A long running fad in some circles is to try to find the "historic Jesus." In this line of thought, the "historic Jesus" cannot be the same Jesus that we find in the Bible. Instead, the "historic Jesus" must be some interesting historical figure (such as a eschatological preacher) who has been layered in myth and clothed in deity by his followers. He certainly wouldn't have claimed to be God (since there is no personal God) and he would have been appalled at what today's Christians would have made of him. People like John Dominic Crossan, Marcus Borg and the Jesus Seminar promote this view in their books (that are always more abundant on the shelves at Barnes and Noble and Borders than the books by more conservative scholars like William Lane Craig or J.P. Moreland).
Fortunately, while this fad belief gets far more publicity (especially around Christmas and Easter), at least one author who rejects this view and makes the case for historic Christianity gets some shelve space in the large chain stores: Lee Strobel.
Say what you like about his books, they adequately present the basic arguments for historic Christianity, and do so through a series of interviews with various credentialed academics who are experts in their field. He has done so again in his latest offering, The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ. According to the advertising blurb:
[Author Lee Strobel] addresses six major challenges and claims: that a "different Jesus" is seen in ancient documents that seem as credible as the four canonical gospels; that tampering by the church has damaged the Bible's portrayal of Jesus; that new explanations refute Jesus' resurrection; that Christianity copied pagan religions regarding Jesus; that Jesus didn't fulfill messianic prophecies; and that contemporary people should be able to choose what to believe about Jesus. As with his previous books, Strobel attacks the issues as an investigative journalist, though one with a clear agenda. He searches out experts (including Craig A. Evans and Michael Licona) to refute each objection, offering readers top evangelical scholarship revealed in everyday language while challenging the claims of liberal writers like John Shelby Spong, Bart Ehrman and others. "In the end," he says, "none of these seemingly daunting challenges turned out to be close calls... they were systematically dismantled by scholars... with facts, logic and evidence." Evangelical readers will come away with deeper understanding of the various arguments about Jesus.
In one chapter, Strobel has a conversation with Dr. Dan Wallace largely about the views of Bart Ehrman, author of Misquoting Jesus : The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why. At one point, Lee Strobel asks Dr. Wallace about the view that no manuscripts of the Bible survived the attempted destruction of all manuscripts by the Emperor Diocleian in 303 A.D. After making the point that such an idea is "loony", Dr. Wallace continues:
“It’s disturbing that when it comes to the Christian faith, people don’t really want – or know how – to investigate the evidence,” he replied. “Christians are not being led into proper historical research by their pastors. I have been saying for some time that I don’t think the evangelical church has fifty years left of life to it until it repents.”
“In what way?”
“First, we have to quit marginalizing scripture,” he said. “We can’t treat the Bible with kid gloves. We really need to wrestle with the issues, because our faith depends on it. And second, we need to quit turning Jesus into our buddy. He’s the sovereign Lord of the universe, and we need to understand that and respond accordingly.”
“After years of studying these issues in depth, what has surprised you about the manuscripts you’ve analyzed?”
“The most remarkable thing to me is the tedium of looking at manuscript after manuscript after manuscript that just don’t change,” he answered. “Yes, there are differences, but they’re so minor. When I teach textual criticism every year, my students spend about a third of their workload transcribing manuscripts – and invariably they marvel at how little the manuscripts deviate.
“Now, I don’t want to give a false impression that they don’t deviate at all. But the vast majority of differences involve a spelling error or a moveable nu. You don’t see a line out of the blue where a scribe said, ‘Oh, I’m gonna make some kind of bizarre statement here.’ So the bottom line to me is how steady the copies of the manuscripts have been over the centuries.”
“Do you believe that God has accurately preserved enough for us to know him and his truth?”
“Absolutely. Do we have all the essentials? Yes. Do we have all the particulars? No. But that’s the task of a textual critic: to try to get back to the original. I’ll spend the rest of my life looking at manuscripts – transcribing them, photographing them, and publishing them. We still won’t recover the original wording in every single place. But I hope by the end of my life we’ll be a little bit closer – and that’s a worthy goal.”
A worthy goal and a worthy book.