craig acknowledges that there is only a “minority of a minority with whom apologetics is effective” (Kindle 311-312). But he also advocates for nearly everyone to be trained in apologetics. This is a significant tension. By indicating throughout which areas of the book are more generally accessible and which sections are more technical, On Guard could extend its reach without diluting the intellectual rigor of certain sections. It is a strength of the material that it gently takes its readers into new domains of learning. It is a weakness that it doesn’t clarify what is ‘street ready’ and what is more advanced.

Finally, On Guard is a perfectly interesting book for atheists and seekers to read. It just needs to welcome them in and address them specifically from time to time. Unlike many resources that are ‘for Christians,’ there’s nothing in On Guard that is therefore second-rate. Dr. Craig doesn’t beg the question, quote the Bible to make a hasty point, or score cheap attacks on those who disagree with him. There’s very little insider jargon. Why not be deliberate about welcoming seekers to read the book as carefully as Christians, explain the gospel to them (and to Christians), and invite them to follow Jesus? Anyone who converted to Christ after reading On Guard would be in an excellent position to start discussing the gospel with their friends. A brief chapter that noted the importance of joining a church, growing to spiritual maturity, and so on would help these new believers develop in a holistic way.

Overall, I think the book is perhaps the best introductory training manual for Christian apologetics. I wish that every high school student in every church youth group studied this material in small groups with a trained adult facilitator. Adults would benefit from this book as much as teenagers. God calls us to worship with ‘all of our minds’ (Matthew 22:37). On Guard is an excellent resource for this essential task of Christian discipleship. But I also recommend this book for those who are curious to know if a reasonable case can be provided for the Christian worldview.

You can buy a copy of On Guard at Amazon.com.