Thursday, October 25, 2007


In the next few blogs I want to sumarize the gist of Lee Strobel's new book, The Case for the Real Jesus (Zondervan 2007).

Like his other best-selling books, Strobel offers a readable, racy account of the pros and cons of current theological opinion about Jesus - his identity, resurrection, the literary sources, etc. He brings his investigative/journalistic skills to the various discussions with 'experts' (note the 'quotes': I'll explain later).

In my review of his well-known book The Case for Christ, I wrote: 'Strobel's methodology is a little contrived. Strobel acts as a skeptical devil's advocate with the experts he interviews. But he is then convinced at every point on every issue - so there's an 'a prioristic' flavour about the whole exercise. (It's cute how he sometimes comments on a scholar's opinion as being 'theologically sound'!).'

Here again he betrays his conservative evangelical bias, getting all upbeat when a 'top-rate scholar' affirms a belief in biblical inerrancy, or substitutionary atonement, for example. Strobel, in my opinion, is a better raconteur than theologian.

But he's done his research, and generally the various theological/textual experts respond to his hard questions with balance and fairness. A few issues are in the too-hard basket (which distinguishes this book's 'evangelical' approach from many written by fundamentalists).

So here's an all-too-simplified Q & A summary of the main issues in this interesting book, covering each of the six challenges:

[1] 'Scholars are uncovering a radically different Jesus in ancient documents just as credible as the Four Gospels'

[2] 'The Bible's portrait of Jesus can't be trusted because the Church tampered with the text'

[3] 'New explanations have refuted Jesus' resurrection'

[4] 'Christianity's beliefs were copied from pagan religions'

[5] 'Jesus was an imposter who failed to fulfill messianic prophecies'

[6] 'People should be free to pick and choose what to believe about Jesus'

Here's another review of this book.

More articles like this here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Ernst Kasemann wrote a powerful book about Jesus - Jesus Means Freedom - in which he attacks our efforts to 'domesticate' Jesus, or turn him into an icon or 'make him bourgeois after our own image'. He recalls the apocryphal saying of Jesus 'He who is near me is near the fire' - the fire of judgment, an uncomfortable experience. The Sermon on the Mount does not consist of 'beautiful ideas' but is a terrifying examination of conscience...

So what's unique about Jesus? All of these, according to Kasemann: his complete refusal to acknowledge barriers raised by race or skin-colour; his demand for the most scrupulous honesty in word and intent; his rejection of every form of retaliation; his refusal to approve of our worship of God unless we try to be reconciled to anyone we've wronged; his requirement of unconditional love of our neighbours and of forgiveness that outstrips every limit; his insistence that inhumanity to a fellow-human is a deep offence against God...

To which we can add Jesus' searching words about wealth and its power to undermine integrity and harden gentleness of spirit. How often do moderns and their sermons on money try to explain away what Jesus said on this touchy subject! (I've been reading and listening to Thomas Friedman recently: because the whole world wants goodies, we're wrecking the planet).