Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Case for the Real Jesus by Lee Strobel

Book Review
Discrediting the established Biblical accounts of Jesus Christ has become a popular sport recently. Within the past few years, a spate of books have been written challenging the traditional gospel records and causing many to question what they have been taught and believed most of their lives. Was Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, who was crucified for sinners, and resurrected from the dead? Or, was the real Jesus just an ordinary man who never claimed equality with God, never claimed to be the Savior of the world, was not resurrected, and did not actually ascend to heaven? Many people are unsure these days and, in The Case for the Real Jesus, Lee Strobel aggressively pursues the truth about the identity of Jesus Christ. He writes in manner that makes the scholarly material very readable and enjoyable for persons of varied educational backgrounds.

The Interviews
Strobel answers these challenges through investigative interviews of impeccably qualified scholars and experts. The curriculum vitae for each would require several pages, so that will be left to the reader to research. Suffice to say, all have PhDs and are eminently qualified to speak authoritatively on the subjects addressed. Strobel’s interviewees include:
·         Craig A. Evans
·         Daniel B. Wallace
·         Michael Licona
·         Edwin M. Yamauchi
·         Michael L. Brown
·         Paul Copan

But, aren’t they biased?
Critics may charge that these men are all Christian believers, including Strobel, and therefore biased. However, they are believers based on solid evidence, reason, and historically verifiable documentation. And, rather than tossing softball questions, Strobel interrogates these experts with the most incisive criticisms that have been raised by skeptics. When reading some of these questions, the reader sometimes wonders, “That’s a tough question:  How is he going to answer that?” In typical Lee Strobel fashion forged as an investigative legal reporter, the most significant potential difficulties to the truth of the real Jesus are taken head on. The book is arranged in six sections, or “Challenges”, listed here:

Challenge 1
Scholars are uncovering a radically different Jesus in ancient documents just as credible as the four Gospels. Much has been made recently of alleged alternative gospel accounts that failed to make it into the New Testament, with the primary charge that the early accounts of Jesus’ life depicted him as merely human, not divine: The exaltation to God and Savior was inserted much later by the church. According to critics, some of the alternative gospel accounts should be given equal – or even higher - status than those found in the Bible. This challenge and key questions of the dating of these texts is answered in Strobel’s interview of Daniel Wallace. 

Challenge 2
The Bible’s portrait of Jesus can’t be trusted because the church tampered with the text. Bart Ehrman, author of Misquoting Jesus, claimed the Bible we have today is untrustworthy, based on error-ridden copies, with the vast majority of those centuries removed from the originals. Even worse, many errors are alleged to have been made intentionally by church scribes designed to promote their theology. Daniel Wallace answers these criticisms, addresses the so-called variants or “errors”, and provides solid reasons to believe the biblical texts have been reliably transmitted to us. Wallace does not sugarcoat the difficult issues, but speaks honestly regarding some real copyist errors which, by the way, do not affect any doctrinal issues.

Challenge 3
New explanations have refuted Jesus’ resurrection. A 2007 television documentary and several books recently released claim to present new evidence and reasons to disbelieve the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some of these include The Jesus Papers by Michael Baigent and The Empty Tomb by Michael Martin and Richard Carrier. Michael Licona presents valid historical reasons to refute these claims and re-assert the truth of the resurrection.

Challenge 4
Christianity’s beliefs about Jesus were copied from pagan religions. Is it true that the first Christians merely copied ideas about a savior-god from pre-existing mythological stories of Mithras, Dionysus, Osiris, Tammuz, Marduk, Attis, or others? The eminently qualified Edwin Yamauchi answers questions relating to the dating of these stories compared with development of Christianity. He also details some of the vast differences between these stories and the real life of Jesus Christ.

Challenge 5
Jesus was an imposter who failed to fulfill the messianic prophesies. Most Christians are aware of some of the Old Testament prophesies that were fulfilled by Jesus Christ, such as His coming forth from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). However, some – primarily Jews – claim that Jesus did not fulfill some of the key prophesies, such as His failure to bring about world peace (Isaiah 42:1). Michael Brown, who was raised as a Jew, addresses these and many other similar issues, showing that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah of the Tanakh, or Old Testament.

Challenge 6
People should be free to pick and choose what to believe about Jesus. Do-it-yourself spirituality is the new religion in the West, with adherents picking and choosing what they like from different belief (or non-belief) systems and pitching those they don’t agree with. Paul Copan demonstrates from a philosophical perspective why it is not intellectually honest to take this approach with Jesus. Some people today talk of the radical new Jesus they have discovered, but Copan shows that the authentic Jesus is even more “radical” than they could imagine.

Lee Strobel’s very engaging writing style is the secret to his success: complex material made easy to read in an interview style. In addition, he pulls no punches with the experts, throwing at them some of the most difficult challenges skeptics have raised. This book is not an exhaustively thorough scholarly treatise, with 269 pages devoted to six subtopics. So, the reader who wishes to delve more deeply into the issues is provided at the end of each chapter additional resources for further investigation. There is, however, plenty of convincing evidence regarding each topic and the case is clearly made that the truth of the real Jesus has been accurately transmitted to us in the 21st century. The need today is critical for this type of information that Strobel provides. Non-Christians demand solid evidence and real answers to their questions. And, many of those persons raised as Christians no longer believe simply because their pastor or parents said so. Lee Strobel is performing a vital role today in answering these questions and providing valid reasons to believe in the real Jesus. 

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