71 – A Response to ABC’s “In Search of Jesus”
After spending the summer studying in England, one of the first things I did upon returning was watch the videotape of Peter Jennings’ special, “In Search of Jesus.” This show requires a Christian response because of its potential to cause you, or someone you love, to doubt their faith where there need be no doubt. I’ve guessed about what questions the program may have raised in your mind. Here are some thoughts that I trust will help answer your concerns.
“How worried should we be about the negative impact of this program?”
First of all, let’s not fret too much about this. God is not sitting in heaven wringing His hands about the impact of Peter Jennings’ special on His eternal plans. God is not going to lose a single sheep because of it: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28).
“Is what they said about Jesus and the Bible true?”
Bible scholars fall on a continuum between those who are more liberal on one end and those who are more conservative on the other. Unfortunately, ABC interviewed only more liberal scholars. Many or most liberal scholars do not believe that Jesus is who he claimed to be. Their opinions, therefore, are skewed by their worldview. (I am using the words “liberal” and “conservative” in a theological and not a political sense. There are of course many politically liberal, theologically conservative people, and vice versa).
“I guess I just assumed that all Bible scholars would be Christians”
It isn’t a requirement. Because of its impact on history, the Bible has long been of interest to serious scholars. Bible students are no more all Christians than all Presbyterians are Christians, or than all salesmen are extroverts.
“Why were they so skeptical?” Everyone speaks out of his or her own worldview. It should not be surprising that someone whose private motivations are personal ambition, prestige, and notoriety would project those motives onto Jesus. They see him attempting a political revolution. Exactly not that-at least according to Jesus’ own words in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
Other scholars who are interested in openness, inclusivity, and political correctness will project these characteristics onto Jesus as well.
“But they seemed so persuasive, while the believers in the program were not that believable”
I hope you noticed that all of the comments of the skeptics were carefully selected portions of scheduled interviews with educated scholars in their areas of expertise. The comments from the enthusiastic believers, however, were all unrehearsed, spontaneous comments from average people on the street (the exception was the well spoken pastor leading a group to the Holy Land).
Personally, I wouldn’t go to a taxi driver to learn about archaeology anymore than I would go to a Bible scholar for directions. The scholar may sincerely want to be helpful, but if I’m lost I’m going to listen to the taxi driver, even if he gives me bad directions. Just because a Christian taxi driver may be mistaken about an archaeological detail doesn’t disprove Christianity. It only proves he doesn’t know much about archaeology.
“Shouldn’t we expect scholars to present the truth?”
We should not expect a non-believing Bible scholar to come to the same conclusions as a believer would. “The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it” (John 1:5). The Bible says that before we are Christians we have a “veil” that covers our hearts and minds. “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:16).
Of course, it’s regrettable that Jennings didn’t interview theologically conservative scholars who could have given “the rest of the story.”
“Were they right to say that the gospels are not accurate?
While there are unanswered questions about the gospels, those questions comprise a tiny fraction. Many of the best scholars of the last five hundred years agree that the gospels are a tremendously reliable, authentic account of the life and work of Jesus.
“But what about the differences between the gospels that they mentioned?”
Which would cast greater doubt: that the accounts had differences, or that the accounts were the same? If all four gospel accounts recorded the same events in the same way, the scholars would no doubt complain that the similarities prove they are plagiaries. Since they are different in some respects, they now charge that the differences prove the gospels are fabrications.
Doesn’t it seem a bit ludicrous to postulate that since “the last supper” is not included in the gospel of John, that the writers of Matthew, Mark, and Luke fabricated it? It seems much more satisfying to say simply, “John did not include the last supper in his gospel, and he had a very good reason for not doing so.” There are differences because each writer had a different purpose and different audiences. The essential facts and truth are rock solid.
“What is the scope and duty of a Bible scholar?”
The job of a Bible scholar is to explain Scripture, not explain it away. When a scholar reaches the limits of his knowledge he or she should not speculate. That’s why we have the term “mystery” and the phrase, “I don’t know.”
“But shouldn’t a scholar give us his or her opinions?”
Everyone, of course, is entitled to his or her own opinions. However a scholar has an added responsibility not to parade opinions and speculations as scholarship. A clear distinction must be made between fact and speculation. Even then an expert should be sensitive to the effect they will have on those whose faith is weak. Revelation 22:18-19 warns against adding or subtracting to what the Bible says.
“When does a scholar cease to be a scholar?”
When he or she allows personal belief or unbelief to pre-determine their conclusions and still pretends to be objective. It is intellectually dishonest to decide what you want to prove and then go look for evidence to support the position you have already taken.
All of us interpret evidence through our worldview, so we should be open and honest about it, recognizing the limits of our “objectivity” and “rationality.”
“Was there anything good about the special?”
I thought it was incredibly interesting that in spite of their obvious desire to explain it away, and as liberal as they were, that as a matter of intellectual integrity, even they could not explain away the resurrection. They didn’t go so far as to say they believed, but they at least would admit, “Something happened.” Why did they say that? Because it would be the only time in history that a conspiracy of that type had ever held together. It’s a dog that won’t hunt. Not even for a non-believer.
As Christians, we don’t have to fear the truth since all truth is God’s truth. I hope this article has been an encouragement to you in your own search to follow Jesus.
After you finish this article, why not pass it along to a friend who may have questions as well?
Business leader, author, and speaker, Patrick Morley helps men to think more deeply about their lives, to be reconciled with Christ, and to be equipped for a larger impact on the world.
©2000. Patrick M. Morley. All rights reserved. This may be reproduced with proper attribution for non-commercial purposes.
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