Christianity on trial: a new book that examines the evidence by a lawyer - Mark Lanier (ivp,2014)
Notable trial lawyer Mark Lanier skilfully blends legal rigour and theological acumen in this imaginative and compelling defence of Christian truth. He is just the kind of advocate any judge wants in a case! As he sets out the evidence, calls his witnesses, develops his arguments and invites a verdict, there is not merely mastery of his brief and meticulous analysis – with difficult questions faced, there is also passion, clarity, intelligence and persuasiveness. Lanier is at the top of his game professionally, confident of his case philosophically and theologically. It's a winning formula!
But leave the engaging apologetics for a moment. I was left wondering just how a lawyer as busy and successful as he is found time to publish this, his first major book. A personal injury and class action specialist, his firm has grown from two to almost seventy lawyers in four cities. He has been heralded as a go-to litigator, one of America's top trial lawyers. Add to this his steady commitment to teach in a bursting at the seams adult Sunday school in his local Baptist Church in Houston, his founding and involvement in the Oxford inspired Lanier Theological Library – a publically available resource approaching 100,000 volumes and periodicals – and being a speaker, broadcaster, not to mention husband and father to five children. There can't be a lot of free time.
With a background in biblical languages before law, a pastor, encouraging him in the direction of law school, had said to him that if he got bored he could always get involved at church! Being bored, by law or theology, is plainly not his problem. In both areas his energy and passion come across unmistakably. '[God] has given reason for who I am and what I do', he writes, 'he has charged me with a sense of purpose. I long to hear from the personal and infinite God each day'.(p222)
That hunger for reason as a basis of confidence and conviction shapes the book. 'Is it reasonable to believe in God? Can God be infinite, personal and moral? What are the implications of people being made in his image? Is it intellectually honest to believe in God's revelation to humanity? Do people have an ability to make real choices, or are we simply products of our DNA in combination with our environment? Does a belief in a historical Jesus who died and was physically resurrected pass the test of common sense? Should we expect the eventual return of Jesus and life after death?' (p13) These are some of the questions he explores – thoughtfully and engagingly, interspersing some well crafted argument with everyday anecdote from the world of legal practice.
He gives the book a 'trial shape'. He opens his case, presents his arguments, 'calls' an impressively eclectic range of witnesses and, finally, in what we might term closing submissions, firmly but courteously presses for a thoughtful, evidence based, verdict.
Of course, even the finest advocate - well informed and fluent as Lanier is - can never anticipate, let alone address, all the counter arguments. There are inevitable 'but what about...', and 'have you considered...' moments. The critical reader, like the awkward judge, will always find something to beef about.
Apologetics is rarely the whole story of a person's journey to faith. As Alister McGrath has written, it is about ' clearing rocks and other roadblocks from a pathway', 'about persuading people that there is a door to another world – a door that perhaps they never realised existed'.
This is a gospel affirming, mind building, faith strengthening book for Christian lawyers to read and enjoy....and perhaps give to colleagues. I was personally sorry that the otherwise wonderful publisher, IVP, went for the old gavel cliché for the cover of the UK edition. Has no one told them, British judges keep control by the use of eyebrows only!
His Honour Judge David Turner QC