William Lane Craig's On Guard
It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
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and the book:
David C. Cook; New edition (March 1, 2010)
William Lane Craig is Research Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology. With earned doctorates in philosophy and theology, he has established a reputation as one of the most prominent Christian philosophers of our day. His publications, debates, and internet presence have made him a highly visible champion of Christian faith. His seminary textbook, Reasonable Faith, is widely considered to be the best book on Christian apologetics today.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $16.99
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (March 1, 2010)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15 RSV)
I teach a Sunday school class called “Defenders” to about one hundred people, from high schoolers to senior adults, at our home church in Atlanta. We talk about what the Bible teaches (Christian doctrine) and about how to defend it (Christian apologetics). Sometimes people who aren’t in our class don’t understand what we do. One fine Southern lady, upon hearing that I teach Christian apologetics, remarked indignantly, “I’ll never apologize for my faith!”
Apologetics Means a Defense
The reason for her misunderstanding is obvious: “Apologetics” sounds like “apologize.” But apologetics is not the art of telling somebody you’re sorry that you’re a Christian! Rather apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, which means a defense, as in a court of law. Christian apologetics involves making a case for the truth of the Christian faith.
The Bible actually commands us to have such a case ready to give to any unbeliever who wants to know why we believe what we do. Just as the contestants in a fencing match have learned both to parry each attack as well as to go on the offensive themselves, so we must always be “on guard.” First Peter 3:15 says, “Always be prepared to make a defense [apologia] to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (author’s translation).
Notice the attitude we’re supposed to have when giving our defense: We should be gentle and respectful. Apologetics is also not the art of making somebody else sorry that you’re a Christian! We can present a defense of the Christian faith without becoming defensive. We can present arguments for Christianity without becoming argumentative.
When I talk in this book about arguments for the Christian faith, it’s vital to understand that I don’t mean quarreling. We should never quarrel with a nonbeliever about our faith. That only makes people mad and drives them away. As I’ll explain later in this chapter, an argument in the philosophical sense is not a fight or a heated exchange; it’s just a series of statements leading to a conclusion. That’s all.
Ironically, if you have good arguments in support of your faith, you’re less apt to become quarrelsome or upset. I find that the better my arguments, the less argumentative I am. The better my defense, the less defensive I am. If you have good reasons for what you believe and know the answers to the unbeliever’s questions or objections, there’s just no reason to get hot under the collar. Instead, you’ll find yourself calm and confident when you’re under attack, because you know you have the answers.
I frequently debate on university campuses on topics like “Does God Exist?” or “Christianity vs.
Atheism.” Sometimes students in the audience get up during the Q&A period and attack me personally
or go into an abusive rant. I find that my reaction to these students is not anger, but rather simply feeling
sorry for them because they’re so mixed up. If you have good reasons for what you believe, then instead
of anger you’ll feel a genuine compassion for the unbeliever, who is often so misled. Good apologetics involves “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).
Is Apologetics Biblical?
Some people think that apologetics is unbiblical. They say that you should just preach the gospel and let the Holy Spirit do His work! But I think that the example of Jesus and the apostles affirms the value of apologetics. Jesus appealed to miracles and to fulfilled prophecy to prove that His claims were true (Luke 24:25–27; John 14:11). What about the apostles? In dealing with other Jews, they used fulfilled prophecy, Jesus’ miracles, and especially Jesus’ resurrection to prove that He was the Messiah. Take, for example, Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost recorded in the second chapter of Acts. In verse 22, he appeals to Jesus’ miracles. In verses 25–31 he appeals to fulfilled prophecy. In verse 32 he appeals to Christ’s resurrection. By means of these arguments the apostles sought to show their fellow Jews that Christianity is true.
In dealing with non-Jews, the apostles sought to show the existence of God through His handiwork
in nature (Acts 14:17). In Romans 1, Paul says that from nature alone all men can know that God
exists (Rom. 1:20). Paul also appealed to eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ resurrection to show further that
Christianity is true (1 Cor. 15:3–8).
So it’s clear that both Jesus and the apostles were not afraid to give evidence for the truth of what
they proclaimed. This doesn’t mean they didn’t trust the Holy Spirit to bring people to God. Rather they trusted the Holy Spirit to use their arguments and evidence to bring people to God.
