Published February 7, 2013
This column is the conclusion of a six-part series on trusting the New Testament.
QUESTION: Why are the most publicized and sensational critics out of step with the abundance of evidence, and so out to edit and rewrite the New Testament?
ANSWER: Why would a group of radicals called the Jesus Seminar set themselves up as a judge and jury of the New Testament to cast colored balls on what they think Jesus said or didn’t say? Why would they be willing to go against the vast majority of reputable Bible scholars who view them as “publicity hounds” using “quirky methodology” and “off-beat gnostic books” to produce a Jesus who looks more like them than anything resembling the New Testament portrait?
Perhaps the answer is imbedded in the above question: They want a Jesus who is compatible with their own personal and philosophical views which also attracts attention and distinguishes them from the run-of-the-mill scholars.
I never imagined that with the arrival of a new president at our local Methodist college two Jesus Seminar “stars” would be invited to speak during his inauguration festivities. The new president and I discussed/debated our dramatically different views on a liberal education. I see a true liberal education as one in which both sides of an issue are openly examined or debated while a false liberal education is where two like-minded speakers promote a one-sided attack on an issue; in this case, it was biblical Christianity.
Tragically, this false form of liberalism has become increasingly the desired norm in academia and the news media. Although the president opted for a double-dose of radicalism I saw, heard, experienced how the speakers’ “alternative” to the biblical Christ offered the audience nothing to live and die by, nothing to rival what N.T. Wright says when he writes: The Bible is “the book I live with, the book I live by, the book I want to die by” (“Is the Bible True”, Jeffrey Sheler, p. 192).
As I sat in that auditorium I couldn’t help but think of C.S. Lewis’ critique of such critics entitled “Fern Seed and Elephants.” Lewis wrote about “a theology which denies the historicity of nearly everything in the Gospels to which Christian life and affections and thought have been fastened for nearly two millennia.” He reasoned: “If he (a skeptic) tells me something in a Gospel is legend or romance, I want to know how many legends and romances he has read … I have been reading poems, romances, vision-literature, legends, myths all my life. I know what they are like. I know that not one of them is like (a gospel).’ Of this text, there are only two possible views. Either this is reportage … or else, some unknown writer in the second century without known predecessors or successors, suddenly anticipated the whole technique of modern, novelistic, realistic narrative… The reader who doesn’t see this has simply not learned to read.”
In fact, he points out how these critics who demythologize the New Testament may claim to read between the lines and see the “real” truth, in fact they simply “claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards away in broad daylight.” Obviously, they don’t want to see the God we see in Jesus – as did some other religious teachers and leaders of Jesus’ day. He is not their kind of God.
Lewis saw most clearly of where such radicalism leads: The decline and death of those religious denominations that in their own pride and prejudice set themselves up as judge and jury of what God has plainly revealed for eyes who will see, who want to see the glory of God in the humility and transparency of Jesus recorded in the New Testament.
Paul Baxter is senior pastor of First Baptist Church on the Square in LaGrange.
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