090 The Case For Christ

A former legal editor of the Chicago Tribune, Lee Strobel, has written a fascinating work, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, c. 1998), wherein he applies his legal (Yale Law School) and journalistic skills to the greatest case of all time. In part the book records Strobel’s own spiritual journey. He acknowledges that “For much of my life I was a skeptic” (p. 13), buoyed up by a mish mash of superficial historical and scientific tidbits which he had never actually examined.

His wife’s conversion to Christ forced him to begin examining the Faith, and after a period of hard-nosed investigation he too embraced the Christ. “Setting aside my self-interest and prejudices as best I could, I read books, interviewed experts, asked questions, analyzed history, explored archaeology, studied ancient literature, and for the first time in my life picked apart the Bible verse by verse” (p. 14). He applied his experience in legal journalism to set up evidentiary proofs which needed to be satisfied. To his surprise, the evidence pushed him to think the unthinkable, that Jesus was indeed the Christ. And he fleshed out the that evidence through a series of interviews with this nation’s finest scholars–interviews which constitute the chapters of this treatise.

To test the “eyewitness evidence” he sought out Craig L. Blomberg, author of Jesus and the Gospels, who teaches at Denver Seminary and believes all four gospels were written by eyewitnesses to the events described. A graduate of Aberdeen and Cambridge universities, Blomberg knows all the critical theories, but he cites both textual and ancient historical data to support his case. If the gospels were written by eyewitnesses, the second question concerns the “documentary evidence,” so Strobel visited Princeton Theological Seminary to interview Bruce Metzger, perhaps the greatest living authority on textual criticism. Metzger emphasized the quantity and antiquity of manuscripts available to New Testament scholars, asserting there is no reason to “doubt that the scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written” (p. 63). The third kind of evidence Strobel sought is “corroborating” materials beyond the gospels. So he sought out Edwin M. Yamauchi, a distinguished historian with a working knowledge of some 22 languages, who explained to Strobel the importance of Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny the Elder, Thallus, the Apostolic Fathers, et al., independent witnesses who lend great credibility to the New Testament account. So does “the scientific evidence,” gleaned from archaeology, which was described by John McRay of Wheaton College. Minor details, in St. Luke’s writings, for example, have been confirmed by archaeological digs, validating both their first century composition and accuracy.

To determine precisely how Jesus understood Himself, Strobel visited Asbury Theological Seminary and interviewed Ben Witherington, who shares Raymond Brown’s conclusion that the Gospel of John clearly reveals that Jesus is “Lord and God,” a truth which could only derive from Jesus’ own self- disclosure. In an ordinary man, of course, such claims would constitute proof of psychological disorder, so Strobel visited Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to talk with Gary R. Collins, an eminent psychologist. The Jesus we find the Scripture, Collins says, is anything but abnormal. In fact, he established healthy relationships with others and appeared absolutely normal to those who knew him best.

Fully human, He was also fully divine, doing amazing things such as forgiving sins, as D.A. Carson (also of Trinity Evangelical Seminary) declares. And, adds Louis S. Lapides, a “completed Jew,” this Jesus miraculously fulfilled four dozen messianic prophecies which certainly lead one to conclude He was the long-awaited Savior. “Someone did the math,'” Lapides says, “‘and figured out that the probability of just eight prophecies being fulfilled is one chance in one hundred million billion. That number is millions of times greater than the total number of people who’ve ever walked the planet!'” (p. 183). But against all odds, Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies needed to demonstrate that He was the Christ.

To discuss yet another item of evidence, the Resurrection, Strobel visited Alexander Metherell, a research scientist who earned both a M.D. and Ph.D. Metherell meticulously explained the physiological details of the crucifixion Christ suffered, and concludes that only a miraculous resurrection explains the empty tomb. William Lane Craig, who’s written Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection, shares this view and energetically explained to Strobel why one can believe in it. Gary Habermas, who wrote Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? was also interviewed, and he brought his formidable intellect into the defense of orthodox doctrine by defending the reality and importance of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. In his words: “‘The Resurrection was undoubtedly the central proclamation of the early church from the very beginning. The earliest Christians didn’t just endorse Jesus’ teachings; they were convinced they had seen him alive after his crucifixion. That’s what changed their lives and started the church. Certainly, since this was their centermost conviction, they would have made absolutely sure that it was true” (p. 235).

Equally significant, adds J.P. Moreland, of Talbot Theological Seminary, the Early Church centered its worship around the Eucharist. “‘What’s odd is that these early followers of Jesus didn’t get together to celebrate his teachings or how wonderful he was. They came together regularly to have a celebration meal for one reason: to remember that Jesus had been publicly slaughtered in a grotesque and humiliating way” (p. 253). And they also baptized converts “‘in the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit–which meant they had elevated Jesus to the full status of God'” (p. 253).

