‘You don’t have to believe it . . . but if you do come to believe it, it will change your life,” bestselling author and columnist David Limbaugh says about the Bible in explaining why he wrote his new book, Jesus on Trial: A Lawyer Affirms the Truth of the Gospel. A former skeptic turned Christian who worships at a Methodist church in Missouri, Limbaugh shares some of the evidence that helped to convince him to embrace Christianity with Kathryn Jean Lopez, senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. “What an indescribable blessing to have daily access to the Divine communication of our Maker any time we want,” he says, both in gratitude and as an invitation. “Let the scoffers scoff as I used to, but let them also give it a whirl and see what shakes out.”
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Does Jesus really have to be on trial? Hasn’t He suffered enough?
David Limbaugh: I, a mortal and sinful man, would never presume to put my Savior on trial for anything, but I did want to share with my readers my findings upon studying the evidence for Christianity’s truth claims and closely examining the arguments of critics on and off for some 20 years.
My first choice for the title was “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.” I wanted to make the case that the evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt — and actually well beyond that, in my opinion — that Christianity’s major truth claims are true, especially that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human, lived a sinless life and performed many signs and miracles on earth, was crucified, and was bodily resurrected.
This book doesn’t put Jesus on trial, but it does thoroughly and comprehensively examine the case that others have tried and continue to try to make against Him.
I don’t pretend to be an expert in the sense that trained and credentialed theologians and Christian apologists are, but I have pored over the evidence and arguments they’ve adduced over the years, and come to the conclusion, after beginning as a skeptic, that this it is not even a close call. Jesus Christ is the Son of God and He died for my sins — and yours. Jesus’ work on the cross is finished. He conquered sin and death so that we could live. I want to do my part to share that “Good News.”
Lopez: You were hesitant to write this book in the first place. What was most significant in making you commit to it?
Limbaugh: I initially didn’t feel credentialed to write on the subject. But when two high-school friends, both unbelievers, challenged me out of the blue to defend my beliefs one night at dinner and within less than a week my publisher, also out of the blue, approached me to do a book on this very subject, I considered that I might be getting a nudge from the Holy Spirit — to trust God and not myself about the decision to go forward with this book, notwithstanding my initial insecurities about tackling it.
On serious reflection it occurred to me that though I don’t have much formal training in these subjects, I do have something in common with unbelievers that many experts don’t — my experiences of unbelief and skepticism — and therefore might be able to approach and possibly even reach them in ways that the inveterate, faithful believer couldn’t. So I stepped out in faith and deferred to these “promptings.”
Lopez: How does being a lawyer influence the way you tackle book writing and even your faith?
Limbaugh: I am not sure I buy into the stereotype that lawyers are all super-analysts, but I will say that our father taught my brother and me to think critically and for ourselves. He didn’t teach us overtly; we watched how he analyzed issues and problems and, I suppose, eventually emulated him.
I try to approach book writing as a hungry student, seeking to learn everything I can about the subject before I begin writing. My books are longer than the average book in these genres because I want to cover all the bases. I hope I succeed to some extent.
Lopez: You’re not the first and won’t be the last to talk about a God-shaped void in man’s heart. How are you so sure about this?
Limbaugh: I think the Bible clearly teaches that man is made in God’s image and that He can only find true happiness in a loving relationship with His Creator. We were made for this very purpose. The French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, as I note in the book, made this case quite eloquently, as have other philosophers. But I also believe that we instinctively know this, though with some the knowledge is buried under massive layers of pride, sin, or some other baggage. We are spiritual creatures who need to be united with God and part of the reason our world is so sick today is that so many are so off track spiritually.
Part of the reason I am confident we have a God-shaped void is that you will note that so many people who are not religious gravitate toward causes they elevate to quasi-spiritual status and approach them with zeal and fervor. One plausible explanation to me is they are, often unwittingly, trying to fill their innate need to live for a cause greater than themselves. As they deny and reject God, they often end up on bizarre paths, pursuing some utopian mirage that gives them some superficial purpose, but ultimately leaves them spiritually empty.
Lopez: “What I want to tell my skeptical high-school friends and any other nonbelievers is that I am sure I can’t answer every one of your questions to your satisfaction, but if you approach evidence objectively, you just might come to see the truth of the faith.” Are they the target audience for Jesus on Trial?
Limbaugh: Certainly skeptics and nonbelievers are my primary target audience. I want them to understand that many of us Christians had serious doubts at one time. Many of us didn’t come to the faith blindly, or suspend our critical faculties in examining the evidence. One of those high-school friends said he didn’t see how any rational person could believe Christianity is true. With this book, I want to show him and others similarly situated that it is highly rational and reasonable to believe Christianity’s truth claims. Indeed I believe the overwhelming weight of the evidence is on the side of the believer, not the skeptic, and I did my best in this book to demonstrate that.
