CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

I was asked to review a new book, Reinventing Jesus, What The Da Vinci Code And Other Novel Speculations Don't Tell You, by J. Ed Komoszewski, M. James Saywer, and, Daniel B. Wallace. In some ways the title is unfortunate, because Reinventing Jesus is so much more than another response to The Da Vinci Code (as good as some of those are). What this book provides is excellent scholarship on a number of issues that have been inadequately addressed, if addressed at all, by traditional apologists. The authors have actually lowered themselves to address arguments and theories that academics rarely encounter in scholarly circles. As noted in Reinventing Jesus, much of said sludge has flowed forth as a result of -- in the author's words -- "ready access to unfiltered information via the Internet and the influential power of this medium. The result is junk food for the mind--a pseudointellectual meal that is as easy to swallow as it is devoid of substance." Id. at 221-22. In response, Reinventing Jesus provides rebuttals to arguments propounded by the likes of Internet Infidels, Robert M. Price, and even, yes, Earl Doherty (though not yet his Jesus Myth stuff).

In my opinion, the best part of the book is a superb discussion of the textual transmission of the New Testament. There is the usual stuff we see from apologists like Josh McDowell about the wealth of manuscript evidence comparative to other ancient writings, but there is a lot more. Reinventing Jesus breaks down the information into greater detail, explaining the manuscript evidence more deeply, the nature of the disagreements in the traditions, and the types of traditions and their origins. The result is a powerful case for the accuracy of our modern translations. All this is written for the layperson, but the authors apparently believe that the layperson can handle a lot more (intellectually and spiritually) than is typically assumed. This targeting of the well-informed layperson is a hallmark of the entire book, resulting in more information and deeper analysis than the typical apologetic provides.

The discussion of the origins of the NT Canon is also excellent, once again giving layreaders more information than they may be expecting. Reinventing Jesus goes through the criteria by which the books of the NT were chosen and is candid about which books were quickly accepted as well as those which where not. The authors also discuss those who made the decisions and when the decisions were made. Special attention is given to the last books to be accepted. In this section, as well as throughout the book, the authors attempt to come up with examples and metaphors from sports, work, pop culture, or everyday life. Most of these examples are well made and a feature employed throughout the book.

Another very effective set of chapters addresses what the authors call "Parallelomania." Here the authors take on an argument that even many of the online-skeptics have abandoned; namely that Christianity was merely a myth based on pre-existing pagan myths. It is good that they do such an excellent job of debunking all of the supposed "parallels" because too many of the underinformed on the internet are still being taken in. Reinventing Jesus is successful in showing that the core doctrines of Christianity originated out of Judaism and the events in the life of Jesus and his apostles. The supposed "parallels" between Christianity and the pagan religions are either based on word games (describing very different beliefs as if they were the same), misunderstandings of the evidence, are the result of pagan copying of the more successful Christian belief system, or are the result of some Christian copying of pagan beliefs in the third and fourth centuries (after the core NT beliefs were already well-established). There are several online responses to parallelomania, but this chapter exceeds most of them in its breadth, depth, and readability.

The chapter on the Council of Nicea is quite good. There are also chapters about the accuracy of the NT, oral tradition, and authorship of NT documents that are solid discussions, though not the best available. Still, they add to the value of the book and fill out the complete picture that the authors are trying to impart.

As for other features, there is a helpful list of Suggested Reading for each part of the book, as well as a scripture index and subject index. My only real complaint about the book is that it uses book endnotes, rather than footnotes or chapter endnotes.

On a whole, Reinventing Jesus would be an excellent addition to any apologist's or pastor's library. In fact, it is so effective and readable, it would be a good buy for any Christian wanting to better understand the history of their faith (as all should). It is a big step above Josh McDowell's helpful though basic historical apologetic books. It effectively engages some of the most recent skeptical arguments that having been spreading with the help of the internet. Finally, it trusts laypersons to sort through the good and the bad in the historical evidence while maintaining a very readable presentation.

Two-thumbs up, five-out-of-five stars, and an enthusiastic recommendation.

2 comments:

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John,

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