Crucifixion demands entombment. And entombment generates drama. Who is hiding in the cupboard of French farce? Who is behind the screen on Blind Date? What is the bran tub, or the cracker, or the long awaited letter when it drops in the letter-box? Open the box! The drama of entombment is there literally in the stage illusionist’s repertoire. It might have died with Harry Houdini, but it hasn’t. I saw it only the other day on television: the comedian Freddie Star, bound and shackled and then submerged in a fish tank. Curtains drawn round the tank. Lights dimmed. A roll of drums, the lights flash, and then the lights go up and the curtains are drawn back to discover… an empty fish tank. And a few minutes later, Freddie is discovered somewhere else, damp but unharmed and smiling, the Starr reborn. … I come back to death, ‘nothing more terrible, nothing more true’. We go to Shakespeare’s tragedies, go to sit in the dark in our boxes at the theatre, to confront what ‘we can’t escape’. And Shakespeare shows us the mutilated bodies in a stage spectacle. And he portrays death as final, ‘the sure extinction that we travel to and shall be lost in always’. But the ritual of theatre-going won’t allow it to rest there. We are obliged to remain incarcerated while another stage-spectacle is enacted, the resurrection before our eyes of the actors who are dead. The curtain call. It is a cheat. Like death. Something I know I can’t escape, yet can’t accept. Tirez le rideau.
Anyone who is not a continual student of Jesus, and who nevertheless reads the great promises of the Bible as if they were for him or her, is like someone trying to cash a check on another person’s account. At best, it succeeds only sporadically.
I think we finally have to say that Jesus’ enduring relevance is based on his ability to speak to, to heal and empower the individual human condition. He matters because of what he brought and what he still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary lives and coping daily with their surrounding. He promises wholeness for their lives. In sharing our weakness he gives us strength and imparts through his companionship a life that has the quality of eternity.
My hope is to gain a fresh hearing for Jesus, especially among those who believe they already understand him. In his case, quite frankly, presumed familiarity has led to unfamiliarity, unfamiliarity has led to contempt, and contempt has led to profound ignorance.
Our hunger for Jesus is a signal of who we are and why we are here, and it also is the basis of our humanity’s enduring response to Jesus. For he always takes individual human beings as seriously as their shredded dignity demands, and he has the resources to carry through
with his high estimate of them.
Historically, conservative Christians became suspicious of any talk of Jesus as "teacher" because liberals, or "Modernists," used it as a way of saying that he was not the divine Son and supernatural savior but "just a good man." In addition, their understanding of salvation by grace alone cut off from the "essentials" in Christian faith his teachings about life and God’s kingdom. As we have seen, being a Christian then comes to have nothing to do with the kind of person one is. The Modernists, by contrast, professed to regard him as a great teacher. But then they presented him as fundamentally mistaken about major elements of his own message, such as when his kingdom would come, and they explained away all his sayings and deeds that required supernatural interaction, his teachings and practice of prayer, for example. Thus they made it impossible in practice to take him seriously as a teacher.
Jesus’ good news about the kingdom can be an effective guide for our lives only if we share his view of the world in which we live. To his eyes this is a God-bathed and God-permeated world. It is a world filled with a glorious reality, where every component is within the range of God’s direct knowledge and control — though he obviously permits some of it, for good reasons, to be for a while otherwise than as he wishes. It is a world that is inconceivably beautiful and good because of God and because God is always in it. It is a world in which God is continually at play and over which he constantly rejoices. Until our thoughts of God have found every visible thing and event glorious with his presence, the word of Jesus has not yet fully seized us.
Here is a profoundly significant fact: In our culture, among Christian and non-Christians alike, Jesus Christ is automatically disassociated from brilliance or intellectual capacity. Not one in a thousand will spontaneously think of him in conjunction with words such as "well-informed," "brilliant," or "smart." Far too often he is regarded as hardly conscious. He is looked on as a mere icon, a wraithlike semblance of a man, fit for the role of sacrificial lamb or
alienated social critic, perhaps, but little more.