I also believe Christian apologetics and the study of theology are important for believers. We are hardly immune from doubt. Becoming a Christian does not guarantee that a person will grow spiritually or quit having doubts. We are encouraged to engage our minds in Christian truth, not park them at the door, and we are instructed to offer the reasons for our faith — with gentleness and respect.
I have found that when I do have nagging doubts, it helps me enormously to review the proofs I lay out in this book that Christianity is true, and it helps to immerse myself in God’s Word and prayer. So while I really hope to reach skeptics, I want to share this evidence with believers as well.
Lopez: What’s so “amazing” about the Bible?
Limbaugh: The short answer is that it is the inspired Word of God. Can you imagine holding in your hand a book from the very God of the universe? I can’t quite get over that. How do I know that? It’s because of its stunning, fulfilled prophecies, its mind-blowing unity and cohesiveness though written by some 40 people from different geographical settings and in different languages and over a period of fifteen hundred years. It is indestructible despite efforts to attack and destroy it throughout history. It transforms lives. It is “the medium of life.” It’s much more — but I can’t give everything away here.
Lopez: You note that you read the Bible in Sunday school but that you “either didn’t sufficiently absorb the lessons” or “they gradually diminished in my memory from disuse.” As a father and now author of this book, tell me: How can we do that better? How can we help the lessons stick?
Limbaugh: I don’t blame my failure to absorb Biblical truths on my parents, but on my own inattentiveness and a host of other reasons. But I do believe it is vitally important for Christian parents to raise our children in the faith and encourage them to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We should all try to emulate Christ in our own lives and spiritual walks and set a Christ-like example for our children — something I don’t pretend to do exceedingly well. We want to encourage them to read the Bible, and pray, and to live their own lives according to the principles laid out in the Bible and hopefully modeled in our homes. Ultimately, however, each person must make his or her own decision, as God has no grandchildren, so to speak. It’s a matter between each individual and God.
Lopez: How did Fulton Sheen change your thinking about Jesus Christ?
Limbaugh: I don’t want to reveal everything here so let me say he dramatically reoriented my thinking toward Christ’s purpose in becoming a man in the incarnation, living among us, suffering the indignities of ordinary human existence, and then dying on our behalf. Let me just say that Sheen opened my eyes to the fact that Jesus Christ is the only person (and He is also a person as well as God, as I said) Who lived his life backward. How’s that for a teaser?
Lopez: How did you become convinced that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and what do you find is the best way to invite people to that same faith without being coercive or too preachy about it?
Limbaugh: Honestly, I had to overcome “intellectual” doubts before I could reach the point of placing my faith in Jesus Christ to forgive my sins. I put the scare quotes around “intellectual” because I am not sure these aren’t sometimes doubts we put up to mask other obstacles we have to our surrendering in faith. Nevertheless, in my case, being stubborn, and being from Missouri, I had to study the evidence and the Bible to come to the point of faith. There is so much persuasive evidence, and I am excited to share it in this book. I dare say that many skeptics have never been exposed to some of this and it might surprise them.
I am no expert in evangelizing and wish I were better, but I like Ravi Zacharias’s insight that in approaching the skeptic we need to carefully attune ourselves to where he is. We must pay as much attention to “the questioner” as we do to his questions. Each person is different and might be amenable to different approaches.
I do believe it is paramount that we believers approach this subject humbly and respectfully. If we really are obedient Christians we will not judge nonbelievers, whether or not we were nonbelievers ourselves in the past, as I was.
I truly believe Jesus wants everyone to have eternal life in Him and that He rejoices more when one lost sheep is found than over the 99 He still has (Luke 15:4). So I have an awesome duty not to do anything that might interfere with that process and not put my own ego in the way by ridiculing, mocking, or otherwise being disrespectful to nonbelievers, whom God loves every bit as much as He loves me. I especially don’t want to be too preachy or be a scold, because I think nothing turns off nonbelievers more than self-righteous believers.
Lopez: You write at one point that “I continued to pursue God, or maybe, more accurately, He pursued me.” Why is understanding that order so important?
Limbaugh: I do believe God, through the Holy Spirit, woos each and every one of us to come to Him, to come to Jesus Christ in faith. I was a skeptic; what kept nagging at me to study the evidence and to find out the truth about Jesus Christ? Again, I believe God refused to leave me alone and that He was the moving force behind my own pursuits. God is sovereign, but I also believe we have free will to accept or reject Him — with all due respect to my Calvinist friends, for whom I do have great respect. The order, as you say, is important, because it helps us to keep our focus on God and to understand that He is the Prime Mover, not us. We just need to listen.
