Book review: The Jesus Legend

jesus-legend

Some books on Jesus and the New Testament are clearly apologetic in nature, seeking to argue or defend a certain viewpoint, whether it be sceptical or believing.

Other books clearly aim at being academic, impartial, seeking to advance academic opinion.

This book, which is almost a decade old, is kind of both. I have only recently read it, and I think it is worthy of a review.

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Should christians accept everything in the Old Testament as truly from God?

otbattle

I was intending getting onto some more positive topics, but I decided I needed to have one more look at this matter.

My previous post, Did God command killings in the Old Testament or was that a misunderstanding?, examined an incident where Jehu became king of Israel by killing the former king, Joram. In discussion on that post, a reader suggested there were ways to interpret these difficult Old Testament passages that didn’t discredit the accuracy of the revelation of God’s character as they believed I was doing.

So let’s have a look in more detail.

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Did God command killings in the Old Testament or was that a misunderstanding?

chariot

Arguments rage about the Bible and how we should interpret it, especially about the Old Testament. Conservative christians are often critical of those who take a “liberal” view, which conservatives see as destructive and unfaithful, while sceptics tend to see the conservatives as not following the evidence.

Is there any way to break through on this question? Are there any clues in the Bible itself?

It turns out that there is much food for thought.

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Did the Catholic church invent Jesus, write the gospels in the 4th century and suppress the truth?

catholic-procession

This page in brief

Did the Catholic Church invent Jesus, create legends about his life, write the New Testament which is more fiction than fact, and suppress the truth about the origins of christianity?

Claims like these have been made in comments on this blog and elsewhere, but is there any historical basis to them?

It turns out that the claims made recently in comments on this blog are almost all based on the writings of Tony Bushby. Tony is not a historian, and as far as I could investigate, it seems that the claims were almost totally invented – nothing less than outright lies and deception. He has invented books and authors, fabricated quotes, and misapplied genuine quotes so they are no longer accurate.

People who believe these claims are unwittingly being taken in. If you are interested in the details, please read on. (Otherwise, this may be a good place to stop!)

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Christians need to get smart over evolution?

triceratops

The biological theory of evolution has been the subject of argument ever since it was first proposed, especially from those christians who believe that the Bible teaches that the earth is not billions of years old, animals haven’t evolved from simple life forms, and thus evolutionary science must not only be wrong, but also evil. Other christians (including me) accept evolution as a scientific fact, even if some of the details are still doubtful.

In their eagerness, some creationist christians unfortunately make claims about evidence against evolution that don’t stand up. And, unfortunately, sometimes evolutionary scientists act unwisely too.

Here are a couple of cases in point …..

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A wave of the Spirit we should be catching?

surfer

I came across a blog post today that summed up what I think has become a significant movement within christianity.

Learning from a “hippie heretic”

The post was This Nameless Movement of God on Chuck McKnight’s blog Hippie Heretic, and it was based on just one premise (taken from fellow blogger Brian Zahnd):

“God is like Jesus. God has always been like Jesus. There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus. We have not always known what God is like—but now we do.”

The unstated, but clear, corollary of this statement of belief is that if there is any portrayal of God that is less than the character of Jesus, then it must be a misunderstanding.

This leads Chuck to 5 statements he rejects.

1. God had to punish Jesus for our sins (penal substitutionary atonement)

Jesus’ death was about more than just punishment, so penal substitutionary atonement is an incomplete (Chuck would say “wrong”) understanding. I have discussed this further in Why did Jesus have to die?.

2. God will punish sinners forever in hell (eternal conscious torment)

Close study indicates this is not what Jesus taught – see Three views on hell and judgment. A more detailed study is at Hell, what does the Bible say?

3. God meticulously plans all events (theological determinism)

This is the view of some Calvinists, but instead of glorifying God as Reformed doctrine tries to do, it seems to diminish God.

4. God has ever sanctioned or participated in violence (just war theory)

Did God really command his Old Testament people to kill and annihilate? Did Jesus command us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek if attacked? How can these ideas be reconciled? Should we be pacifists and peace-makers today?

5. God’s inspiration of scripture entails a text that is free from human mistakes (inerrancy)

It doesn’t look like this is the case, and there are good reasons for believing it isn’t true (see In what way is the Bible a special book?). And rejecting this teaching doesn’t necessarily lead to anarchy and loss of faith – in fact it may increase faith.

Spirit or heresy?

Most of these are “hot button” issues, dearly loved by many christians.

But there seems to be a new wave of thinking that Chuck has summed up well in these 5 rejections.

(I think this new wave also includes the rediscovery of the Kingdom of God and of the importance of christians to be caring for the poor, the marginalised and the hurting as part of our living in the Kingdom.)

Forty years ago, I came to the conclusion that the church was entering a time of change that would prove as important as the reformation. Already we have seen charismatic gifts going mainstream, the breakdown of denominationalism, the growth of simple or house churches and an increased emphasis on social justice, community welfare and the environment.

I believe the matters Chuck has raised are a next step, and I see more and more people, good faithful christians, rejecting these teachings in favour of the picture of God given to us in Jesus.

I believe this is a new wave of the Holy Spirit, and I think it will lead to much contention, but eventually much good.

Watch and see.

And join in!

Photo: MorgueFile

Three views on our acceptance with God

North Haven

North Haven on the NSW mid-north coast, from the top of Big Brother mountain. The reason for showing this photo will become apparent in the post. Photo (c) John Naylor and Google.

Christians hold three different views on who gains acceptance with God. I have looked at what the Bible says in detail at Can only christians be saved?, but here I want to think about some other aspects of the question.

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