Emily Graves spoke with co-author Ellsworth McMeen about his new book that is an email exchange between a sceptic and a Christian

Two Lawyers Have A Little Chat about God and Hell

Objection! Overruled! (Or, Two Lawyers Have a Little Chat about God and Hell) is a must-read on the Christian faith, not a dry dissertation, but a vigorous and immensely entertaining 21st Century "chat" between two insightful lawyers and authors, Steve Baughman and Ellsworth ("El") McMeen. Passionate, yet humorous; provocative, yet heartfelt. You'll be chuckling while you ponder deep spiritual matters in this engrossing dialogue. This vivid book also lends itself to Bible studies and to studies in Christian apologetics, philosophy, and law. Emily Graves spoke with co-author El McMeen.

Emily: El, you're one of the authors of a book called Objection Overruled or Two Lawyers Have A Little Chat about God and Hell, tell us about the book.

El: I've been thinking about your demographic and I'm trying to think, why would younger people want to read a book by a guy like me who's 65 and my co-author who's in his 50s? What it is is that it was basically a two-week slice of our lives, where day and night we went back and forth on spiritual matters. Steve's a sceptic and calls himself an atheist - he also calls himself a "former born-again Christian" - you could write a book on that whole subject. It had to do with this thesis on law in San Francisco, he's writing a thesis, he does all kinds of things; he's an amazing guy and he has some things on his mind and I had the innocent idea, maybe a sceptic and a Christian could actually have a civilised conversation, just how we do life. That was my innocent idea but then the thing got ratcheted up into a kind-of a debate thing and had a certain arc to it. The reason I think it's significant and perhaps unique, is that it is an email exchange; it's really a 21st-century exchange, with email informality, emoticons, talking about this, that or the other thing and so it's real. I have so much faith in your generation, on cutting through the folly of our generation and really saying, "I want to focus on what's real, show me what's real, especially in the areas of Jesus and the Christian faith. You know what's real, not what people are saying, but what's real." This is relevant to that, although it's not front and centre in the way of the Christian faith and the experience of the Christian faith, but it is an attempt to meet a person where he is and my co-author is in a very philosophical season. We tried to meet in that area and so it was quite a wild ride as one of the reviewers said, which I did like.

Emily: You definitely feel like you're going on a journey with the book. What is the relationship between you and Steve? How did you get to know each other?

El: It's fascinating. We did concerts together. He's a great guitar player, so I was out in San Francisco on business in the early 90s and we ended up talking about music and we've been on albums together, we've been on DVDs together, we did three concerts together; so we had this musical connection and I'd say mutual admiration of our musical interest and we've been good for each other. The way we connected on spiritual things was in 2006 I brought out an album called Amazing Grace, which may have been written up on the Cross Rhythms website and I do want to give props to Cross Rhythms, I really appreciate the outlet for me and writing for the Life Articles, it really has been a wonderful outlet, especially on supernatural things. Anyway, he started asking some questions about some liner notes that I had, which was kind of innocent, just tribute to Jesus, prayer, I mean it wasn't a big deal and that led into this kind-of furious back and forth exchange that got written up and was on a church website for a few years. It turned like 100-pages, this sort of thing. I don't think we were super-mature, there was a lot of lawyer posturing, I mean it was fun and everything, but I'm not sure how mature in the faith I was. We didn't think it would happen again, but because he's on his thesis that he's doing and the thesis has to do with the argument that it's unjust for God to have an eternal hell for temporal sin; it's a very philosophical kind of thing and it's a very erudite presentation he's doing. I looked at the outline and I had to look up every other word, I think its kind-of amazing. He was in that frame of mind, but he's also thought about things generally over time and then he has his full life as a lawyer and a musician. We've known each other 20 years and then in 2006 it got off into a spiritual thing and so that was revisited in February and March, really two weeks of last year and he had no idea this would turn into a book, nor did I, but I believe the Holy Spirit was all over this thing and I'm not sure I know all the realms of influence yet - I may not know for years - I just think he kept me going throughout this thing, night and day, I mean crazy hours all night long, I mean it's insane. It turned out it was a 220-page book. It's interesting where I put my pencil down because it was on the word "amigo", you know one of the emails said, have a good week amigo and I just felt like I had a word from the Holy Spirit: put your pencil down, that's it on this exchange. There are two more chapters of context, short chapters, but isn't that interesting that that makes you think that with Jesus you are no longer servants but friends.

Emily: Why did you decide to keep the book in the format of your email exchange?

El: Well this is interesting; this is one where I pushed this. I think Steve would have loved to write a book, sort of questions, answers, kind-of Christian apologetics and I told him that that isn't my interest. We had to walk a line on this between his thesis on the one hand and Christian Apologetics 101 on the other, because he and I have been through that and it's really not that. I thought the benefit of the book was a real-life conversation between people on a lot of things from deep stuff to contemporary music to movies to a whole bunch of stuff and I think I just felt it was valuable in that respect because it was real and might have readers get into it who otherwise would be put off by heavy theological stuff. Also it had the lawyer aspect of this: I think there is an intersection between the legal world and theology which I never thought of. You know, 10 years ago I would have thought that they were just wildly different realms, but the lawyer's skill is to try to look at assumptions, look at logic, look at things like that that I feel are highly relevant to debates and discussions among people, so I thought there was that side also.