The intertestamental and first-century background information alone is worth the price of the book. Blomberg offers a concise treatment of critical methodologies (Historical Criticism and Literary Criticism), and then an eminently readable and interesting intro to the four gospels. Blomberg’s survey of the life of Christ is as good or better than anything I have seen. What sets Blomberg’s work on Jesus slightly ahead of that of Robert Stein (Jesus the Messiah) is, again, readability. Blomberg offers a chapter on the external evidence for the reliability of the gospels which seems to be basically a summary of his work from 1987 (Historical Reliability of the Gospels). He sums up this great work with a challenging look at the theology of Jesus. ~ Buddy Boone
Geivett and Habermas have collected some of the best available scholars around today to present a case for the actions of God in human history. The book begins with David Hume’s work on miracles along with a response from Antony Flew (the eminent Humean scholar). Then, a barrage of Christian philosophers and theologians tackle the issue of miracles in each chapter. Some of the chapter titles include – “Defining Miracles” (Richard Purtill), “Miracles and the Modern Mind” (Norman L. Geisler), “History and Miracles” (Francis J. Beckwith), “Recognizing a Miracle” (Winfried Corduan), “Science, Miracles, Agency Theory, & the God-of-the-Gaps” (J.P. Moreland), “The Evidential Value of Miracles” (Douglas Geivett), “Miracles in the World Religions” (David K. Clark), “The Incarnation of Jesus Christ” (John S. Feinberg), “The Empty Tomb of Jesus” (William Lane Craig), “The Resurrection Appearances of Jesus” (Gary R. Habermas), and more.
Are the traditional answers to these questions still to be trusted? Did the early church and tradition "Christianize" Jesus? Was Christianity built on clever conceptions of the church, or on the character and actions of an actual person? These and similar questions have come under scrutiny by a forum of biblical scholars called the Jesus Seminar. Their conclusions have been widely publicized in magazines such as Time and Newsweek. Jesus Under Fire challenges the methodology and findings of the Jesus Seminar, which generally clash with the biblical records. It examines the authenticity of the words, actions, miracles, and resurrection of Jesus, and presents compelling evidence for the traditional biblical teachings. Combining accessibility with scholarly depth, Jesus Under Fire helps readers judge for themselves whether the Jesus of the Bible is the Jesus of history, and whether the Gospel’s claim is valid that he is the only way to God. ~ From the Publisher
It’s funny how everybody has their own pet notion about Jesus and nobody’s pet notion seems to agree with anybody else’s. Grandawma, for instance, says He’s “just a defunct social reformer.” Then there’s Papa, who once said he’s God’s Son all right, and that He survived the crucifixion just fine, but that the two-thousand-year-old funeral service his cockeyed followers call Christianity probably made Him sorry he did. Meanwhile there’s Freddy, who’s six now, and who told me she saw Christ hiding under her bed one night, but that all He’d say to her was “Psst! Shhh! Pharisees!”
The origin of Christianity owes itself to the belief of the earliest disciples that God had raised Jesus from the dead. That belief cannot be accounted for in terms of either Christian, pagan, or Jewish influences. Even if we grant, for the sake of argument, that the tomb was somehow emptied and the disciples saw hallucinations — which we have seen to be false anyway — the origin of the belief in Jesus’ resurrection still cannot be explained. Such events would only have led the disciples to say that Jesus had been translated, not resurrected. The origin of the Christian faith is therefore inexplicable unless Jesus really rose from the dead.
A major new work of scholarship is raising eyebrows in many quarters: The Five Gospels: What Did Jesus Really Say?1 This is the product of six years of extensive consultation by a group of scholars known as the Jesus Seminar (hereafter JS), who have set out to determine the authentic words of Jesus. The result is a book that (1) provides a fresh, colloquial, and at times racy translation of the five gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the noncanonical Gospel of Thomas); (2) colors every saying attributed to Jesus in these Gospels as either red, pink, gray, or black (red means Jesus said it; pink means it’s close to what He said; gray means He didn’t say it in this form but there are echoes of His teaching in it; and black means the saying didn’t come from Him at all); and (3) provides passage-by-passage commentary explaining the JS’s rationale for its decisions. As the book jacket and popular press releases emphasize, only 20 percent of all the sayings of Jesus are colored red or pink and a good number of these come from Thomas!
