In his latest book, Telling Lives, Ian Hunter, emeritus professor of law at Western University, presents an entertaining and inspirational series of sketches of 10 people with “effective, forcible, striking” personalities.
The book begins with an intriguing essay entitled “Jesus: The Evidence.” Drawing upon decades of experience as an award-winning teacher and practitioner of criminal law, Hunter applies his expertise on the rules of evidence that apply in a court of law to an evaluation of the reliability of the eyewitness testimony about Jesus in The Gospels and the Book of Acts.
The resulting analysis is altogether compelling. In marked contrast to the crackbrained theory advanced by skeptics like Tom Harpur, author of the best-selling The Pagan Christ, that Jesus is a myth fabricated by early church leaders. Hunter conclusively demonstrates that by the best evidence test of the common law, there is solid reason for anyone, Christian or skeptic, to conclude that Jesus was, indeed, a real, historical, human being.
Better yet, Hunter also contends that anyone who conjoins reason and the evidence of the Gospels with Christian faith can be confident that “Jesus was precisely who He said He was – namely the way, the truth, and the life. It was true then; it remained true for twenty-one centuries; it is true today.”
Among other outstanding personalities profiled in Telling Lives is Dr. Samuel Johnson, a devout Christian and phenomenal genius of the 18th century who gained immortal fame by single-handedly compiling the first comprehensive dictionary of the English language in just eight years (a feat that took 40 scholars of the Academie Francaise five times as long to do for French). Hunter demonstrates that in addition to many other literary and scholarly achievements, Johnson was also acknowledged in his lifetime to rank as one of the foremost constitutional authorities in England – an amazing intellectual feat given that Johnson had never attended law school.
In another arresting portrait in Telling Lives, Hunter recalls that Richard John Neuhaus was an intellectually gifted, but somewhat recalcitrant, Lutheran “preacher’s kid from Pembroke, Ontario” who flunked out of school, but soon settled down, studied hard and became one of the most influential Christian intellectuals of his generation. (For a fuller account of Neuhaus’s extraordinary life and achievements, Hunter recommends “a fascinating biography” by Randy Boyagoda, a professor of American Studies at Ryerson University, Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square.)
Neuhaus was ordained as a Lutheran minister in 1960. Following the theological and moral collapse of the mainline Protestant churches in the 1980s, he converted to Roman Catholicism. As editor of the influential ecumenical magazine First Things, he maintained close ties with numerous Evangelical friends, including such luminaries as Charles Colson.
In 1994, Neuhaus and Colson founded Evangelicals and Catholics Together. In a statement of purpose that was written by Neuhaus and endorsed by 40 of the leading theologically orthodox Catholic, Protestant and Jewish intellectuals in North America, the ecumenical group pledged: “We will do all in our power to resist proposals for euthanasia, eugenics, and population control that exploit the vulnerable, corrupt the integrity of medicine, deprave our culture, and betray the moral truths of our constitutional order.”
Alas, despite the best efforts of Neuhaus, Colson and so many other talented leaders over the past 20 years, the pro-life movement has lost one skirmish after another in the struggle to affirm the sanctity of human life. Pro-lifers who might be tempted to despair would do well to ponder the steadfast faith in trying times of James Hogg Hunter (JHH), the father of Ian Hunter.
In an affectionate tribute to his father, Hunter relates that JHH emigrated to Canada from Scotland with a brilliant mind, but only a grade-school education. However, by dint of diligent study, JHH landed a job as a reporter for the Toronto Globe (predecessor to The Globe and Mail); published several widely circulated books of Christian inspiration; and crowned his career as editor of The Christian Evangelist, a small but influential publication that circulated throughout the United States and Canada.
With unflagging faith and prescience during the dark days of World War II, JHH assured his readers in The Christian Evangelist: “The Hitlers, Stalins, and Mussolinis will have their little day and cease to be, but the eternal purposes of God will no more be thwarted by a hair’s breadth than will the inexorable working of those laws that will in the end destroy them.”