Philosophers and theologians contemplate the nature of truth, but no one needs to define “truth” when witnesses in court swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Legal apologists, mostly evangelical and Lutheran, claim that they can use legal rules of evidence to prove that the physical resurrection of Jesus is the kind of practical, real-world truth expected to be established in court. This supposedly makes Christianity better than other religions.
I first learned of legal apologetics when I read a review of Faith on Trial by Pamela Binnings Ewen in the December 1999 Texas Bar Journal. The idea struck me as silly, and I thought no more about it for several years. A friend and respected colleague later encouraged me to read the book.
My initial impression after reading it was that Ewen intended to deceive her readers. One example, the legal use of eyewitness testimony, will illustrate this first reaction and my later change of opinion.
Ewen repeatedly claims that that the Gospels, which are ancient documents, constitute eyewitness testimony. Using the legal definition of “testimony,” that claim is simply false. “Testimony” refers to a witness speaking under oath. The distinction between testimony and documents is not a minor technicality to trial lawyers, and I at first believed that no lawyer could make such an argument in good faith. I would bet that Ms. Ewen would vociferously object if her opponent tried to somehow use a book—any book—as testimony in a real court. What would that even look like? A book cannot speak, take an oath, or be cross-examined.
However, Ms. Ewing was not in a real court; she was writing a book of legal apologetics, and legal apologists have been calling the Gospels eyewitness testimony for almost four centuries. From Hugo Grotius in 1627 to present-day legal apologists like John Warwick Montgomery, lawyers who should know better have argued that an exception to the hearsay rule transmogrifies the Gospels into the testimony of live witnesses. Likewise, nonlegal evidential apologists like Gary Habermas claim to have “eyewitness testimony.”
Simon Greenleaf, a nineteenth-century Harvard professor and highly respected authority on the law of evidence, wrote a seminal book on American legal apologetics. Greenleaf wrote that the Gospels are “testimony.” In fact, he put it right in the title—The Testimony of the Evangelists. Ewen wrote that she would use the format and analysis of Greenleaf’s book, but she would apply the Federal Rules of Evidence, which were enacted in 1975.
Ewen disclosed her sources and made arguments based on those authorities. Although Ms. Ewen’s arguments regarding “eyewitness testimony” and many other issues seem dishonest to me, any such personal attack was and is unfounded. Her legal arguments are no worse than creationist claims about Noah’s Ark and a multitude of other things many Christians sincerely believe.
I am not an activist and would normally not pick a fight in a culture war. However, legal apologetics interest me for the same reason fake spiritualists offended Harry Houdini. I see the tools of my honorable profession being used, intentionally or unintentionally, to mislead the credulous. I therefore decided to do something about it.
Like any legal case, I began with researching the facts and the law. I found that dozens of lawyers have published books or papers in which they claim to prove Jesus’ resurrection. These apologists have faced little opposition. Richard Packham wrote the only previous rebuttal to legal apologetics—”A Critique of John Warwick Montgomery’s Arguments for the Legal Evidence of Christianity“—and subsequent back and forth among Packham, Montgomery, and Montgomery’s supporters ensued. Packham’s article is exactly what the title indicates—a critique of the arguments of a single legal apologist. I plan a more comprehensive response, and Packham wished me well with that endeavor.
Legal apologists often use a mock trial format in which the author presents arguments both for and against the Resurrection. For example, Ewen wrote: “We will begin by assuming the burden of our missing opponents to examine the character of the witnesses for truthfulness and untruthfulness, a process ordinarily provided by cross-examination.”
Legal apologists argue both sides of pretend trials and always emerge victorious. In real life, Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit a lawyer from representing both sides of a case. My path became clear: I needed to organize a debate in a format closer to real legal argument—written briefs with word limits and deadlines analogous to a motion or appeal.