Emily: How did you find having the conversations when you're both so passionate about what you do believe in, but not getting over-defensive against the other?

El: I think we had different approaches to this. I believe I was protected by the Holy Spirit, I really do. He on the other hand I believe was in the mode of shooting out things that were on his mind and I don't think really expecting answers that would be powerfully persuasive to him. I think that it was more on my side that I really needed some divine assistance rather than on his side. I think he had things on his mind and he was shooting out issues to prove why he had problems with the faith; but when he shoots out eight or 10 issues I then had to go through an analysis: where I want to go, where I want the conversation to go and to model Jesus trying to sort out this whole thing. I think there is some burden: that's why I say when I look through this thing I think it could not have been done in the natural because I just don't think I could have been coherent for two weeks at two, three, four in the morning to be honest with you, but then I was coherent and I think it is pretty coherent. My writing is different. People who are interested in legal things - I think that may be some of your audience - I won't say it's the difference between a barrister and a solicitor, we don't have that kind of distinction in the United States, but I was a person who worked on documents according very large deals where every word was important and Steve is a litigator, in other words he is used to using words for persuasion. So you see different styles of presenting the language which I think is interesting also and people have commented on that.

Emily: Have you learnt from writing the book and your conversations with Steve?

El: In another interview where they asked me did my faith flag, my faith didn't flag thankfully, but I did have to question some assumptions and think about some things I've never thought about. It's had a couple of by-products that are good. One is I've been writing up an evolving faith statement on some of Steve's issues and it's very helpful to me. Secondly a booklet I've been putting together of errors that can crop up in attacks on the Christian faith. I'm not attributing those errors to Steve, but these things came out of the discussion. We've got to be frank, if we're Christians we believe we're right on these things; if somebody contradicts us they've got to be wrong on it and then we've got to figure out why they are wrong. It may come down to simple issues like naturalism verses supernaturalism; we believe in the supernatural, if they don't, we've got a major issue. But it can come down to some subtle things too, let me give you a quick example: a subtle issue that comes up in arguments with non believers is there's a subtle progression sometimes between a possibility that subtly gets treated as a probability or a certainty in the course of discussion, so in other words a sceptic might say, "Well the canon could have been put together to preserve the power of the élite," rather than just prayerful people putting it together and trying to see what's of God and what isn't. They might say that's a possibility, but then later on treat it as a certainty and you'll see that happening. There is an example of a point that I think is useful for Christians to be aware of, I'm up to 22 of these things. That has been a very important outgrowth as well as some discussions I'm having with Christian brothers and sisters on this in church context because that's where I'd like to go with this. I really don't like debate stuff, I never went into it with that purpose, but I love talking these things over with the brethren.

Emily: So, what advice would you give to someone like Steve, who is reading this, about maybe taking time to think about some of the different areas and what they actually believe in?

El: I think that we each agreed to think about what the other said and I know that Steve is doing that. You know where he is now, it's funny, he's in Hungary doing a series of concerts with a Hungarian guitar player! Isn't that interesting: he's had a great life and I was kidding him at one point: he says, "I don't know how much weight to put, I can't put any weight on experience with respect to spiritual things," and yet his whole life is so full and so he's living life but for certain purposes he says, "I can't put weight on experiential things." I mean we're all conflicted on a lot of things but I guess that you'd be interested having looked at the book and then knowing the guy who was talking about all the spiritual stuff is doing four guitar concerts in Hungary this week! So yeah, it's very interesting.

Emily: So how can we get a hold of a copy of Objection Overruled?

El: There's a website called booklocker.com and if you go to that it's there, listed as a bestseller. It's not a New York Times-bestseller but in some contexts it is. It's also on Amazon, Barnes & Nobel and things like that, but I like to favour Book Locker. I think it's really a great publisher and I'm very appreciative of their taking the book because they reject 95% of submissions. I put it in on Easter. It's funny, I was going to put it in on a Monday but it was April Fools' Day, so I said, well I'm going to spite Steve: I'm putting it in online the day before, which turned out to be Easter. How about that? You put a book with a sceptic on Easter: I just had to chuckle at that one. Can I just say two quick things before I forget? I don't want to take up too much of your time but I want to give props to two UK organisations that have really been meaningful to me. One is Ravi Zacharias's Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics which is new and its theocca.org and I just think it's a wonderful - it's right in Richard Dawkins's backyard in Oxford, I love it! And the other is the King's Arms Church in Bedford, which I have been listening to their sermons for years and I really appreciate what they're doing too. So thank God for the internet, huh? CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.