Tag Archives: apologetics

Give Up On the Historical Jesus?

A Response to “The Jesus We’ll Never Know”

This post is in response to Scot McKnight’s cover story on The Jesus We’ll Never Know in Christianity Today, April 2010.  I encourage you to read the responses of N.T. Wright, Craig Keener, and Darrell Bock.

Let me begin my response by saying that I believe McKnight makes some good points.  Principally that historical studies of Jesus “can only do so much.”

As Jonathon Wilson has written, “Jesus Christ is not merely a figure of the past.  Therefore, our Christology cannot be confined to a study of the past” (God So Loved the World: A Christology for Disciples, p. 187).

McKnight is right to recognize that some scholars find a Jesus in their image; a Jesus they wanted all along.  However, I think it is a huge mistake to lump all those involved in historical Jesus studies together in one pot and communicate the idea that it is not helpful nor is it necessary.

There is a world of difference between the men and the historical quests described in the article. (As Tom Wright has pointed out in his response.)

I’m sure that McKnight would acknowledge that he himself has benefited in some way from his own studies. How can you teach at the university level and deny the fruit of such a quest?  Historical studies may not prove that Jesus died for our sins, or other faith claims, but its benefits are not then cancelled out because of this.

I myself have undergone a period of setting intellectual pursuits aside to touch the Lord in the spirit.  I have previously written:

“It is with our mind that we may learn of the historical Christ of the past, but it is with our spirit that we know of the living Christ today.”

And I still believe it.

The Lord is helping me to see that there is a worthwhile scholarship that is born out of a genuine revelation of Christ in the spirit where the human mind is governed by the Spirit of God.  I can find the Lord in the spirit with a little assistance from the mind.  He is resurrecting spirit, soul, and body.

I’m convinced that there can be great reward in studying the historical Jesus of Nazareth. There is much to be learned from the many believing scholars who have devoted their lives to helping others meet the historical Jesus.  Not only has it helped the agnostics among us, but those who profess him as “Lord” and God.

Unfortunately, I fear that McKnight’s article will only serve to fuel those “spiritual” anti-intellectuals who have not learned a study of theology and history that is consistent with the spiritual life.

The same people that are reticent to historical studies of Jesus may even be tempted to think it’s no concern of theirs that their skeptic friend reads books by Albert Schweitzer or Bart Ehrman and really believes what they have to say about Jesus of Nazareth.

It’s a tragedy that many Christians can’t carry on an intelligent conversation about the historical Jesus and discuss the reliability of the New Testament.  For some… there is simply no room in the spiritual life for “intellectual” exercises.

It reminds me of the older man that responded to those who had educated themselves. He said, “Some people read too many books.” What he was really saying was, “Don’t bother me.  I don’t need you challenging my view of Jesus.”

When’s the last time you read the book of Romans?  Peter even said that Paul’s writings are “hard to understand” at times (2 Pet. 3:16).  I hardly think we are ready to throw Paul’s epistles out the window and say, “Forget trying to clear away the cobwebs Paul. We just need a mystical experience of Jesus.”

Once again, instead of reconciling faith and reason, we often overcompensate and fall headlong into the gutter on the other side of the road.  I suppose that if everyone runs in the direction that this article seems to suggest… there will come a day when we will rise up out of the one ditch to find the historical Jesus in the other.

How long will the balanced Christian life elude us?

I do believe that the growing hunger for a real spiritual connection with Jesus will cause many to say “Amen, I agree!” to the article and move on thinking we now have no need of history or theology.

I guess this is necessary for some on their journey… at least for a season. For some, leaving behind the world of academia may be a breath of fresh air!  But I do hope that many believers will soon realize that God often teaches us through the swinging pendulum of faith.

Where is that pendulum presently swinging in your life?

I must continue to hold that the true spiritual life makes use of what we can know about the historical Jesus.  Lord, help us to stay on the spiritual road that leads us to the same Jesus that lived, died, and was resurrected in the first-century.

“Jesus is either the flesh-and-blood individual who walked and talked, and lived and died, in first-century Palastine, or he is merely a creature of our own imagination, able to be manipulated this way and that.” N.T. Wright, Who Was Jesus? p.18


Heaven to Earth: The Christian Hope in the Resurrection, Part I of III

“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” Paul, 1 Cor. 15:13-14

In Acts 17:16-34, the apostle Paul, while in Athens, was brought to the Areopagus because he was preaching “the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.” Athens was the center of Greek philosophy. The popular view of resurrection among the Greeks was… well, there wasn’t one. That is of course if you have in mind a physical resurrection from the dead. If a person actually believes that the dead can rise, then no, according to the Greeks, there can be no such thing as “resurrection.”