Philosopher Davis argues that Christian belief in the resurrection is rational on historical, philosophical, and theological grounds. Each of the book’s ten chapters takes up a different aspect of the Christian concept of bodily resurrection and subsequently deals with such matters as preservation of personal identity and soul-body dualism, issues in biblical scholarship, and the reliability of New Testament accounts. ~ Synopsis
The scribes were treated with excessive deference in Jewish society because of their education and learning. Everyone honored them because of their wisdom and intelligence. The “mere children”(napioi in Greek, really meaning babes) were Jesus’ image for the uneducated and ignorant. He is saying that the gospel of grace has been disclosed to and grasped by the uneducated and ignorant instead of the learned and wise. For this Jesus thanks God… The babes (napioi) are in the same state as the children (paidia). God’s grace falls on them because they are negligible creatures, not because of their good qualities. They may be aware of their worthlessness, but this is not the reason revelations are given to them. Jesus expressly attributes their good fortune to the Father’s good pleasure, the divine eudokia. The gifts are not determined by the slightest personal quality or virtue. They were pure liberality. Once and for all, Jesus deals the death blow to any distinction between the elite and the ordinary in the Christian community.
Perhaps the real dichotomy in the Christian community today is not between conservatives and liberals or creationist and evolutionists but between the awake and the asleep. The Christian ragamuffin acknowledges with MacBeth: “Life is but a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more.” Just as a smart man knows he is stupid, so the awake Christian knows he/she is a ragamuffin. Although truth is not always humility, humility is always truth: the blunt acknowledgment that I owe my life, being, and salvation to Another. This fundamental act lies at the core of our response to grace. The beauty of the ragamuffin gospel lies in the insight it offers into Jesus: the essential tenderness of his heart, his way of looking at the world, his mode of relating to you and me.
But the answer seems too easy, too glib. Yes, God saved us because he loved us. But he is God. He has infinite imagination. Couldn’t he have dreamed up a different redemption? Couldn’t he have saved us with a pang of hunger, a word of forgiveness, a single drop of blood? And if he had to die, then for God’s sake — for Christ’s sake — couldn’t he have died in bed, died with dignity? Why was he condemned like a criminal? Why was his back flayed with whips? Why was his head crowned with thorns? Why was he nailed to wood and allowed to die in frightful, lonely agony? Why was the last breath drawn in bloody disgrace, while the world for which he lay dying egged on his executioners with savage fury like some kind of gang rape by uncivilized brutes in Central Park? Why did they have to take the very best? One thing we know — we don’t comprehend the love of Jesus Christ. Oh, we see a movie and resonate to what a young man and woman will endure for romantic love. We know that when the chips are down, if we love wildly enough we’ll fling life and caution to the winds for the one we love. But when it comes to God’s love in the broken, blood-drenched body of Jesus Christ, we get antsy and start to talk about theology, divine justice, God’s wrath, and the heresy of universalism.
The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels is unique among reference books on the Bible, the first volume of its kind since James Hastings published his Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels in 1909. In the more than eight decades since Hastings our understanding of Jesus, the Evangelists and their world has grown remarkably. New interpretive methods have illumined the text, the ever-changing profile of modern culture has put new questions to the Gospels, and our understanding of the Judaism of Jesus’ day has advanced in ways that could not have been predicted in Hasting’s day. But for many readers of the Gospels the new outlook on the Gospels remains hidden within technical journals and academic monographs. The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels bridges the gap between scholars and those pastors, teachers, students and lay people desiring in-depth treatment of select topics in an accessible and summary format. The topics range from cross-sectional themes (such as faith, law, Sabbath) to methods of interpretation (such as form criticism, redaction criticism, and death of Jesus) to each of the four Gospels as a whole. Some articles–such as the Dead Sea Scrolls, rabbinic traditions and revolutionary movements at the time of Jesus — provide significant background information to the Gospels. Others reflect recent and less familiar issues in Jesus and Gospel studies, such as divine man, ancient rhetoric and the chreiai (aphorisms). Contemporary concerns of general interest are discussed in articles covering such topics as healing, the demonic and the historical reliability of the Gospels. And for those entrusted with communicating the message of the Gospels, there is an extensive article on preaching from the Gospels. The Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels presents the fruit of evangelical New Testament scholarship at the end of the twentieth century — committed to the authority of Scripture, utilizing the best of critical methods, and maintaining dialog with contemporary scholarship and challenges facing the church. ~ Book Description
What’s missing here? Simply the essence of Christianity, which is not the Sermon on the Mount. When Christianity was proclaimed throughout the world, the proclamation was not “Love your enemies?” but “Christ is risen!” This was not a new ideal but a new event, that God became man, died, and rose for our salvation. Christianity is first of all not ideal but real, and event, news, the gospel, the “good news.” The essence of Christianity is not Christianity; the essence of Christianity is Christ… The Sermon on the Mount not only comes from Jesus but also leads us to Jesus. It does not divert us from Jesus to a set of abstract ideals, but its ideals lead us to Jesus. who alone can fulfill them in us, if we let him. The sermon is an arrow and Jesus is the bull’s eye, not vice versa.
