Book Plunge: The Story of Jesus In History and Faith

What do I think of Lee McDonald’s book on the historical Jesus? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Lee McDonald has written a book on the historical Jesus and one aspect of this book is that it’s quite unique from other books I have read on the historical Jesus. McDonald places great stock in history, but he also says we must go beyond history at times. History can produce the data but at times, there is an element of faith involved with what we do with the data.

I am pleased that McDonald does state his own personal bias upfront. I have no problem with an author doing that and I in fact have no problem with an author having a personal bias. We all do. We cannot avoid that. We should seek to limit our bias as much as we can, but at the end of the day, we must all realize we’re humans capable of bias.

For instance, in the debate about the Historical Jesus, data is not really the problem. Seriously. It isn’t. Most everyone out there seriously involved in the debate will agree to the same data. There are disagreements over some minor issues of course, but except for those on the fringe, such as the Christ-myth camp or the ultra-conservative hyper-inerrancy camp of the new fundamentalists, the data is not the problem.

And for data, McDonald is very thorough and presents plenty of data about the historical Jesus. He goes into each of the Gospels arguing about authorship and date of writing and purpose of writing and looks at the non-Christian sources to see what they say about Jesus. He interacts with scholarship everywhere on the spectrum.

But to get back to the issue, I really don’t like saying that faith is what is involved. Oh there is an element of faith in Christianity of course, but it’s not the case that faith becomes some kind of belief in regard to the evidence. Faith is rather an action in relation to the evidence. Faith is the act of loyally following through the evidence. I would in fact conclude that a historian can make a knowledge claim that Jesus did in fact rise from the dead. One can use history I think and demonstrate this.

While that is a criticism I have of McDonald’s book, it should not count against the overall excellent depth of information that is in the book and even if you’re highly familiar with Jesus studies, you’re sure to get something out of this one.

While McDonald agrees with the resurrection, I also think he’s fair about how far he thinks the evidence goes. He’s not going to defend a hard line inerrancy either. He does admit that there are some passages of Scripture that he sees as difficult to reconcile. Does that mean that they cannot be? Of course not, but it does mean that many of our explanations can often be so-so and just little bandages trying to sustain a view of inerrancy that cannot survive scrutiny.

In conclusion, I don’t agree with everything, and again, how many authors will we agree with entirely, I do think McDonald’s book is a welcome edition and that it would be a great help at a Seminary for students wanting to learn about the historical Jesus.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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