Book Plunge: Faith on Trial

What do I think of Ewen’s book? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

The following is from Hope’s Reason’s Apologetics Journal. Thanks for publishing this to Stephen Bedard. The link to the journal can be found here. I also recommend the writing of Chris Winchester in this issue, a very good friend of mine who was a groomsman at our wedding.

Books that have gained popularity in Christian circles on apologetics tend to have a theme. It is not enough to just write about the resurrection or the historical Jesus or the problem of evil. You need some context that all the information fits in to reach the culture. Lee Strobel did this excellently with his “Case for” series. When the writing is set in a dialogue, it makes it much easier to follow. J. Warner Wallace has done this with “Cold-Case Christianity” which I contend will be the “Case for Christ” of this generation, by setting everything in the setting of a homocide detective. I believe that Pamela Binnings Ewen’s book “Faith on Trial” is meant to follow that same line with the case being seen as a legal proceeding and Ewen presenting the evidence to the jury.
This book is a mixed bag. I think right at the start that the information on hearsay is enough to devastate a number of atheistic arguments that are part of the common parlance of the atheistic movement today. Ewen starts this off on page 19 saying “ To begin with, under the general rule, if such out-of-court statements are offered as truth of the facts they assert, they would ordinarily be excluded as hearsay evidence.” Note the word ordinarily. Not too much later on the same page, Ewen says “Nevertheless, an exception is permitted under the law for statements contained in an “ancient document,” and the Gospel manuscripts fall within that exception.”
It’s safe to say that she spends the rest of the chapter, around fifteen pages, defeating the hearsay objection and allowing the gospels to be examined like any other ancient documents and to be admissible in a court of law. Readers who debate atheists online will find this to be extremely helpful. Considering the work Ewen has done here it would be good to see a whole book on this just dealing with this objection.
Unfortunately, I found the rest of the book just didn’t keep up with that level of excitement. For instance, in her look at the Dead Sea Scrolls, she refers to the work of Thiede in saying a fragment of Mark is found amongst the DSS. Thiede’s hypothesis is highly challenged and not just by liberal scholars. A conservative scholar as strong as Daniel Wallace has challenged it. That can be found here.
I found myself too often in the book wishing that Ewen would interact more with those who disagree with her views. One can regularly find Christian authorities cited, but I would have liked to have seen interaction with people like Crossan or Ehrman or those who are not friendly to the idea of the NT giving an accurate reading of what happened and why they were skeptical. I also wish more had been said about the textual criticism of the text as an Ehrman would quickly delight in pointing out to Ewen information about our earliest copies.
With regards to the works she does cite, a number of them can be popular apologetics works. I would have liked to have seen more interaction with some of our latest works. For instance, Richard Bauckham’s “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” contains invaluable information that would be useful to this book and greatly improve it. Another great help would have been Craig Keener’s “Miracles.” Of course, that would have been a lengthy read and the book could have been off to the presses by then, but it would have been helpful to see Ewen’s expertise in examining miracle claims from a legal perspective.
I also think there should have been more on the resurrection. There was little time devoted to dealing with the objections that come to belief in the resurrection. I did not see an emphasis on ideas like the minimal facts approach of Habermas and Licona. It could have been said that the testimony of the evangelists was reliable, but even if it’s generally reliable, some people will require even more for a great event like the resurrection.
The issues on science were interesting, but I thought too heavily focused on. Readers who were critical would say that Ewen did not interact with the critics of Behe, for instance. It was good to see that she brought in non-Christian testimony here, but it seemed like too much to make a point on miracles and could too easily be interpreted as a God-of-the-Gaps.
It’s my conclusion that this book will be good for the hearsay aspect and that the evidences in many cases are good enough to start making a case, but I suspect too much of it could be seen as going with what is not the most reliable and making it to be a centerpiece in a case. This is a decent read on the topic, but I cannot at this point endorse wholeheartedly. I think the author has a brilliant start, but it just needs some refining. If that is done, I do not doubt we could have an excellent work on our hands.

In Christ,
Nick Peters