05 / 06
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On Guard

June 13, 2010     Time: 00:18:42
On Guard


Conversation with William Lane Craig.

Transcript On Guard


Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, in many ways the book On Guard is the culmination of something we’ve been seeing for quite some time for the laypeople to have access to your material and your teaching which was for the most part reserved for academia. The book On Guard has gotten a good reception due to that very thing.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that’s exactly right, Kevin. For a long time my wife Jan has been urging me to write something on a more popular level that would be more accessible to people who haven’t studied philosophy or theology. On Guard is the fruit of that labor. Many people have commented to me over the years that while trying to read Reasonable Faith they had to have a dictionary on one knee and the book on the other and they would read them at the same time. So it was really needful, I think, to have a book that would incorporate many of the positive arguments from Reasonable Faith on a simple level. But it is more than just a simplification of Reasonable Faith because in addition to those positive arguments there is a good deal of what I call defensive apologetics as well. That is to say, responding to objections that aren’t in Reasonable Faith. So it really is an original piece of work but it is on a level that the average person can grasp.

Kevin Harris: What I have found personally, Bill, is that when I began I read some more simple theology, philosophy, and apologetics books. That allowed me to advance into more mid- and advanced material. I think On Guard will launch that kind of thing.

Dr. Craig: Yes, exactly. I really hope that as a result of reading On Guard as a beginning book people’s interest in the defense of the faith and articulating a Christian worldview will be awakened and they will go on then to more advanced material, like Reasonable Faith and other sorts of works.

Kevin Harris: We get letters like that all the time. People say, “This has launched me into deeper things of my faith that I feel I’ve been neglecting.” So the question would be then, Bill, how you would start the book off – what you would want to establish first as we begin?

Dr. Craig: In the opening chapter of the book I explain what apologetics is, namely, the attempt to give a rational justification for the Christian worldview, and then why it is important for a Christian to be trained in this area. Why he needs to invest some time and effort in being able to defend his faith. So that opening chapter is an attempt to show people that this is not something that’s just optional for a mature Christian. This is something that is really essential.

Kevin Harris: 1 Peter 3:15 alone is enough to show that this really isn’t an option.

Dr. Craig: Right, that’s a command of Scripture.

Kevin Harris: When it says to always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you about the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and reverence. We were talking off mic that a lot of Christians – people of faith – have gone into apologetics as kind of a hobby. But you soon realize, “Wait a minute. This is not a hobby. There is a lot more to this.” It is engaging the mind that God gave you.

Dr. Craig: It really is. I think it’s part of Christian discipleship – to love the Lord with all your mind. Once people capture this vision of being a true disciple of Christ in this area of really intellectually engaging with your faith, then as you say this is no mere hobby. This is really part of a person’s spiritual formation as a Christian. It is part of Christian maturity. So being able to give good reasons for faith and to answer objections to faith, I think are a part of Christian maturity for anyone who is a normal adult Christian – I mean with a normal mental capacity and who’s not under duress and who has the time and opportunity to study. This is really part of the normal Christian life.

Kevin Harris: So you establish that in the first part of the book – in the first chapter. What do you deal with from there on out in the book?

Dr. Craig: What I then talk about is the absurdity of life without God. This is an attempt to awaken the interest of the unbeliever in the question of God’s existence. So many people think that it doesn’t make any difference if God exists; that this is really irrelevant, and therefore their attitude toward God is sort of “Whatever. If you want to believe in him, fine. If not, it doesn’t make any difference.” [1] So in this chapter I try to provide arguments that the believer can use in talking to his non-Christian friends as to why this question of God’s existence is absolutely central to human existence. Because in the absence of God (that is to say, if there is no God) I think that life is absurd, that ultimately life has no meaning, value, or purpose. Therefore, this is a question that we cannot afford to be indifferent toward. We must engage with this question.

Kevin Harris: Even if life were absurd, we’d need to think about it.

Dr. Craig: We’d need to realize that.

Kevin Harris: We’d need to realize it. So this isn’t wishful thinking. It is not saying we can’t allow life to be just absurd so we have to concoct something here.