So “the case for Christ,” in Strobel’s judgment, becomes stronger the longer you examine the evidence. It sufficed to bring him to the Faith, and this book certainly has adequate material to open doors for sincere seekers who wonder why one should embrace the Gospel story as God’s Truth, the Good News inscribed for us in the Good Book. Readable, filled with references for folks interested in more scholarly discussions, persuasive to the degree such efforts can be, this is a fine work of apologetics

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“Dostoevsky,” says a great 20th century German theologian, Karl Adam, “in the draft for his novel The Possessed, makes his hero declare that the most pressing question in the problem of faith is ‘whether a man, as a civilised being, as a European, can believe at all, believe that is in the divinity of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, for therein rests, strictly speaking, the whole faith'” (The Son of God; New York: Image Books, c. 1960, p. 9). Faced, as we are today, with headline-grabbing publications dealing with the “historical Jesus,” it’s wise to revisit earlier, and often more substantial works such as Professor Adam’s The Son of God, and his earlier treatise, The Christ of Faith: The Christology of the Church (New York: A Mentor Omega Book, 1962), the summary of lectures presented for several decades at the University of Tubingen. Importantly, Professor Adam reminds us that “there is no such thing in history as a purely ‘historic’ Jesus–that is to say, a merely human Jesus. Such a figure is pure fiction, a literary phantom. In history is the ‘dogmatic’ Christ, the ‘God-man who lives and works in continuous existence. He has been the great reality of history, the turn of a new era, the beginning of a new Man” (Son, p. 20).

Deeply rooted in scholarship, these books are still accessible to the ordinary reader who wants to understand them contents. Adam insists on Jesus Christ’s God-man balance, for “whenever in the mystery of Christ his human or divine nature is exclusively or falsely stressed, the mystery of the Redemption is misrepresented and therewith the whole of Christian devotion is distorted and misdirected” (Son, p. 12). Above all else, “Christianity is the good tidings of Christ. Christianity is Christ” (Christ, p. 17). He alone clearly reveals God to us, and He “is our Redeemer . . . because he is God-man, the new Adam” (Son, p. 16). This we believe because He Himself claimed it. In calling Himself “the Son,” Jesus underscored “his consciousness of being the Messias, the final, holiest word that he has to say to us” (Christ, p. 153). Sharing the very Being of His Father, the Son alone knows and reveals Him to us. “This is the deepest meaning of his mission and of his message, and of Christianity as a whole: by way of the Son to the Father” (Christ, p. 158). He was not, as some books and sermons suggest, crucified because he espoused non-violence and peace, brotherhood and love. He was crucified because the Jews accused him of blasphemy, because he dared to say God was His Father! Thus we recognize not the “progressive transfiguration and divinization of a mere man,” but “a Being who is perfect and complete Man and whose mystery lies in the fact that in this his complete and simple human nature he is essentially One with God. In this paradox of a complete, real human Being who is yet the Son of God the true kernel of the Christian faith consists” (Son, p. 67). Importantly, “In his person eternity breaks through into time, the superhistorical into the level of history, the Divine into the human” (Son, p. 136).

To trace the development of Christology, Adam examines the various disputes which, through the centuries, prodded the Church to carefully define what she believes about Christ. Monarchianism, Arianism, Docetism, Apollinarianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, Adoptionism, et al. receive careful explanation and refutation. Then we’re led on an exploration of Christ’s image in Enlightenment-shaped Protestant theology, which “has fallen victim to the far-reaching and destructive analytical tendency of rationalistic thinking” (Christ, p. 63). Herein we encounter portraits of Christ as an ideal man, or a mythical ideal–almost anything but the orthodox God-man of traditional Christianity. We must courageously reject thinkers such as D.F. Strauss, Albert Schweitzer, Julius Wellhausen, Rudolph Bultmann–men who have abandoned the Faith once delivered to the saints.

To do so leads us to a careful study of the canonical Gospels, wherein we find Christ revealed, miraculously, as the fulfillment of Old Testament truth and prophecy: “He is himself the Jahve of the Old Testament. Thus he always interprets the prophesies as if he himself were in place of Jahve” (Christ, p. 77). Jesus clearly knew He was the Son of God! He forgave sins and worked miracles, and He spoke as one with divine authority. The Evangelists writing the Gospels, who meticulously recorded the “reminiscences of Jesus preserved by the first generation of Christians” (Son, p. 57), deliberately used the title “‘Son of God’ in the true strictly metaphysical sense” (Christ, p. 80). In St John’s Gospel, we find “the most consummate” and definitive portrait of Christ, and John, above all, managed to balance “the pre-existent and exalted Jesus” with the “historical Jesus” who walked and talked as a man like us.

