Ever since the first century non-Christians have insisted that the Jesus story was myth. The fact that they have a huge platform upon which to say the same thing in our day is the only real difference, at least from where I sit. And since I teach apologetics I think a great deal about this subject.

Authors Greg Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy wrote an impressive and large book several years ago titled: The Jesus Legend. They laid out the case for the historical reliability of the New Testament and subjected it to what they believe are the "industry standards" criteria for serious historians. They concluded that the Jesus Story is not legend. They have now released a condensed, or popularized, version of the same book: Lord or Legend? (Baker, 169 pages, $14.99). Boyd and Eddy do a very good job of using recent scholarly studies to show how traditions and stories are transmitted in oral cultures and then show why this is a good reason the New Testament can be trusted. I agree with their conclusions completely.

The question for me, as always, is rather simple: "How much does this kind of argument help us in presenting the gospel?" The standard argument says that these arguments do not convert but they prepare the minds of unbelievers to "hear" the good news. (A kind of pre-evangelism approach.)I do not doubt that this does happen in some instances. I know people who credibly claim this point about their own conversion accounts;  e.g., the famous apologist and Lutheran theologian John Warwick Montgomery who read a defense of the resurrection and then came to faith while a student at Harvard.

My question is not so much "Does this argumentation do any good?" I think that it does at times. My question is the emphasis we are now placing on this approach since we believe the modern world  demands that we do this before we can preach the gospel. I am not a full-blown fideist (someone who rejects the idea that reason contributes to faith in any meaningful way) but I do think very few people actually come close to the kingdom through this method.  There is a sense in which this approach, which attacks bad rational  arguments with better rational arguments, is like a bombing assault from the air. I rather think we also need to use approaches that act like submarines, coming from underneath bad arguments showing how the foundations of unbelievers are built on faith, and in this case on a faith that will not sustain a consistent and proper way of living in a meaningful universe.

One of the problems with the Boyd and Eddy approach is that they do not acknowledge all the literary and historical problems that do arise from a serious study of the New Testament. One does not have to agree with the silly critics, like Bart Ehrman for example (who is the child of a fundamentalist/evangelical education if there ever was one), to admit that there are some problems in the New Testament text. I just do not think this admission destroys the credibility or storyline of the gospel in any sense at all. We can admit problems without buying into naturalism, atheism or skepticism. What we need to give to this generation is an apologetic of community, love and truly living faith which I think is much more than an apologetic of rational argumentation. At the end of the day it is still true that "faith seeks understanding."

I think Boy and Eddy may help young Christians more than they actually help bring non-Christians into "the faith once for all delivered to the saints." That’s my own approach but I am still thinking about this each day. I am open to more information and argumentation. A good argument should never be rejected because I already have embraced a weaker one that I like much better. One thing I know about apologetics: Fierce debates among Christians about apologetical systems are not useful to actually reaching non-believers.


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  1. Adam S December 9, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    My pastor, Andy Stanley, has been dealing with this for the past couple of weeks. Essentially he is saying that we have questions that we say keep us from God. However, just because those questions get answered, even if the questions could be answered, does not mean we would be come a Christian. Instead, we need to move from the categorical (focusing on the questions) to the personal (the questions get smaller, but don’t disappear because other personal issues move God to the more prominent place.)
    I have never been a fan of apologetics. Personally, I think apologetics has only two purposes. One is to deal with the questions that people that are already Christians have. That is a valid purpose and Christians that are intellectuals still need to be and are dealing with questions that they had before they because Christians or have developed since they became Christians. The second purpose is intellectual engagement with the world. I think we are fooling ourselves if we believe that this intellectual engagement is actually evangelism. Intellectual engagement says that we have the capacity for thinking and still can be Christians. (One problem with this is that some of the arguements are only useful for Christians. For instance I have a friend that is a Christian Ethicist that says that he can not defend Christian ethics to non-Christians because it uses a fundamentally Christian set of values and beliefs.)
    Evangelism apologetics says that if you just understand the argument then you will surely become a Christian. People become Christians because they were touched by the Holy Spirit. They don’t become Christians through argument. The Holy Spirit can use argument as one part of the process. But I doubt that many people would claim a purely rational Christianity that both starts with rationality and continues throughout their Christian life with rationality. At some point there is a decision to have faith in something that cannot be fully explained.

  2. George C December 9, 2007 at 6:49 pm

    I did not realize that you taught apologetics. I would love to talk shop with you at some point if we ever meet in real life. I don’t officially teach anything, but apologetics is both a huge interest and need of mine.
    My own experience of coming to put faith in Jesus was experiential. I “felt” the weight of my sins and the need to surrender to God and did so with very little intellectual information. From that point I began to lean about a bit about the Faith and honestly I think I just knew some things instinctively and by what seems to be osmosis because the teaching of the first Church I was part of (for 10 years or so) was shamefully inadequate.
    As a twenty something I hit a wall where I stated to see that some of my experience could have other explanations other than the Christian presuppositions I had. I also was wrestling with the lacks in my own life and in the Church at large.
    At this point I got to the point of going back and forth between wondering if I was either not genuinely a believer, whether the Biblical worldveiew was actually correct, or if I was just going through what some call the dark night of the soul.
    It was ultimately the writings of people like Ravi Zacharias and CS Lewis that kept me from going crazy. I still have relapses and believe if the Church was to stress the WHY we believe as much as the WHAT we believe as a foundation of discipleship and evangelism it would do a number of wonderful things.
    I also think that this is the pattern of the NT writers. Thankfully God grabbed me despite poor methodology, but I think it is sad that this is a huge area of weakness in most Christians witness and actually winds up being fodder for the post modern culture we are called to live before.
    I wrote a blog about this http://almostanepiphany.blogspot.com/2007/11/validity-of-gospel.html that you are welcome to read if you would like.

  3. John December 10, 2007 at 9:19 am

    “What we need to give to this generation is an apologetic of community, love and truly living faith which I think is much more than an apologetic of rational argumentation.”

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