(Regenry, Washington, D.C.: 2014)
How do I review this book?
It’s well-written, well-constructed, passionate, and phrased in language which any intelligent reader can easily understand. But it’s so packed with substance, so few words are wasted, that every time I started trying to select illuminating quotes, I wound up not knowing where to stop.
Can a lawyer present a compelling argument to “prove” the truth of Christianity? It’s been tried and done before—by Lee Strobel, for one.1
David Limbaugh, brother of talk-radio giant Rush Limbaugh, is a lawyer, and he goes about his task methodically, summoning his facts, arranging his reasoning, as if he were presenting a case to a jury. This could have made for pretty dull reading, but for the fact that this lawyer believes passionately in his case and knows how to address his readers as if each and every one were someone with whom he was conversing face to face. It’s really quite an achievement.
A Former Skeptic
This is a big book—337 pages, several hundred footnotes and citations—and it will take you some time to read it. But for all its length and depth, Jesus on Trial never sprawls. Limbaugh is tightly focused on advocating for the truth of Christianity, and he never allows outside considerations, like political issues, to creep into it. You’d never guess, from this book, that he’s also a conservative political commentator.
The best thing about the book is Limbaugh’s enthusiasm for Jesus, for the Bible, and for Christianity. It’s infectious. I read from the Bible every day, and I found, while reading Jesus on Trial, that it made me look forward eagerly to returning to the Bible. How can that be anything but good?
Although there’s something here for everyone, Limbaugh reaches out particularly to readers who are unfamiliar with the Bible and disinclined to believe in its message. Raised in a Christian home, with church, Sunday school, and confirmation classes, Limbaugh nevertheless found himself, as a young man, drifting away from Christianity.
“This was no fault of my upbringing,” he writes, “or of the fine church we attended, but probably stemmed from my lack of seriousness at the time and my other interests. I either didn’t sufficiently absorb the lessons I’d learned from the Bible or they gradually diminished in my memory from disuse. I’m sure this sounds familiar to many people” (p. 3).
Yes—much of the sower’s seed fell on ground where thorns sprang up and choked the seedlings. “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word: and the care of this world; and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful” (Matt.13:22). You go to college, you start a career, and you just quietly, usually without even noticing it, stop thinking about the eternal things of the Kingdom of God.
David Limbaugh was one of those seedlings that the thorns couldn’t quite finish off. Although he became skeptical of Christianity—“I was unconvinced that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (p. 3)—his doubts and questions, with a little providential help, led him deeper and deeper into a lifelong study of the Bible and Christian apologetics: and this converted him, at last, to an active, whole-hearted Christian faith and motivated him to testify to its truth.
So he has sympathy for doubters and questioners, and has undertaken a great labor to answer as many of their questions as he can.
This is the jury to whom he pleads his case. Those of us who are already Christians, by the grace of God, have seats in the courtroom. If there be any among us who never has a doubt or a question concerning the mysteries of the Kingdom, let him be excused.
From Paradox to Faith
For those who have studied and pondered Christian questions, and even found answers at least to some of them, it’s still fascinating to watch Limbaugh present his case.
He tackles “paradoxes of Christianity” in two chapters. “There are many lessons in Christianity that may strike us as contradictory or unfair,” he writes. “But if we explore these teachings we will see they are neither. In fact, difficult teachings can lead us to a deeper faith, as was the case for me as I grew to better understand Christ’s dual nature … I’ve often thought that some Christian ideas are so weird that no human mind could have devised them. At first blush they seem so wrong but end up being so right—they must be from God” (pp. 65-66). And here again the reviewer is hard-put to decide where to cut off the quote. Once you start reading, anywhere in this book, it isn’t easy to stop.
The most important paradox, “Jesus Christ, Fully Human and Fully Divine,” is the subject of Chapter Six. “I have come to believe,” Limbaugh writes, “that the full deity and full humanity of Jesus Christ is not just fodder for the theologians. Understanding it is immensely powerful for us ordinary Christians as well, and it’s a vital key to understanding Christian doctrine in general …He is the unifying force of the Bible …” (pg. 146)
Four chapters on the Bible follow, exploring its unity, the soundness of its prophecy, and both internal and external evidence testifying to its overall reliability. Limbaugh believes that every word of the Bible is true, and takes great pains to show that this is a rational belief.
Concluding chapters are devoted to miracles, the Resurrection, Christianity’s compatibility with the findings of modern science, and finally the problem of pain and suffering in a fallen world, and how Christian faith can deal with it.
Is This Book for Us?
All in all, quite a comprehensive package—but is this a book which you, as a Christian, want to have in your library?
It never hurts a Christian to re-examine, again and again, what he believes, and to think about how he came to believe it, and why he still believes it. Most of us, maybe all of us, will have opportunities to witness to persons who are still on the outside, looking in. We have a duty to do this as effectively as we can. And because it’s organized so well, and its argument stated so clearly and tellingly, Jesus on Trial might well be a useful tool for any of us.
Although he makes no bones about his personal, emotional investment in Jesus Christ, in God’s Word, and in the absolute truth of Christianity, Limbaugh’s main appeal is to the reader’s intellect, through reason. Although reason isn’t everything, it is something; and it is very often here that our witness must begin. In our time, faced as we are with a resurgent atheism in our culture, the attacks on Christianity usually charge it with being un-reasonable: unworthy of adult belief, at odds with science (which for some atheists functions as a kind of god), irrelevant to the problems of a modern world, and so on. And Limbaugh excels at defeating those kind of arguments.
As an aside, when it was first released, Jesus on Trial enjoyed brisk sales that should have earned it a high place on The New York Times Best Sellers list. The fact that The Times pointedly ignored it, and left it off the list altogether,2 speaks both to the power of this book and to our suffering culture’s need for it.
This is a book I read with pleasure, and will someday read again. I think that most of you will find it so.