- Author: W. Mark Lanier
- Publisher: InterVarsity Press
- Release Date: Jan. 3, 2023 (preorder now)
- Synopsis: Acknowledging his Christian background, trial attorney W. Mark Lanier investigates the plausibility of various major world religions.
- Disclosure: I received a complimentary Advanced Reader Copy of the book from the publisher. Book quotations are subject to change and opinions expressed are my own.
What to Expect
Religions on Trial is the conclusion to Lanier’s On Trial series, which also comprised Christianity on Trial and Atheism on Trial. While I opted not to review Atheism on Trial on my blog, you can see my GoodReads review, here.
With a legal primer, plus opening and closing statements, Lanier fashions the book after the proceedings in a courtroom trial. Sandwiched between the introductory and concluding material are seven chapters, each of which explore one major world religion. Lanier divides these faiths into three subgroups: Mystical Faiths (covering Buddhism and Hinduism), Historical Religions (Judaism, Islam and Mormonism) and Modern Religious Expressions (in which he includes Secular Spiritualism and Secular Christianity).
Citing Romans 1:20,
For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,[a] in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.Romans 1:20
the author argues that each religion will have, at least, grains of truth, because God has made His truth accessible to people. In support of this premise, Lanier also references the way Paul engaged with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, interacting with their understanding of “an unknown god.”
Lanier weighs each of the faiths against six criteria, which “provide a solid framework for examining a belief system for truth.” In each chapter, he surveys whether a faith does a good job explaining the world, whether its tenets are practicable in real life, among other things.
Lanier also acknowledges that “Secular Spiritualism,” a term he uses to define people who identify as “spiritual but not religious,” would not be termed as a religion by its adherents. Additionally, because of the sundry views of people who ascribe to this general belief system, it is challenging to identify major tenets of belief.
Yet I have this burning to write this book. I want to have a chance to tell people that life is worth living. You matter. There is purpose for you, all of you, the good and bad, the obvious and the hidden. This God cares for you and has an unconditional love for you.p. 208
What I Liked
As with Lanier’s book Atheism on Trial, I enjoyed reading about real courtroom scenarios, which Lanier referenced in his arguments. The legal primer was interesting, as well, this time with an emphasis on the duty of the jury to weigh evidence.
I appreciated that this was a brief survey of various religions, as opposed to separate books for each topic. Each chapter provides a meaningful introduction to the religion discussed, typically accompanied by information about that religion’s history and tenets. Although Lanier didn’t have a lot of room to work with, he provided interesting and relevant background information. Even in the cases of religions that I knew a little bit (emphasis on “little bit,”) I learned knew things. For instance, in the chapter about Islam, Lanier references a story from The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, in which a young Jesus fashions doves from clay and then brings them to life. I had heard a similar story, either in something by Bill Myers or Ted Dekker, but wasn’t aware of its origins. Lanier doesn’t argue about whether or not the events occurred, but instead points to this ancient document (The Infancy Gospel of Thomas) as a writing to which the prophet Mohammed would have had access.
In exploring various religions, Lanier also piqued my interest in the Scriptures. It was interesting to read cited Scripture with contextual descriptions about who wrote it. For instance, Lanier cites Paul, alternatively, as a rabbi or as an attorney. While I don’t typically connect biblical writers with their backgrounds, I found that Religions on Trial engaged my interest and helped me to see familiar Scriptures with fresh eyes. I’m grateful for that.
Lanier delineates between the “secular Christian” and the Christian he has been describing, throughout the trilogy. The basis of his delineation is love, which I think is spot on, considering Yeshua’s words that Christians would be known by their love. Lanier describes love as a “thermometer,” noting that love does not make a person a Christian, but it is the “hallmark, or seminal sign, of a Christian.”
Finally, I really liked the closing argument. This is where Lanier talks about why he wrote the book, and I appreciate his simple, powerful presentation of the hope the author wants to share.
Lanier cites a case in which a woman sought damages because an accident effected her marital intimacy.
There is one section, roughly 2 pages, where Lanier references the cultural treatment of homosexuality, in an example. I do think a different example could have been used, as I wouldn’t want some of his more ambiguous statements on the topic to be misconstrued by readers.
In the section on Secular Spiritualism (p. 182), Lanier discusses “human rights” for homosexuals, expressing that it is possible to not condone a lifestyle, yet still “detest name calling and mistreatment of another.” He then discusses the passage of Bostock v. Clayton County Georgia (prohibiting the firing of employees on the grounds of sexual preference), which secular society applauds, arguing that there is no basis for secular society to care about “the mistreatment of gay and lesbians.” He goes on to talk about how Christians recognize that each person sins, but that does not diminish any one person’s value. I heartily agree with Lanier’s statement about human value. At the same time, I am grieved at the current climate that elevates a lifestyle that Scripture clearly describes as wrong. I also disagree with Lanier’s assertion that there’s a genetic disposition to homosexuality.
Religions on Trial is an engaging and informative read. In terms of genre, I would locate it somewhere between exposition and apologetics. While the book isn’t about weighing or proving Christianity (that, I believe, is what the first book in the trilogy covers), Lanier makes it very clear that he is writing from the perspective of someone who is a Christian– and as someone who actively seeks truth.
I believe this book is intended for those who are seeking truth, and my desire is that the Lord would indeed use it in that way. For Christian readers, the book does provide interesting historical context and background information on other religion, as well. Recommended for readers who enjoy nonfiction and are interested in learning just a little bit more about other religions.