This book is one of my favorites, On Guard by William Lane Craig. In several ways On Guard is the smaller, simpler version of Dr. Craig’s Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition. Many of the chapters in On Guard find a parallel chapter in Reasonable Faith but with some noted exceptions such as Reasonable Faith featuring chapters on the problem of historical knowledge as well as miracles. While those chapters are important they are beyond an introduction which is this book’s purpose. This book also features a chapter on how to deal with the problem of suffering/evil which is excellent but is also absent from Reasonable Faith. The book is 288 pages long and contains a foreword by Lee Strobel (author of The Case for Christ), 10 chapters, and two “Personal Interlude” sections which I think really help add to the appeal of the book.
This book is touted as an introduction to apologetics. I agree, but also disagree. Let me explain. If someone has some minor familiarity with apologetics and is really driven to get solid answers as well as think and work through the issues then this book could be a great little introduction to the field of apologetics because of the varied but very important topics it covers. However, for someone who is starting from scratch then I would recommend this book as introduction only after you have worked through some other material first or if you are going through the book as part of a group study where a group leader can help you through some of the material.
Please note that Chapters 3 through 5 really gets into some serious philosophy and science, albeit at an introductory level, that one should be prepared to grow in even after graduating from this book. Please be prepared as a beginner to spend some time learning about the theories that are proposed here. It may seem like very abstract concepts that you may never use, but I can tell you from experience in evangelism that you can use them often if the situation arises. I use these arguments[ref]When Dr. Craig uses the word “argument” in the book and when I use this term in this article, we don’t mean a “heated exchange/quarrel!” We mean two or more statements of fact that lead to a conclusion based on the laws of logic.[/ref] often in dialogue with non-Christians who are curious how Christianity and science are related and seem to lend very positive results in conversations.
Also, this book contains 4 arguments from natural theology. Natural theology is that branch of theology that “seeks to provide arguments and evidence in support of theism independent of authoritative, divine revelation (such as Scripture) for God’s existence (chapters 3 through 6)[ref]see William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition, pg.24[/ref]. Please try to learn all of them as well as continue to grow by expanding into more and more advanced resources to get a firm handle on them. This is important because the arguments span a range of data of human knowledge and experience and will be very helpful in your evangelistic efforts. What I mean is, if you learn only the moral argument for God’s existence and you have the opportunity to discuss the truth of Christianity with an atheist who has a passion for science and isn’t really all that interested in morality, then you will be ill equipped to help serve them through apologetics in their area of interest. However, if you continue to grow in all of the different arguments covering all the different types of areas of knowledge and experience to argue for God’s existence then you are equipped to engage in conversations with a wider range of non-Christians and this is very important for us as Christians to do and we should constantly seek to grow in this way.
This is also an excellent book for helping us think critically. Dr. Craig states in chapter 1, “Don’t feel bad if you disagree with me on some points. I want you to think for yourself.(pg. 26)” This too is a great exercise in learning because so many people if they hear one thing a person says that they disagree with will then tune that person out completely. That certainly shouldn’t be the case, as we all have been wrong before and if we followed that methodology we would have to tune ourselves out! No, we need to find out/learn why people believe what they do and test it to see if it is true or not all the while testing what we believe along the way conforming our beliefs to the truth and have good reasons available to anyone who asks us why we think something is true or not. It is important that we have good reasons for what we believe and not just believe something because it “feels” right. Emotions, while excellent and wonderful can’t determine or discern truth. Using emotions to test for truth would be like using a battery charger to repair your sink! It is the wrong tool for the job! After finishing this book and learning the material one will have practical knowledge (albeit introductory knowledge that certainly needs to be built upon) of four arguments for God’s existence from natural theology (God’s revelation of Himself in nature and human experience as opposed to special revelation, such as Scripture) as well as how to deal with objections to God’s existence based on suffering, and will be able to better understand Jesus’ radical self understanding, how to defend the the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event, and learn to demonstrate that Jesus is the only way to God. On Guard covers a variety of topics regarding theism in general and Christian theism in particular.
In chapter 1 Dr. Craig starts by giving an introduction explaining what apologetics is, whether it is biblical or not, why apologetics is so important, as well as how to get the most out of the book. After that he guides the reader through several important apologetic topics and gives key terms and “Talk About It” points in the margins to aid in learning the material and thinking about it critically and practically.
Chapter 2 covers the idea of “What difference does it make if God exists?” This is a great chapter and it helps one to reflect on what type of world we would live in if God did not exist and really drives home what the consequences would be.
Chapter 3 is where Dr. Craig starts teaching arguments for God’s existence from natural theology. He introduces us here to the Leibnizian cosmological argument which seeks to answer the question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” Dr. Craig then teaches (briefly and in an introductory way) how to defend the Leibnizian cosmological argument for God’s existence.
Chapter 4 is where we are introduced to Dr. Craig’s favorite argument the Kalam cosmological argument which seeks to show that there had to be a personal transcendent cause of the universe.
Chapter 5 is a great chapter that introduces us to the cosmic fine-tuning of the universe and presents a deductive argument that seeks to show how a personal mind is the best explanation of this fine tuning.
Chapter 6 introduces us to the moral argument for God’s existence. This one is my favorite argument from natural theology. It seeks to prove God’s existence by showing that without the existence of God there would be no objective moral values and duties and how dangerous that would be if it were the case.
In Chapter 7 we learn an argument against Christianity, namely the problem of suffering/evil. This chapter helps to answer the objection an opponent of Christianity would present that seeks to show God’s existence is either impossible (the logical version of the problem of evil/suffering) or improbable (the evidential or probabilistic version of the problem of evil/suffering) because of all the evil and suffering in the world. Dr. Craig does a great job of dividing the problem of evil into two categories, then into a few subcategories from there. The intellectual problem of evil (which is then divided into the logical version or the evidential/probabilistic version) and the emotional problem of evil and how each version requires a different response. This is one of the best chapters in the book.
Chapter 8 sets us up for chapter 9 which concerns the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. What Dr. Craig means is that a miracle without a context is random and just a freak exception to the laws of nature. However, in the context of Jesus’ radical personal claims and His unparalleled life and ministry (which is what this chapter is all about) then His resurrection from the dead (the topic of the next chapter) has major consequences/implications.
Chapter 9 is the most important chapter in my estimation, even though all of the chapters work very well when used in combination. While leading our small group study through this book, I am dividing this chapter into 2 weeks so as to maximize the benefits of them mastering the material and being able to use it practically. Dr. Craig gives three established historical facts about Jesus in which he concludes that “God raised Jesus from the dead” is the best explanation. He gives supporting argumentation for each of the three facts and then deals with alternative theories that utterly fail to account for the historical evidence better than the resurrection hypothesis.
Finally chapter 10 seems to be the logical next step after the resurrection chapter, namely, “Is Jesus the only way to God?” Dr. Craig here does and outstanding job for an introductory work in explaining why the answer is yes.
I highly recommend everyone get a copy of this book. This is an excellent resource for getting serious about your discipleship. They also make a DVD Companion which I have also reviewed on this site. You can also buy the On Guard study guide which is helpful not only to those reading through the book but especially valuable to those who will lead a group study (they are also going to be coming out with a leader’s guide in the future). Again, this book is great for individual study but works really well as a small group study. I give it 5 stars out of 5! I pray you get a copy and work through it at some point in your discipleship training as it will greatly benefit you!