Why Is Apologetics Important?
It’s vitally important that Christians today be trained in apologetics. Why? Let me give three reasons.
1. Shaping culture. We’ve all heard of the so-called culture war going on in American society. Some people may not like this militaristic metaphor, but the truth is that a tremendous struggle for the soul of America is raging right now. This struggle is not just political. It has a religious or spiritual dimension as well. Secularists are bent on eliminating religion from the public square. The so-called New Atheists, represented by people like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens, are even more aggressive. They want to exterminate religious belief entirely.
American society has already become post-Christian. Belief in a sort of generic God is still the norm, but belief in Jesus Christ is now politically incorrect. How many films coming out of Hollywood portray Christians in a positive way? How many times do we instead find Christians portrayed as shallow, bigoted, villainous hypocrites? What is the public perception of Bible-believing Christians in our culture today?
The above cartoon poignantly depicts the perception of Christians by the cultural elite in American society today: goofy curiosities to be gawked at by normal people. But notice, they’re also dangerous. They mustn’t be allowed positions of influence in society. Maybe that’s why they even need to be penned up.
Why are these considerations of culture important? Why can’t we Christians just be faithful followers of Christ and ignore what is going on in the culture at large? Why not just preach the gospel to a dark and dying world?
The answer is, because the gospel is never heard in isolation. It is always heard against the backdrop of the culture in which you’ve been born and raised. A person who has been raised in a culture that is sympathetic to the Christian faith will be open to the gospel in a way that a person brought up in a secular culture will not. For a person who is thoroughly secularized, you may as well tell him to believe in fairies or leprechauns as in Jesus Christ! That’s how absurd the message of Christ will seem to him.
To see the influence of culture on your own thinking, imagine what you would think if a Hindu devotee of the Hare Krishna movement, with his shaved head and saffron robe, approached you at the airport or shopping mall, offering you a flower and inviting you to become a follower of Krishna. Such an invitation would likely strike you as bizarre, freakish, maybe even a bit funny. But think how differently someone in Delhi, India, would react if he were approached by such a person! Having been raised in a Hindu culture, he might take such an invitation very seriously.
If America’s slide into secularism continues, then what awaits us tomorrow is already evident today in Europe. Western Europe has become so secularized that it’s hard for the gospel even to get a fair hearing. As a result, missionaries must labor for years to win even a handful of converts. Having lived for thirteen years in Europe in four different countries, I can testify personally to how hard it is for people to respond to the message of Christ. Speaking on university campuses around Europe, I found that the students’ reaction was often bewilderment. Christianity is supposed to be for old women and children, they would think. So what’s this man with two earned doctorates from European universities doing here defending the truth of the Christian faith with arguments we can’t answer?
Once, when I was speaking at a university in Sweden, a student asked me during the Q&A following my talk, “What are you doing here?” Puzzled, I said, “Well, I’ve been invited by the Religious Studies Department to give this lecture.” “That’s not what I mean,” he insisted. “Don’t you understand how unusual this is? I want to know what motivates you personally to come and do this.” I suspect he had never seen a Christian philosopher before—in fact, a prominent Swedish philosopher told me that there are no Christian philosophers at any university in Sweden. The student’s question gave me the chance to share the story of how I came to Christ.
The skepticism on European university campuses runs so deep that when I spoke on the existence of God at the University of Porto in Portugal, the students (as I learned later) actually telephoned the Higher Institute of Philosophy at the University of Louvain in Belgium, where I was affiliated, to see if I was an imposter! They thought I was a fake! I just didn’t fit into their stereotype of a Christian.
If the gospel is to be heard as an intellectually viable option for thinking men and women today,
then it’s vital that we as Christians try to shape American culture in such a way that Christian belief cannot be dismissed as mere superstition. This is where Christian apologetics comes in. If Christians
could be trained to provide solid evidence for what they believe and good answers to unbelievers’
questions and objections, then the perception of Christians would slowly change. Christians would be seen as thoughtful people to be taken seriously rather than as emotional fanatics or buffoons. The gospel would be a real alternative for people to embrace.
I’m not saying that people will become Christians because of the arguments and evidence. Rather I’m saying that the arguments and evidence will help to create a culture in which Christian belief is a reasonable thing. They create an environment in which people will be open to the gospel. So becoming trained in apologetics is one way, a vital way, of being salt and light in American culture today.
