Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Help for disciples swimming with sharks*

Back in June I shared an excerpt on integrity from Redeeming Law: Christian Calling and the Legal Profession by Regent Law School professor Michael P. Schutt. Though I'm not a lawyer I found this a profitable read. However, I do work in the legal field (which is why a friend gave me this book) and the picture Schutt paints of a profession adrift in the waters of pragmatism squares with what I've witnessed. The author believes Christian lawyers are as affected as their secular counterparts, and he issues a call for better discipleship within the church geared for believers in the legal profession. One of the things I appreciated most about the book was its emphasis on the role of the local church.

In the chapter "The American Law School Experience" Professor Schutt describes a process that begins in law school in which the historical, religious and moral foundations of the legal tradition are "ignored or suppressed." Instead, aspiring lawyers are taught a pragmatic, technical approach to the law instead of an approach that values virtue and sees practicing law as a "moral science." In this view a good lawyer is nothing more than a skillful technician, and the law is a tool to be used to achieve a desired outcome. Most students are quickly taken in by this approach, and it takes a tremendous effort for a stressed-out first year law student to swim against this tide.

Schutt cites the work of legal thinker Richard Posner as the epitome of this approach. Posner has written that we are merely "clever animals" who need not waste time trying to discover "metaphysical realities." Instead, we should be content in the knowledge that "there is no deep mystery at the heart of existence. Or at least no deep mystery worth trying to dispel and thus worth troubling our minds about." And you wonder why so many see lawyering as, at best, an amoral calling! Judge Posner, by the way, is hugely influential across the idealogical spectrum.

Redeeming Law draws on an impressive array of Christian thinkers (everyone from Aquinas to John Calvin to Lesslie Newbigin) to make a compelling case for a holistic approach to the law that sees it as a moral science once again, and equips Christian lawyers to integrate their work and their faith. Of course, the "law cannot redeem souls" but Christian lawyers should aspire to be "co-laborers with Christ" and "have redeeming influence on our law practices, our clients, our colleagues, and our professors." (p. 11)

I think the book was longer than it needed to be, and I found some of the author's assumptions about the impact of Christian worldview too sweeping, but those are minor quibbles. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this as "must reading" for any Christian attorney or law student.

*The title is cheesy, but I couldn't help myself.

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