People today encounter a dizzying array of religious options. How do we know what is true? With perceptive insight, trial lawyer Mark Lanier presents the claims made by the world’s great religions and cross-examines their witnesses to determine whether their claims are worthy of belief, showing what a difference it makes for our own lives.
Below is an adaptation from the introduction to Religions on Trial by Mark Lanier. The book releases January 3, 2023 and is available at IVP’s Website and Amazon.
My job is to find and understand truth. Across America, I have worked for almost forty years trying cases and ferreting out truth. Ordering the facts, seeing patterns, and finding consistent themes that put together a composite whole is my everyday life.
That is a glimpse into my life in law. My life runs a parallel approach in faith. I am a believing Christian, although that doesn’t mean I subscribe to the beliefs that often garner a great deal of media attention. My faith is built on an understanding of God and this world that allows a personal relationship with the divine. I am a Christian because the core Christian faith makes sense of the evidence I see in people and the world.
While I hold to the Christian faith, all religious beliefs fascinate me. I am intrigued by formal religions, but I am equally interested in nonformal spiritual convictions. Part of my fascination likely stems from my personality; I am always interested in learning something new. But a great deal of my attraction to studying the spiritual ideas of others stems also from my own religious beliefs.
This book completes a trilogy of books in which I examine my faith along with the beliefs (or unbeliefs) of others. In the first book, Christianity on Trial, I examine whether the basics of the Christian faith make sense. The second book, Atheism on Trial, is my examination of unbelief, comparing it to what I know of life and finding it coming up short. I’m not sure if one is allowed to have favorites among books by one author, but in some ways this third book on world religions is my favorite of the three. Let me explain why.
A fundamental premise of the Christian faith is that God’s truth is in the world all around me and you. I believe that God’s attributes and divine nature are clearly perceptible in the world as well as in a person’s life (Rom 1:18‑20). Therefore, genuine efforts to discern the divine will find elements of truth, even if greater truths elude the seeker. Because of this, I expect to find some elements of God’s truth in any faith. I should be able to search Buddhism and find elements of truth; ditto for Hinduism. Similarly, I should be able to find elements of truth in Islam and even what I term “secular spiritualism,” or a belief in a spirituality that is manifested in cultural truths, embraced by many of the so-called unreligious who seek simply to be spiritual.
But hand in hand with the expectation that other religious systems and dogmas will have elements of truth, the Christian model of reality also projects that those systems will be missing key aspects of reality. For the Christian system to be the valid explanation of truth, both of these premises should manifest in a fair examination of systems.
Importantly, I am not able to examine all aspects of these faiths. That would take many volumes. But such complete examination is unnecessary. Let me illustrate why.
In most every trial, the judge puts the lawyers under time controls, much like the confines of this book put me under a page limit. Recently, my buddy Pete Weinberger and I (with a tremendous backup team of hundreds of lawyers, including my daughter Rachel!) tried the nation’s first jury trial dealing with the national opioid epidemic. The judge gave us a set number of trial hours to spend as we saw fit.
The defendants had many expert witnesses to call to the stand. Our time to cross-examine each was limited. One of the witnesses was a pain doctor from California.
When the defense attorney questioned him, we feared the doctor made a good impression on the jury. He had the California tan, the California smile, the California demeanor, and seemed quite the expert. His credentials were paraded in front of the jury through his curriculum vitae (CV), his professional résumé.
I wanted days to cross-examine this doctor, but I had only a few hours. So I had to puncture his testimony in a focused manner. Like a naval battle, I needed a couple of well-placed holes to sink the ship. I had no time to take the ship apart piece by piece.
My cross-examination started with the doctor’s CV; I showed what I thought were clear lies, areas where he made himself appear to be something he wasn’t. With his credibility shot, I was then able to give a couple of rifle shots showing his opinions wrong as well. I didn’t need to dismantle him piece by piece. His ship was already going down. When I find key problems with a thought system, I don’t need to parse every additional part of the system. It allows me to draw some conclusions based on solid evidence in a short volume like this, rather than a thirty-one-volume set.
With this in mind, I invite you to read along with my examination. See if I fairly assess the evidence as I put together the pieces into a coherent whole. If the Christian premise is right, I will find areas of truth in each religious system. I will also find areas inconsistent with reality. Such is my endeavor as I put Religions on Trial.
Adapted from Religions on Trial by Mark Lanier. ©2023 by William Mark Lanier. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. www.ivpress.com.
- Mark Lanier (JD, Texas Tech University) is a trial lawyer and founder of the Lanier Law Firm. U.S. News and World Report, together with Best Lawyers, named him to its Best Lawyers in America list for nine consecutive years, and his courtroom work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the American Lawyer. He is also the founder of the Lanier Theological Library, one of the nation’s largest private theological collections. He and his wife, Becky, have five children and live in Houston. His books include Christianity on Trialand Atheism on Trial. His latest book is entitled Religions on Trial (1/2023).
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