I contacted Internet Infidels about hosting the debate. Editor-in-Chief Keith Augustine said that the Secular Web might host the debate, but that the first step would be to find an opponent to argue in favor of the Resurrection. I therefore contacted a dozen lawyers or legal organizations in hopes that one of them would agree to either participate in an online debate in a format closer to real legal argument, or at least recommend someone who could.
Living Legal Apologists
The following five lawyers had already published books on legal apologetics, so one might expect that my little Internet project would be no problem for them:
- Craig A. Parton, author of The Defense Never Rests
- Professor J. W. Montgomery, author of several works of legal apologetics
- Professor H. Wayne House, former law professor and author of Reasons for Our Hope
- Pamela Binnings Ewen, author of Faith on Trial
- W. Mark Lanier, author of Christianity on Trial
Deans of Christian Schools of Law
I also wrote to the deans of various Christian law schools, treating them as representatives of their schools. These deans certainly have the contacts to recruit qualified proponent(s) for the Resurrection:
- Dean Bradley J. Lingo, Regent University School of Law
- Dean Morse H. Tan, Liberty University School of Law
- Dean Eric Halvorson, Trinity University School of Law
- Dean Paul L. Caron, Pepperdine University School of Law
Christian Organizations and Law Firms
Legal apologists are often practicing attorneys, so the following Christian organizations seemed like likely places to find an opponent. My invitation to debate also seems to fit squarely within the Christian Legal Society’s stated objective: “To encourage Christian attorneys to view law as a ministry and help them integrate faith and their legal practice.” Thus I tried to get in touch with:
- Jay Sekulow, American Center for Law and Justice
- Rory Hatch, President of the Houston chapter of the Christian Legal Society
- Lori Ross, First Liberty Institute (a Christian law firm)
So far, two persons responded that they were busy, but no one accepted my invitation to debate, or made any suggestions regarding other potential counsel to invite.
Although I am just a retired bankruptcy lawyer from Texas, I expected some response because 1 Peter 3:15-16 requires Christians to “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 also states (or rather brags), “We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
Perhaps I was a bit naïve in thinking that Christians would do something just because God (allegedly) told them to do it. Nonetheless, I thought that I had some reason to hope for one or two lawyers to at least refer me to someone else. During my research I came across an obviously questionable urban legend about Simon Greenleaf. Many different versions of this folkloric story assert that Greenleaf was an atheist (or sometimes a Jew) who converted to Christianity after his students challenged him to examine the evidence for the Resurrection. I decided to conduct an experiment.
I did my best to contact every apologist spreading this atheist professor myth—mostly on the Internet. I provided them with the incontrovertible evidence that Greenleaf was an Episcopalian who advocated evidence for the Resurrection before he started teaching at Harvard, where he was supposedly challenged by students.
Nine apologists thanked me for bringing the matter to their attention and eliminated the misinformation from their websites. Based on e-mail conversations, these sincere and honorable people feel that they do not need to rely on falsehoods to spread the Gospel. I was hoping to find a lawyer like that who would argue for the Resurrection.
Thirteen apologists did not respond to my inquiries and continue to spread the false story, including three of the most popular and influential evangelical apologists in recent history—Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, and Dr. Norman Geisler (who is now deceased, but still has representatives). Whatever their motivations, they are ignoring the obvious truth. The same may be true of all of the Christian lawyers that I contacted.
I am particularly disappointed in the law schools. Regent’s website explains that a “regent” is “defined as one who represents a king in his absence. For Regent University, a regent is one who represents Christ, our Sovereign, in whatever sphere of life he or she may be called to serve.” Pepperdine’s mission statement claims to encourage a broad range of different arguments and perspectives, and to not shy away from difficult conversations.
This commitment to intellectual diversity is rooted not only in the academic imperative to pursue the truth fearlessly, but also in our pedagogical imperative to train future legal professionals that are equipped to confront and consider differing viewpoints and arguments.