Lopez: How does the Bible “capture the true state of the human condition”?
Limbaugh: Because it clearly depicts the human condition as fallen. While we are made in God’s image and still have a glimmer of that divine glow, we are fallen through sin. Other worldviews teach that man is perfectible or even on a linear path to enlightenment. The Bible teaches that human nature is constant and in a state of sin. Look around you. Do you see our condition improving? In the 20th century alone we witnessed the slaughtering of hundreds of millions of innocent people by tyrants who were motivated by evil ideologies. The Bible refuses to candy-coat the human condition. It accurately portrays it — painfully in many cases — even revealing the gross flaws in Biblical heroes. Its raw authenticity and candor reinforce its Divine inspiration.
Lopez: Why is the “unity” of the Bible so important to your case?
Limbaugh: I lay this out in some detail in Chapter 7 of the book, but briefly: because it leads to the inescapable conclusion that it is the Word of God. It would have been impossible, absent a divine conspiracy, for the Bible to be such an “integrated message system,” despite its diversity of authors. The subject of the Bible’s unity is not separately treated in most apologetics books I’ve read, but it is so profoundly important to my faith that I devoted a separate chapter to it. If I tell you any more about it here, I’m going to have to charge you for it — at lawyer’s rates.
Lopez: And the Old Testament — specifically, in its prophecies — was actually a tipping point for you?
Limbaugh: Yes, especially the messianic prophecies — the prophecies written hundreds and thousands of years before Jesus’ birth, predicting his virgin birth, the specific town of His birth, the details of His crucifixion, and many other things I refuse to tell you here absent a subpoena. There were also a few Biblical kings whom Old Testament prophets predicted, by name — Cyrus, Josiah — and these prophecies were demonstrably fulfilled. If that doesn’t knock someone’s socks off, he’s comatose — with all due respect.
Lopez: How did “the pervasiveness of evil in the world” eventually become something that continues to help you overcome doubt?
Limbaugh: For two reasons. First, paradoxically, the pervasiveness of evil in the world informs me that the Bible accurately depicts the human condition — as indicated above. Second, we wouldn’t even be talking about evil at all, with all due respect to the arguments of the New Atheists, if there weren’t an objective moral standard against which to measure good and evil. I explore these subjects in some depth in the book.
Lopez: Is this in some way a sequel or even prequel to your book on Christian persecution? What do you make of the fact we are living in a time of such dramatic life-and-death persecution around the world? And yet we Americans seem to be so lukewarm in protecting religious liberty even here?
Limbaugh: This is much different from Persecution, which chronicled the mistreatment and discrimination Christians are subjected to in this country and how the Christian faith is under systematic assault in our culture. The true persecution — the horrendous persecution — is occurring elsewhere in the world, though it’s probably coming to the United States as well if we don’t change our course. Yes, that book sought to be a wake-up call concerning our religious liberty and an attempt to rally freedom lovers to fight back to preserve our religious freedoms. While I am not Catholic, as you know, I applaud the awesome work Catholics have done on the vitally important issues of life and religious liberty, and I hope we can all join in this fight. This book, however, is primarily a spiritual book, not a political one, and it is my first foray into this area as an author — other than a few columns on the subject.
Lopez: Why do you write the following? “Words alone cannot possibly eradicate the anguish, agony, and grieving that human beings endure. But Christianity does offer the one ultimate answer, Jesus Christ, Who will sustain all who place their trust in Him. Countless people who had given up all hope finally found their rest in Christ, Who, if we’ll place our faith and abide in Him, will truly give us a peace that surpasses all understanding. We know that we can trust Him because He voluntarily suffered and died on our behalf. We know we can relate to Him and He to us precisely because, for our sakes, He voluntarily endured every kind of indignity that we can possibly experience ourselves. His offer is not for us to embrace an abstract intellectual belief in His existence. It is to develop a real and intimate personal relationship with Him. In that relationship, the Bible assures us, we will find enduring peace and fulfillment. Please believe it. Please act on it. You won’t regret it.”
Limbaugh: I wrote that as an appeal to nonbelievers to step out and give Christ and the Bible a chance. The Bible assures us that if we knock He will open the door, if we seek Him we will find Him. I didn’t use to believe it either, but there is obviously hope for non-believers. I also wrote those specific words because after I’d almost finished the first draft of this book I watched a woman in church on Sunday stand and bare her soul before our entire congregation about the deep, personal pain she had experienced most of her life because of abuse she experienced as a child. She related how bitter she was, how depressed she’d become, how perpetually angry she found herself, and how she had exhausted all possible avenues to find relief — all except the one that finally gave her true peace — Jesus Christ, who had now become her savior. There was not a hint of drama in her testimony, not a molecule of insincerity. She is not over all of her problems nor has she shed all her baggage, but she has found peace, understanding, hope, and a reason to live, in the consoling arms of Jesus Christ. It was compelling. It was arresting. I added the above story because it reminded me that when all else fails, when all our fancy and brilliant arguments fail — which they sometimes do — it’s ultimately about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We must not get so lost in the intellectual and evidentiary weeds, that we lose sight of that all-important fact.