This high Christology was sustained by the Early Church, as is evident in the book of Acts and Pauline epistles. Certainly “The earliest Christians, the first community at Jerusalem, even Jesus’ disciples during the Master’s lifetime, had already made Jesus the object of religious veneration, of a cult. They recognized him to be the Lord, and wrought signs and wonders in his name” (Christ, p. 100). Amazingly, within days of the Resurrection, Jesus’ followers boldly acknowledged His “divinity–and a divinity not in the Hellenistic but in the Jewish sense. He alone is the manifestation of God, the all-powerful and all-holy One. Here was the terrible new and incredible thing in the early Christian proclamation of God, that the one omnipotent God had become man” (Christ, p. 107). Paul too declared that Christ was fully God, literally “the image of the invisible God,” and his boldest assertion of “this divine mystery of Christ,” says Adam, “is the name of ‘Kyrios.’ In the entire Judaic literary tradition before Paul, this name never once occurs as a description of the Messias. It is reserved for God alone” (Christ, p. 189). Yet “Kyrios” became the word Christians routinely used when referring to the Christ.

And this Lord was risen indeed! The apostles’ “‘Kyrie’ was the first response of their new faith to the Easter message” (Son, p. 190). Professor Adam carefully analyzes the event and resolutely insists that Christ literally arose from the dead. The tomb was empty. In His body He appeared to his apostles. “Christ’s disciples could never have got the impression that he really was risen from the dead and a living being unless they had direct perception both of his bodily appearance and of his bodily functions” (Son, p. 181). In our earliest sources, notably in I Corinthians 15, Paul relies upon the testimony of Peter and James as well as his own Damascus Road experience. So Professor Adam declares, “What we are dealing with is not the raising up of a mere man, but the Resurrection of the Christ, not the mere flaming up of an extinct natural life, but the creative breaking through of that divine life, which Jesus from the very beginning knew to be his own in the perishable frame of his mortal body, and which now on the third day after his death, reuniting soul and body, clothed and glorified his whole human nature with the majesty of God” (Son, p. 194).

As the Incarnate God-man, while on earth Jesus enjoyed certain necessary “perfections.” “The figure of Jesus stands before us in its intellectual, ethical, and religious aspects as something entirely new” (Son, p. 124). Ethically, He was absolutely sinless. As the Fifth Ecumenical Council, at Constantinople in 553, decided, Christ was (unlike us) free from all sin. He assumed our original nature, sinless before Adam’s fall, and He simply “had no inclination to sin” (Christ, p. 278). The temptations he wrestled with came from outside him, from Satan himself, not from any inner sinful desires. He was also perfect intellectually. Assuming human nature, the divine Word so suffused the mind of Jesus that He thought perfectly, knowing and understanding in ways appropriate to the Original Man in the Garden of Eden. In Him the natural and supernatural realms interwove in mysterious ways, so we must never deny the fully human aspects of His development and thought, but we cannot evade the fact that no mere man ever saw and thought and taught as He did.

In addition to the person of Christ, the focus of our faith, there is the work of Christ. The Atonement He consecrated for us effects the actual transformation He orchestrates within us by virtue of His Incarnation, earthly ministry, death, and resurrection. He certainly came to teach us the truth, to deliver us from error. He “was an incarnate teacher, whose human thought was united to the Logos, who revealed not only one truth to us, but the absolute truth” (Christ, p. 327). But He also came to share our very nature, and by that incarnation redeem us from all sin. In the marvelous words of Augustine, “‘God with the Father, and Man with us men–ecce Mediator‘” (Christ, p. 340). This God-man suffered and died for us. Ulltimately, “Christianity is nothing else than the gospel of our redemption by the Cross of Christ, by the death of Jesus for our salvation, by Christ’s expiating blood(Son, p. 212). Despite those Liberal theologians who dismiss the substitutionary work of Christ, Professor Adam reminds us that redemption demands a Redeemer. And our Redeemer arose from the grave and now reigns triumphant as Lord of lords.

Consequently, “The Christian is the man who has made Christ his own, who is animated by the spirit of Christ” (Christ, p. 21). To know Christ Jesus is, of course, to know Him as He stands revealed in the Scriptures and doctrines of the Church. There is a firm objective dimension to Christian faith. “But this external testimony is not enough. According to St. Thomas, the principalis et propria causa fidei is much rather the inward cause, Grace, wrought by God alone. The external word of revelation and the sermon must be united with the inner word of the Holy Spirit. My faith is always a Pentecostal miracle, the intervention of divine spiritual powers into my little world, ‘instructed’ by God, as John puts it, ‘sealed’ by the Spirit, as Paul expresses it” (Christ, p. 29). Through the means of grace, we actually share the Being of the Incarnate Son, and through His death and resurrection come alive unto God.

These books reveal the mature thought of a brilliant theologian who prayerfully, devoutly, properly portrays our Lord. Lacking is any academic ostentation, any sophomoric desire to shock or advance novel notions. Present is a careful attention to the Holy Scriptures, humbly taken as the Word of God, and an openness to the grandeur of Church tradition, with its cumulative witness to the Truth established in the heart of orthodox liturgy, prayer, and practice. Of the two books, The Son of God is better designed, clearly the result of writing for the general public. The Christ of Faith, the publication of university lectures, contains more technical information as well as excursions and diversions one would expect from such. Read together, however, they provide a marvelous foundation for the “faith which has been delivered the saints.”

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