Dr. Craig: Oh, no, no, not at all. This is simply an introductory chapter to awaken people’s interest in the importance of the question is all. It is not an argument that God exists; by no means. But rather it is simply an argument to say that this question is central to the human predicament, and therefore we need to seriously engage this question and think about it. It is very important to understand the proper place of this question in the apologetic enterprise. It is not part of the arguments for the truth of the Christian worldview. It is an attempt to awaken the apathetic, indifferent unbeliever to the importance of the question.

Kevin Harris: Get you thinking about it.

Dr. Craig: Exactly.

Kevin Harris: I find people can just distract themselves to oblivion today. You can play video games until you are dead and keep yourself thoroughly entertained and not have to think about these questions.

Dr. Craig: You know that is nothing new. That is exactly what Pascal found in the 17th century. The French libertines of his day could engage themselves with gambling and pleasures of this life and never really think about these deep human questions. That was why Pascal began to write the book now called The Pensées (or The Thoughts, or The Reflections) in which he so emphasized the centrality of this question of the existence of God to the meaning of human life. So this opening chapter of the book is a Pascalian sort of chapter to say this is a vital question to think about.

Kevin Harris: It jolts you.

Dr. Craig: Yes, that’s the intention.

Kevin Harris: It jolts you out of your slumbers in a sense. A 17-year old writes,

Dear Dr. Craig, I just wanted to start my question off by first thanking you for all the great work you put out through your books. I’m 17 and I myself am seeking God. Through watching some of your debates and understanding your arguments has given me great confidence in the Christian faith. It has also helped me in my relationship with God. For that I want to thank you. My question basically is in regard to the question and purpose of life. Why did God create us? Why am I here? What does God want me to do with my life? Why did God create me? Does this entail the meaning of life?

So here is someone who is asking these questions.

Dr. Craig: Exactly. That is where we want people to be so that then we can talk about whether or not there really is a God who loves you and created you to know him. On the Christian view, the purpose of human life is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. It is what we were made for. So apart from him we cannot truly find human fulfillment in the fullest sense of the word.

Kevin Harris: We are talking about your book On Guard. Dr. Craig, as we get further into the book, where do you encourage the layman to put his energies and what kind of arguments to defend?

Dr. Craig: What follows this chapter on the absurdity of life is four chapters dealing with four different arguments for God’s existence that I find persuasive. These are the contingency argument (that God is the best explanation for why anything at all exists rather than nothing), secondly the cosmological argument (that God is the best explanation for the origin of the universe at a point in the finite past), thirdly the design argument from the fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life, and fourthly the moral argument for God as a ground of objective moral values and duties. These four arguments present a kind of cumulative case for a metaphysically necessary personal creator and designer of the universe who is the locus and source of absolute goodness and value. That gives you a very powerful case, I think, for why we ought to believe God exists. I try to present this in a very simple, easily memorizable, form along with answers to the most important objections that one is apt to hear from the atheist or agnostic side. [2]

Kevin Harris: This is a question that came to He says,

Dear Dr. Craig, might it not be beneficial for non-Christians to hear a personal experience? Do you ever share how you became a Christian?

There is something about this question, Dr. Craig, that I want to unpack first. He’s saying, “OK, I’ve been reading all your arguments and evidence, but what about your personal experience?” Is there a mistaken notion to think that personal experience is all that is required? We are taught that in evangelism classes as followers of Christ – give your personal testimony, give your personal testimony, and so on and so on. But that is problematic in that someone of another faith or experience can give theirs as well. Do you see kind of where he is going here?

Dr. Craig: Yeah, I do. I think that the motivation probably behind that question is that folks just don’t connect on a deep level with abstract arguments. They want to relate to something on a personal level. So it means more to folks to hear your personal experience. I would think of relating your personal experience as a useful evangelistic tool but not as properly part of the apologetic case. So I will typically share apologetic arguments for the truth of Christianity but then I will end (when I speak publicly) on some note of personal experience to try to connect with the audience on a more emotional level. Because we are not just robots, we are not just machines – it will often mean a lot more to people to hear that personal touch. But it is not something that substitutes for argument, I think. And it is not properly part of the case for the Christian faith to relate your religious experience.

Kevin Harris: I have to point out that you do give your testimony quite often.

