When W. Mark Lanier was in the third grade, he asked his mother: "If everything came from something, where did God come from? How can God have always been there and not come from something? Is that what eternal means?" In high school, an aptitude test suggested the inquisitive teen might become a pastor, a trial lawyer, or a politician. He went with two out of three and subbed in "author" for "politician."

Now, Lanier, the author of Religions on Trial: A Lawyer Examines Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and More (IVP, Jan. 2023) is still asking questions, seeking truth. He leads a national powerhouse litigation firm that won billions of dollars for victims of dangerous products, drugs and flawed medical devices and currently represents 13 states in an antitrust case against Google. He is a pastor, too, and teaches hundreds of people in a weekly biblical literacy class at a Southern Baptist Church.

The new book completes a trilogy for IVP. The initial titles were Atheism on Trial and Christianity on Trial. In Religions on Trial, Lanier uses six essential criteria to assess Hinduism; Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, secular spiritualism, and what he calls "secular Christianity" (people who don't walk the talk). Like a litigator demolishing a witness, Lanier writes that it only takes "a couple of well-placed holes to sink the boat." Spoiler alert: Only "authentic" Christians (who live by Jesus' teachings) and Messianic Jews (who accept Christ as their savior) remain afloat.

PW talks with Lanier about why his role model is the apostle Paul preaching on Mars Hill. (Acts 17:22-31)

You begin each chapter with mentioning the folks you know who follow the particular religion or philosophy you are about to dismantle. You usually add some kind words about it at the end, too. Why?

I'm not looking for a fight. God has sown truth into the world, and everyone has access to it. Paul doesn't attack unbelievers, he says to them, "You have some truth but let me tell you what you are missing." That's what I am doing. I want to have a dialog with people, put my arm around someone and ask, "What are your thoughts about this or that?"

An evangelist seeks to convince people of their sin or their spiritual emptiness and bring them to Christ. Is that your goal here?

C.S. Lewis, when he was trying to avoid becoming a theist, told J.R.R. Tolkien, "The problem with Christians is that you are arrogant." And Tolkien replied, "The premise of Christianity is that all ears are ripe for hearing the Gospel." In a courtroom, I would show it this way. I'd take a big glass bowl and fill it with rice and beans and BBs and then take the biggest magnet I can find and hold it over the bowl. People will stick to the truth the way metal does to a magnet."

Some scientists talk about the multiverse — the idea that many universes exist simultaneously. Could there be a religion multiverse where every viewpoint on heaven or the afterlife is valid somewhere?

I think the afterlife is cloaked in the mystery of death. It is something God was gradually revealing through the Scriptures. What we do know is that no one will have eternal life but for the death of Christ for their sins. God is in the saving business. He is looking for every way possible to spend eternity with everyone he can. The Bible says there will be "a new heaven and a new earth."

Let's talk about what you call "historic faiths"—Islam, Mormonism, Judaism — which tie their theology to particular places, people, and times. The Quran asserts Jesus was a prophet but not crucified, not fully divine, and not risen. And while Mormons claim the Book of Mormon is a new testament that "completes" the Bible, you write that it conflicts with Christian Scripture in myriad ways.

I can't abdicate common sense on historical issues. If a religion is wrong on history, then the balloon is popped. It can't hold up on other points.

"Christianity is a Jewish faith," you write, adding that "Jewish believers in Jesus as Messiah become what some term 'completed' Jews." Is this why Judaism gets limited approval in your "trial?"

This is Paul, absolutely. Christianity was originally seen as a sect or a school of Judaism. Jesus did not seek to destroy Judaism, he sought to fulfill it.

On Hinduism, you write, "Christians have a different understanding of salvation as eternal life, rather than absolute nothingness." Addressing Buddhism, you write that trusting karma is "almost cruel" because "one must fight suffering and evil in this world, not passively disassociate from it." But your biggest blast goes to secular spirituality, writing that it leads to a "harsh, bitter, angry, and unloving society." Why so harsh?

I lapse into trial lawyer mode there. I do say (in the book) I know good people who believe these all viewpoints then I show why they are not for me. For example, I have a lot of friends who are "nones" (claiming no religious identity) and secular spiritualists. They are wonderful people and I love them to death. I have a brilliant friend who believes in horoscopes and that we are friends because we are both Libras. How is that? We start as atoms and molecules, material substances on a dirt clump circling a fireball, and we were both born under the same night sky. Okay, why does that really have anything to do with us?