Legal apologists probably suspect that a true debate would not end well for them. After all Proverbs 18:17 explains: “The one who first states a case seems right, until the other comes and cross-examines.” A common tactic of mediocre lawyers—when they have a weakness in their case—is to simply ignore it and hope that the judge does the same. It is better to make no argument than to make a stupid argument.
I went to Mr. Augustine about my total failure to obtain an opponent. He was not surprised that none of my potential opponents would stick their necks out. They have a potential downside if they end up looking foolish, and no real upside because they already have the hearts and minds of their patrons.
Augustine suggested that I submit an open letter documenting my efforts and the failure of any of the Christian legal leaders to meet their 1 Peter 3:15-16 directive. We agreed that the only way to get anyone to put on the full armor of God in order to argue that Christ actually rose from the dead would be to shame them into it. Likewise, the shame will not be effective if it is split a dozen ways.
I wanted a volunteer to debate, but no one that I asked stood up. I therefore now address who I believe can obtain the best opponent—Bradley J. Lingo, dean of the Regent University School of Law. However, I do not demand that Dean Lingo personally research and write the brief.
Regent’s website lists 94 faculty members. Each faculty member supposedly affirms the Regent University Statement of Faith, which states that Jesus rose from the dead. If no faculty member is willing to represent Christ in this particular sphere of life in which they may be called upon to serve, then Dean Lingo has other contacts throughout the Christian community that he could call upon. In conjunction with the Christian Legal Society, Regent operates CrossandGavel.org, a website dedicated to the intersection of faith and law. Regent also cooperates with the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ). Dean Lingo can produce a person or persons able to defend the faith.
Therefore, pursuant to 1 Peter 3:15-16, I invite Dean Lingo to make his defense to my brief regarding legal apologetics. Pursuant to 2 Corinthians 10:4-5, I also invite Dean Lingo to destroy all of my arguments and every proud obstacle that I can raise up against the knowledge of God, and for Dean Lingo to take my every thought captive to obey Christ.
It has also been my experience that lawyers don’t respond to any demand that does not have a deadline. Therefore, I invite Dean Lingo to, no later than Friday, September 29, 2023, to contact me via Internet Infidels in order to discuss a briefing schedule. Any other lawyer who is willing to step forward to argue for the historicity of the Resurrection is free to do so.
 The Law Dictionary (featuring Black’s Law Dictionary, 2nd ed.), s.v. “testimony.” <https://thelawdictionary.org/testimony/”>http://thelawdictionary.org/testimony/>. See also Ball v. Memphis Bar-B-Q Co., Inc., 228 F.3d 360, 364 (4th Cir. 2000).
 Philip Johnson, “Juridical Apologetics 1600-2000 A.D.: A Bio-Bibliographical Essay.” Global Journal of Classical Theology Vol. 3, No. 1 (April 2002): 1-25. <https://www.globaljournalct.com/508/>.
 Richard Packham, “A Critique of John Warwick Montgomery’s Arguments for the Legal Evidence of Christianity” (1998). The Secular Web. <https://infidels.org/library/modern/richard-packham-montgmry/>. (See the bottom of the article for links to responses to Packham’s article.)
 For example: Thomas Sherlock, The Trial of the Witnesses of the Resurrection of Jesus (Philadelphia, PA: Printed for Thomas Dobson, at the Stone House, in Second Street, 1788) (Originally published 1729) and Pamela Binnings Ewen, Faith on Trial (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman Publishers, 2013).
 Josh McDowell, The Resurrection Factor (San Bernardino, CA: Here’s Life Publishers, 1982). <https://www.bethinking.org/did-jesus-rise-from-the-dead/the-resurrection-factor>.
 Randall Niles, “The Case for Christ” (n.d.). All About the Journey. <https://www.allaboutthejourney.org/the-case-for-christ.htm>.
 Normal Geisler, “An Apologetic for Apologetics” (2012). Dr. Norman Geisler. <https://normangeisler.com/an-apologetic-for-apologetics/>.