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Source: Ligonier Ministries
Reviewed by Roberto Torres
Recommended. Actively defending the Christian faith is something we are called to do against external forces. However, while reading through this book you will find your own internal questions and doubts begin to melt away leaving you more confident in the historicity and validity of the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Today’s Christian is bombarded with argument after argument denying the very existence of a God. Arguments from all different disciplines and points of view are piling on reason after reason to doubt that a creator could have had a hand in our existence. From the birth of the cosmos, to the expansion of our universe to very beginnings of life on earth, many have agreed that there is no longer a need for “fairy tales” or “mythology” to explain the existence of the cosmos.
There are now even more arguments that attempt to criticize and tarnish the writings of sacred scripture. The scriptures content, translations, authors and historicity have all come into question year after year, decade after decade to establish them as myth and legend. Critics have argued that if you believe what those text (scripture) say, you have been duped and are not worthy of being taken seriously.
This is the climate in which William Lane Craig puts together a robust and thorough set of arguments that will counter the atheist and leave him questioning his own reasons for doubting.
On Guard is a readable book for someone interested in the content. Those who have a waning or wandering interest in the subject matter may not be willing to put in the effort. This is certainly not a leisurely read to pass the time, it is a very intellectually engaging book that will challenge you.
I personally do not have an academic background and yet I feel that I gained a lot from it. So, with that said, if someone like myself can read and comprehend it, then I think anyone can. That is not to say that it isn’t work to understand the subject matter. For someone who has a background in philosophy or cosmology, the subject matter is very likely easier to understand. Terms like cosmological, fallacy of composition, M theory and so on are not everyday terms that most people are familiar with. Someone with experience in those disciplines will more likely hit the ground running.
The argument that Craig is making is that the Universe does not extend into an infinite past, that it must have had an origin. There are other arguments that defend this premise but one that stood out is from a 12th century Muslim Theologian named Muhammed Al-Ghazali who disputes the concept of actual infinity. Ghazali recognized that a ‘potentially’ infinite number of things could exist, but he denied that an ‘actually’ infinite number of things could exist. He says, we can conceive that infinity serves merely as an ideal limit that is never reached. He gives as an example that you can divide any finite distance in half, and then fourths, then eighths, and so on into infinity. But you will never arrive at an actual “infinitieth” division. You can never have an infinite number of parts or division.
Another method used to argue against an ‘actual infinity’ is an illustration called “Hilbert’s Hotel”. This illustration was the brainchild of the German mathematician David Hilbert. His illustration starts with an ordinary hotel with a finite number of rooms and all the rooms are full. Then a new guest comes and asks for a room and so the hotel must turn away the guest. Then we come to Hilbert’s Hotel which has an infinite number of rooms and once again, all the rooms are full. Now when a guest comes and asks for a room, the hotel can simply move the guest staying in room #1 to room #2, and the guest in room #2 to room #3 and so on to infinity.
There were several scenarios with Hilbert’s Hotel that seem to complicate the concept of infinity from a pragmatic standpoint. For example, let’s say the hotel with an infinite amount of rooms is still full, then an infinite number of guests shows up looking for rooms. “No problem!” says the manager and continues to move people from room to room. These scenarios do seem to complicate things; however, I am not sure they convince someone that the concept of infinity is no longer valid.
Even though I qualify this as the weakest point, I am still intrigued because of the arcane nature of it. Mathematics is generally thought to be clear, absolute and objective. While here, Hilbert and Al-Ghazali have argued in the abstract and hypothetical. Unfortunately, in doing so, I feel they fail to decisively rebut the argument that the Universe has an infinite past and therefore has no beginning.
The strongest argument within the chapters of On Guard is the argument for the resurrection of Jesus. The premise of this argument is with the evidence of Jesus’ burial. And immediately Craig answers the question, how does the fact of Jesus’ burial prove that His tomb was found empty? Well his answer for that is: “If the burial story is basically accurate, then the location of Jesus’ tomb was known in Jerusalem to both Jew and Christian alike, since both were present when Jesus was laid in the tomb. But in that case, the tomb must have been empty when the disciples began to preach that Jesus was risen.”
The point is that the no one, not even the disciples could have believed in Jesus’ resurrection if His corpse still lay in the tomb. If they would have preached His resurrection while His body was still in the tomb, they would have been immediately discredited. What is remarkable about the early days of the Christian faith is that it flourished in the very city Jesus had been publicly crucified. If Jesus body was still in that tomb, or if there was any credibility to the ideas that there was a conspiracy about someone taking his body, there would not have been such a following so quickly.
Craig goes on to discuss the independent reports of the empty tomb and its discovery. The early sources that are used by the Gospel writers didn’t end with Jesus’ burial but with the women’s discovery of Jesus’ empty tomb. First century women were not regarded as credible witnesses. The Jewish historian Josephus describes the rules for an admissible testimony by saying, “Let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex” (Antiquities IV.8.15). This isn’t a biblical regulation but one of 1st century Judaic society. If the empty tomb were a legend, these independent reports and the Gospel narrative would have been altered to make the story more credible to the society at large. Instead we have an unaltered, accurate eye witness testimony that speaks for itself.
I would recommend this as a gift to both a Christian and a non-Christian. For the believer, this book is great reference material for study and for equipping oneself to defend their faith from doubt and from arguments that they will eventually encounter.
For the non-Christian, I think this is also a great book for reference. Especially someone in the fields of philosophy, cosmology, mathematics or even theology. I think William Lane Craig might be a polarizing figure to someone who does not have the same faith and so it may be a book used to criticize the Christian worldview, nevertheless it presents a logical and historical reason for our faith in God and his son Jesus.
On Guard by William Lane Craig will cause you to think about the Universe, time and space, the existence of life and many other “big” concepts. Back on earth, he discusses who Jesus was, whether he did rise from the dead and whether he claimed to be the only way to God. Is this a book that you would read through in a week? Absolutely not! You will want to absorb the content and ruminate over its arguments. Whether you are willing to do that now or later, this would a great addition to your library.