Greek Philosophy

The Platonic view taught that heavenly bliss was an escape from our physical bodies for a purely spiritual existence where the “shadows” become reality, but only in a disembodied state. No wonder their response to Paul was, “You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean” (Acts 17:20).

The Greeks, the wisest of the wise, did not accept a literal and physical rising of the dead. Resurrection, or anastasis (lit. to stand again), can only mean a spiritual rebirth or gnosis of the eternal things, not an actual dead body coming to life again. For the Greeks, it goes beyond the belief that a dead person could live again. Rejection of the resurrection was founded in the philosophical idea that the physical world was evil and only a shadow of that pure spiritual realm.

Greek philosophy largely embraced the idea that the soul needed to be freed from the material world of imperfections into the eternal realm of ideas. Some believed this meant there was, therefore, no moral code because material things were of no consequence.

The Corinthian church saw these ideas threatening its community. Immorality was being accepted among the saints, and they were gathering around one or two individuals like unto the way of Greek philosophical practice. This is still popular today.

“Where is the philosopher of the age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world… But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise… We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom…” Paul, 1 Cor. 1:20, 27; 2:6-7

Whether it was of the Stoic or Epicurean flavor, there was no room for Paul’s message of resurrection. According to the Greeks, dead men can’t rise, nor should we want them to. Therefore, many of the leaders rejected the idea, but others would hear Paul again and become followers of Christ (Acts 17:32-34).

Gnosticism

Plato’s teaching on life after death was the prevailing view among the Greeks. As the good news of Christ was being preached in the first century, these philosophical ideas slowly merged with Christian doctrine and sort of a Christian Gnosticism was born.

Paul was constantly combating these foreign ideas and the threat of “another” good news. It was a century later that we have the Gnostic “apocryphal” books written to promote this merging of Greek ideas with Christian teaching (e.g. Gospel of Thomas, Mary, Judas, etc.).

You can see the continued popularity of these teachings in movies today (e.g. The Matrix, V for Vendetta, The Truman Show, etc.). Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is the latest to promote the Gnostic view of Christ.

The goal is to strip Christ of his divinity and his sinless human nature. The same teachings that promote this disembodied spiritual future also accept the idea that the Creator (Yahweh) is evil and the serpent of the Garden of Eden is the agent of good come to cut man lose from his puppet strings.

According to Gnosticism, the serpent, the devil, brings knowledge of what is really going on. What man needs is to be freed or “awakened” by the “secret” knowledge or gnosis. Man needs to throw off rules and regulations of the flesh in order to embrace “spiritual” living. He needs to recognize his own divinity apart from God. Taking from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would do just that.

If man will only take the “red pill” and choose enlightenment, he shall indeed see “how far the rabbit hole goes.” We should find a sobering reminder from the movie, The Matrix.

“Zion” in Gnosticism leads us on a ship, named after the God-defying Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, to a dark city below the earth (i.e. hell). It will not be an orgy or a party portrayed in The Matrix, but an eternity separated from Christ where man ceases to bear the divine image. Hardly a future any of us would hope for.

If you can prove Jesus of Nazareth was like the ordinary man on the street, having that corruptible nature called “flesh,” and that there was no physical resurrection of the dead, that Jesus was merely revived after his crucifixion, and that he spent the rest of his days in Spain having kids with Mary Magdalene, then you can undermine the entire Christian hope. It is a distortion of the first century synoptic Gospel’s account that is satanic propaganda disguised as “knowledge.”

Gnosticism is an absurd attempt to falsify the Gospel message and its presentation of Jesus as the promised Messiah who was both God and man. I am confident that, at least for now, the idea is only embraced by a few who live with their heads in the clouds. However, these ideas have indeed wiggled their way into Christian eschatology and our teachings on heaven and the resurrection.  (I’ll address this in Part II.)

This fabricated “secret” message may be able to make money at the Box Office, but the Gnostic Jesus holds no weight when it comes to reliable testimony and the historicity of the New Testament. We have plenty of evidence that suggests that the account of Christ we have in the New Testament Gospels is the real deal.

“Jesus is either the flesh-and-blood individual who walked and talked, and lived and died, in first-century Palastine, or he is merely a creature of our own imagination, able to be manipulated this way and that.”
N.T. Wright, Who Was Jesus? p.18

We, therefore, must decide what we do with Jesus and his recorded resurrection from the dead. Everything hinges on the resurrection—everything. We will choose to align ourselves with orthodox Christian belief or be swept away with the rising tide of heretical doctrines of demons.

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.” Paul, 1 Cor. 15:3-5

Heaven to Earth: The Christian Hope in the Resurrection, Part II of III


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