2. Strengthening believers. The benefits of apologetics in your personal Christian life are huge. Let me mention three.
First of all, knowing why you believe as well as what you believe will make you more confident in sharing your faith with others. I see this happen all the time on university campuses when I have a public debate with a non-Christian professor. My experience is that while these professors may be very knowledgeable in their area of specialization, they are almost clueless when it comes to the evidence for Christianity. The Christian position in these debates usually comes out so far ahead of the non-Christian position that unbelieving students often complain that the whole event was a setup, staged to make the non-Christian position look bad! The truth is that we try to get the best opponents, who are often picked by the atheist club on campus.
Christian students, by contrast, come away from these debates with their heads held high, proud to be Christians. One Canadian student remarked to me following a debate, “I can’t wait to share my faith in Christ!” People who lack training in apologetics are often afraid to share their faith or speak out for
Christ out of fear that someone might ask them a question. But if you know the answers, then you’re not afraid to go into the lion’s den—in fact, you’ll enjoy it! Training in apologetics will help to make you a bold and fearless witness for Christ.
Second, apologetics can also help you to keep the faith in times of doubt and struggle. Emotions
will carry you only so far, and then you’re going to need something more substantial. When I speak in
churches around the country, I often meet parents who say something like, “If only you’d been here two
or three years ago! Our son (or daughter) had questions about the faith which no one could answer, and now he’s far from the Lord.”
In fact, there seem to be more and more reports of Christians abandoning their faith. A Christian minister at Stanford University recently told me that 40 percent of Christian high school students in church youth groups will quit church involvement altogether after graduation. Forty percent! It’s not just that they lose their faith in a hostile university environment. Rather, many have already abandoned faith while still in the youth group but continue to go through the motions until they’re out from under their parents’ authority.
I think the church is really failing these kids. Rather than provide them training in the defense of Christianity’s truth, we focus on emotional worship experiences, felt needs, and entertainment. It’s no wonder they become sitting ducks for that teacher or professor who rationally takes aim at their faith. In high school and college, students are intellectually assaulted with every manner of non-Christian philosophy conjoined with an overwhelming relativism and skepticism. We’ve got to train our kids for war. How dare we send them unarmed into an intellectual war zone? Parents must do more than take their children to church and read them Bible stories. Moms and dads need to be trained in apologetics themselves and so be able to explain to their children simply from an early age and then with increasing depth why we believe as we do. Honestly, I find it hard to understand how Christian couples in our day and age can risk bringing children into the world without being trained in apologetics as part of the art of parenting.
Of course, apologetics won’t guarantee that you or your children will keep the faith. There are all kinds of moral and spiritual factors that come into play, too. Some of the most effective atheist Web sites feature ex-believers who were trained in apologetics and still abandoned the faith. But when you look
closely at the arguments they give for abandoning Christianity, they are often confused or weak. I recently saw one Web site where the person provided a list of the books that had persuaded him that Christianity is bunk—followed by the remark that he hopes to read them someday! Ironically, some of these folks come to embrace positions that are more extreme and require more gullibility—such as that Jesus never existed—than the conservative views they once held.
But while apologetics is no guarantee, it can help. As I travel, I also meet many people who have been brought back from the brink of abandoning their faith by reading an apologetics book or watching a debate. Recently I had the privilege of speaking at Princeton University on arguments for the existence of God, and after my lecture a young man approached me who wanted to talk. Obviously trying to hold back the tears, he told me how a couple of years earlier he had been struggling with doubts and was almost to the point of abandoning his faith. Someone then gave him a video of one of my debates. He said, “It saved me from losing my faith. I cannot thank you enough.”
I said, “It was the Lord who saved you from falling.”
“Yes,” he replied, “but He used you. I can’t thank you too much.” I told him how thrilled I was for him and asked him about his future plans. “I’m graduating this year,” he told me, “and I plan to go to seminary. I’m going into the pastorate.” Praise God for the victory in this young man’s life! When you’re going through hard times and God seems distant, apologetics can help you to remember that our faith is not based on emotions, but on the truth, and therefore you must hold on to it.