Dr. Craig: Yes, I do.

Kevin Harris: You talk about it. If you listen to the Defenders podcast, you encourage people to have their testimony. You have yours down: one, two, three, four, here’s what happened. I see that if you did that first, especially in a college campus setting, and stopped at that point, well there would be a million questions at that point. So you kind of answer those basic questions first and set the foundation, then you relate your personal experience. It is kind of reversed these days it seems to me. Give your personal testimony but they may have some questions about it.

Dr. Craig: I think that’s right. I like to close with the personal testimony, at least in a public speaking setting. I think the problem for so many Christians today, Kevin, is that all they have is the personal testimony. Frankly, there is just nothing there by way of a rational defense. They are without any weapons. They have no ammunition. So that just becomes then, as you say, very relativistic because anyone can share his personal experience.

Kevin Harris: When you look at the title On Guard and you see the fencing symbol with the sword – the sword of the spirit – there is a defensive posture and an offensive posture. That is what apologetics would entail?

Dr. Craig: Right. That is what the book incorporates. When a fencer is in a match, he will both know how to parry the thrusts of his opponent, but then also to make the attack of his own – to go on the offense. In On Guard it offers both a positive case for Christianity but then also it tries to parry the most important attacks upon the Christian faith that are out there today.

Kevin Harris: What is significant about this is you are attacking arguments, not people.

Dr. Craig: That’s right.

Kevin Harris: I like to envision that. Paul said to do that. We tear down these things that present themselves against God. We tear down arguments. We go after these things. I like to picture myself going after that in the protection and love of people who are embracing the arguments. So we go after arguments and not people.

Dr. Craig: That is such a wonderful distinction when you think about it. If you are attacking an argument, you can go after that thing hammer and tongs without ever getting into any kind of ad hominem or personal attack because really the argument need not be offered by anyone. It could be an argument that you just thought up and now you are examining it critically. [3] It could be utterly disconnected from any person. In that way you attack the argument but you are not attacking its proponent or its person. So people will often say to me, for example, “Do you think atheists are irrational. Do you think it is irrational to be an atheist? Do you think these atheists really believe these things or are they just posturing?” I typically respond, “As a philosopher, I’m just not interested in those questions. I’m not in the position to judge.” I’m not making any judgment about people’s personal motives or their rationality. All I’m saying is that here are some sound arguments for God’s existence and that these other arguments against God’s existence appear to me not to be sound. That is the only judgment that I’m making. It is about the arguments, not about their proponents.

Kevin Harris: Paul said we don’t wrestle with flesh and blood in Ephesians. The use of this book – small groups, study guide?

Dr. Craig: Yes, exactly. There is a study guide now that has just come out that I developed with Dennis Fuller and will take people through the book in a progressive way, chapter by chapter. Our hope is that this would be used in small groups – especially, I hope, it will be adopted by men’s groups. I think there is a real dearth of good material out there for men. This kind of book, I think, will really appeal to men because of its rational, hard-headed approach. It is not sentimental or fluffy. It is very rationally oriented. I think that men would really enjoy working through On Guard in a group where they can talk through the issues together.

Kevin Harris: Get information on the study guide and the book itself at In conclusion, Bill, how has this book been received?

Dr. Craig: We have been overwhelmed by the response so far that we’ve been getting to the book through emails and personal contacts. I am delighted to say that there are churches that are adopting the book for use in their small groups in churches. We’ve had some orders placed at the web store for large quantities of the book that will then be distributed throughout small groups and discussed as a regular part of a church program. So that has been tremendously gratifying. So many people are saying, “Here’s something that is really accessible, that is really easy to understand.” How appreciative they are of all of the different features in it – the graphics, the argument maps, the cartoons, just how accessible the book is. So we are very, very grateful for the reception that the book has received so far.

Kevin Harris: A quick mention – God is Great, God is Good. Some significant things on that as well.

Dr. Craig: Right. That book received the Book of the Year Award in the category of apologetics from Christianity Today. That just came out of left field at us. We never expected that this book would receive this kind of accolade. Yet it was named the Book of the Year. That is really wonderful. We hope that that will cause the book to be more widely used and read. [4]