Moreland’s work must be considered one of the premier works on apologetics written by an evangelical. Although William Lane Craig is probably now worthy to be called the dean of evangelical apologists, Moreland’s volume from the 1980s still stands alone as the best single volume in dealing with challenges to the Christian faith. This is due in large part to two factors: the format of the book and Moreland’s concise way in handling the issues under discussion. ~ Shannon Richie … “No evangelical now writing on apologetics surpasses Moreland in philosophical ability. Every person who intends to speak for Christ to the contemporary mind should master the content and spirit of this book.” ~ Dallas Willard, University of Southern California.
There can be no doubt that the doctrine of the Incarnation has been taken during the bulk of Christian history to constitute the very heart of Christianity. Hammered out over five centuries of passionate debate, enshrined in the classical Christian creeds, explored and articulated in the great systematic theologies, the doctrine expresses, so far as human words permit, the central belief of Christians that God himself, without ceasing to be God, has come amongst us, not just in but as a particular man, at a particular time and place. The human life lived and the death died have been held quite literally to be the human life and death of God himself in one of the modes of his own eternal being. Jesus Christ, it has been firmly held, was truly God as well as being truly man. As we have seen, this belief is not only expressed in the doctrine of the Incarnation, but also in countless hymns and devotional rites that belong to the very stuff of living Christianity, not to mention the art and sculpture which it has inspired down the centuries.
English journalist Frank Morison had a tremendous drive to learn of Christ. The strangeness of the Resurrection story had captured his attention, and, influenced by skeptical thinkers at the turn of the century, he set out to prove that the story of Christ’s Resurrection was only a myth. His probings, however, led him to discover the validity of the biblical record in a moving, personal way. Who Moved the Stone? is considered by many to be a classic apologetic on the subject of the Resurrection. Morison includes a vivid and poignant account of Christ’s betrayal, trial, and death as a backdrop to his retelling of the climactic Resurrection itself. Among the chapter titles are: “The Book That Refused to Be Written”, “The Real Case Against the Prisoner”, “What Happened Before Midnight on Thursday”, “Between Sunset and Dawn”, “The Witness of the Great Stone”, “Some Realities of That Far-off Morning”.
For over twenty years, Craig Blomberg’s The Historical Reliability of the Gospels has provided a useful antidote to many of the toxic effects of skeptical criticism of the Gospels. Offering a calm, balanced overview of the history of Gospel criticism, especially that of the late twentieth century, Blomberg introduces readers to the methods employed by New Testament scholars and shows both the values and limits of those methods. He then delves more deeply into the question of miracles, Synoptic discrepancies and the differences between the Synoptics and John. After an assessment of noncanonical Jesus tradition, he addresses issues of historical method directly. This new edition has been thoroughly updated in light of new developments with numerous additions to the footnotes and two added appendixes. Readers will find that over the past twenty years, the case for the historical trustworthiness of the Gospels has grown vastly stronger.
It may be that Jesus went to his death not knowing quite who he was, regardless of what other men thought. He certainly went to his death with public opinion sharply divided and with his own disciples profoundly confused. There is obviously no consensus even today — even among Christians — as to what the real message of Jesus was and how it should apply to our lives, if it should apply at all. Despite the credal affirmations of the mainstream Christian churches, there is also no consensus — not if one looks at what real people actually believe — as to the identity of Jesus. Was he, as traditional Christian dogmatics hold, both God and Man — "the Word made flesh," a human being who was "consubstantial with the Father"? Did he partake of the divine in some more diluted and, as many twentieth-century churchgoers have doubtless concluded, inherently more plausible manner? Was he simply another of those charismatics who appear from time to time, destroy some complacency, do some good, and bequeath to the human race the symbol of an exemplary life?