Lopez: You write political columns. Was it odd to be writing like this?
Limbaugh: It was different, but, Kathryn, I can’t possibly tell you how gratifying it was. My political columns tend to focus on the negative, because I see so much negative that I believe we have an obligation to highlight in an effort to turn things around. But the subject of Christianity — of Jesus Christ — is so different, so positive, so refreshing, that this was a delightful experience. As I said, I have studied this subject on and off for a few decades and I have made what I consider to be some exciting discoveries and I am so excited to be able to share them. I wish someone had shared many of these with me 20 or 30 years ago. Here I go being corny again.
Lopez: How important is the Sermon on the Mount to your life, that is, to the Christian’s life?
Limbaugh: It should be very important for every Christian’s life. It presents the ultimate standard of morality. Jesus tells us to be perfect, as the Father is perfect, but He knows that we can’t possibly do that on our own power, so He is actually telling us to rest in Him, to find our power in Him, to invite the Holy Spirit in to do the work so that we can become more Christ-like and live the moral lives we are exhorted to lead.
Lopez: Why is the Trinity so important to humanity?
Limbaugh: Because within the Trinity, God is a loving, relational God, and we are made in His image, to be loving and relational with Him and with one another. How’s that for an uncharacteristically concise answer?
Lopez: Why do you get into science — and math — in the book? How is “the marvel we call the human brain . . . powerful evidence that God exists”?
Limbaugh: Because so many nonbelievers (and far too many believers) seem to think, erroneously, that science and Christianity conflict, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Abundant scientific evidence points to an intelligent creator and his intelligent design of the universe. And, I would say that human consciousness, more than simply the human brain, is powerful evidence that God exists and it is something materialists can’t escape and certainly can’t explain on material grounds.
Lopez: “One’s opinion, no matter how sincerely he holds it, does not alter objective reality. It’s meaningless to say that it can be true for me that Jesus is the Son of God but not for you. He either is or He isn’t.” It is increasingly difficult, though, as you note, to make claims about truth. Our vocabulary has become subjective! Do you mean for your book to help in this respect?
Limbaugh: Postmodernism has done serious damage to our orderly thinking. It has attacked the very idea of truth. We all know that truth is that which corresponds to reality and it is nothing short of pure psychobabble to suggest that some objective fact can be true for me and not for you. Objective truth is not a matter of subjectivity. Jesus Christ either existed in history or he did not, no matter whether you or I believe it or don’t believe it. He is either the Son of God or He is not and no amount of belief or disbelief on my part or your part will alter the objective reality of whether He is or isn’t. This is not to say our belief or unbelief is not important. Nothing could be more important. It is to say that objective and absolute truth exists. More in the book.
Lopez: You write that “for me, theology and the Bible are the best apologetic of all.” Isn’t lived witness at least as important, if not more?
Limbaugh: I will not quibble with you on your very good point. There is no question that setting a Christ-like example can sometimes turn people into believers itself or at least ready them for belief. But so can the Bible. Both are important and critical. In fact, in one of the stories I relate in the book, I tell of a man who was finally turned toward Christ because he witnessed Christ wholly transform the life of an alcoholic friend of his. But this experience by itself didn’t turn him into a Christian. It wasn’t until later, when he read a passage in Isaiah, that he had no choice but to surrender. Which passage? I’m not telling and you can’t make me cough it up here.
Lopez: You write about deciding to read the Bible “purposefully.” That and “intentionally” are buzzwords of evangelizing. How can they be more than that — how can they be practical? How do you read the Bible purposefully?
Limbaugh: I agree and am similarly repulsed by these words when they are employed as buzzwords. But in this case, I went on to explain more specifically what I meant by that, which is that once you realize you are holding in your hands the actual, living, breathing Word of God, you will necessarily read it with a degree of reverence you couldn’t have even contemplated before. And it makes all the difference, as I can testify from personal experience.
Lopez: “If you read the Bible itself with an open spirit, God will reveal Himself to you.” That’s quite the claim! Why are you so confident?
Limbaugh: Because the Bible makes that promise unequivocally and because I believe the Bible is the Word of God. Therefore, God has made that promise to us. Case closed.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online, and founding director of Catholic Voices USA.