Finally, the study of apologetics is going to make you a deeper and more interesting person. American culture is so appallingly superficial, fixated on celebrities, entertainment, sports, and self-indulgence. Studying apologetics is going to take you beyond all that to life’s deepest questions, questions about the existence and nature of God, the origin of the universe, the source of moral values, the problem of suffering and evil, and so on. As you wrestle with these deep questions, you yourself will be changed.
You will become more thoughtful and well-rounded. You’ll learn how to think logically and to analyze what other people are saying. Instead of saying sheepishly, “This is how I feel about it—it’s just my opinion, that’s all,” you’ll be able to say, “This is what I think about it, and here are my reasons.…” As a Christian, you’ll begin to have a deeper appreciation of Christian truths about God and the world and see how they all fit together to make up a Christian worldview.
3. Winning unbelievers. Many people will agree with what I’ve said about the role of apologetics in strengthening believers, but they deny that it’s of any use in winning unbelievers to Christ. “No one comes to Christ through arguments!” they’ll tell you.
To a certain extent, I think that such people are just victims of false expectations. When you realize that only a minority of people who hear the gospel respond positively to it and place their faith in Christ, we shouldn’t be surprised that most people will refuse to be persuaded by our arguments and evidence. By the very nature of the case, we should expect that most unbelievers will remain unconvinced by our apologetic arguments, just as most remain unmoved by the preaching of the cross.
And remember, no one knows for sure about the cumulative effect of such arguments, as the seed is planted and then watered again and again in ways we can’t even imagine. We shouldn’t expect that the unbeliever, when he first hears our apologetic case, will just roll over and play dead! Of course he’ll
fight back! Think of what’s at stake for him! But we patiently plant and water in hopes that over time the seed will grow and bear fruit.
But why bother, you might ask, with that minority of a minority with whom apologetics is effective? First, because every person is precious to God, a person for whom Christ died. Like a missionary called to reach an obscure people group, the Christian apologist is burdened to reach that minority of
persons who will respond to rational argument and evidence.
But second, this people group, though relatively small in numbers, is huge in influence. One of these persons, for example, was C. S. Lewis. Think of the impact that one man’s conversion continues to have! I find that the people who resonate most with my apologetic arguments tend to be engineers, people in medicine, and lawyers. Such persons are among the most influential in shaping our culture today. So reaching this minority of persons will yield a great harvest for the kingdom of God.
In any case the general conclusion that apologetics is ineffective in evangelism is just not true. Lee Strobel recently remarked to me that he has lost count of the number of people who have come to Christ through his books The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith. Nor has it been my experience that apologetics is ineffective in evangelism. We continually are thrilled to see people committing their lives to Christ through presentations of the gospel coupled with apologetics.
After giving a talk on arguments for the existence of God or evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, I’ll sometimes conclude with a prayer of commitment to give one’s life to Christ, and the comment cards indicate those who have registered such a commitment. Just recently I did a speaking tour of universities in central Illinois, and we were thrilled to find that almost every time I gave such a presentation, students indicated decisions for Christ. I’ve even seen students come to Christ just through hearing a defense of the
cosmological argument (which I’ll explain in this book)!
It has been thrilling, too, to hear stories of how people have been drawn to Christ through reading something I’ve written on apologetics. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, I’ve had the privilege of being involved in debates with Islamic apologists on various university campuses in Canada and the States. Recently, early one Saturday morning, we received a telephone call. The foreign voice on the other end announced, “Hello! This is Sayd al-Islam calling from Oman!” He went on to explain that he had secretly lost his Muslim faith and had become an atheist. But now by reading various Christian apologetic works, which he was ordering on Amazon.com, he had come to believe in God and was on the verge of making a commitment to Christ.
He was impressed with the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection and had called me because he had several questions he still needed to settle. We talked for an hour, and I sensed that in his heart he already believed; but he wanted to be cautious and be sure he had the evidence in place before he consciously made that step. He explained to me, “You understand that I cannot tell you my real name. In my country I must lead a sort of double life because otherwise I would be killed.” I prayed with him that God would continue to guide him into truth, and then we said good-bye. You can imagine how full of thanks my heart was to God for using these books—and the Internet!—in the life of this man! Stories like this could be multiplied, and, of course, we never hear of most of them.
When apologetics is persuasively presented and sensitively combined with a gospel presentation and a personal testimony, the Spirit of God is pleased to use it to bring people to Himself.
