Friday, August 29, 2014

"The Jesus Inquest" by Charles Foster: A Review

The Jesus Inquest: The Case For and Against the Resurrection of the Christ
If the resurrection is proven to be a hoax, then Christianity falls.  Though liberals have tried to redefine the faith stripping it of any substance, the fundamental truth remains:  if Jesus did not die in our place for our sins and then was raised from the dead, our faith is in vain.  And Scripture affirms as much.  No other religion is really like this.  Christianity, then, is inherently a historical religion that is based on historical events.  If Jesus is still dead, then so is the religion named after Him.

One can see why modern debates over the historicity of the resurrection are so strong and frequent.  Books -  countless books - have been written on the subject covering virtually every aspect of the debate.  Non-Christians reject the resurrection.  All of them do.  Why?  Because of the resurrection happened, then Jesus is who He said He is.  And few are willing to pick up their cross and follow Christ.  On the other hand, orthodox Christians uphold that Jesus really did rise from the dead and thus call on everyone, everywhere to repent.

One helpful book that sorts through the debate is The Jesus Inquest: The Case For and Against the Resurrection of the Christ by Charles Foster.  The author is not a theologian, but a trained barrister and approaches the subject from that perspective.  This is both a compliment and a critic as we will see.  The book is set up to present, without bias as much as possible, both sides of the argument.  Each chapter deals with a major issue of contention regarding the resurrection.  For example, the author presents the argument over the death of Jesus (He can't rise unless He first dies right?), the burial of Jesus (how do we know He was actually buried as the Gospels say He was, couldn't He have been thrown into a pit and eaten by wild animals?), and of course the empty tomb.  The author honestly seeks to present all of the major issues (there's no way he can be exhaustive here).

Each chapter begins with the non-Christian view labeled X.  X makes the case that the sources are tainted,  inaccurate, and contradictory, and that ultimately Jesus was not raised.  After their case is made, the author then presents the Christian case labeled Y.  Y then goes point by point made by X and defends the argument for the resurrection.

I liked this approach but it is fraught with danger.  For one, the book oftentimes reads as if X was on offense and Y was on defense.  This is simply the limits of a book like this.  Each chapter needs to go back and forth and that is simply not possible.  I say that the book oftentimes reads like this because it doesn't always read like this.  The tone of Y isn't always defensive, but is sometimes offensive.  The author writes in a way that doesn't make Y look timid or weak but can rather stand strongly behind their argument which is full of evidence itself.  However, rarely did Y raise new arguments.  They almost always had the same headings as X and made Y appear defensive.  I believe that X is forced to defend some of their unstantiated views as much as Y's claim that Jesus was raised from the dead.

That is what I found interesting about the book and what is helpful about this approach to this subject.  It is amazing the hypocrisy of X.  X frequently argues that the Bible is contradictory, the Gospel writers are bad historians with evil motives and intentions who freely doctor the facts to fit their agenda's, and that we simply can't trust them.  And then they turn around and use the Gospels as the launching pad to make some of the wildest claims which have less historical proof to them.

For example, X raises the possibility that Jesus survived the cross and eventually escaped to India, France, or where ever.  To make this case, X relies on both the Bible and wild conspiracy books (like DaVinci Code and Holy Blood, Holy Grail Illustrated Edition: The Secret History of Jesus, the Shocking Legacy of the Grail) plus ancient documents that have less credibility than the Bible.  The Gnostic Gospels are more mythical than the canonical Gospels and yet many who reject Christianity on the grounds of the Gospel's historical problems run to these other writings which are clearly unhistorical.  X does this throughout the book.

Furthermore, X seems to make up wild conspiracy theories (leaning on "evidence" in the Gospels themselves).  For example, X makes the case that perhaps Pilate was in on the conspiracy to not have Jesus executed.  I'm not sure that is really worth the time that Y gives it in response, but Y does devastate the conspiracy.  X repeatedly raises these conspiracies and repeatedly suggest that they are well worth our time when they simply are not.  This goes to show that X has as much an agenda as Y and one ought to be aware of that agenda before sinking into the debate.

My biggest concern regards the author himself however.  This is a Christian book published by a Christian publisher, Thomas Nelson.  And yet the author seems non-committal to either side.  I can accept some of his criticisms of Lee Strobel and Josh McDowell, but it is a concern for me that an author of a Christian book to be sold in Christians stores would conclude with:
But even if all this is wrong and something of the kind was expected, one still has to ask, 'How did the disciples come to believe that the man Jesus was the first one to emerge so shockingly from the grave?'  For, rightly or wrongly, they certainly seem to have believed it.

Whether or not that belief was right is something about which you'll have to make up your own mind.

Really?  That's the best you can do?  If Jesus was really, historically, miraculously, and triumphantly raised from the dead, that's not something one can halfheartedly pick a side and run with it.  The consequences are too great.  If Jesus is a fraud then Christianity is dead.  But if Jesus conquered death, then we must submit to Him as Lord who offers either judgment or salvation.  To ignore the truth is to accept judgment deservingly.  To embrace the resurrection in repentance is to accept salvation and grace.  Though I know the author does not seek to make converts, as a Christian how can he not?  Isn't that exactly what the Gospel writers sought to do?

Overall, this is a book worth having especially if you are new to the debate and are willing to think.  With that said, I do have my concerns.  But at the end of the day, this book does show, at the very least, that the case for the resurrection of Christ (not to steal a Lee Strobel book title or anything) is very strong and the implications of that are intense.  We have no need to fear.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I review for BookSneeze

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