A Lawyer Affirms the Truth of the Gospel
(Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2014), 408 pages, $27.99
Reviewed by James D.G. Dunn
This is an interesting attempt by the brother of Rush Limbaugh to explain how he moved from skepticism to belief and how he successfully wrestled with some of the problems of the Bible and paradoxes of Christianity. He commends “the amazing Bible” (four chapters, particularly on its reliability), with further chapters on miracles and the resurrection of Christ, on how science makes the case for Christianity, and a rather weak concluding chapter on pain and suffering.
There are many good features of the book. For instance, on Christianity’s paradoxical teachings (p. 70), especially “the paradox of forgiveness” (pp. 119–121), and a not unjustified sideswipe at the Jesus Seminar (pp. 207–208). Chapter 7 on the unity of the Bible is impressive, though it would have been helpful to include something on the discontinuities, for example, that Paul the believer was much freer in regard to the Sabbath and food laws than was Saul the Pharisee (Romans 14:1–15:6). And what about Israel? Disturbing passages such as Psalm 137:8–9 (“O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!”) deserve at least some comment. On the other hand, chapter 10 gives good examples of archaeological correlation with otherwise unknown Biblical data. Chapter 11, “Truth, Miracles and the Resurrection of Christ,” ignores the degree to which subjective perception of “objective” events inevitably reduces the objectivity of a reported “miracle.” But it also provides a pretty good statement of the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, assuming the gospel accounts are straightforward history.
Other passages are less sure-footed. For example, the treatment of the Triune God and of Christ’s dual nature is too brief and rather simplistic (pp. 89–92).
Disappointing is the treatment of Daniel, not taking account of the different languages used in Daniel and the broad consensus among Biblical scholars that it was not written until the second century B.C. The suggestion that this dating was based on “certain scholars’ presupposition against supernaturalism” (p. 191) ignores the evidence on which scholars base their judgment. And the claim that most of the New Testament books were written before 70 A.D. hardly reflects the considered opinions of the great majority of New Testament scholars.
Several queries arose for me as I read on. For example, I doubt whether Paul would have been happy with the assertion that he “adopted an entirely new belief system” (p. 222), since one of his primary concerns was to show how deeply his beliefs as a believer in Jesus as Lord were rooted in the Old Testament. Again, to treat John’s Gospel as straightforward history (pp. 223–224), ignoring the fact that, for example, the wonderful “I am” statements in John (e.g., John 8:58, “Before Abraham was, I am”; John 11:25, “I am the resurrection and the life”) are not to be found in the other Gospels, is to misappreciate and misrepresent the relative freedom with which the Evangelists retold the story of Jesus. And Limbaugh’s assumption that the speeches in Acts are straightforwardly historical ignores the fact that, as recorded, each would have taken only a few minutes to deliver.
The final chapter, “Science Makes the Case—for Christianity,” is strong despite causing this reader to raise his eyebrows in some surprise at what beliefs about Genesis 1–2 are being maintained. What does he mean by a “young earth” (p. 290)? Does Isaiah 40:22 really imply that the earth was spherical (p. 297)? To disparage millennia of evolutionary development by arguing that you could not envisage a dog developing wings (p. 306) is an astonishing argument. And he seems to imply that Genesis 1 and 2 requires belief in specific acts of creation—of sun, animals, etc. (pp. 307–308).
The title is rather misleading (in what sense is Jesus “on trial”?), and the subtitle (“… affirms the truth of the gospel”) seems to imply a very loose definition of “gospel.” The jacket blurb, “How the critics’ arguments against Christianity are infected with ideological bias,” seems to imply that the author has no “ideological bias.” And outside the USA many will be surprised at the relatively narrow range of literature encompassed in the many notes. But it is good to read this genuine attempt to explain why the Bible speaks with such power and truth.
James D.G. Dunn is Emeritus Lightfoot Professor of Divinity formerly in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University in England. His latest book is The Oral Gospel Tradition (2013).
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