How to Get the Most out of This Book
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. You’ll find several arguments that I’ve put into easily memorizable steps. In discussing each argument, I’ll present a reason (or several reasons) to think
that each step in the argument is true. Then I’ll discuss the usual objections to each step and show you how to answer them. In that way you’ll be prepared in advance for possible questions you might meet in sharing your faith.
For example, suppose we have the following argument:
1. All men are mortal.
2. Socrates is a man.
3. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.
This is what we call a logically valid argument. That is to say, if steps 1 and 2 are true, then the conclusion, 3, is also true.
Logic is an expression of the mind of God (John 1:1). It describes how a supremely rational being reasons. There are only about nine basic rules of logic. So long as you obey the rules of logic, they guarantee that if the steps of your argument are true, then the conclusion is true as well. We then say that
the truth of the conclusion follows logically from the argument’s steps.
So the question then becomes: Are steps 1 and 2 in the above argument true? In support of step 1, we might present scientific and medical evidence for the fact that all men are mortal. In support of step 2 we might turn to historical evidence to prove that Socrates was a man. Along the way, we’d want to consider any objections to 1 or 2 and seek to answer them. For example, someone might deny step 2 because he believes that Socrates is just a mythical figure and not a real man. We’d have to show why the evidence
suggests that this belief is mistaken.
Steps 1 and 2 in this argument are called premises. If you obey the rules of logic and your premises are true, then your conclusion must be true as well.
Now the determined skeptic can deny any conclusion simply by denying one of the premises. You can’t force someone to accept the conclusion if he’s willing to pay the price of rejecting one of the premises. But what you can do is raise the price of rejecting the conclusion by giving good evidence for the truth of the premises.
For example, the person who denies premise 2 of the above argument is embracing a historical skepticism that the vast majority of professional historians would find unjustified. So he can reject premise 2 if he wants to, but he pays the price of making himself look like a kook. Such a person can hardly condemn as irrational someone who does accept the truth of premise 2.
So in presenting apologetic arguments for some conclusion, we want to raise the price of denying the conclusion as high as we can. We want to help the unbeliever see what it will cost him intellectually to resist the conclusion. Even if he is willing to pay that price, he may at least come to see why we
are not obliged to pay it, and so he may quit ridiculing Christians for being irrational or having no reasons for what we believe. And if he’s not willing to pay the price, then he may change his mind and come to accept the conclusion we’re arguing for.
In presenting the arguments and evidence in this book, I’ve tried to be simple without being simplistic. I’ll consider the strongest objections to my arguments and offer answers to them. Sometimes the material may be new and difficult for you. I’d encourage you to consider it in small bites, which are easier to digest. You might find it helpful to be part of a small group, where you can discuss the arguments. Don’t feel bad if you disagree with me on some points. I want you to think for yourself.
At the end of most chapters you’ll find an argument map or outline of the case presented in that chapter. Let me explain how to use the argument map. The map has a “swim lane” format that exhibits my argument in the left-hand lane labeled “Pro.” The right-hand lane labeled “Con” exhibits the objections
that might be raised by an opponent of the argument. The arrows moving back and forth across the lanes trace the various Pro and Con responses that might be given. These maps will help you to see the big picture.
Consider, for example, the argument map on the facing page:
In the left-hand lane we see the first premise of the argument: “All men are mortal.” Following the arrow, we find the evidence given in support of that premise. In this case no response to this premise is offered, and so the “Con” lane remains blank. Next in the “Pro” lane comes the second premise: “Socrates is a man.” Here the skeptic does have a response, and so in the “Con” lane we see the objection that “Socrates was just a mythological figure.” Following the arrow, we find the answer to this objection, which states succinctly the historical evidence for Socrates’ being a real man. Notice that only a very terse summary is provided; reading the argument maps will be no substitute for studying the arguments themselves as they are presented in the text. The argument maps just help you to see the big picture.
Wouldn’t you like to be able to defend your faith intelligently? Wouldn’t you like to have some arguments at your fingertips to share with someone who says Christians have no good reasons for what they believe? Aren’t you tired of being afraid and intimidated by unbelievers?
If so, then read on! I’m glad you’ve chosen this book, and I commend you for being On Guard, ready to give a reason for the hope within.
©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. On Guard by William Lane Craig. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.