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Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Monday, March 24, 2008

Book Review

Reinventing Jesus: How the Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture.

J. ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace

A Book Review by Hayden Norris,

It seems that you cannot turn on the television or pick up a newspaper without seeing some new ‘discovery’ that ‘disproves’ the Christian faith. The Gospel of Judas, the Jesus Tomb, and the Gospel of Thomas have taken center stage recently, but the attacks of skeptics are nothing new. There have always been people who are skeptical to Christianity. Skeptics seem to come up with theory after theory as to how the Bible is not what it claims to be, the Word of God, and have sounded the supposed ‘death nail’ in the coffin of Christianity more times than I can count. The authors of the book Reinventing Jesus see this challenge and their assessment is that:
The radical skepticism sown in the media and rooted in postmodernism has been cultivated in an environment of biblical ignorance… The media’s assault on the biblical Jesus, postmodernism’s laissez-faire attitude toward truth, and America’s collective ignorance of Scripture have joined to create a culture of cynicism. In short, society has been conditioned to doubt. (pgs. 15, 16)
So what is the concerned Christian to do when they sit around the dinner table and hear someone state that the divinity of Jesus Christ was not determined until the council of Nicea, as Dan Brown has made popular in the Da Vinci Code? or what about the argument that since we do not have the original manuscripts we cannot be sure of the Bible? What would you say if you were asked these questions?

The book Reinventing Jesus answers these questions and many more in a way that is understandable and accessible. I have taken a graduate level course in New Testament textual criticism and hate to admit how much of it I have forgotten, or never learned in the first place. This book takes much of what I learned in that course and ‘boils it down’ to make it understandable to the ‘person in the pew’ which is its greatest strength.

There are many reasons as to why I would commend this book to anyone from the pastor in a church near the local university having to deal with the radical views of students, to the mechanic that is being heckled in the shop because he believes in a ‘fairy tale’. The first is its readable chapters with excellent illustrations. The book is divided up into five distinct parts that can be read separately or as a whole. Each section is heavily endnoted with direct quotes from many people who are critical to Christianity. The authors seem to be very even handed when dealing with quotations and also very clear in the flaws of the views of those they disagree with.

The second reason that I would recommend this book is that it really is a ‘page turner’. You might think, “A book on textual criticism is a page turned? Sounds like an oxymoron to me.” Until I read this book I would have agreed with you. In my class on textual criticism, I do remember nodding off a time or two (the class was right after lunch which might have exacerbated the situation) because the material was dry and lifeless. The authors of Reinventing Jesus breathe life into the ‘dead bones’ of textual criticism with their understandable illustrations and excellent writing style.

The final reason that I would recommend Reinventing Jesus is that it really strengthens your confidence in the Bible that you have in front of you. Each section of the book builds the case for the Christianity of the Bible that it is now in vogue to attack (think Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Bart Ehrman, and Richard Dawkins). Part One: I believe in Yesterday, deals with the assertions of the so called ‘Jesus Seminar’ that try to challenge whether or not the writers of Scripture ‘got the story right’. Part Two: Politically Corrupt? The Tainting of the New Testament Texts, addresses the difficult subject of manuscripts and the copying of Scripture in an understandable and readable way. Part Three: Did the Early Church Muzzle the Canon? ,is worth the price of the book, and it handles what was included in the Bible (know as the canon) and debunks the conspiracies of the Da Vinci Code. Part Four: The Divinity of Jesus: Early Tradition or Late Superstition?, focuses on whether or not the people who followed Jesus though He was divine (which He is) and in my mind puts to rest the thought that He was married to Mary Magdalene and buried in a tomb somewhere. Part Five: Stealing Thunder: Did Christianity Rip Off Mythical Gods?, addresses some of the modern skepticism that tries to find parallels between the mystery religions and ancient religions and Christianity. This section puts to death the notion that Christianity is a copy-cat religion.

With all this in mind I do have one caution. This book assumes what is commonly called ‘Markan priority’ which is widely accepted, and easily dismisses other points of view. For a great study on this topic, which I understand is a very technical one, see Three Views on the Origins of the Synoptic Gospels edited by Robert L. Thomas (Kregel, 2002).

The battle is waging around us as many skeptics are afforded an almost unchallenged hearing. Too often Christians are afraid to stand up against the so-called experts because they feel ill-equipped to defend the faith. This should not be so! This is especially true when we have works like Reinventing Jesus to guide us in answering their criticisms. We should not be afraid to do as Peter says in 1 Peter 3 :15 “…always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;” I commend J. ed Komoszewski, M. James Sawyer, and Daniel B. Wallace for this important and admirable work, and leave you with this statement from the book:

The real Jesus is far from safe. We seem to know that instinctively. It’s why we keep or distance. But something strange happens when we approach him fearfully and humbly in the words of Scripture. We hear the ring of authenticity in his voice. We witness the genuine authority in his actions. So we take a closer look and see that he is good. (pg 262)


Hayden Norris is an Associate Pastor at Mt. Morris Community Church in Mt. Morris, Michigan.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Raulemir said...

OK, just read those guys with discernment. Watch out especially for Wallace when he talks about the words of Jesus in the Gospels. He holds a very loose *ipsissima vox* view that undermines confidence in what Jesus really said.

Maybe that doesn't come out in this particular book, but he is on record for hiding his scholarly work on the subject because of the furor it would cause at the popular level.

This was hashed out on the Pyromaniacs blog a couple of years ago, and J.Ed threw quite a hissy fit at the time. I wouldn't be surprised to see J.Ed show up here, either. If he does, I'm prepared to back up what I've written here.

9:16 PM, March 24, 2008  
Blogger Fred Butler said...

I don't recall the ipsissima vox issue coming up in this particular book. Of course, I was mainly interested in the last three sections of the book, so I read them with more scrutiny than the first sections.

I am such a puny blog compared to the behemoth that is Pyromanics that I doubt seriously J.Ed would show up here to hassle me, but I certainly welcome the debate.

I have some acquaintances who have taught on the subject of ipissima vox in the past. I will have to hook up with them sometime to help me think through the issue.

Fred

5:31 AM, March 25, 2008  
Blogger Hayden said...

Fred,

No ipissima vox (try saying that without giggling like a kid in the schoolyard) is discussed in the book. It is very straightforward as far as I can tell, but I did nod out a couple of times in NTI (anyone who went to TMS will understand this :).

As far as Wallace, love his grammar book but I read everything with as much discernment as I can muster. I have never read the other two authors.

Really, I believe this book is an important work and would say so even if NT Wright wrote it :) (Ok, now I just stirred up a hornet's nest! Calm down I was just kidding)

Hayden

6:21 AM, March 25, 2008  

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