" . . . Having started with the skeptical critics, those who take their cue from the earliest skeptical New Testament scholars of the Enlightenment, I expected to discover that their arguments would be frighteningly strong, and that Christianity was, at heart, a kind of fraud. I'd have to end up compartmentalizing my mind with faith in one part of it, and truth in another. And what would I write about my Jesus? I had no idea. But the prospects were interesting. Surely he was a liberal, married, had children, was a homosexual, and who knew what? But I must do my reseach before I wrote one word.
. . . What gradually came clear to me was that many of the skeptical arguments--arguments that insisted most of the Gospels were suspect, for instance, or written too late to be eyewitness accounts, lacked coherence. They were not elegant. Arguments about Jesus himself were full of conjecture. Some books were no more than assumptions piled upon assumptions. Absurd conclusions were reached on the basis of little or no data at all.
In sum, the whole case for the nondivine Jesus who stumbled into Jerusalem and somehow got crucified by nobody and had nothing to do with the founding of Christianity and would be horrified by it if he knew about it--that whole picture which had floated in the liberal circles I frequented as an atheist for thirty years--that case was not made. Not only was it not made, I discovered in this field some of the worst and most biased scholarship I'd ever read.
I saw almost no skeptical scholarship that was convincing, and the Gospels, shredded by critics, lost all intensity when reconstructed by various theorists. They were in no way compelling when treated as composites and records of later "communities."
I was unconvinced by the wild postulations of those who claimed to be children of the Enlightenment. And I had also sensed something else. Many of these scholars, scholars who apparently devoted their life to New Testament scholarship, disliked Jesus Christ. Some pitied him as a hopeless failure. Others sneered at him, and some felt an outright contempt. This came between the lines of the books. This emerged in the personality of the texts.
I'd never come across this kind of emotion in any other field of research, at least not to this extent. It was puzzling.
The people who go into Elizabethan studies don't set out to prove that Queen Elizabeth I was a fool. They don't personally dislike her. They don't make snickering remarks about her, or spend their careers trying to pick apart her historical reputation. They approach her in other ways. They don't even apply this sort of dislike or suspicion or contempt to other Elizabethan figures. If they do, the person is usually not the focus of the study. Occasionally a scholar studies a villain, yes. But even then, the author generally ends up arguing for the good points of a villain or for his or her place in history, or for some mitigating circumstance, that redeems the study itself. People studying disasters in history may be highly critical of the rulers or the milieu at the time, yes. But in general scholars don't spend their lives in the company of historical figures whom they openly despise.
But there are New Testament scholars who detest and despise Jesus Christ. Of course, we all benefit from freedom in the academic community; we benefit from the enormous size of biblical studies today and the great range of contributions that are being made. I'm not arguing for censorship. But maybe I'm arguing for sensitivity--on the part of those who read these books. Maybe I'm arguing for a little wariness when it comes to the field in general. What looks like solid ground might not be solid ground at all. . . .
The scholar who has given me pershaps some of my most important insights and who continues to do so through his enormous output is N. T. Wright. N. T. Wright is one of the most brilliant writers I've ever read, and his generosity in embracing the skeptics and commenting on their arguments is an inspiration. His faith is immense, and his knowledge vast.
In his book The Resurrection of the Son of God, he answers solidly the question that has haunted me all my life. Christianity achieved what it did, according to N. T. Wright, because Jesus rose from the dead.
It was the fact of the resurrection that sent the apostles out into the world with the force necessary to create Christianity. Nothing else would have done it but that.
Wright does a great deal more to put the entire question into historical perspective. How can I do justice to him here? I can only recommend him without reservation, and go on studying him. . . . "
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