Book Review – Religion on Trial

Religion on Trial by Craig A. Parton

Wipf & Stock, 2008

Another on the reading list for this (which is almost here – woohoo!).

This is arguably the best book of the list thus far.  Most of John Warwick Montgomery’s books emphasize the philosophical presuppositions which incline some people to reject even the possibility of God before bothering to ever examine the physical evidence in history.  Montgomery doesn’t ignore textual transmission and historical validity by any means, but he also tends to tackle a lot of different things in a single work, which can be overwhelming.

Parton does a fantastic job of focusing.  He approaches the topic with the brevity and incisiveness you would expect of a trial lawyer.  This is a lean (less than 100 pages), mean apologetics text which every Christian should be familiar with.  It is based off of one of Montgomery’s more painful but comprehensive texts, the Tractatus Logico-Theologicus.  Since I’m slowly making my way through that book  as well, I can already see what Parton claims in a footnote – that Religion on Trial is written to summarize the Tractatus in the same order that Montgomery organized it.

This is fine, but it also presents Religion on Trial’s only problem, in my opinion.

Parton does a great job of setting the legal framework as to why the New Testament documents pertaining to the life of Jesus would be admissible as evidence in any Western court of law and are far superior to any textual trail we have for any other ancient work of literature.  Memorizing the chart on pages 47-48, which summarizes major works from antiquity, the number of copies we have of them, and the earliest copy we have of any of them, is on my to-do list.

However, after building a powerful and persuasive argument why nobody in their right minds should dismiss the New Text accounts out of hand, Parton fails to actually deal with what the texts say – particularly on the issue of the resurrection, since this is by far the most important event of the New Testament documents.  He does not deal with objections to alleged discrepancies and contradictions between the Gospel accounts of Easter morning, beyond quoting Dorothy Sayers and her dismissal of such objections.  It would have been eminently helpful to have gone ahead and devoted a chapter to outlining the major allegations of contradiction and then dealing with them each quickly.  Parton sets up an impressive case for the reliability of the New Testament documents but then does not actually interact with them.

Maybe he would consider this as a target for a new edition? :-)

Most of the assertions against Christianity these days are on the basis of Biblical reliability.  Destroying these assertions the way Parton does should lead the apologist to the next step with someone – asking them to confront the philosophical biases which predispose them to reject out of hand what the Scriptures say, regardless of their authenticity and reliability.  As Parton duly notes, just because a text has been reliably transcribed over a long period of time does not guarantee that what it says is true or pertinent, merely that we can trust that what we are reading is substantively the same as what the original author wrote.

As much as I love me some philosophy, it is the physical Biblical text that is likely to be the man-on-the-street’s initial stumbling block in hearing the Gospel.  I prefer to deal with these practical objections (routinely proclaimed on various cable channels and special public broadcasting shows) before addressing the philosophical objections, which are much more likely to be vague and functionally indefensible.

Regardless, buy this book.  Read it.  Reread it.  You won’t be sorry.


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